Death on a Pale Horse - By Donald Thomas


The Documents in the Case


From: Permanent Secretary for Cabinet Affairs

To: Provost Marshal General

Date and Source: Cabinet Office, 20 August 1894

Subject: The Narrative of Colonel Rawdon Moran, a paper dated February 1879

My Lord,

By dispensation of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, I enclose for your confidential information a copy of a report compiled for his criminal paymasters by Colonel Rawdon Moran.

Your records will confirm that this officer was never brought before any recognised civilian or military court. Yet he remains the one agent identified in a criminal conspiracy which to this day endeavours to undermine the British position in Southern Africa. The wealth of newly discovered gold fields and diamond mines in the Transvaal was to be his particular prize. An illegal arms traffic via the Congo Free State was to be the means to that end.

In his departure from the British Army, Colonel Moran had suffered a terrible injury at the hands of fellow officers. Who shall say that it was not deserved? He swore at the time that he would be revenged upon them and their comrades many times over. And who shall say that he was not?

The attached manuscript describes certain remarkable events in Zululand, South-East Africa, on 22 January 1879. It is a curious document, for he adopts a literary style. As a young man, Moran was a hunter of big game whose bag of Bengal tigers has never been exceeded. He was the author of his own tales of adventure. Such titles as Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas enjoyed a steady sale on his return to London. Yet he must have feared the consequences, if this account of treachery at Isandhlwana ever fell into the wrong hands. Therefore he writes his account as a detached observer or story-teller, rather than as one who was present and participating at the scene. In truth, Colonel Moran alone was the Hunter, the observer and the mysterious horseman of his own narration.

This report, made to his criminal associates, was found among the effects of one of them. Professor James Moriarty, a mathematical scholar and a suspect in several crimes, died in an unusual accident at the Reichenbach Falls some months ago. But for that accident, Moran’s account would be known only to those who presumably employed his services.

My disclosure of this document to yourself was sanctioned yesterday at a meeting of the Privy Council. As I am sure your lordship will be aware, only the Sovereign and one other member need be present for a meeting of the Council and for its decisions to be valid under the constitution. Her Majesty is insistent that the fewer people who know of this matter at present, the better.

Accordingly, Lord Rosebery, as Prime Minister, and I waited upon the Queen at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, yesterday evening.

Colonel Moran’s case may now be regarded as closed. However, in the interest of military intelligence, Council deemed it advisable that you should have sight of this narrative before it is filed for indefinite retention among the confidential State Papers. I hardly need add that you have not been authorised to communicate the contents of this document to any other person.

My courier, Sergeant Albert Gibbons of the Royal Marines Despatch Corps, will attend you while you read it, and will convey the paper to me again when you have done so.

I have the honour to remain, sir, your obedient servant,

William Mycroft Holmes, PC, KBE




The Narrative of Colonel Rawdon Moran

February 1879

A brown minullus hawk rode high and alone above the silence of the arid plain. Its wings drooped in an easy curve against a green flush of African dawn. Below it, the broad lowland marked by a dry river donga lay in shadow, while the early sky gathered reflected light. In the growing day, not a breath of dust stirred the wild grass and mimosa thorn. The bird shifted a little, an alignment of patient grace, as the dismounted horseman watched and listened.

The scene was everything that this hunter had expected. That morning, for the first time, a distant accompaniment to the wakening day rose from a ravine of the eastern hills. The sound drifted across the tall parched grass where the rider lay concealed. Its continuous humming was subdued but undulating, like a swarm of countless bees. Carried higher in the warmer air, it began to take on a human resonance, the prayer of warriors intoned before battle.

At that moment a yellow disc of sun began