"Not this time, my boy. I fancy I only got a rap on the head, which knocked me out of time. How has it ended?"
"They are repulsed at every point for the time. The loss is dreadfully heavy; we have lost quite two thousand killed and wounded, and they must have lost three. Look, there's a sight!" and he pointed to long lines of men advancing by fours. In the centre of, and being borne by, each group of four was a kind of hide tray, of which a Kukuana force always carried a quantity, with a loop for a handle at each corner. On these trays - and their number seemed endless - lay wounded men, who as they arrived were hastily examined by the medicine-men, of whom ten were attached to each regiment. If the wound was not of a fatal character, the sufferer was taken away and attended to as carefully as circumstances would allow. But if, on the other hand, the wounded man's condition was hopeless, what followed was very dreadful, though doubtless it was the truest mercy. One of the doctors, under pretence of carrying out an examination, swiftly opened an artery with a sharp knife, and in a minute or two the sufferer expired painlessly. There were many cases that day in which this was done. In fact, it was done in most cases when the wound was in the body, for the gash made by the entry of the enormously broad spears used by the Kukuanas generally rendered recovery hopeless. In most cases the sufferers were already tin, conscious, and in others the fatal "nick" of the artery was done so swiftly and painlessly that they did not seem to notice it. Still it was a ghastly sight, and one from which we were glad to escape; indeed, I never remember one which affected me more than seeing those gallant soldiers thus put out of pain by the red-handed medicine-men, except, indeed, on an occasion when, after an attack, I saw a force of Swazis burying their hopelessly wounded alive.
Hurrying from this dreadful scene to the farther side of the koppie, we found Sir Henry (who still held a bloody battle-axe in his hand), Ignosi, Infadoos, and one or two of the chiefs in deep consultation.
"Thank heavens, here you are, Quatermain! I can't make out what Ignosi wants to do. It seems that, though we have beaten off the attack, Twala is now receiving large reinforcements, and is showing a disposition to invest us, with a view of starving us out."
"yes; especially as Infadoos says that the water supply has given out."
"My lord, that is so," said Infadoos; "the spring cannot supply the wants of so great a multitude, and is failing rapidly. Before night we shall all be thirsty. Listen, Macumazahn - Thou art wise, and hast doubtless seen many wars in the lands from whence thou camest - that is if, indeed, - they make wars in the stars. Now tell us, what shall we do? Twala has brought up many fresh men to take the place of those who have fallen. But Twala has learned a lesson; the hawk did not think to find the heron ready; but our beak has pierced his breast; he will not strike at us again. We, too, are wounded, and he will wait for us to die; he will wind himself round us like a snake round a buck, and fight the fight of sit down."
"So, Macumazahn, thou seest we have no water here, and but a little food, and we must choose between these three things - to languish like a starving lion in his den, or to strive to break away towards the north, or" - and here he rose and pointed towards the dense mass of our foes - "to launch ourselves straight at Twala's throat. Incubu, the great warrior - for to-day he fought like a buffalo in a net, and Twala's soldiers went down before his axe like corn before the hail; with these eyes I saw it - Incubu says `charge'; but the Elephant is ever prone to charge. Now what says Macumazahn, the wily old fox, who has seen much and loves to bite his enemy from behind? The last word is in Ignosi, the king, for it is a king's right to speak of war; but let us hear thy voice, O Macumazahn, who watchest by night, and the voice too of him of the transparent eye."
"What sayest thou, Ignosi?"' I asked.
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