[World Talk] The number of gun suicides among young people aged 10 to 24 in the United States continues to rise. The average age at the end of their lives is just over 20 years old.

发表于 2023-09-23 00:48:36 来源:Return to basics and return to true nature

With much inward trepidation a warrior stepped forward.“Thy weapon is bewitched!” cried the hag, in a terrible voice.The man made no reply. He thought his doom was sealed.“Yes, thy weapon is bewitched.” Then raising her voice: “Where is the man who struck this white wizard in battle?”A moment’s hesitation—and there advanced from the ranks of the fighting men a tall, powerful warrior. He grasped in his hand a broad-bladed assegai, with the point broken short off.“I am Mfulini, the son of Mapute,” he began, not waiting to be addressed first. “I am a fighting man of the race of Gcaléka! I love war. Hau! I have struck more than one enemy, but have never struck him twice. Hau! I struck this white man and my weapon broke, my strong umkonto (The broad headed close-quarter assegai) that has drunk the heart’s blood of five Fingo dogs. The weapon is bewitched. He who has done this thing must be found. The wizard must be found. Hau!”“Ewa, Ewa!” shouted the warriors. “The wizard must be found. The great witch-doctress must find him. Then will the white man’s magic be no longer too strong for her. He must be killed! Find him! Find him! He must be killed!”Chapter Thirty One.The “Smelling Out.”“He must be killed! He must be killed!”The cry was taken up. The bloodthirsty shout rolled through the ranks fiercer and fiercer till the wild roaring chorus was deafening. That crouching, armed multitude, a moment before so motionless and silent, sprang erect, swaying to and fro, frenzied with uncontrollable excitement;

himself from ducking violently as the head of a huge puff-adder noiselessly shot up horribly close to his ear, and a very marked quaver came into his whistling notes.As the cavern narrowed to its former tunnel-like dimensions the serpentsgrew perceptibly scarcer. One or two would be seen to wriggle away, he and there; then no more were met with. The sickening closeness of the air still continued, and now this stood amply accounted for. It was due to the foetid exhalations produced by this mass of noisome reptiles congregated within a confined space far removed from the outer air.“Faugh!” ejaculated Hoste. “Thank Heaven these awful brutes seem to grown scarce again. Shall we have to go back through them, Josane?”“It is not yet time to talk of going back,” was the grim reply. Then he had hardly resumed his magic song before he broke it off abruptly. At the same time the others started, and their faces blanched in the semi-darkness.For, out of the black gloom in front of them, not very far in front either, there burst forth such a frightful diabolical howl as ever curdled the heart’s blood of an appalled listener.Chapter Forty Five.A Fearful Discovery.They stood there, turned to stone. They stood there, strong men as they were, their flesh creeping with horror. The awful sound was succeeded by a moment of silence, then it burst forth again and again, the grim subterraneous walls echoing back its horrible import in ear-splitting reverberation. It sounded hardly human in its mingled intonation of frenzied ferocity and blind despair. It might have been the shriek of a lost soul, struggling in the grasp of fiends on the brink of the nethermostpit.“Advance now, cautiously, amakosi,” said Josane. “Look where you are stepping or you may fall far. Keep your candles ready to light. The Home of the Serpents is a horrible place. There is no end to its terrors. Be prepared to tread carefully.”His warning was by no means superfluous. The ground ended abruptly across their path. Suddenly, shooting up, as it were, beneath their very feet, pealed forth again that frightful, blood-curdling yell.It was awful. Starting backward a pace or two, the perspiration pouring from their foreheads, they stood and listened. On the Kafir no such impression had the incident effected. He understood the position in all its grim significance.“Look down,” he said, meaningly. “Look down, amakosi.”They did so. Before them yawned an irregular circular hole or pit, about thirty feet deep by the same in diameter. The sides were smooth and perpendicular; indeed, slightly overhanging from the side on which they stood. Opposite, the glistening surface of the rock rose into a dome. But with this hole the cavern abruptly ended, the main part of it, that is, for a narrow cleft or “gallery” branched off abruptly at right angles. From this pit arose such a horrible effluvium that the explorers recoiled in disgust.“Look down. Look down,” repeated Josane.The luminous disk from the lantern swept round the pit. Upon its nearly level floor crawled the loathsome, wriggling shapes of several great serpents. Human skulls strewn about, grinned hideously upwards, and the whole floor of this ghastly hell-pit seemed literally carpeted with a crackling layer of pulverised bones. But the most awful sight of all was yet to come.Gathered in a heap, like a huge squatting toad, crouched a human figure. Human? Could it be? Ah! it had been once. Nearly naked, save for

[World Talk] The number of gun suicides among young people aged 10 to 24 in the United States continues to rise. The average age at the end of their lives is just over 20 years old.

a few squalid rags black with filth, this fearful object, framed within the brilliantly defined circle of the bull’s-eye, looked anything but human. The head and face were one mass of hair, and the long, bushy, tangled beard screening almost the whole body in its crouching attitude imparted to the creature the appearance of a head alone, supported on two hairy, ape-like arms, half man, half tarantula. The eyes were glaring and blinking in the light with mingled frenzy and terror, and the mouth was never still for a moment. What a sight the grizzly denizen of that appalling hell-pit— crouching there, mopping and mowing among the gliding, noisome reptiles, among the indescribable filth and the grinning human skulls! No wonder that the spectators stood spell-bound, powerless, with a nerveless, unconquerable repulsion.Suddenly the creature opened its mouth wide and emitted that fearful demoniacal howl which had frozen their blood but a few moments back. Then leaping to its feet, it made a series of desperate springs in its efforts to get at them. Indeed it was surprising the height to which these springs carried it, each failure being signalled by that blood-curdling yell. Once it fell back upon a serpent. The reptile, with a shrill hiss, struck the offending leg. But upon the demoniac those deadly fangs seemed to produce no impression whatever. Realising the futility of attempting to reach them, the creature sank back into a corner, gathering itself together, and working its features in wild convulsions. Then followed a silence—a silence in its way almost as horrible as the frightful shrieks which had previously broken it.The spectators looked at each other with ashy faces. Heavens! could this fearful thing ever have been a man—a man with intellect and a soul —a man stamped with the image of his maker?“He is the last, Amakosi,” said the grave voice of Josane. “He is the last, but not the first. There have been others before him,” designating the skulls which lay scattered about. “Soon he will be even as they—as I should have been had I not escaped by a quick stroke of luck.”“Great Heaven, Josane! Who is he?” burst from the horror-stricken lips of Shelton and Hoste simultaneously. Eustace said nothing, for at that moment as he gazed down upon the mouldering skulls, there cameback to him vividly the witch-doctress’s words, “They who look upon ‘The Home of the Serpents’ are seen no more in life.” Well did he understand them now.“The man whom you seek,” was the grave reply. “He whom the people call Umlilwane.”An ejaculation of horror again greeted the Kafir’s words. This awful travesty, this wreck of humanity, that this should be Tom Carhayes! It was scarcely credible. What a fate! Better had he met his death, even amid torture, at the time they had supposed, than be spared for such an end as this.Then amid the deep silence and consternation of pity which this lugubrious and lamentable discovery evoked, there followed an intense, a burning desire for vengeance upon the perpetrators of this outrage; and this feeling found its first vent in words. Josane shook his head.“It might be done,” he muttered. “It might be done. Are you prepared to spend several days in here, Amakosi?”This was introducing a new feature into the affair—the fact being that each of the three white men was labouring under a consuming desire to find himself outside the horrible hole once more—again beneath the broad light of day. It was in very dubious tones, therefore, that Shelton solicited an explanation.“Even a maniac must eat and drink,” answered Josane. “Those who keep Umlilwane here do not wish him to die—”“You mean that some one comes here periodically to bring him food?”“Ewa.”“But it may not be the persons who put him here; only some one sent by them,” they objected.“This place is not known to all the Gcaléka nation,” said Josane.“There are but two persons known to me who would dare to come within a distance of it. Those are Ngcenika, the witch-doctress, and Hlangani, who is half a witch-doctor himself.”“By lying in wait for them we might capture or shoot one or both of them when they come to bring the poor devil his food, eh, Josane?” said Shelton. “When are they likely to come?”“It may not be for days. But there is another side to that plan. What if they should have discovered that we are in here and decide to lie in wait for us?”“Oh, by Jove! That certainly is a reverse side to the medal,” cried Hoste, with a long whistle of dismay. And indeed the idea of two such formidable enemies as the redoubted Gcaléka warrior and the ferocious witch-doctress lurking in such wise as to hold them entirely at their mercy was not a pleasant one. There was hardly a yard of the way where one determined adversary, cunningly ambushed, would not hold their lives in his hand. No. Any scheme for exacting reprisals had better keep until they were once more in the light of day. The sooner they rescued their unfortunate friend and got quit of the place the better.And even here they had their work fully cut out for them. How were they to get at the wretched maniac? The idea of descending into that horrible pit was not an alluring one; and, apart from this, what sort of reception would they meet with from its occupant? That the latter regarded them in anything but a friendly light was manifest. How, then, were they ever to convey to the unfortunate creature that their object was the reverse of hostile? Tom Carhayes was well-known to be a man of great physical power. Tom Carr hayes—a gibbering, mouthing lunatic—a furious demoniac—no wonder they shrank from approaching him.“Silence! Darken the light!”The words, quick, low, peremptory—proceeded from Josane. In an instant Eustace obeyed. The slide of the lantern was turned.“I listen—I hear,” went on the Kafir in the same quick whisper. “There

[World Talk] The number of gun suicides among young people aged 10 to 24 in the United States continues to rise. The average age at the end of their lives is just over 20 years old.

are steps approaching.”Every ear was strained to the uttermost. Standing in the pitchy blackness and on the brink of that awful pit, no one dared move so much as a foot.And now a faint and far-away sound came floating through the darkness; a strange sound, as of the soft bass of voices from the distant spirit-world wailing weirdly along the ghostly walls of the tunnel. It seemed, too, that ever so faint a light was melting the gloom in the distance. The effect was indescribable in its awesomeness. The listeners held their very breath.“Up here,” whispered Josane, referring to the shaft already mentioned. “No! show no light—not a glimmer. Hold on to each other’s shoulder—you, Ixeshane, hold on to mine—Quick—Hamba-ké.” (Go on.)This precaution, dictated by the double motive of keeping together in the darkness, and also to avoid any one of the party accidentally falling into the pit—being observed, the Kafir led the way some little distance within the shaft.“Heavens!” whispered Hoste. “What about the snakes? Supposing we tread on one?”In the excitement of the moment this consideration had been quite overlooked. Now it struck dismay into the minds of the three white men. To walk along in pitch darkness in a narrow tunnel which you know to be infested with deadly serpents, with more than an even chance of treading upon one of the noisome reptiles at every step, is a position which assuredly needs a powerful deal of excitement to carry it through.“Au! Flash one beam of light in front, Ixeshane,” whispered the guide. “Not behind—for your life, not behind!”Eustace complied, carefully shading the sides of the light with the flaps of his coat. It revealed that the cave here widened slightly, but made a curve. It further revealed no sign of the most dreaded enemy of thehuman race.Here, then, it was decided to lie in wait. The lights carried by those approaching would hardly reach them here, and they could lurk almost concealed, sheltered by the formation of the tunnel.The flash from Eustace’s lantern had been but momentary. And now, as they crouched in the inky gloom, the sense of expectation became painful in its intensity. Nearer and nearer floated the wailing chant, and soon the lurking listeners were able to recognise it as identical with the wild, heathenish rune intoned by their guide—the weird, mysterious invocation of the Serpent.“Harm us not, O Snake of snakes! Do us no hurtO Inyeka ’Nkúlu!”The sonorous, open vowels rolled forth in long-drawn cadence, chanted by two voices—both blending in wonderful harmony. Then a cloud of nebulous light filled up the entrance to their present hiding place, hovering above the fearful hell-pit where the maniac was imprisoned, throwing the brink into distinct relief.The watchers held their very breath. The song had ceased. Suddenly there was a flash of light in their eyes, as from a lantern.Two dark figures were standing on the brink of the hole. Each carried a lantern, one of those strong, tin-rimmed concerns used by transport-riders for hanging in their waggon-tents. There was no lack of light now.“Ho, Umlilwane!” cried a deep, bass voice, which rumbled in hoarse echoes beneath the domed roof, while the speaker held his lantern out over the pit. “Ho, Umlilwane! It is the dog’s feeding time again. We have brought the dog his bones. Ho, ho!”The wretched maniac who, until now, had kept silence, here broke forth again into his diabolical howls. By the sound the watchers could tell

[World Talk] The number of gun suicides among young people aged 10 to 24 in the United States continues to rise. The average age at the end of their lives is just over 20 years old.

that he was exhausting himself in a series of bull-dog springs similar to those prompted by his frenzy on first discovering themselves. At each of these futile outbursts the two mocking fiends shouted and roared with laughter. But they little knew how near they were laughing for the last time. Three rifles were covering them at a distance of fifty yards—three rifles in the hands of men who were dead shots, and whose hearts were bursting with silent fury. Josane, seeing this, took occasion to whisper under cover of the lunatic’s frenzied howls:“The time is not yet. The witch-doctress is for me—for me. I will lure her in here, and when I give the word—but not before—shoot Hlangani. The witch-doctress is for me.”The identity of the two figures was distinct in the light. The hideous sorceress, though reft of most of the horrid accessories and adornments of her order, yet looked cruel and repulsive as a very fiend—fitting figure to harmonise with the Styx-like gloom of the scene. The huge form of the warrior loomed truly gigantic in the sickly lantern light. “Ho, Umlilwane, thou dog of dogs!” went on the latter. “Art thou growing tired of thy cool retreat? Are not the serpents good companions? Haul Thou wert a fool to part so readily with thy mind. After so many moons of converse with the serpents, thou shouldst have been a mighty soothsayer—a mighty diviner —by now. How long did it take thee to lose thy mind? But a single day? But a day and a night? That was quick! Ho, ho!” And the great taunting laugh was echoed by the shriller cackle of the female fiend.“Thou wert a mighty man with thy fists, a mighty man with thy gun, O Umlilwane!” went on the savage, his mocking tones now sinking to those of devilish hatred. “But now thou art no longer a man—no longer a man. Au! What were my words to thee? ‘Thou hadst better have cut off thy right hand before shedding the blood of Hlangani for it is better to lose a hand than one’s mind.’ What thinkest thou now of Hlangani’s revenge? Hi!”How plain now to one of the listeners were those sombre words, over whose meaning he had so anxiously pondered. This, then, was the fearful vengeance promised by the Gcaléka warrior. And for many months his wretched victim had lain here a raving maniac—had lain here

in a darkness as of the very pit of hell—had lain among noisome serpents —among crawling horrors untold—small wonder his reason had given way after a single night of such, as his tormentor had just declared. Small wonder that he had indeed lost his mind!A fiendish yell burst from the maniac. Suddenly a great serpent was thrown upward from the pit. Petrified with horror, the watchers saw its thick, writhing form fly through the air and light on the witch-doctress’s shoulder. With a shrill laugh the hag merely seized the wriggling, squirming reptile, which, with crest waving, was hissing like a fury, and hurled it back into the pit again. What sort of devil’s influence was protecting these people, that they could handle the most deadly reptiles with absolute impunity? Were they, indeed, under some demoniac spell? To one, however, among the white spectators, the real solution of the mystery may have suggested itself.“Here are thy bones, dog,” resumed the great barbarian, throwing what looked like a half-filled sack into the hole. “Here is thy drink,” and he lowered a large calabash at the end of a string. “Eat, drink, and keep up thy strength. Perhaps one day I may turn thee loose again. Who knows! Then when thy people see thee coming they will cry: ‘Here comes Hlangani’s Revenge.’ And they will fly from thee in terror, as from the approach of a fell disease.”The watchers looked at each other. These last words, coupled with the act of throwing down the food, seemed to point to the speedy conclusion of the visit. They could hear the miserable victim mumbling and crunching what sounded like literally bones, and growling like a dog. But Hlangani went on.“Wouldst thou not rather have gone to feed the black ants, or have died the death of the red-hot stones, Umlilwane? Thou wouldst be at rest now. And now thou hast only just begun to live—alone in the darkness— alone with the serpents—a man whose mind is gone. Thou wilt never see the light of day again. Whau! The sun is shining like gold outside. And thy wife, Umlilwane—thy beautiful wife—tall and graceful, like the stem of the budding umbona (Maize)—dost thou never think of her? Ha! There is another who does—another who does. I have seen him—I have seen“Anything rather than that devil of a scramble again.”“The time to talk of getting out is not yet,” rejoined the Kafir drily. “We are not in yet.”They resumed their way. As they penetrated deeper, the cavern suddenly slanted abruptly upwards. This continued for some twenty or thirty yards, when again the floor became level, though ever with a slight upward bend. Great slabs of rock projected from the sides, but the width of the tunnel varied little, ranging between six and ten yards. The same held good of its height.As they advanced they noticed that the current of air was no longer felt. An extraordinary foetid and overpowering atmosphere had taken its place. Similarly the floor and sides of the cavern, which before they reached the outlet had been moist and humid, now became dry and firm.“Hand us your flask, Shelton,” said Hoste. “Upon my soul I feel as if I was going to faint. Faugh!”The odour was becoming more and more sickening with every step. Musky, rank, acreous—it might almost be felt. Each man required a pull at something invigorating, if only to neutralise the inhalation of so pestilential an atmosphere. Smoking was suggested, but this Josane firmly tabooed.“It cannot be,” he said. “It would be madness. Remember my words,Amakosi. Look neither to the right nor to the left—only straight in front of you, where you set down your steps.”Then he resumed his strange wild chant, now sinking it to an awe-struck whisper hardly above his breath. It was a weird, uncanny sight, those four shadowy figures advancing through the thick black darkness, the fiery eye of the lantern darting forth its luminous column in front, while the deep-toned, long-drawn notes of the wild, heathenish rune died away in whispering echoes overhead.“Oh! good Lord! Look at that!”

The cry broke from Shelton. All started, so great was the state of tension that their nerves were undergoing. Following his glance they promptly discovered what it was that had evoked it.Lying upon a great slab of rock, about on a level with their chests, was an enormous puff-adder. The bloated proportions of the hideous reptile were disposed in a sinuous coil—shadowy, repulsive to the last degree, in the light of the lantern. A shudder ran through every one of the three white men.“Quick, Josane. Hand me one of your kerries,” said Shelton. “I can get a whack at him now.”But the Kafir, peremptorily, almost angrily refused.“Why did you not listen to my words?” he said. “Look neither to the right nor to the left, was what I told you. Then you would have seen nothing. Now let us move on.”But Shelton and Hoste stood, irresolutely staring at the horrid reptile as though half fascinated. It—as if resenting the intrusion—began to unwind its sluggish folds, and raising its head, emitted a low, warning hiss, at the same time blowing itself out with a sound as of a pair of bellows collapsing, after the fashion which has gained for this most repulsive of all serpents its distinctive name.“You must not kill it,” repeated the Kafir, in a tone almost of command. “This is ‘The Home of the Serpents,’ remember. Did I not warn you?”They saw that he was deadly in earnest. Here in this horrible den, right in the heart of the earth, the dark-skinned, superstitious savage seemed the one to command. It was perhaps remarkable that no thought of disobeying him entered the mind of any one of the three white men; still more so, that no resentment entered in either. They resumed their way without a murmur; not, however, without some furtive glances behind, as though dreading an attack on the part of the deadly reptile they were leaving in their rear. More than once they thought to detect thesound of that slow, crawling glide—to discern an indistinct and sinuous shadow moving in the subdued light.“This is ‘The Home of the Serpents’!” chanted Josane, taking up once more his weird refrain.“This is The Home of the Serpents, the abode of the Spirit-dead. O Inyoka ’Nkúlu (Great Serpent) do us no hurt! O Snake of Snakes, harm us not!“The shades of thy home are blacker than blackest night.“We tread the dark shades of thy home in search of the white man’s friend.“Give us back the white man’s friend, so may we depart in peace—“In peace from The Home of the Serpents, the abode of the Spirit-dead.“Into light from the awe-dealing gloom, where the shades of our fathers creep.“So may we return to the daylight in safety with him whom we seek.“Harm us not, O Snake of snakes! Do us no hurt,O Inyoka ’Nkúlu!”The drawn out notes of this lugubrious refrain were uttered with a strange, low, concentrative emphasis which was indescribably thrilling. Eustace, the only one of the party who thoroughly grasped its burden, felt curiously affected by it. The species of devil worship implied in the heathenish invocation communicated its influence to himself. His spirits, up till now depressed and burdened as with a weight of brooding evil, seemed to rise to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation, as though rejoicing at the prospect of prompt admission into strange mysteries. Far otherwise, however, were the other two affected by the surroundings.

Indeed, it is by no means certain that had their own inclinations been the sole guide in the matter, they would there and then have turned round and beat a hasty and ignominious retreat, leaving Tom Carhayes and his potential fate to the investigation of some more enterprising party.The atmosphere grew more foetid and pestilential. Suddenly the cavern widened out. Great slabs of rock jutted horizontally from the sides, sometimes so nearly meeting that there was only just room to pass in single file between. Then a low cry of horror escaped the three white men. They stopped short, as though they had encountered a row of fixed bayonets, and some, at any rate, of the party were conscious of the very hair on their heads standing erect.For, lying about upon the rock slabs were numbers of shadowy, sinuous shapes, similar to the one they had just disturbed. Some were lying apart, some were coiled up together in a heaving, revolting mass. As the light of the lantern flashed upon them, they began to move. The hideous coils began to separate, gliding apart, head erect, and hissing till the whole area of the grisly cavern seemed alive with writhing, hissing serpents. Turn the light which way they would, there were the same great wriggling coils, the same frightful heads. Many, hitherto unseen, were pouring their loathsome, gliding shapes down the rocks overhead, and the dull, dragging heavy sound, as the horrible reptiles crawled over the hard and stony surface, mingled with that of strident hissing. What a sight to come upon in the heart of the earth!It is safe to assert that no object in Nature is held in more utter and universal detestation by man than the serpent. And here were these men penned up within an underground cave in the very heart of the earth, with scores, if not hundreds, of these frightful and most deadly reptiles—some too, of abnormal size—around them; all on the move, and so near that it was as much as they could do to avoid actual contact. Small wonder that their flesh should creep and that every drop of blood should seem to curdle within their veins. It was a position to recur to a man in his dreams until his dying day.“Oh, I can’t stand any more of this,” said Hoste, who was walking last. “Hang it. Anything above ground, you know—but this—! Faugh!We’ve got no show at all. Ugh-h!”Something cold had come in contact with his hand. He started violently. But it was only the clammy surface of a projecting rock.And now the whole of the gloomy chamber resounded with shrill and angry hissing, as the disturbed reptiles glided hither and thither—was alive with waving necks and distended jaws, glimpsed shadowy on the confines of the disk of light which shot into the remote corners of the frightful den. Curiously enough, not one of the serpents seemed to be lying in the pathway itself. All were on the ledges of rock which bordered it.“Keep silence and follow close on my steps,” said Josane shortly. Then he raised his voice and threw a marvellously strange, soft melodiousness into the weird song, which he had never ceased to chant. Eustace, who was the first to recover to some extent his self-possession, and who took in the state of affairs, now joined in with a low, clear, whistling accompaniment. The effect was extraordinary. The writhing contortions of the reptiles ceased with a suddenness little short of magical. With heads raised and a slight waving motion of the neck they listened, apparently entranced. It was a wonderful sight, terrible in its weird ghastliness—that swarm of deadly serpents held thus spell-bound by the eerie barbaric music. It really looked as though there was more than met the eye in that heathenish adjuration as they walked unharmed through the deadly reptiles to the refrain of the long-drawn, lugubrious chant.“Harm us not, O Snake of Snakes! Do us no hurt,O Inyoka ’Nkúlu!”Thus they passed through that fearful chamber, sometimes within a cou of yards of two or three serpents lying on a level with their faces.Once it was all that even Eustace, the self-possessed, could do to keep


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