by H. Rider Haggard, from King Solomon’s Mines.
As a small boy Gagool so terrified me that only an excitement more powerful than imagination could have encouraged me to keep reading when any minute she might creep into the tale to wreak her dark magic and spoil everything. This short passage explains why she scared me so and scares me still.
An early cover shows, from the right, Foulata, Captain Good, Sir Henry Curtis, Allan Quatermain and Gagool on the hillside below the chamber of the dead, at the entrance to King Solomon’s Mines.
The king took it very gingerly, and laid it down at his feet. I observed the wizened, monkey-like figure creeping from the shadow of the hut. It crept on all fours, but when it reached the place where the king sat it rose upon its feet, and throwing the furry covering from its face revealed a most extraordinary and weird countenance. Apparently it was that of a woman of great age, so shrunken that in size it seemed no larger than the face of a year-old child, although made up of a number of deep and yellow wrinkles. Set in these wrinkles was a sunken slit, that represented the mouth, beneath which the chin curved outwards, to a point. There was no nose to speak of; indeed, the visage might have been taken for that of a sun-dried corpse had it not been for a pair of large black eyes, still full of fire and intelligence, which gleamed and played under the snow-white eyebrows, and the projecting parchment-coloured skull, like jewels in a charnel house. As for the head itself, it was perfectly bare, and yellow in hue, while its wrinkled scalp moved and contracted like the hood of a cobra.
The figure to which this fearful countenance belonged, a countenance so fearful indeed that it caused a shiver to pass through us as we gazed on it, stood still for a moment. Then suddenly it projected a skinny claw armed with nails nearly an inch long, and laying it on the shoulder of Twala the king, began to speak in a thin and piercing voice.
Gagool is presented as an imaginary figure,but the truth is that such people existed in courts of african kings until the late 1960s