Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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CAPTAIN HAWKES of His Majesty's East African police strode very determinedly towards the little camp under the shade of the flat, umbrella-top acacias. He was hot under the collar for reasons more than the slanting sun, and he swore as he stumbled over the stiff bunch grass tussocks.
"Give this blasted foreigner a healthy surprise. Can't let 'em come trampling all over regulations any way they jolly well please."
He was still half a mile from the camp. But the man who was to be surprised separated himself from behind the tan and brown broken sunlight of a mimosa trunk and grinned most amiably at the officer. A tall, hard figure and rangy. Sun tanned and khaki clad, he looked as though he might have been carved out of a tough length of that same tree trunk and jointed together with steel wires. He said: "Ah! Come on into the camp, Sergeant, and sit. Been expecting you for three days. You're just in time. I'm sort of figuring to shoot a man this night, and I'd like for you to be a witness."
Thin wrinkles that narrowed the man's eyes progressed into twin deep grooves to restrict the spread of his lips and extended on down to cut the lean grimness of his jaw.
Captain Hawkes was too suddenly taken back even to unbutton the flap of his pistol holster that regulations prescribed to be carried—a little ineffectually for a quick draw—snug on the right side of the tight belt. But he was just as grim as the other, and very precise. Captain, late of the 72nd Punjabis; sergeant now of the police; but the military precision stuck; not only in the stiff carriage and trim mustache, but in the neat uniform, cut by an English tailor, precisely buttoned and belted—and very hot.
Ex-Capt. Hawkes of the Punjabis was very new in the East African police, and very impatient with the easy going methods of some of the old-timers. But all his military experience had left him incapable of contemplating the possibility of ever having actually to use his gun. The majesty of the law was with him in a land where the Law was something that white men knew to have teeth in it.
The tall man's grin, however, was remaining amiable.
"C'm on in," he said, "and let me give you a drink. It's pretty hot walking until the sun drops below the scrub line."
Determined Sergeant Hawkes was, but not unnecessarily hostile.
"Well, I'll do that," he said. "I'll take your drink; but I'm warning you, you'll do no shooting for a while. I'm arresting you for shooting that elephant."
"Oh! About that elephant?" The man's hard grin remained as though it had been carved in to stay.
An enormous black man heaved himself up from his hunkers in front of the tent and threw off the blanket that Africans will wear whenever doing nothing.
Splendidly naked, the man wore only a leopard-skin apron and fringed garters of monkey hair flowing from little spurs at elbow and knee. He saluted with a spear that had a blade nearly three feet long.
"By Jove!" Sergeant Hawkes' hard eyes bored keenly at the formidable shape. "What kind of a native is that?" Hawkes' speech was no indication of sissiness; it was just his heritage of a military aristocracy.
"Masai. An Elmorani wa-simba-muuwaji."
"Meaning he's killed his lion single-handed with a spear."
"Hmfh! And—good Lord! What's this one?" The sergeant's eyes were adjusting themselves to the sudden dimness of the tent after the blinding sun. "This fellow a trained monkey or something? Not a pigmy, is he? They tell me you can't make servants of those chaps. Sort of a freak show you have here, Mr.—er—what?"
"Hottentot. And as smart as the other is savage. And the name, Sergeant, is King."
THERE were officers in Africa who would have stopped to do a lot of thinking. But that name meant nothing to Sergeant Hawkes. He swilled his drink around in the glass and looked through its murky flatness as though it were the rarest of wine—it was lemon, squeezed into the lukewarm melange of liquids that comes from a water hole where animals drink.
"Aa-ah!" The sergeant gulped the half of it.
"People call me Kingi Bwana."
The sergeant gulped the remaining half. "Aa-ah! That was a life-saver. And I'll have another of the same, if you don't mind. Almost sorry to have to take you in. Mr. King."
King said only: "I'm beginning to suspect, Sarge, you're sort o' new in the country."
The Hottentot was smart enough to know all the symptoms. Another drink was waiting.
"New here," Hawkes admitted cheerfully. "But experienced enough to know how to tap you on the shoulder and warn you that anything you say may be used against you."
King was just as cheerful. "We'll come to that later. For the present there's more important things, like this man that I think I'll have to shoot."
Hawkes could see the humor of that. "Ha-ha! You bally Yankees, I understand, have an idea that you can spoof your way out of getting what you call a ticket, eh? Not with us, Mr. King. You can't go shooting an elephant in a British colony without a license and not have us jump you. I'd have been here even sooner if the dashed plane hadn't set me down at the wrong camp."
"When you're older in the country," King grinned, "you won't try to spoof me with that kind of yarn. Bush telegraph reported three days ago that you were coming to look into the disappearance of Ogilvie."
"Bush telegraph? Dash it all, my dear sir, you don't swallow that, do you? Though some of the old-timers at H.Q.—What do you know about Ogilvie?"
"Ogilvie was a very good friend of mine. Pulled me out of a fuss with a lion once, and got himself clawed close to the limit. A whole white man, Ogilvie. I just heard about him. Been away myself for a couple of years—up in this mess that's Italian Ethiopia these days."
"Ethiopia? Then that means you've come without a passport too. Damn it, Mr. King, some of you foreign blighters just don't seem to realize that international boundaries are serious things nowadays, and the Law is—This is a lot more serious than just an unlicensed elephant."
"A whole lot more serious. Like this man I'm telling you about that I want you to be witness when I—"
"Don't play the fool, Mr. King." Sergeant Hawkes' patience was used up. "I'm sorry, but I've got to arrest you."
KING still grinned and lounged his length on a chop box over his cot. The sergeant sat on a similar chop box at the tent flap.
"Well, all right then," King said. "Let's be serious. What are you going to arrest me with?"
"What I'm going to—" The significance of the insinuation required some time to take hold. He stared at King. Then, "Oh, well, if you put it that way—" Not very expertly he unbuttoned the flap of his holster and produced the service revolver. "I'm sorry you make me do it this way."
The grin remained confident on King's face.
"Now I'd say," he told the sergeant judicially, "you're a pretty good type of athletic Britisher. You've played a lot of polo in your military service, and you've shot tigers in India. All in all, you're probably a good man with a rifle. But your regulations never teach you fellows anything about small gun play. You're slow as glaciers."
Sergeant Hawkes said: "You can't fool me, my good man, by looking over my head, behind me. I know about that trick."
King said: "Speak to him, Barounggo."
"Haya!" A great voice boomed over the sergeant's head and cool metal touched his neck. The flat of it slid along his skin until a foot of spear blade stood out under his chin, where he could see it without dropping his eyes from King's.
"And even if I didn't have him—" King said. "Look, I'll show you something about guns." He made a blurred movement to his shirt front, under his arm, and the sergeant was looking at a flat little blue automatic. "I'll bet you wouldn't even have frisked me for this. You fellows rely a heap too much on the majesty of your law—and you're a long way away from it just now." He laughed and threw the automatic onto the camp table. "Come on, Sergeant, I'm not fighting the British Colonial Empire. I got more important things to do this night. Put up your gun and call it even—until tomorrow, and we can argue about elephants again." His gun was shameless.
Sergeant Hawkes was brave enough, but not a fool. He put his regulation revolver on the table.
"You're being a bloody idiot," he said. "And I'm not giving in. I warn you, I'm going to arrest you."
"As inflexible as glaciers," King grinned. "Yeah, your crowd has the reputation of getting your man, same's your Canadian bunch. So I'll warn you, tomorrow you'll be sending for reinforcements."
"If it takes the British army," Hawkes said curtly. "We'll take you, my dear fellow. Don't you worry."
"Oh, I'm not. By the way, who was it informed you about that elephant business?"
"A native, name of Mosha. I happened to be at Todali outpost, and I had the Port Sudan plane detour me off here."
King nodded, looking narrow-eyed into the hazy nothings of dusk. "Ah, Mosha, was it? So nobody has killed Mosha yet? A good runner, that fellow; a four-day trek for him to Todali. Went to a lot of trouble to inform, didn't he? If old Sarge Rowland had been at Todali, he'd have been wondering about that. I'll be attending to Mosha." He shrugged his wide shoulders out of a dark reminiscence. "But come, come. Darkness deepens, and we have a man to shoot. Your duty as a police officer compels you to come along and stop me. You agree, it's a truce till tomorrow?" His cheerfulness was false. There was a deadly seriousness underneath it.
The sergeant said: "I think the sun's hit you in the head. But I'm coming, of course. And all right—it's half time till tomorrow."
"O.K. Your word on that goes with me. Better maneuver that gun of yours into its case. You'll be needing a rifle. I'll loan you one. You look hard enough to do a fast ten miles yet tonight, even on top of the six or so from that trader camp where the plane dropped you."
"Do twenty, my dear chap, to keep you in sight," Sergeant Hawkes growled.
King gave quick orders. To the Hottentot: "Kaffa, the usual precautions. Only that you will shoot any visitors more than the askaris can handle."
The usual precautions meant that Kaffa would perch, apelike, in a tree, from where the surprise value of sudden bullets upon dumb raiding spearmen would be immense.
"Barounggo, the soldier rifle for the Polis Bwana. Plant out your night guard, and we go."
THE Masai handed Hawkes a heavy-stocked military rifle and a cartridge pouch and went out to bully his men. King grinned again at the policeman's indignation. "Yes, yes, I know. Your regulation .308, and it's against your regulations that I should have it; but that's the one you'll use best, if you have to—which, Mister, I'm hoping for both of us you won't."
The great Masai was ominously growling at the askaris. Eight of them; fine stalwarts. He had picked them and trained them under his own ruthless driving, but he remained ever dissatisfied of their performance. Porters they had been originally, gawky oxen with nothing other than strength to recommend them; and they still carried the loads necessary for King's meager camps and covered distances with them that the ponderous safaris of less hardened travelers would never believe. But the contemptuous designation of wa-pagazi they had shed, for the Masai had beaten into their beings the miracle of putting spears into their hands and making fighting men of them, askaris.
Obediently they were disposing of themselves around the camp fringe as sentries.
Hawkes hazarded the remark, half incredulous: "How long will they stay there after we're out of sight, if a lion comes roaring round? Or the ghosts that these African chappies seem to fear more than anything else?"
"Pity you haven't got the Swahili as yet." King told him. "His last exhortation, I mean. He was telling 'em: 'If trouble comes and the camp suffers, let no man of you be alive when I return'."
"Hmfh! Another ruffian who thinks he's far from the Law. And you're expecting to get trouble?"
"Nope. Excepting to make it. Just being cautious here."
King set a stiff pace into the low hills that were already black against the last purple of the sky. "Got to make time in the open. We'll not have to bother about lion trouble here."
"No? Well, I'm glad you're so certain about lions at night, too."
King chuckled out of the dimness ahead. "I figured they'd be in the back of your mind, and yet you got the guts to tag along anyhow. You'll learn to be a cop yet, soldier. About lions: there's been no game in sight for three days, so they'll be wherever the meat's gone. So we can hike right along here; we'll hit rain forest and wash ravines in those hills, and then we can afford to slow up. The killing isn't due till high of moon."
Sergeant Hawkes was toughly skeptical. "You don't spoof me with that killink talk, my dear man, even if I don't know yet what this madness is."
King's voice came back without the chuckle. "This is Africa. And there's things that a white man's got to do in Africa. Come ahead, tough guy."
SERGEANT HAWKES had no immediate comment. This King fellow talked with a coldblooded callousness that made the possibility of anything serious seem far and improbable. And yet the hardness of that grim face didn't look as though it invented ghost stories. If it laughed, it laughed at the precariousness of life just as it did at the seriousness of official regulations. Damned exasperating, but—
"Blasted efficient sort of a beggar." His conclusion grunted from him as he stumbled along.
"Huh?" said King's tall shadow from ahead.
Hawkes was still thinking. A vague recollection was coming to him of something he had heard.
"Would you be that King fellow who used to be in this country and of whom they said, wherever he was there was trouble?"
"No sirree!" King's voice sounded genuinely alarmed. "Don't let anybody give me that kind of a rep. I'm the Kingi Bwana that was born into the ill luck to be often enough where trouble was. Ask your chief at Nairobi; he'll tell you."
"And then the trouble usually cleared up? By Jove, I'm remembering about some of those stories."
"This one won't." King's voice was suddenly grim and hard. "Not till you dig in and clear it up yourself. I'm telling you, Mister, you've dropped out of the sky into a party."
The moon was showing over the scrub tops now, white and big enough to be blamed for the heat of the night. It helped Sergeant Hawkes a lot. King and the Masai stalked along as though they walked by the feel of the ground underfoot, like elephants, and as silently. Hawkes was sweating a pint per mile. He was glad when King called a breathing halt at the base of a dark rounded boulder that stood incongruously alone, in the middle of the empty rolling grass land.
King mopped his face. The Masai seemed to be as incapable of perspiration as an iron statue.
"If they'd had the decency," King said, "to wait a month, you'd be using a blanket."
"Who are 'they'? What's all this bally lunatic mystery?"
"It's an interesting thing," King said. "Talking about glaciers and you British. How this rock ever got here. This is the edge of the great African rift. Something in the old red hot days went boom and split the continent pretty near in half. There never was a glacier to roll rocks along and leave 'em lying along its front. Yet you'll find things like this every now and then for miles."
"Really, my dear chap, I can't get interested just now," Hawkes grumbled. "What's African geology got to do with a white man crazy in the African night and me following him like a bally ass?" And he added the logical thought: "Why don't I just pot you from behind for a homicidal maniac?"
"Regulations, copper," King derided him. "Your hide-bound Law don't let you. Now in my own country a tough cop would call this a kidnaping and take me in on a stretcher."
"Savages," Hawkes grunted.
"Yeah," King said dryly. "We're going to meet some, and you'll see what savages are like. You'll learn, Britisher, how good is your Law and your regulations at the far ends of 'em. Come ahead. We got to watch that moon for straight shooting."
THE rain forest began like a sudden wall. There was no gradual merging of trees into the grass land. A wall of timber stood like an irregular palisade, white in the moonlight, leaving the black shadows of a Dantesque inferno between. But no tangling vines yet. A breeze, gratefully cool, drifted out of the woods.
The Masai lifted his head and sniffed the high air with broad twitching nostrils. You could almost see his ears set forward, animal-wise, to catch vagrant currents of sound. He grunted.
"Means, 'They have commenced the business'," King translated.
"I can't hear it myself yet, but it'll be ju-ju drums."
King's head was turned to catch the sound. Hawkes could not see his face in the shadow, but his voice was as cold and as harsh as a file. "Meaning that a man is going to die this night, pretty horribly. Unless we can stop it—which we can't."
Hawkes' skin suddenly tingled.
"How d'you know anybody is going to die? What I mean, the way you say?"
"I don't absolutely know. Nobody knows for sure about ju-ju, except the devils that's in it. And only the toughest cops butt into it. But me—By God, I got to butt in."
King jerked his shoulder to throw his rifle sling from it; automatically, his face drawn in tight lines of thought, he opened his rifle and thumbed the breech to assure himself of a full load. He shrugged his preoccupation from him and tried to talk with the old carelessness. But it was not very convincing.
"Tough enough to tag along, copper?"
"I'm keeping you in sight, Chappie. Don't forget I've arrested you."
"Stiff-necked egg, ain't you. Okay, never mind African geology for just now; you'll get interested in that later. Right now African anthropology is your business. This marks tribal borders. Plains men, like plains animals, won't come in here; because the tree devils, you'll understand, jump on the back of their necks out of the dark."
Hawkes was unconsciously whispering. "By holy Jove! I'll believe 'em. Anything could happen in these shadows."
"Just about anything will." There was mirth in his voice. "These people are Wallegas, two and a half times as primitive as your nomad cattle farmers, and that's saying plenty of words."
With the trees the terrain changed as though heaved out of the plain by the thrust of giant roots. As suddenly as the tree fringe, there was a ridge of shale rock, and beyond it rising ground, and, cut by the rain into the rising ground, little gullies. Later, deep and darkly impenetrable ravines.
The Masai, flitting in advance from shadow to shadow, like some great ogre, peered into the yawning crevasses, lay on his belly to sniff into them for local whiffs of the things that die in African gullies. Uncannily, using all the animal senses that supplement vision in the dark, he remembered locations that he had traversed before, whether it would be practical to climb down the steep sides and up again without breaking a limb or whether one would have to skirt the edges to find a better place. Sometimes the better place would not be for a mile.
Fitful gusts of air carried the growl of the drums, throbbing to crescendo waves, and carried them away again till you could not know whether you still heard drums or whether the insects of the night jungle had been hypnotized by the impelling repetition to buzz and thrum in the same diabolical vibration. But enough of the persistent cadences came over.
"Yeah," King breathed. "That beat means a killing for this night at top moon. C'm on."
THE Masai felt and snuffled his way through a dark terrain growing ever steeper and craggier, until the throb of the drums prevaded the air all about them, thrown back and sublimated by rocky echoes so that there was no longer any conception of direction.
The vibration was a live thing in the air, a thing to be felt on the skin as well as heard. The repetition of its rhythm fairly beat into a man's senses. It was all new to Hawkes, and a little frightening. He whispered his feeling.
"I've heard Hindu drumming in India, and that can be sort of intoxicating. But this—I can jolly well imagine how this would whip up a man to any bloody madness."
"Yeah," King said. "There's all the devils of old Africa in this. And African devils live on blood, red and hot."
The Masai climbed a steep rise to peer over, a grotesque, gorilloid shadow, spread-eagled in a moonlit patch. He turned and beckoned the white men on.
They scrambled up, and as their heads topped the rise the thunder of drums hit them like gunfire. Hawkes' impulse was to duck.
King laughed harshly. "It may yet be just as dangerous." And to the Masai: "Good work, Barounggo. There will be a stick of tobacco upon our return, if—"
A black ravine fell away before them—they could not tell how deep. But intermittently, between waves of drumming, they could hear running water, quite far down.
Across the ravine, at a height almost directly across from them, on what seemed to be a wide shelf, a great fire blazed. From the recesses of solid shadow around it the drums roared out.
But King was not looking at that just now. He was peering into the ravine, listening to the water. Dubiously he muttered: "It may be a life-saver yet. Deep and steep, and hell dark. Ought to give us a good ten minutes start, maybe fifteen." And, stubbornly: "Damn, a good man ought to be able to run away from all Africa with fifteen minutes start." He drove his elbow at Hawkes. "Look there, copper. There's something that your Law never sees—And the moon, like I said, is just about overhead."
Hawkes, of course, had looked over there first of all; but, not knowing what to look for, he had understood nothing of the devil doings. His attention had wandered back to King's mutterings. He could sense tension in the air, but not the closeness of death. He did not know that, all unconsciously, he was trying to emulate King's coldly callous approach to impending violence.
"Macabre sort of setting, isn't it, old man? What's it all about, and what mad thing are you proposing to do?"
"Propose to shoot into a full moon ju-ju and then see how fast we can all of us run." King shoved his hard-set chin out across the ravine. "Look over there. Hell, what else can we do?"
ACROSS the pit of the ravine, as it might be in a far amphitheater, the great fire burned a yellow circle out of the crowding shadows. Posturing shapes flitted intermittently before it in black silhouette. An endless line of them, leaping high, bending low to crawl belly flat, in all the African conceptions of deviltry.
Far enough to be flattened and silenced by distance, it looked like something unreal, like a filmed representation of hell. Only that the wind brought the ceaseless waves of the drums, thundering and ebbing; and with their ebb came hoarse, horrid screams.
"There? D'you see it?" King gripped Hawkes' arm; his voice was as thin and tense as a plucked wire.
"By Jove! What kind of business is it?"
"You don't see it. Watch over the fire as the drums let down. That's so they can enjoy the shrieking."
The drum waves ebbed again, and Hawkes saw now a frame that looked like a cross; a thing that staggered drunkenly on insecure footing and threw an unholy lurching shadow on the ruddy back-drop of fire-lit trees. Its fitful movements seemed to be controlled by men who raised and lowered it with ropes.
It lowered with a hellish deliberation over the fire again, and in the bright glow Hawkes could see now a darker blot attached to it that screeched horribly.
"By God! It's—" Hawkes' voice caught in his throat. Studied casualness was gone. "Is it a man?"
"That one," said King, "will be Ogilvie's head boy!"
"Good God! How d'you know? Why—what hellish thing is happening?"
King's voice seemed to Hawkes incredibly cold and deliberate.
"Head boy was a mission convert. The cross is just African humor."
Hawkes had no such cold-blooded hesitation. He swung his body over the lip of the ravine. "We can get there in time to stop it."
King grabbed his sleeve and dragged him back.
"You can't. Nobody can. There's a thousand black men there, drunk with drums and the madawa drug, all howling blood-mad."
"But good Lord—"
"There's no good Lord in African ju-ju. I've seen one of you nervy Britishers walk into a native village single-handed and drag your man out by the ear—in daylight. But there's nobody can fool with a ju-ju crowd on their own mad night."
"Then—what can we do?"
"So I figured," King said, very coldly and very methodically, "I'd have to shoot him at long range. I wanted you along as a witness. And if we can get clear with our own skins afterwards, that'll be our good luck."
Hawkes stared at him.
"Or maybe you had better," King said. "You're an officer."
Hawkes' eyes were big. They stayed fixed, as though glassy with death themselves.
King's cold deliberation broke. He flared out at the policeman: "Man, d'you have to debate the question while they torture him?"
Hawkes voice croaked at last from his throat.
"I couldn't do it."
"Damn your regulations!" King snarled at him. "The hell with anything that's so hidebound that—"
Hawkes flared back at him: "Ah, shut your dashed Yankee yelping. I'd do it in a minute. Only I couldn't. Of course it's justified. But—darkness, distance, an' all. We can't sit here taking pot shots at the poor devil. How much time would that mob give us?"
King glowered at him. The Masai spat out into the darkness: "These be an ape people, for only the rock baboons delight in doing hurt. Slaying indeed is a little thing. I in my time have—"
"Peace, slaughterer!" King told him; and with that he got a grip again on his nerves. "Okay, Britisher. If you got the guts to make your own where your Law don't reach—What'd you make the range?"
Again Hawkes was staring at him. "You mean you'll—Good Lord, it'll be incredible shooting! All of six hundred."
King shook his head. "Four-fifty—hope to God."
He lifted his rifle to his ear and listened while he clicked the Lyman sight to that elevation. "And you're a witness. There's a smart voodoo chief over there would send a hundred blacks to swear to murder; and I've seen your impartial British justice hang a white man on less evidence."
He shuffled to find a place where he could lie prone on his belly. The thunder of the drums ebbed and awful shrieks floated across the black ravine.
Hawkes' breath shivered in his throat. "Hurry up, man."
BUT King was chillingly slow in making sure. He took a little vial from his pocket and dabbed a spot of luminous paint on his front sight. "Going to be damned little time for miss and try again. Barounggo, old night watcher, how far say you?"
The Masai's opinion had no hesitation. "A distance that I can run while the gray crane cries twelve times."
"And that's as good as a clock." King muttered into his rifle butt. "He makes it four hundred. But he always thinks he can run faster'n anybody else. I'll stick to four-fifty."
He composed himself rigid to wait through the drumming thunder until it would ebb and the grisly cross would descend once more over the fire's light. Hawkes' eyes strained out towards the far leaping devil forms and he held his breath as tense as though it was he who aimed. Taut and ready to snap. Minutes!
He had aimed a rifle at men before now—at black men and brown men and white men. But that had been different; that had been duty, patriotism, orders from his country to kill. The responsibility came down from the highest, spread over many shoulders. That was Law. Here he felt that the responsibility lay on his shoulders alone. He, an officer, was giving the order.
Hours! He held his breath. He could hold it not one more throb of his pulse that pounded in his ears. The cross dipped over the blaze that crouched, waiting for it, and now sent long red devil tongues out to lick at it. The agonized shriek came over the ravine. And King fired.
The shriek cut mercifully off. The drums muttered on; their beaters had heard nothing.
The cross dipped into the licking lips of the flame and staggered upwards again, as though its own tendons were seared to distortion. And then, at the lack of its shrieking response, a confused yelling began.
It swelled in volume to howl down the crescendo of the drums; to spread until it seemed that the whole further hillside was howling surprise and rage out of its infernal shadows.
"Golly, what luck!" King heaved himself to his feet. "Jump now, copper, while the going's dark and bad. Hear 'em! There must be two-three thousand. And thank Pete for this good black ravine. Damned if I don't think we'll get clear."
It was a mad and bruising race down the black hillside. Into gullies, along their rocky bottoms, out where the going seemed better. The first fifteen minutes of it with not a sound of pursuit.
"Could it be," Hawkes panted, "that the sudden miracle of that shot has scared the swine?"
"Wait," King said. "I mean, come on."
In a little while there was no possibility of hopeful guessing. A wave of brute howling came down the wind as the first hunters climbed the lip of the ravine that had blanketed all sound. More howling all along a wide line as others topped the rise.
"That's a good fifteen minutes start." King grunted. "More'n I hoped. And as long as we don't make too much racket they won't know any better'n general direction in the dark—and they'll scatter to cover a wide front."
The Masai cursed the complicated oaths of his kind. "May hyenas dig up my forebears, Bwana. This is disgrace to melt a spear. Never have I fled from apes before. May sewage run in my veins. Here, Bwana, is a good place to stop and give battle."
"All the Elmorani are mad," King told him. "As they must be ever to make their manhood test against a lion. Stay thou and fight. As for me, I run." To Hawkes he panted: "It's plenty I've run in my time, and plenty it'll be again. How about you, Britisher? What about this ballyhoo that a British soldier never runs?"
In King's ability to mock again at sacred things was a comforting indication, now, of escape. But Hawkes could see no humor in it. He grunted, between gasps: "It's been in history, Yank, that they've run. But never, by God, that they haven't come back."
"Chances look now like you'll live to fight another day, if we once make the plains country."
AND reach the open plains they did, though the howls of the wide-spread pack followed them right to the black edge of the tree belt. Plentifully bruised they were, with their faces and bare knees slashed by springy branches to copious bleeding. But alive.
King was able to grin once more between huge breaths. "Phe-e-ew! Ain't run that much since me and some Ethiops chased the Eyetalian army at Shebbeli. We can let up a bit now. Those monkeys won't know but what some good herdsmen might be laying for 'em in this territory. Thank Pete, I've said more'n once, for hereditary enmities—which your holy government knows about, too, and plays both ways across the board."
Hawkes remained sturdily dense to levity.
"My government knows enough," he growled, "to jump very fast on that sort of deviltry."
"That's talkin', copper. And, come camp, I hope your conscience'll let you sleep as well as I will. I'm telling you, fella, we've had us a day."
For all of which, long after Hawkes had flung himself onto King's camp cot and dozed into nightmares, they kept waking him up to hear King prowling outside amongst his askari sentries.
"So it's not so dashed safe as you like to make out," he murmured out of his hazy exhaustion when King's dark silhouette stooped under the tent flap.
"Just being cautious," King told him. "Just a mite careful."
In the morning Hawkes was profuse with his apologies. "Dash it all, old man, I slept in your cot all night, while you—I don't know—'pon my word, I was so tuckered that I didn't know what—"
King was astoundingly cheerful this bright morning. "In my country," he grinned at Hawkes, "a cop never explains to a prisoner. Today is tomorrow, and you're arresting me for crimes—elephants and unlawful entries and what not."
Hawkes remained stolid. "You said it yourself, Yank. That will come later, rest assured. There are more important things just now. I've jolly well got to go back and teach that voodoo chief a thing or two."
King chuckled. "But there was something else I said: Today you'll be sending for reinforcements."
Hawkes scowled at him and drummed his fingernails against his front teeth. "You mean, I couldn't—we couldn't snaffle this blighter together?"
"Ho? It's we, is it? You figurin', copper, I aim to shove my face into that mess again?"
For the first time Hawkes grinned at him. "You know dashed well, you ungodly bounder, I couldn't shove you out of it."
King's grin was as hard and as bleak as ever, because the contours of his face were that way; but there was just a shade of difference to it. He was genuinely pleased.
"Well, now!" he said.
"But I'm not condoning the other things." Hawkes could remain impartially friendly about that. "I've got to uphold the Law, old man."
Impiousness came back to King's grin. "Inflexible is the word, ain't it. Well, set and let's coffee up and I'll tell you about it. And first lemme tell you for a treat that this Hottentot makes coffee. Times are, I almost figure the mission laid on me by the Lord is to travel around Africa and let my Hottentot teach you Britishers how to brew a real drink."
HE sat on his chop box and breathed in the aroma of a brew that even Hawkes admitted was not so bad. King lit his pipe and fired a didactic finger at Hawkes like a gun.
"Now listen. I've seen British guts pull off some hair-raisin' things in Africa. But you're up against a tough layout here. These Wallegas are pretty far on the edge of things, and they don't know so much about the old British Lion."
"It's time they were taught."
"Time and past. But look. That village is ju-ju headquarters. There'll be, judging from the spread of last night's yelping, a couple of thousand tribesmen gathered from around the hills; and that's a little more'n just prestige can handle. These Wallegas are some different from your tame Kavirondos and Wakambas and all these plains fellows."
"Well then," Hawkes said doggedly, "if it takes the British army."
"Good old Pax Britannica. But the old British army, as you won't admit, but everybody else knows, takes as long a time to get moving as a steam roller."
"But it keeps moving ahead." Hawkes defended instantly.
"Granted, most of the time. But you can't go ponderously official here. There's complications."
"What complications? The thing, in the long run, is a simple case of law enforcement. These swine have committed a brutal crime; they must be taught their lesson."
"And damn well will be." King's agreement was suddenly grimly vengeful. "But listen. Ju-ju runs in threes. Too deep for me to know just why; but there's a scientific sharp I know is writing a whole book, 'The Persistence of the Trinity Theory in African Theomorphy', which is a whole mouthful of words. But it means that three nights from now, or mid-moon of the last quarter, another jamboree is due."
Hawkes sat looking at King with widening eyes, nervously turning the tip of his trim mustache.
"And Ogilvie had two other servants! Loyal British subjects!"
"Good God!" Hawkes remained frozen; only his finger tips twisted with a tiny grating sound on his mustache tip.
King leaned over the little camp table, firing a fierce question that crackled like fast shooting.
"You got the guts, copper, to swing your own bat, hard and fast? Take a responsibility on your own?"
Hawkes stared at the pointing finger, as though held up by it to deliver all he had. He began to nod. Slowly at first, then doggedly.
"Yes, I—Dammit, by George, of course. That's what white officers are for, to take responsibility when higher orders are not available."
"Good lad. What's the best you can do in three days?"
It was an ultimatum as suddenly shocking as a death sentence.
Hawkes considered it, drumming his nails on his teeth. "I've got two native constables at the Todali outpost."
King cursed the meagerness of the colonial system. "Two men to look after a district as big as Texas! But—" He began to nod, too, in dour disgust. "Your two and my eight askaris makes ten. The Masai is as good as five. The Hottentot can shoot pretty well, and a couple of the askaris know how to bang off a gun."
It all sounded utterly mad. A handful against a tribe. But black men led by white prestige had accomplished miracles in Africa before.
"Look. Flag down that return plane and write a noteful of all the authority you got. Order him to heave out mail and bring back your two cops; and tell him to heave out more mail and bring spare guns and all the old uniforms in the locker. If they don't fit the size of my men, it don't matter. We'll rip 'em up the back and tie 'em on. Uniforms carry an awful punch of authority."
Hawkes was being carried into the sweep of the dynamic current. "By Jove, that'll be quite an army, what?"
King grinned back at him. "Look, now. The plane detoured you. Its track'll be passing about fifty miles east. You sit and pack your letter with dynamite. I'll get the Masai ready to carry it—call his brag about how good he can run. He'll do it all right; and he has sense enough to tear up sheets and peg out an S.O.S. on the grass where the pilot can't miss it."
THREE days was long waiting, when the momentous and only subject of discussion was the madness of raiding a tribe with fourteen men all told. Hawkes, with military precision, wanted to plan a campaign. King scouted the thought.
"What can you plan? There are no rifle pits and trenches and barbed wire to crash through. Bamboo huts and garbage piles, that's an African village. There's no staff headquarters to capture and paralyze the brains of the enemy. All you can plan is surprise—and the jolt of that is worth half their force, because they'll never suspect we'd have the nerve."
"But my dear chap, you've got to tell your men what to do."
King wouldn't listen. "Tell your two. Mine know what to do—jump in and shoot or spear everything they can see as long as they can stand. That's the way the African fights. It takes ten years of drill to make a machine soldier of him."
"And I'll tell you this more about Africans that's all to our good. A daylight African is a lot tamer than a mid-moon African crazy with ju-ju drums and witch doctory."
"Well, that's something to be jolly well thankful for. Still—"
"And here's something more that counts their numbers down. Between jamborees a lot of 'em will be back in their own villages, getting grub; for the African has never been able to organize a commissariat. And the men left in this village will be getting over their ju-ju drug; it'll take long minutes to soak into their thick heads just what's happening. Surprise. That's the only thing we can plan. Surprise 'em at hot noon and sock 'em."
Hawkes laughed with an excitement that was mounting, perforce, to the reckless. "Dashed if I don't think we can make a go of it, old man."
"Hell!" said King. "They'll be a bare five hundred of 'em."
Hawkes' precise training still had worries. "D' you think your Masai boy made the fifty run in time? D' you think the plane spotted his S.O.S.? D' you think—"
"What you got to worry about is whether the pilot accepted your order."
"Oh, he'll do that. My word, I made it strong."
AND the pilot did. With dusk of the third day two native constables tramped in, loaded down with guns and clothing like a pair of junk men and complaining in thick-lipped half English about their dignity as soldiers being ruined by the disgrace of porterage.
They brought a note from the pilot. Typically British. "Sorry I couldn't drop your johnnies any nearer, old man. No possible landing terrain. Wish I could come with you on your binge. Luck."
Hawkes could still find incompleted details. "What about the Masai getting back? Fifty and back is a lot of foot slog."
"He'll be back. It's not so much for a good runner." King grinned with tight lips. "By the same token friend elephant-informer Mosha will be home in time for the killing that's been due him these couple of years."
The Masai came in sure enough, some time during the night, and, iron man that he was, he was up and haranguing his askaris with the dawn. It was a long speech, full of grandiloquent brag about his own past exploits that must be a shining example to them, and of blood chilling threats of his wrath, should they not make it so. The gist of it all, the not-to-be-forgotten ultimum, was:
"You, whom I picked from the jungles as cattle and made into askaris, you have beside you two soldiers of the Bertisi Serkali. Let no man of you show a lesser killing than they."
The askaris yelled and leapt in the air, slapping their buttocks and shadow-fighting their spears.
King chuckled at Hawkes over the enameled coffee cups. "You fellows will never do it, of course, but that's the stuff that hits the African in the fighting spot."
Hawkes, of course, was on the immediate defensive. "We manage to do pretty well with our fellows, I think."
"In ten years." King laughed at him. "Yeah, with ten years of drill you can beat a little white man discipline into the African skull. Barounggo has had these lads in hand barely one—and you watch 'em fight, soldier."
Hawkes laughed too. "Hope so, old fellow. We'll need it."
Even the askaris were able to laugh. Gripped by that mysterious exhilaration that comes to fighting men about to meet odds, they guffawed at their own grotesque fitting into old uniforms too small for their bulk, ripped and laced with strings. And they made the old boast of soldiers, whatever their color, the world over.
"Let but the fronts be whole, Bwana. Our backs they will never see."
And one ebullient egoist started a scramble for the better garments, announcing confidently: "For each man that I slay I take me one such golden medal of the Beritisi Serkali to make me a necklace." He meant the lion and unicorn-monogrammed uniform buttons.
"By Jove," Hawkes admired, "they've got the right spirit."
"Yeah." King looked them over critically. "Uniforms. That's one thing you British have done. You've taught Africa that your uniform can't be licked. Let's get going. Take it easy before the day's heat hits the plains, and save our breath for the big rush."
IN the daylight jungle, Hawkes was continually aghast at the rocky steepness of the gullies they had so precipitately traversed by night.
"With the devil on his tail," King grinned, "a man can do things." But the grin was tightening up on his face. It was a contortion of his lips and eye corners; there was nothing of humor to it.
By daylight one gully could be found leading into another. The raiding party, grimly silent all of them, followed the bottoms. Never on a sky line, never on any ridge where the wind could catch and carry a sound or scent. Running water told them when they were in the big ravine.
"Surprise," King muttered. "And the luck is running with us. Better find the first ford, Barounggo, and keep on their side."
They crept along as silently as animals in bare feet. King, in moccasin-soled Adirondac boots, Hawkes, in regulation hard leather footwear, made an appalling racket over loose stones and rubble; but the wind, of course, filtered down the ravine.
They came to a place where refuse littered the ravine side in an accumulated avalanche of the years, the inevitable signature of an African community. Above them, straggling like a monkey roost along a rock ledge where they could not see it, must be the ju-ju village.
King looked to Hawkes and nodded, pointing up with his eyebrows. All unnecessarily, of course; he did not even know that his own tension was out-functioning his habitual close grip on his emotions. Hawkes whispered:
"Look at their eyes. They've got the spirit, by Jove,"
The men's eyes were rolling, showing much white; the eyes that Africans show alike when they are afraid or when they "smell blood." Thick lips, straining apart over big white teeth, showed that these men were not being afraid. They were out to hunt. Whether their game were men or feral beasts they were eager.
"A little up-wind, of course, Barounggo." King said.
Hawkes, remembering some of the rules of hunting feral beasts in India, thought to offer a quick objection.
"Not up-wind, old man; their dogs will smell us and give the whole show away."
King could still grin. "You wanted to plan a strategy of attack. Here's the only strategy. Rush 'em from up-wind and set fire to the first huts. Their own women and brats barging around will raise a confusion that's worth a hundred men."
THE Masai picked his way, as cautious as a hunting leopard, up the ravine slope. So far the good luck of surprise had been with the raiders. But it was expecting too much of fate to hope that such should last.
The Masai was close to the lip of the ledge on which the village nestled, when footsteps slip-slopped along a path. Bovinely heavy-eyed, a scrawny, quite naked black man stumbled along the path. A brute-jawed lout, it was easy to picture him howling delight at a fellow human's torture.
The Masai was at the very edge of the path, his great bulk only half concealed by a bush. The other raiders were close in a straggly line, deploying to jump the lip of the ledge as best they could. Every man's breath froze on the intake.
The tribesman saw none of them. Dull-eyed, he shuffled on. Breaths let go softly. The Masai, moving like a huge cat, rose up in the path behind him and drew back his arm with the great spear blade on a level with his own ear.
A magnificent shape of destruction, he might have been an out-size copy of the javelin thrower done in black granite.
But then the Masai changed his mind. Nobody in Africa knew better than he that it was difficult to spear a man so suddenly dead that there would be no last shriek.
Softly he stooped to lay his spear on the ground and then his legs bunched ready under him; with a short, rushing bound, like a lion springs on an ox, he launched himself at the man.
One great hand clapped over the fellow's mouth, the other found his middle. The man flung arms and legs wide, but not a sound came from his throat. The Masai's lower handhold slid down the man's body to his thighs, and he spread his legs, while his toes searched for a grip on the ground.
He set himself, and then the watching men could see the power of the great fellow swelling into the muscles of his shoulders and back.
Like, M'fumbuli, the great earth spirit of his own savage mythology, he heaved on the man's face and thighs, his own knee in the victim's back; and as M'fumbuli draws force from the earth through his toe tips, the power swelled bigger and knottier into the Masai's muscles. The black boy's limbs writhed hideously; there was a crunching crack, and they writhed no more.
The Masai straightened up and threw the body over the path's steep edge.
"Whau!" his deep voice growled. "That one, perhaps, is one who chased my honor from me the other night."
Over his kill he forgot the need for silence. The body rolled chunkily down the ravine side with a clatter of stones and debris.
A boy's face appeared over the edge of the higher shelf to see what occasioned the noise. It took perceptible seconds for the thought to impinge upon his brain that here was death. Then he yelled shrilly and his face disappeared.
Hawkes' hoarse shout was on his heels. "Mark away! Over the top, men!"
THE rush of men was after him, yelling now, as Africans must. Straggling bamboo huts were before them. All the dogs in Africa seemed to be there, yelling defiance. Sleepy men were ducking out from low doorways, lurching back to grab up spears.
One fellow, less sleepy then the rest, stood before the huts. The Masai, running as well as ever he bragged, outstripped his own racing mob. The fellow lunged a spear at him. The Masai twisted his stomach aside and drove his great spear like a lancer. A foot of the blade stood out behind the fellow's back.
"Ss-ghee!" The Masai hissed his imitation of a spear entering meat and bone. His impetus twisted the fellow round like a top, dragged out the blade, and he raced on.
The raiding mob yelled for blood behind him. It was King who retained presence of mind to stop and set fire to the first hut.
King saw little of that fight. His whole energy was applied to fighting his own way through to find the largest hut in the most favoured location; it, he knew, would house that blood-lusty young ju-ju doctor chief. He fought through a scrambling, howling free-for-all. Black bodies weaving, white eyeballs staring, arms waving, and the whole of Africa yelling.
He passed Hawkes and his twin native constables, all three kneeling with their backs to the wall of a hut. He yelled, "Come on! Get the chief! Nail him to a tree with a spear through his chest, and the rest'll run."
They didn't hear him. They knelt in admirable discipline and fired precise volleys.
King fought on, yelling. The fires he had started fought behind him, roaring and eating up bamboo and thatch.
He found his hut. It was unmistakable. Apart, a thing of mystery and blood, fenced with the clap-trappery of the craft and skull-topped poles.
"If only he's still skulking in there!" King grated hoarsely; and in the same moment, looking at the blackness of the low door, he half hoped that the man might not be there. There was no time for thought. He dived for the opening and squirmed as he rolled, grabbing wide into the dimness for standing legs.
The air swished. An axe head chunked into the hard-stamped earth floor. Missed him! His hands found legs and heaved at them. A bulky body sprawled down on him. Together they rolled. The axe head swished again. King caught an arm. A hand caught his wrist. They rolled. Teeth bit into his neck, like a dog ape's gnawing for the jugular vein. King smashed a fist on its ear. It yelled, splutteringly through a full mouth, and the teeth let go. They rolled.
"The brute's as strong as a gorilla!"
At dusty dim intervals King could see black silhouettes ducking out through the beehive doorway—women, ululating shrill news of death within.
Not yet. But all to the good, King knew furiously, for the demoralization of the brute's people. The fight was a struggle to determine whether the axe would break free first, or the pistol butt.
As strong as a young gorilla, and with teeth to help. But King had the white man's weapon that the African never understands. At furious intervals he had a spare fist. At furious intervals it hit something.
The axe fell somewhere. The brute howled and pushed away to struggle to its feet. King with it. They wrestled furiously. Clawing hands on King's throat. Big teeth gibbering close to his face. His own hands were on the brute's throat.
They whirled. King's back crashed against the central roof pole of the hut. It felt like a broken spine. King whirled away from it, swinging to retaliate for the maneuver. The brute's head crashed against the pole. Its yelp was a groan and its big body shuddered.
A fury of victory surged through King. Ruthless.
"That much for Ogilvie!" His breath hissed through a bitten lip. Like a hammer thrower, stiff-armed, he whirled his body again and aimed the brute's head at the post.
"You did it, you swine!" The brute's ear thudded squashily on the post and it shuddered enormously.
"You tortured him!" Again King battered the lolling head against the post.
"You burned the grand big heart out of him!" And once more, with all of King's strength at full arm swing. The brute's head went limp on its thick neck and it sounded like a bag of broken crockery.
AND then King knew that the choking smokiness of the hut was not kicked dust but fire roaring in the thatch.
He lurched out into the sunlight; and there were men, his own men running frantically about, looking for him. Hawkes, too, bleeding but alive.
"Great Scott, old man!" Hawkes had the trained unemotionalism of the British soldier in victory. "You look like you'd been in a dog fight! You're bitten like—Come, let's get out of these blazing huts. We were thinking you must be down somewhere."
Sanity was coming back to King. "Where's Barounggo and the Hottentot?"
"I saw them around. Come on to a cool spot beyond the village. By golly, what a strafing we gave 'em!"
Beyond the village limits, where the fire would not reach, the Hottentot was binding gashed men with whatever bits of dirty cloth he could find. The Masai appeared, smeared with blood as though he had been painted with it. None of it seemed to be his own. He reported:
"Four of my askaris have fought their last fight with much honor. Death is a little thing and is better than life such as these."
He pushed forward two abject things, Ogilvie's servants, yammering still with the terror of the death from which they had been rescued.
The two constables were scratched up, as was Hawkes, but nothing serious.
"Discipline." Hawkes pointed the moral to King.
"Yeah. But I'll bet you my boys got more notches to their spears." King looked back bitterly on the burning village. "That's what hurts 'em. Burn up their pots and blankets; that hurts 'em more'n some dead men."
The rescued servants still groveled in their terror. Among men who had fought and killed and still licked their wounds, they were objects almost of disgust. King could see that Hawkes thought the same.
"Not worth my good four," he told Hawkes. "But—British subjects."
"Yes," Hawkes affirmed soberly. "And must be protected."
King only growled.
"Well," Hawkes said, "it's done. Let's collect prisoners and go."
"Ah! Prisoners!" King turned to the Masai. "What prisoners are there, Barounggo?"
The Masai tapped snuff from a little horn that he carried in his ear lobe and sniffed it hugely. "For myself, Bwana," he said, "the fight was too fast to stop and tie up prisoners. I shall ask my askaris whether any man fought so poorly as to catch a prisoner."
A little farther down the ledge was the place of the sacrifice. The crude cross still stood, awaiting its next offering. One of the servants screamed.
King, his face set in a hard mask, plowed his boots through the cold ashes, kicking up a cloud of smothering dust. Out of it, expressionless, he picked a charred skull and stared at it. Then methodically he set to wrapping it in his handkerchief.
"Good Lord, old man." Hawkes was shocked at his apparent callousness. "What d'you want that thing for? We have all the evidence we need, with these two men as witnesses."
"The hell with your witnesses," King snarled at him. He finished wrapping the skull, and he very nearly fooled Hawkes with the hardness of his tone.
"I'm no ethnologist. But, looking at it, I'd say this was Ogilvie." He strode on. "And still the job wasn't good enough." He scowled a last bitter look at the smoke of the village, a black plume against the sun. "Come ahead. Let's go."
HE stalked ahead in silence, fast with long plunging strides. It was not till they were away out on the plain that he was done with his brooding and he shook his black mood from him. Not till he came to the rounded boulder beside which he had once before stopped for a breathing spell. He waited till the rest came up with him, and he was grinning.
"These rocks," he told Hawkes. "About the African geology that I told you you'd become interested in. This long line of 'em at every five miles. It wasn't inflexible glaciers. It was Britishers. Brought 'em here in trucks. They mean, in big loud tones on both sides of 'em, 'No Trespassing'."
Hawkes stared at him before the significance of it soaked in.
"You mean—" His jaw dropped.
King grinned shamelessly.
"Yeh. It's the border line of your empire. Where we've been is Italian Ethiopia."
"But—But, good God, man, international boundaries, these days, are—"
"Yeah," King laughed at him. "So you said about me, coming over."
"But—My sacred word! This constitutes an armed raid into the territory of a sovereign power! And the Italians are so—"
"Yeh, the Italians are so—And you British are so—" King's laughter left him and he was brusquely fierce. "Listen, Britisher. Suppose you'd known, what would you have done? You'd have reported regretfully to your chief, and your chief would have reported to your Colonial Government, and your Colonial Government would have reported to your Home Government, and where would you have got? And in how many months?"
"And this border line is two months' journey from headquarters, on foot! And you had your two sacred British subjects to rescue before this very night! Not that I give a hoot about your subjects. But—" King's rush of words choked down to his grim mood again and he walked on in silence. Slowly then it came through his teeth:
"Those murdering monkeys got Ogilvie, And Ogilvie, I'm telling you, was a whole white man. Worth ten thousand filthy ju-ju devils and ten international complications!"
He stalked on. Hawkes was beginning to appreciate the justification of his action, but the official aspect of it still appalled him. King waited once more for him to catch up, and he was laughing at the anxiety on Hawkes' face.
"Don't worry about international complications. Have common sense and shoot in your report that you rescued your two good subject and punished Ogilvie's murderers and did a job of holding up white man prestige. You don't have to draw a map of the place."
Hawkes could see the glimmerings of an out. Enough, at least, to laugh.
"I'm beginning to understand what those headquarter fellows meant about 'that cunning devil, Kingi Bwana'. You made something of a bally ass of me, leading me into this sort of a mess."
"You'll learn, copper," King said dryly. "Like you learned to do a good job here. And it wasn't me that started it. Friend Mosha—Hey, Barounggo! Did anybody kill Mosha?"
The Masai solemnly drew his thumb diagonally from his left shoulder to his groin. "It was long due, Bwana, and our honor was involved."
"Aa-ah! Well, that slick ju-ju doctor sent Mosha to wheedle you into arresting me and snaking me away from here. He knew durn well I shot that elephant on the other side of your No Trespassing sign."
"Oh! You did? Well, my word! What I mean, dashed slimy of the beggar. But now that you remind me of it—" Hawkes was embarrassed and painfully apologetic. "I'm awf'ly sorry, old chap, but I've just go to arrest you for coming over the international line without a passport. Sorry, but—"
King laughed without a worry in the world.
"Inflexible as glaciers. Well, copper, I'm not fighting the British Empire. Ogilvie saved me from an African lion once. I guess, on his account, I can take what the British lion has to hand me."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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