The Last Dream Of Bwona Khubla
by Lord Dunsany
From steaming lowlands down by the equator, where monstrous orchids
blow, where beetles big as mice sit on the tent-ropes, and fireflies
glide about by night like little moving stars, the travelers went
three days through forests of cactus till they came to the open plains
where the oryx are.
And glad they were when they came to the water-hole, where only one
white man had gone before, which the natives know as the camp of Bwona
Khubla, and found the water there.
It lies three days from the nearest other water, and when Bwona Khubla
had gone there three years ago, what with malaria with which he was
shaking all over, and what with disgust at finding the water-hole dry,
he had decided to die there, and in that part of the world such
decisions are always fatal. In any case he was overdue to die, but
hitherto his amazing resolution, and that terrible strength of
character that so astounded his porters, had kept him alive and moved
his safari on.
He had had a name no doubt, some common name such as hangs as likely
as not over scores of shops in London; but that had gone long ago, and
nothing identified his memory now to distinguish it from the memories
of all the other dead but "Bwona Khubla," the name the Kikuyus gave
There is not doubt that he was a fearful man, a man that was dreaded
still for his personal force when his arm was no longer able to lift
the kiboko, when all his men knew he was dying, and to this day though
he is dead.
Though his temper was embittered by malaria and the equatorial sun,
nothing impaired his will, which remained a compulsive force to the
very last, impressing itself upon all, and after the last, from what
the Kikuyus say. The country must have had powerful laws that drove
Bwona Khubla out, whatever country it was.
On the morning of the day that they were to come to the camp of Bwona
Khubla all the porters came to the travelers' tents asking for dow.
Dow is the white man's medicine, that cures all evils; the nastier it
tastes, the better it is. They wanted down this morning to keep away
devils, for they were near the place where Bwona Khubla died.
The travelers gave them quinine.
By sunset the came to Campini Bwona Khubla and found water there. Had
they not found water many of them must have died, yet none felt any
gratitude to the place, it seemed too ominous, too full of doom, too
much harassed almost by unseen, irresistible things.
And all the natives came again for dow as soon as the tents were
pitched, to protect them from the last dreams of Bwona Khubla, which
they say had stayed behind when the last safari left taking Bwona
Khubla's body back to the edge of civilization to show to the white
men there that they had not killed him, for the white men might not
know that they durst not kill Bwona Khubla.
And the travelers gave them more quinine, so much being bad for the
nerves, and that night by the camp-fires there was no pleasant talk;
all talking at once of meat they had eaten and cattle that each one
owned, but a gloomy silence hung by every fire and the little canvas
shelters. They told the white men that Bwona Khubla's city, of which
he had thought at the last (and where the natives believed he was once
a king), of which he had raved till the loneliness rang with his
raving, had settled down all about them; and they were afraid, for it
was so strange a city, and wanted more dow. And the two travelers
gave them more quinine, for they saw real fear in their faces, and
knew they might run away and leave them alone in that place, that
they, too, had come to fear with an almost equal dread, though they
knew not why. And as the night wore on their feeling of boding
deepened, although they had shared three bottles or so of champagne
that they meant to keep for days when they killed a lion.
This is the story that each of those two men tell, and which their
porters corroborate, but then a Kikuyu will always say whatever he
thinks is expected of him.
The travelers were both in bed and trying to sleep but not able to do
so because of an ominous feeling. That mournfullest of all the cries
of the wild, the hyśna like a damned soul lamenting, strangely enough
had ceased. The night wore on to the hour when Bwona Khubla had died
three or four years ago, dreaming and raving of "his city"; and in the
hush a sound softly arose, like a wind at first, then like the roar of
beasts, then unmistakably the sound of motorsómotors and motor
And then they saw, clearly and unmistakably they say, in that lonely
desolation where the equator comes up out of the forest and climbs
over jagged hills,óthey say they saw London.
There could have been no moon that night, but they say there was a
multitude of stars. Mists had come rolling up at evening about the
pinnacles of unexplored red peaks that clustered round the camp. But
they say the mist must have cleared later on; at any rate they swear
they could see London, see it and hear the roar of it. Both say they
saw it not as they knew it at all, not debased by hundreds of
thousands of lying advertisements, but transfigured, all its houses
magnificent, its chimneys rising grandly into pinnacles, its vast
squares full of the most gorgeous trees, transfigured and yet London.
Its windows were warm and happy, shining at night, the lamps in their
long rows welcomed you, the public-houses were gracious jovial places;
yet it was London.
They could smell the smells of London, hear London songs, and yet it
was never the London that they knew; it was as though they had looked
on some strange woman's face with the eyes of her lover. For of all
the towns of the earth or cities of song; of all the spots there be,
unhallowed or hallowed, it seemed to those two men then that the city
they saw was of all places the most to be desired by far. They say a
barrel organ played quite near them, they say a coster was singing,
they admit that he was singing out of tune, they admit a cockney
accent, and yet they say that that song had in it something that no
earthly song had ever had before, and both men say that they would
have wept but that there was a feeling about their heartstrings that
was far too deep for tears. They believe that the longing of this
masterful man, that was able to rule a safari by raising a hand, had
been so strong at the last that it had impressed itself deeply upon
nature and had caused a mirage that may not fade wholly away, perhaps
for several years.
I tried to establish by questions the truth or reverse of this story,
but the two men's tempers had been so spoiled by Africa that they were
not up to cross-examination. They would not even say if their
camp-fires were still burning. They say that they saw the London
lights all round them from eleven o'clock till midnight, they could
hear London voices and the sound of the traffic clearly, and over
all, a little misty perhaps, but unmistakably London, arose the great
After midnight London quivered a little and grew more indistinct, the
sound of the traffic began to dwindle away, voices seemed farther off,
ceased altogether, and all was quiet once more where the mirage
shimmered and faded, and a bull rhinoceros coming down through the
stillness snorted, and watered at the Carlton Club.