Dorcas asked him no questions (afterwards she gathered that he had been favoured with quite a new and very varied midnight programme); but Tabitha smiled in her slow way. For Tabitha knew all about this business as she knew everything that passed in Sisa-Land. Moreover, she laughed at them a little, and said that _she_ was not afraid to sleep in the mission-house on the night of full moon.
What is more, she did so, which was naughty of her, for on one such occasion she slipped back to the house when her parents were asleep, followed only by her “night-dog,” the watchful Ivana, and returned at dawn just as they had discovered that she was missing, singing and laughing and jumping from stone to stone with the agility of her own pet goat.
“I slept beautifully,” she cried, “and dreamed I was in heaven all night.”
Thomas was furious and rated her till she wept. Then suddenly Ivana became furious too and rated him.
Should he be wrath with the Little Chieftainess Imba, she asked him, because the _Isitunzis_, the spirits of the dead, loved her as did everything else? Did they not understand that the Floweret was unlike them, one adored of dead and living, one to be cherished even in her dreams, one whom “Heaven Above,” together with those who had “gone below,” built round with a wall of spells?–and more of such talk, which Thomas thought so horrible and blasphemous that he fled before its torrent.
But when he came back calmer he said no more to Tabitha about her escapade.
It was a long while afterwards, at the beginning of the great drought, that another terrible thing happened. On a certain calm and beautiful day Tabitha, who still grew and flourished, had taken some of the Christian children to a spot on the farther side of the koppie, where stood an old fortification originally built for purposes of defence. Here, among the ancient walls, with the assistance of the natives, she had made a kind of summer-house as children love to do, and in this house, like some learned eastern pundit in a cell, a very pretty pundit crowned with a wreath of flowers, she sat upon the ground and instructed the infant mind of Sisa-Land.
She was supposed to be telling them Bible stories to prepare them for their Sunday School examination, which, indeed, she did with embellishments and in their own poetic and metaphorical fashion. The particular tale upon which she was engaged, by a strange coincidence, was that from the Acts which narrates how St. Paul was bitten by a viper upon the Island of Melita, and how he shook it off into the fire and took no hurt.
“He must have been like Menzi,” said Ivana, who was present, whereon Tabitha’s other attendant, who was also with her as it was daytime, started an argument, for being a Christian she was no friend to Menzi, whom she called a “dirty old witch-doctor.”
Tabitha, who was used to these disputations, listened smiling, and while she listened amused herself by trying to thrust a stone into a hole in the side of her summer-house, which was formed by one of the original walls of the old kraal.
Presently she uttered a scream, and snatched her arm out of the hole. To it, or rather to her hand, was hanging a great hooded snake of the cobra variety such as the Boers call _ringhals_. She shook it off, and the reptile, after sitting up, spitting, hissing and expanding its hood, glided back into the wall. Tabitha sat still, staring at her lacerated finger, which Ivana seized and sucked.
Then, bidding one of the oldest of the children to take her place and continue sucking, Ivana ran to a high rock a few yards away which overlooked Menzi’s kraal, that lay upon a plain at a distance of about a quarter of a mile, and called out in the low, ringing voice that Kaffirs can command, which carries to an enormous distance.
“Awake, O Menzi! Come, O Doctor, and bring with you your _Dawa_. The little Chieftainess is bitten in the finger by a hooded snake. The Floweret withers! Imba dies!”
Almost instantly there was a disturbance in the kraal and Menzi appeared, following by a man carrying a bag. He cried back in the same strange voice:
“I hear. I come. Tie string or grass round the lady Imba’s finger below the bite. Tie it hard till she screams with pain.”
Meanwhile the Christian nurse had rushed off over the crest of the koppie to fetch Thomas and Dorcas, or either of them. As it chanced she met them both walking to join Tabitha in her bower, and thus it came about that they reached the place at the same moment as did old Menzi bounding up the rocks like a _klipspringer_ buck, or a mountain sheep. Hearing him, Thomas turned in the narrow gateway of the kraal and asked wildly:
“What has happened, Witch-doctor?”