Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, February 16, 2021


 "Allan's Wife" by H. Rider Haggard (first published in Haggard's collection Allan's Wife and Other Tales, 1889)

More of a novella than a short story, this tale is one of four about Allan Quatermain in the book Allan's Wife and Other Tales.

Allan Quatermain was the hero of some 18 books by Rider Haggard, perhaps the most notable being Allan Quatermain (1887), which purported to be the fictional hunter/explorer/adventurer's diary.  At the end of that book, Quatermain makes reference to to his early and tragically short marriage.  After Quatermain's death, the manuscript which told the tale of this romance was found, written many years after the fact.

Quatermain was born in England, the youngest son of a village clergyman.  His father was close friends with the local squire, who had a young daughter about Allan's age.  At a Christmas party when both were young, the girl, Stella, was dressed as Father Christmas when a loose spark set her costume afire.  Those present were frozen with terror, except young Allan, who jumped on the girl and beat out the flames.  Stella suffered a small burn on her neck, while Allan's hands were burned and took a bit of time to recover.

Some time later an illness struck Allan's mother and all three of his brothers.  As they lay dying, Squire Carson stopped by the house to tell Allan's father that he and Stella were leaving England.  The Squire's wife, a Spaniard (and a Papist, thus not to be trusted, according to Allan's curate father) had run off with another man, leaving the Squire and his daughter behind.  The squire vowed to have done with England and was going to emigrate to some place far off, where he will forsake the name Carson and leve all memory of the past behind him.  Later that night, Allan's mother and brothers died.

Strickened with grief, Allan's father took him and moved to South Africa and began missionary work.  As Allan grew up in Africa, he became fluent in native languages, found himself to be an excellent marksman, and grew to a strong and active young man.  On a visit to a local tribe, the son of the chief challenged the tribe's old witch doctor, claiming that he, too, had powerful magic.  A test of lightning had been declared -- the two would stand with their spears on an iron-rich mound during a terrible storm and call the lightning down to slay the other.  Allan heard the chief say that if his son were to be killed in the contest, he would have the old witch doctor, Indaba-zimbi, slain.  Allan warned the old man of the plot and, as the lightning fire-fight concluded, it was the chief's son who was slain by the lightning.  Indaba-zimbi soon made his escape, eventually landing at the settlement where the elder Quatermain served as missionary.

A few years later Allan's father died.  Allan, who always had the spirit of adventure, sold his father's possession and outfitted an expedition to explore parts of Africa and to find his fortune.  The old witch doctor insisted on coming along, while giving both prophecies and advice.  While stalking a large heard of elephants, Allannis attacked by a large bull elephant, narrowly escaping and wounded the bull.  The panicked herd ran off, found themselves in swampy water, and were mired in the mud.  Allan and his men were able to thus slaughter the entire herd and claim their ivory tusks.  The tusks Allan buried, hoping to come back to retrieve them some time in the future.  Days later, Allan happens to come across a group of Zulu warriors in the distance; there were nearly three thousand of them and they had been  following the trail of some migrating Boers.  Allan and his natives find the Boers, traveling in eight wagons with their families and a large herd of cattle.  He warns them that they Zulu are about to attack and tells them they should leave everything behind and escape.  They refuse to.  He then suggests that they attack the enemy while they sleep at night, perhps confusing them enough so they would flee.  Again they refuse.  He finally manages to convince them to send the women and child ahead, with the cattle, so that they might escape.  (They do, but it takes them nearly a year to reach Natal and ultimate safety.)

Staying behind are most of the men, a few women, and the six-year-old daughter of the group's leader.  Indaba-zimbi takes Allen away from the camp to tell hims something important.  Allan is suddenly captive by a group of Zulus.  Indaba-zimbi had gone to the Zulu camp the day before and told them that Allan was a powerful god who had the power to destroy them.  The Zulu now attack the camp and kill everyone exccept for the little girl, Tota, who had hid when the attack began.  The most powerful Zulu warrior is about to slay Tota when Allan intervenes, flooring the huge warrior with a punch.  Allan relunctantly agrees to battle the warrior for the life of the girl.  He is armed with an unfamilar weapon -- a native spear -- and seems sure to lose the fight.  Through a fluke or an accident (or, perhaps, Indaba-zimbi's magic) the mighty warrior impales himself on Allan's spear scant seconds after the battle had begun.  The Zulu's still want to destroy Allan and the girl, but the old witch doctor warns them not to, saying that he will prove the Allan was a god not to be messed with.  Through magic or illusion or hypnotism or whatnot -- Allan himselves says he never learned how Indaga-zimbi managed it -- the witch doctor impaled Allan in the chest with a spear, the point coming out his back, killing him, then bringing him back to life.  That sent the Zulus running, leaving Allan, Indaga-zimbi, and Tota to make their way through the territory.  The witch doctor said they should head north and that is what they did.  They came to a large desert and Indaga-zimbi insisted they continue north, saying that an Englishman lived in the direction.   After four days of hard trek they come across a patch of green in the distance and hope to make it there.

Allan's wakes with a lovely girl sprinkling water on his face.  She sends her companion, a strange looking white woman, to fetch more water to revive both the witch dactor and the  girl.  The girl's name is Stella and -- coincidence upon coincidence! -- she is the Stella Carson from his youth.  (And, yes, it take a lot of narration before we were reintroduced to herHer companion is Hendrika, who had been rescued from a band of baboons when she was young and taught English and some skills by the old squire and Stella.  Hendrika's origin is unknown and she may well be a baboon or  human or perhaps a combination of both.  Hendrika is fiercely devoted to Stella, and as fiercely jealous of anything and anyone that captures Stella's attention.  Hendrika immediately dislikes both Allan and Tota, and has an ninstant hatred of Indaga-zimi, who reciprocates.

Stella takes the three to her father's compound, a magnificent estate with marble huts and walls -- the remnant of an unknown earlier, advanced race.  There are terraces and gardens and livestock, in a majestic arrangement, looked after by a thousand natives.  The squire is unwell, but happy to see the son of his old friend.  Stella takes Tota under her wing and Allan helps to run the large farm; spending as much time with stella as possible.  Soon they realize they are in love and the Squire is overjoyed, promising to marry them after church services that Sunday.

On the night before the wedding, Hendrika sneaks to Allan's room, intent on killing him.  She is stopped by the witch doctor and Indaga-zimi and Allan managed to capture her (she is etremely strong and agile, and fought fiercely), binding her and placing her in a locked storage room.  When the squire learns of this, he threatens to kill the baboon-woman, but Stella argues against it.  It is agreed that Fredrika will be banished from the estate and if she ever returned, she would be slain.

And so Allan and Stella were married.  The natives were all for killing Fredrika, but Stella, Allan, and the Squire managed to convince them otherwise.  Fredrika breaks free, grabs the large knife she had tried to kill Allen with and, with leaps and bounds, speeds away over the rought landscape.  Three days later, the squire has a stroke.  He partially recovers but dies some seven months later.  Stella is upset and becomes ill.  Allan remains busy running the estate, until Indaga-zimi tells him that thousands of baboons have returned to the area, including Fredrika, who is wearing baboon skins and has darkened her face.  Allan decides that the next morning he, Stella, and Tota will leave the estate and return to civilizations.  That morning, Stella and Tota go to visit the squire's grave one last time, where the are captured by Fredrika and her army of baboons.

An intense search of the area turned out to be fruitless.  Indaga-zimi goes into a deaath trance to locate Stella and Tota.  They are alive and are kept bound in a distant cave, guarded by the baboons.  A dangerous trek and a daring rescue follow, but Fedrika escapes.  The experience has weakened Stella so much that Allan does not dare to move her from the estate.  Time passes and Stella gives birth to their son, Harry, but she continues to weaken and soon dies, leaving Allan bereft.  Stella is buried next to her father.  Allan, determined more than ever to leave, visits Stella's grave.  There he finds Fredrika, digging franticly at the dirt on the grave.  He confronts the baboon-woman, who pulls out the long knife she had stolen so long ago.  Allan fears she is going to kill him, but instead she plunges the knife into her own breast.

It's an involved story, laced with the fantastic and hints of the fantastic, as befits a story of the old Africa, fraught with magic and mystery.  The predictions and the powers of Indaga-zimi, the origin and untold truth of the baboon-woman and her ability to command and communicate with thousands of wild baboons, the native superstitions, the unknown builders of the squire's estate, who carved the magnificent marble buildings and played-out diamond mines thousands of years ago...this, together with the history and descriptions of Africa and the true desolation that Allan feels with the lose of his wife, makes for a powerful, fast-paced tale.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was, according to his father not meant to amount to much.  During a lackadaisical two years in which he was to be studying for the British Foreign Office test (which he never took) he became interested in psychic phenomena.  He was then sent to Africa for a series of unpaid positions.  He was there when the British annexed the Transvaal and was the person who raised the Union flag and read much of the proclamation.  He fell in love with Lilly Jackson and intended to marry her once he gained a paying position, which he got in 1878.  His father forbade the union until Haggard had made a career for himself and Lilly married someone else in 1879.  (In 1907, Lilly contacted Haggard.  She had been deserted by her husband who had not only embezzled funds but also infested her her with syphilis, a disease that killed him.  Haggard supported his former love until she died in 1909.)

In 1910, Haggard married a friend of his sister.  The had three daughters; a son died at 10 from measles.  He studied law and was called to the bar in 1884, but by then he was making a profitable living writing novels.  Haggard's third novel and his most famous, Kings Solomon's Mines, was a lost world adventure the introduced the world to Allan Quatermain.  Quatermain returned two years later in Allan Quatermain, followed by a long series of prequels.  In 1886, Haggard published She:  A History of Adventure about the eternal sorceress, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.  Most of Haggard's popular novels took place in Africa or in the distant past.  Haggard wss heavily involed in land reform throughout the British Empire and wrote extensively on the subject.  He also contributed several books and many articles on Africa, its history and current status.  He was appointed a Knight Bachelor in 1916 and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919.

Haggard was a supporter of British colonialism and some of his writings can be considered racist, although many of his native characters were portrayed in an honorable light.  Much of his racism was in line with the thinking of Haggard's class and culture of the time.  For myself, I remain horrified at the way African animals were hunted and the large slaughter of elephants in this story was off-putting.  Again, this is in tune with Haggard's time and subject and my 21st century sensibilites come into play retrospectively.   There is much in older literature that I can understand but not approve and I try not to let that interfere with the story. 

Allan's Wife and Other Tales is available to read through the usual online sources.


  1. Your description is nearly as long as a lot of short stories!

  2. I read H. Rider Haggard as a kid and loved High Adventure stories as a result. It's amazing how prolific many of the writers you choose were Back in the Day.