Allan quatermain, p.1
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       Allan Quatermain, p.1

           H. Rider Haggard
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Allan Quatermain

  Produced by Ng E-Ching, Singapore


  By H. Rider Haggard

  I inscribe this book of adventure to my son ARTHUR JOHN RIDER HAGGARD inthe hope that in days to come he, and many other boys whom I shallnever know, may, in the acts and thoughts of Allan Quatermain and hiscompanions, as herein recorded, find something to help him and themto reach to what, with Sir Henry Curtis, I hold to be the highest rankwhereto we can attain--the state and dignity of English gentlemen.




  December 23

  'I have just buried my boy, my poor handsome boy of whom I was so proud,and my heart is broken. It is very hard having only one son to lose himthus, but God's will be done. Who am I that I should complain? The greatwheel of Fate rolls on like a Juggernaut, and crushes us all in turn,some soon, some late--it does not matter when, in the end, it crushes usall. We do not prostrate ourselves before it like the poor Indians; wefly hither and thither--we cry for mercy; but it is of no use, the blackFate thunders on and in its season reduces us to powder.

  'Poor Harry to go so soon! just when his life was opening to him. He wasdoing so well at the hospital, he had passed his last examination withhonours, and I was proud of them, much prouder than he was, I think. Andthen he must needs go to that smallpox hospital. He wrote to me that hewas not afraid of smallpox and wanted to gain the experience; and nowthe disease has killed him, and I, old and grey and withered, am leftto mourn over him, without a chick or child to comfort me. I might havesaved him, too--I have money enough for both of us, and much more thanenough--King Solomon's Mines provided me with that; but I said, "No, letthe boy earn his living, let him labour that he may enjoy rest." But therest has come to him before the labour. Oh, my boy, my boy!

  'I am like the man in the Bible who laid up much goods and buildedbarns--goods for my boy and barns for him to store them in; and now hissoul has been required of him, and I am left desolate. I would that ithad been my soul and not my boy's!

  'We buried him this afternoon under the shadow of the grey and ancienttower of the church of this village where my house is. It was a drearyDecember afternoon, and the sky was heavy with snow, but not much wasfalling. The coffin was put down by the grave, and a few big flakes litupon it. They looked very white upon the black cloth! There was a littlehitch about getting the coffin down into the grave--the necessary ropeshad been forgotten: so we drew back from it, and waited in silencewatching the big flakes fall gently one by one like heavenlybenedictions, and melt in tears on Harry's pall. But that was not all.A robin redbreast came as bold as could be and lit upon the coffin andbegan to sing. And then I am afraid that I broke down, and so did SirHenry Curtis, strong man though he is; and as for Captain Good, I sawhim turn away too; even in my own distress I could not help noticingit.'

  The above, signed 'Allan Quatermain', is an extract from my diarywritten two years and more ago. I copy it down here because it seems tome that it is the fittest beginning to the history that I am about towrite, if it please God to spare me to finish it. If not, well it doesnot matter. That extract was penned seven thousand miles or so from thespot where I now lie painfully and slowly writing this, with a prettygirl standing by my side fanning the flies from my august countenance.Harry is there and I am here, and yet somehow I cannot help feeling thatI am not far off Harry.

  When I was in England I used to live in a very fine house--at leastI call it a fine house, speaking comparatively, and judging fromthe standard of the houses I have been accustomed to all my life inAfrica--not five hundred yards from the old church where Harry isasleep, and thither I went after the funeral and ate some food; for itis no good starving even if one has just buried all one's earthlyhopes. But I could not eat much, and soon I took to walking, or ratherlimping--being permanently lame from the bite of a lion--up and down,up and down the oak-panelled vestibule; for there is a vestibule in myhouse in England. On all the four walls of this vestibule were placedpairs of horns--about a hundred pairs altogether, all of which I hadshot myself. They are beautiful specimens, as I never keep any hornswhich are not in every way perfect, unless it may be now and again onaccount of the associations connected with them. In the centre of theroom, however, over the wide fireplace, there was a clear space left onwhich I had fixed up all my rifles. Some of them I have had for fortyyears, old muzzle-loaders that nobody would look at nowadays. One was anelephant gun with strips of rimpi, or green hide, lashed round the stockand locks, such as used to be owned by the Dutchmen--a 'roer' they callit. That gun, the Boer I bought it from many years ago told me, had beenused by his father at the battle of the Blood River, just after Dingaanswept into Natal and slaughtered six hundred men, women, and children,so that the Boers named the place where they died 'Weenen', or the'Place of Weeping'; and so it is called to this day, and always will becalled. And many an elephant have I shot with that old gun. She alwaystook a handful of black powder and a three-ounce ball, and kicked likethe very deuce.

  Well, up and down I walked, staring at the guns and the horns whichthe guns had brought low; and as I did so there rose up in me a greatcraving:--I would go away from this place where I lived idly and atease, back again to the wild land where I had spent my life, where I metmy dear wife and poor Harry was born, and so many things, good, bad, andindifferent, had happened to me. The thirst for the wilderness was onme; I could tolerate this place no more; I would go and die as I hadlived, among the wild game and the savages. Yes, as I walked, I began tolong to see the moonlight gleaming silvery white over the wide veldt andmysterious sea of bush, and watch the lines of game travelling down theridges to the water. The ruling passion is strong in death, they say,and my heart was dead that night. But, independently of my trouble, noman who has for forty years lived the life I have, can with impunity gocoop himself in this prim English country, with its trim hedgerowsand cultivated fields, its stiff formal manners, and its well-dressedcrowds. He begins to long--ah, how he longs!--for the keen breath of thedesert air; he dreams of the sight of Zulu impis breaking on their foeslike surf upon the rocks, and his heart rises up in rebellion againstthe strict limits of the civilized life.

  Ah! this civilization, what does it all come to? For forty years andmore I lived among savages, and studied them and their ways; and now forseveral years I have lived here in England, and have in my own stupidmanner done my best to learn the ways of the children of light; and whathave I found? A great gulf fixed? No, only a very little one, that aplain man's thought may spring across. I say that as the savage is, sois the white man, only the latter is more inventive, and possesses thefaculty of combination; save and except also that the savage, as I haveknown him, is to a large extent free from the greed of money, whicheats like a cancer into the heart of the white man. It is a depressingconclusion, but in all essentials the savage and the child ofcivilization are identical. I dare say that the highly civilized ladyreading this will smile at an old fool of a hunter's simplicity whenshe thinks of her black bead-bedecked sister; and so will the superfinecultured idler scientifically eating a dinner at his club, the cost ofwhich would keep a starving family for a week. And ye
t, my dear younglady, what are those pretty things round your own neck?--they have astrong family resemblance, especially when you wear that _very_ lowdress, to the savage woman's beads. Your habit of turning round andround to the sound of horns and tom-toms, your fondness for pigmentsand powders, the way in which you love to subjugate yourself to the richwarrior who has captured you in marriage, and the quickness with whichyour taste in feathered head-dresses varies--all these things suggesttouches of kinship; and you remember that in the fundamental principlesof your nature you are quite identical. As for you, sir, who also laugh,let some man come and strike you in the face whilst you are enjoyingthat marvellous-looking dish, and we shall soon see how much of thesavage there is in _you_.

  There, I might go on for ever, but what is the good? Civilization isonly savagery silver-gilt. A vainglory is it, and like a northernlight, comes but to fade and leave the sky more dark. Out of the soilof barbarism it has grown like a tree, and, as I believe, into thesoil like a tree it will once more, sooner or later, fall again, as theEgyptian civilization fell, as the Hellenic civilization fell, and asthe Roman civilization and many others of which the world has now lostcount, fell also. Do not let me, however, be understood as decrying ourmodern institutions, representing as they do the gathered experienceof humanity applied for the good of all. Of course they have greatadvantages--hospitals for instance; but then, remember, we breedthe sickly people who fill them. In a savage land they do not exist.Besides, the question will arise: How many of these blessings are due toChristianity as distinct from civilization? And so the balance sways andthe story runs--here a gain, there a loss, and Nature's great averagestruck across the two, whereof the sum total forms one of the factors inthat mighty equation in which the result will equal the unknown quantityof her purpose.

  I make no apology for this digression, especially as this is anintroduction which all young people and those who never like to think(and it is a bad habit) will naturally skip. It seems to me verydesirable that we should sometimes try to understand the limitationsof our nature, so that we may not be carried away by the pride ofknowledge. Man's cleverness is almost indefinite, and stretches like anelastic band, but human nature is like an iron ring. You can go roundand round it, you can polish it highly, you can even flatten it a littleon one side, whereby you will make it bulge out the other, but you will_never_, while the world endures and man is man, increase its totalcircumference. It is the one fixed unchangeable thing--fixed as thestars, more enduring than the mountains, as unalterable as the way ofthe Eternal. Human nature is God's kaleidoscope, and the little bitsof coloured glass which represent our passions, hopes, fears, joys,aspirations towards good and evil and what not, are turned in His mightyhand as surely and as certainly as it turns the stars, and continuallyfall into new patterns and combinations. But the composing elementsremain the same, nor will there be one more bit of coloured glass norone less for ever and ever.

  This being so, supposing for the sake of argument we divide ourselvesinto twenty parts, nineteen savage and one civilized, we must lookto the nineteen savage portions of our nature, if we would reallyunderstand ourselves, and not to the twentieth, which, though soinsignificant in reality, is spread all over the other nineteen, makingthem appear quite different from what they really are, as the blackingdoes a boot, or the veneer a table. It is on the nineteen roughserviceable savage portions that we fall back on emergencies, not on thepolished but unsubstantial twentieth. Civilization should wipe away ourtears, and yet we weep and cannot be comforted. Warfare is abhorrentto her, and yet we strike out for hearth and home, for honour and fairfame, and can glory in the blow. And so on, through everything.

  So, when the heart is stricken, and the head is humbled in the dust,civilization fails us utterly. Back, back, we creep, and lay us likelittle children on the great breast of Nature, she that perchance maysoothe us and make us forget, or at least rid remembrance of its sting.Who has not in his great grief felt a longing to look upon the outwardfeatures of the universal Mother; to lie on the mountains and watch theclouds drive across the sky and hear the rollers break in thunder on theshore, to let his poor struggling life mingle for a while in her life;to feel the slow beat of her eternal heart, and to forget his woes, andlet his identity be swallowed in the vast imperceptibly moving energy ofher of whom we are, from whom we came, and with whom we shall again bemingled, who gave us birth, and will in a day to come give us our burialalso.

  And so in my trouble, as I walked up and down the oak-panelled vestibuleof my house there in Yorkshire, I longed once more to throw myself intothe arms of Nature. Not the Nature which you know, the Nature that wavesin well-kept woods and smiles out in corn-fields, but Nature as she wasin the age when creation was complete, undefiled as yet by any humansinks of sweltering humanity. I would go again where the wild game was,back to the land whereof none know the history, back to the savages,whom I love, although some of them are almost as merciless as PoliticalEconomy. There, perhaps, I should be able to learn to think of poorHarry lying in the churchyard, without feeling as though my heart wouldbreak in two.

  And now there is an end of this egotistical talk, and there shall beno more of it. But if you whose eyes may perchance one day fall upon mywritten thoughts have got so far as this, I ask you to persevere, sincewhat I have to tell you is not without its interest, and it has neverbeen told before, nor will again.

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