Having killed a total of nine elephants, Quatermain’s hunting party sets about cutting out and burying the precious ivory tusks. Quatermain notes that the tusks average about forty to fifty pounds of ivory each, with the vicious bull elephant’s tusks weighing in at one hundred and seventy pounds for the pair. The bull elephant’s victim, Khiva, is buried with due ceremony, and the expedition continues.
In due time the party reaches Sitanda’s Kraal near the Lukanga River, the true jumping-off point for their journey to the Suliman Mountains. Quatermain spots the stony slope upon which he had seen Silvestre return twenty years ago. Nearby is the desert they must cross in order to reach their destination. They pitch camp and in the evening light can spy the faint outline of the Suliman Berg. Despite Quatermain’s fatalistic pessimism, Sir Henry insists that he will somehow reach his brother to learn his fate.
In an unusual interchange, Umbopa addresses Sir Henry familiarly as “Incubu” (a name given the man by the Kaffirs and which Quatermain thinks means “elephant”). Quatermain takes issue with Umbopa’s lack of respect for his superior, to which Umbopa replies “How dost thou know that I am not the equal of the Inkosi I serve?” Umbopa then insists that Quatermain translate his language into Sir Henry’s English. Quatermain does so begrudgingly, still angered at Umbopa’s impertinence.
Umbopa warns Sir Henry that their upcoming journey is likely to end in death. He hints that he has some knowledge about the route they will take, but only admits to having heard of a white man who resembled Sir Henry, along with a servant named Jim, having attempted the expedition two years ago. Sir Henry recognizes the description of his brother George, while Quatermain confirms the identity of Jim. Umbopa then launches into a semi-poetic speech regarding the nature of life and death. He then assures Quatermain that he has not ill designs on the white men and departs.
The next day Quatermain finishes preparations for their journey. He makes a long list of the items they are able to bring with them and expresses frustration at the many items they must leave behind. Among the excess are several guns, which Quatermain loads and warns the erstwhile guardian not to touch. The man, predictably, touches one, which fires and kills one of his oxen. Quatermain then berates him and threatens to destroy his family and livelihood with white man’s magic should he dare to take anything left in his care. The man fearfully acknowledges his charge and insists the guns be placed somewhere far out of reach for the safety of everyone involved.
After a short journey, the expedition pitches camp in the last shade before the desert. The next morning Sir Henry insists they take a moment to pray for their journey; Quatermain acknowledges that he is not much of a praying man, but that this is one of the most sincere appeals to his Maker he has ever made in his life. The expedition then sets out into the burning heat of the desert. Their only hope is the old Silvestre map’s indication of a dirty oases in the middle of the route to the Suliman Mountains. After much travel Quatermain begins to despair that the map is inaccurate or that they are off course. The heat begins to affect the entire party, and they are beset by flies. They can find no shelter, and so awaken each morning to blistering heat. Sir Henry, Captain Good, and Quatermain assess their water supply and come to the conclusion that if they do not reach a source of water the next day, they will all die of dehydration. Despite the ominous conditions, Quatermain is so tired that he is able to drift off to sleep.
Quatermain awakens two hours after falling into his miserable sleep. His body slightly refreshed, his thirst returns to the forefront of his thoughts. He recounts a dream of bathing in a stream surrounded by greenery, only to awaken to his present harsh reality. Already becoming desiccated from the dryness, Quatermain attempts to take his mind off of his suffering by reading, but only manages to frustrate himself further as he reads a passage detailing pure water. The others awaken and as a group assess their situation, as not a drop of water remains among them. In the midst of their collective despair, Ventvogel arises and begins searching the ground with his eyes. He stoops and cries out, pointing at something he sees: “Springbok spoor” he explains. “Springboks do not go far from water.”
Heartened by this evidence of nearby water, the party marches in the direction of the alleged oasis on Silvestra’s old map. Ventvogel claims he can smell water, but the others put no stock in his senses. As the sun arises, the travelers are able to see for the first time the reality of the Sulemin Mountains, “Sheba’s Breasts” as described by old Silvestre. Though far away, the sight of the two mountains encourages the party as to the accuracy of Silvestre’s account; furthermore, they can see snow atop the mountains and, while it is too far away to do them good at present, it promises a fresh supply of water should they make their way to the peaks.
Nonetheless, the members of the expedition return to their burning thirst and call Ventvogel a fool for claiming to smell water nearby. Sir Henry suggests they might find water atop a nearby hill; despite the scorn of the others, Quatermain despairingly suggests they follow up on Sir Henry’s hunch. Umbopa leads the way and finds a dirty pool of water atop the hill.
The men drink their fill and moisten their dried skin in the pool, then refill their canteens for the journey ahead. They eat some of their rations for the first time in twenty-four hours and relax for a while.
After resting all day in the shade of the hill, the expedition continues its terrible trek through the desert. They reach “Sheba’s left breast” and begin to ascend the mountain. By this time their water supply is again nonexistent, which only adds to their frustration as the walking has become more difficult over the dried lava that covers the base of the dormant volcano. Umbopa discovers a source of temporary relief: a crop of wild melons, ripe and ready to eat. The men feast on the melons, but find them more refreshing to their thirst than to their hungry stomachs. They soon begin to believe they have escaped death by thirst only to die of hunger. Ventvogel spots a flock of birds (which turn out to be buzzards), and Quatermain expertly shoots one from the sky. The men start a fire with dried melon stems and cook the bird for dinner. The party awaits the rising of the moon to continue their ascent, and does so refreshed but still somewhat hopeless. They see no further game and fewer melons, so food shortage again becomes a concern. They are also unable to determine why, with the snow above them on the volcanic mountain, there are no streams flowing down. Quatermain remarks on his fear of starvation in his journal, dated May 21-23. He resumes his narration of events on the 23rd, when they espy a dark hole in the snow far above them. Heading toward it, they ascertain it is the opening to a cave—the very cave mentioned by Silvestre. The men make for the cave and arrive just as the sun sets and plunges the mountain into darkness. In the cold and dark, the men huddle together in the cave for warmth. During the night Quatermain hears Ventvogel, who is sitting back-to-back with the elephant hunter, give a dismal sigh. He thinks nothing of it until the morning, when he discovers that Ventvogel has died in his sleep. The remaining men are saddened, but wish to leave the company of the dead man. The sun rises, lighting the cave and giving the men a view which terrifies them: at the end of the cave sits another dead man—a dead white man. They flee the cave in fear.
The conflict between Quatermain’s expectations of Zulu assistants and Umbopa’s self-assured nature develops further in this chapter. When Umbopa addresses Sir Henry familiarly as “Incubu,” Quatermain “asked him sharply what he meant by addressing his master in that familiar way” (Haggard 59). Umbopa’s laugh at Quatermain’s rebuke only serves to anger the hunter; this anger is compounded when Umbopa tells Quatermain, “He [Sir Henry] is of a royal house…so, mayhap, am I. At least I am as great a man” (Haggard 59). Nonetheless, Quatermain is impressed by Umbopa’s demeanor and continues to translate his words to Sir Henry out of curiousity. Haggard here distances himself from Quatermain’s racism by setting the character up to be wrong about Umbopa—his heritage will be revealed as royal indeed—thus calling into question Quatermain’s prejudices. Nonetheless, even Haggard’s expression of equanimity is tempered by the requirement that the African treated as equal to a white man be of noble heritage.
The author also indulges in some humor at the expense of his protagonist. When the desert march has become harsh and wearying, all forms of wildlife are gone save for the occasional cobra and the numerous house flies. Quatermain says, “They came, ‘not as single spies, but in battalsions,’ as I think the Old Testament says somewhere” (Haggard 70). Quatermain is clearly quoting Hamlet, but gets the citation wrong; thus Quatermain is revealed to be a man who has read (or at least heard) more than his aforementioned two works, but who is also somewhat ignorant of his own Bible. The inadvertent placing of Shakespeare’s greatest play on a par with Holy Scripture may also be a subtle dig at English attitudes toward their own culture.
Haggard also engages in some convincing verisimilitude by listing the weapons and supplies the party gathers for their expedition—a list which spans several paragraphs (Haggard 63-64). By giving such detail, and by further keeping account of the items which are used up, destroyed, or go missing, Haggard grounds his tale in solid reality.
In her article “‘As Europe is to Africa, So is Man to Woman’: Gendering Landscape in Rider Haggard’s Nada the Lily,” Lindy Steibel notes, “It appears that unconsciously Haggard projected a good deal of his latent sexual desire and that of his age, which was one of determined public prudery, onto his feminized African landscapes” (Steibel 2). It is difficult to contradict Steibel with Haggard’s description of the mountains known as Sheba’s Breasts: “Their bases swelled gently up from the plain, looking, at that distance, perfectly round and smooth; and on the top of each was a vast round hillock covered with snow, exactly corresponding to the nipple on the female breast” (Haggard 77). Unconscious or not, Haggard certainly means to evoke the feminine form in his description of this landscape; Sheba’s Breasts become the destination for the immediate leg of the journey, and the gateway into the unknown land of the Kukuanas; this latter bespeaks a connection between the feminine and the mysterious and hidden, here positively in contrast to the negative feminine mystique of Gagool later in the novel.
Quatermain’s insistent pessimism is brought to the fore in this chapter, as he expects to die of exposure long before their journey nears its goal. When Ventvogel claims to smell water, Quatermain replies, “No doubt it is in the coulds and about two months hence it will fall and wash our bones” (Haggard 78). Quatermain’s pessimism, here as elsewhere, is misplaced—the men do indeed find water and survive to carry on their expedition.
Haggard pares the traveling party down further with the death of Ventvogel. The Hottentot’s death by freezing serves to highlight the dangers in the journey—and to signify that not all dangers come from wild animals—and to deprive the group of their best tracker, thus making their situation more dire. Compounding this sense of dread is their discovery of the other dead body in the cave, the sight of which frightens all the men into a panic. To see the remnants of another traveler only heightens the party’s fear of failing in their quest.