The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. VIIX: British
The Bare Legs, the Movable Teeth, and the Transparent Eye
By H. Rider Haggard (18561925)
From King Solomons Mines
SIR HENRY and Umbopa sat conversing in a mixture of broken English and Kitchin Zulu in a low voice, but earnestly enough, and I lay, with my eyes half-shut, upon that fragrant bed of fern and watched them. Presently I missed Good, and looked to see what had become of him. As I did so I observed him sitting by the bank of the stream, in which he had been bathing. He had nothing on but his flannel shirt, and his natural habits of extreme neatness having reasserted themselves, was actively employed in making a most elaborate toilet. He had washed his gutta-percha collar, thoroughly shaken out his trousers, coat, and waistcoat, and was now folding them up neatly till he was ready to put them on, shaking his head sadly as he did so over the numerous rents and tears in them, which had naturally resulted from our frightful journey. Then he took his boots, scrubbed them with a handful of fern, and finally rubbed them over with a piece of fat, which he had carefully saved from the inco meat, till they looked, comparatively speaking, respectable. Having inspected them judiciously through his eye-glass, he put them on and began a fresh operation. From a little bag he carried he produced a pocket-comb in which was fixed a tiny looking-glass, and in this he surveyed himself. Apparently he was not satisfied, for he proceeded to do his hair with great care. Then came a pause whilst he again contemplated the effect; still it was not satisfactory. He felt his chin, on which was now the accumulated scrub of a ten-days beard. Surely, thought I, he is not going to try and shave. But so it was. Taking the piece of fat with which he had greased his boots he washed it carefully in the stream. Then diving again into the bag he brought out a little pocket-razor with a guard to it, such as are sold to people afraid of cutting themselves, or to those about to undertake a sea voyage. Then he vigorously scrubbed his face and chin with the fat and began. But it was evidently a painful process, for he groaned very much over it, and I was convulsed with inward laughter as I watched him struggling with that stubbly beard. It seemed so very odd that a man should take the trouble to shave himself with a piece of fat in such a place and under such circumstances. At last he succeeded in getting the worst of the scrub off the right side of his face and chin, when suddenly I, who was watching, became aware of a flash of light that passed just by his head.
Good sprung up with a profane exclamation (if it had not been a safety-razor he would certainly have cut his throat), and so did I, without the exclamation, and this was what I saw. Standing there, not more than twenty paces from where I was, and ten from Good, were a group of men. They were very tall and copper-coloured, and some of them wore great plumes of black feathers and short cloaks of leopard-skins; this was all I noticed at the moment. In front of them stood a youth of about seventeen, his hand still raised and his body bent forward in the attitude of a Grecian statue of a spear-thrower. Evidently the flash of light had been a weapon, and he had thrown it.
Sir Henry, Good, and Umbopa had by this time seized their rifles and lifted them threateningly. The party of natives still came on. It struck me that they could not know what rifles were, or they would not have treated them with such contempt.
Greeting, answered the man, not, indeed, in the same tongue, but in a dialect so closely allied to it, that neither Umbopa or myself had any difficulty in understanding it. Indeed, as we afterward found out, the language spoken by this people was an old-fashioned form of the Zulu tongue, bearing about the same relationship to it that the English of Chaucer does to the English of the nineteenth century.
Whence come ye? he went on. What are you? And why are the faces of three of ye white, and the face of the fourth as the face of our mothers sons? and he pointed to Umbopas. I looked at Umbopa as he said it, and it flashed across me that he was right. Umbopas was like the faces of the men before me; so was his great form. But I had not time to reflect on this coincidence.
Ye lie, he answered; no strangers can cross the mountains where all things die. But what do your lies matter; if ye are strangers then ye must die, for no strangers may live in the land of the Kukuanas. It is the kings law. Prepare then to die, oh strangers!
Oh, Lord, groaned Good; and, as was his way when perplexed, put his hand to his false teeth, dragging the top set down and allowing them to fly back to his jaw with a snap. It was a most fortunate move, for next second the dignified crowd of Kukuanas gave a simultaneous yell of horror, and bolted back some yards.
How is it, oh strangers, asked the old man solemnly, that the man yonder (pointing to Good, who had nothing on but a flannel shirt, and had only half finished his shaving), whose body is clothed, and whose legs are bare, who grows hair on one side of his sickly face and not on the other, and who has one shining and transparent eye, has teeth that move of themselves, coming away from the jaws and returning of their own will?
Open your mouth, I said to Good, who promptly curled up his lips and grinned at the old gentleman like an angry dog, revealing to their astonished gaze two thin red lines of gum as utterly innocent of ivories as a new-born elephant. His audience gasped.
I see that ye are spirits, he said falteringly; did ever man born of woman have hair on one side of his face and not on the other, or a round and transparent eye, or teeth which moved and melted away and grew again? Pardon us, oh, my lords.
It is granted, I said, with an imperial smile. Nay, ye shall know the truth. We come from another world, though we are men such as ye; we come, I went on, from the biggest star that shines at night.
Yes, I went on, we do indeed; and I again smiled benignly as I uttered that amazing lie. We come to stay with you a little while, and bless you by our sojourn. Ye will see, oh friends, that I have prepared myself by learning your language.
Now, friends, I continued, ye might think that after so long a journey we should find it in our hearts to avenge such a reception, mayhap to strike cold in death the impious hand thatthat, in shortthrew a knife at the head of him whose teeth come and go.
You may perhaps doubt our power to avenge, I went on, heedless of this by-play. Stay, I will show you. Here, you dog and slave (addressing Umbopa in a savage tone), give me the magic tube that speaks; and I tipped a wink toward my express rifle.
The old man made a sign, and one of his followers departed, and presently returned bearing the klipspringer. I noticed, with satisfaction, that I had hit it fairly behind the shoulder. They gathered round the poor creatures body, gazing at the bullet-hole in consternation.
No! no! he ejaculated hastily, my old eyes have seen enough. These are wizards indeed. Let us bring them to the king. Yet if any should wish a further proof let him stand upon the rock, that the magic tube may speak with him.
It is so, remarked the old gentleman in a tone of intense relief; without any doubt it is so. Listen, children of the stars, children of the shining eye and the movable teeth, who roar out in thunder and slay from afar. I am Infadoos, son of Kafa, once King of the Kukuana people. This youth is Scragga.
Scragga, son of Twala, the great kingTwala, husband of a thousand wives, chief and lord paramount of the Kukuanas, keeper of the great road, terror of his enemies, student of the Black Arts, leader of an hundred thousand warriors, Twala the One-eyed, the Black, the Terrible.
It is well, I said carelessly, all time is before us, for we do not die. We are ready; lead on. But Infadoos, and thou, Scragga, beware! Play us no tricks, make for us no snares, for before your brains of mud have thought of them we shall know them and avenge them. The light from the transparent eye of him with the bare legs and the half-haired face (Good) shall destroy you, and go through your land; his vanishing teeth shall fix themselves fast in you and eat you up, you and your wives and children; the magic tubes shall talk with you loudly, and make you as sieves. Beware!
The old man made a deep obeisance, and murmured the word Koom, Koom, which I afterward discovered was their royal salute, corresponding to the Bayete of the Zulus, and turning, addressed his followers. These at once proceeded to lay hold of all our goods and chattels, in order to bear them for us, excepting only the guns, which they would on no account touch. They even seized Goods clothes, which were, as the reader may remember, neatly folded up beside him.
Nay, my lord, put in Infadoos, would my lord cover up his beautiful white legs (although he was so dark, Good had a singularly white skin) from the eyes of his servants? Have we offended my lord that he should do such a thing?
Look here, Good, said Sir Henry, you have appeared in this country in a certain character, and you must live up to it. It will never do for you to put on trousers again. Henceforth you must live in a flannel shirt, a pair of boots, and an eye-glass.
Yes, I said, and with whiskers on one side of your face and not on the other. If you change any of these things they will think that we are impostors. I am very sorry for you, but, seriously, you must do it. If once they begin to suspect us our lives will not be worth a brass farthing.
I do indeed. Your beautiful white legs and your eye-glasses are now the feature of our party, and, as Sir Henry says, you must live up to them. Be thankful that you have got your boots on, and that the air is warm.