Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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JAN RUYS was as bad a citizen as any at large in all of East Central Africa. He was not the worst, because there were also Mink McCarthy and Tino Corra.
But when men spoke of the nefarious three, they always mentioned Ruys first because of his bulk and belligerence, though these were deceptive. It was McCarthy who was the wicked one—small, sleek, sun tanned, neutral haired, khaki clothed—a creature of low visibility at all times. In effect, a mink; and equally hard, fast and ruthless. He had brains to offset Jan Ruys's overwhelming brawn.
Tino Corra had nothing especial to recommend him above such personalities as the other two. A small, dark, Latin type, he had his own reasons for keeping out of Portuguese Mozambique. But he was a good, hard working, tough egg, and he fitted in well with the combine—three as unsavory subjects as had ever come into the Uganda Protectorate to poach ivory.
It was this trio that the chief commissioner was discussing, as he sat in his office in Entebbe. He drummed his fingers on his desk and faced a tall, wide shouldered man who paced the room with silent restlessness. The tall one looked at him with hostility.
"And why are you telling me about your hard luck?" he asked defensively. "Tell some of your policemen, game wardens—somebody. That's why you collect a white hunter's license from me."
The commissioner continued evenly:
"The three would spot my men in a minute and would lay low, as good as white mice. Or they'd just lay up by some handy donga and neatly bushwhack them. Down in Rhodesia some witnesses just disappeared; but the police could never get anything on those three. They're poison. And now I have them on my hands."
"Sound like nice boys," said the tall man. "I guess you'd better do something about them."
"I am doing something," said the commissioner. "I am negotiating with a man who knows the bush inside out, who's got the nerve of a devil and no nerves."
"Plenty of men like that on your force," said the tall man. "They've been after me for some damned silly regulation or other plenty o' times."
"I must have a man," said the commissioner, "who isn't tied down by what you call silly regulations, and who has the effrontery, if need be, to play a high handed game all on his own."
The tall man looked coldly at him.
"And I must have, essentially, a sportsman."
"Huh? I'll fall for that one," said the tall man. "Why must you have a sportsman?"
"Because," said the commissioner, "these men are using sub-machine guns and water hole poison. They poach ivory as a business."
"Hell!" The tall man growled. "That's swinish—beastly! Gosh, I'd like to—" He paused, then shook his head. "Well, I hope you get your man. I've got to be running along."
The commissioner smiled.
"Oh, I'll get him all right. I'll be seeing you tomorrow, my difficult Kingi Bwana."
"The hell you will!" said the tall man.
But the commissioner continued to smile and absently drummed a broken rhythm on the desk.
BUT despite popular indignation and the efforts of the police, the three swaggered from Entebbe a week later with a safari of lusty porters, empty handed. That is to say, most of them were without head loads. The hard bitten trio knew their Africa. They were no tenderfeet who needed luxuries. They traveled with the minimum of impedimenta. Mobility—the ability to cover country faster than anybody else—was more precious to them than comfort. Those strong, empty handed porters were designed to carry loads that would be collected later in the dense elephant jungles of Bugoma and Semliki forests.
And until they had such contraband loads, no authority could interfere with the safari. They came, therefore, unhindered into the Semliki country; and it was there that a native approached the camp one morning and talked with the safari headman. The headman came and reported—
"That fellow he say one white man not so far."
The trio sat up and began to take notice. A white man in that corner of the wilds might interfere with stealthy plans.
"He say he sit without safari; plenty load in boma, no porter mans, only two servant boy mans."
Mink McCarthy swore sibilantly. With quick fingers he softly opened the breech of his gun to assure himself of what he knew to be so; then he jerked his head at Tino Corra.
"Better go quietly and look him over. If it's any blasted official—" His pause was more ominous than words. Through taut lips he added, "This is new country—hardly shot over. And it's rich. Nothing's goin' to stop us here."
In the next moment he changed his mind with characteristic high-strung abruptness.
"Wait a minute. Let's all go."
They found the white man just as the native had described him. A tall, rangy, big shouldered man, dressed in shining, new and eminently correct big game hunter's clothing, sitting marooned in a boma piled full of all the camping gadgets that outfitters sell to fools. As soon as he opened his mouth they knew him for one of those rich American sports.
"Howdy, strangers. Say, but I'm right glad you happened along. You see me 'way up a tall tree."
The tenderfoot's story brought grins of wearied amusement to the faces of the experienced three. He had come out from Nairobi with the usual unwieldy safari under the guidance of a licensed white hunter. A week ago the hunter had contracted something virulently African and had died. The tenderfoot, confident in his ignorance, characteristically impatient over the delay, had picked up some sort of native guide and had forged ahead.
"—hustled the outfit along. Fired some pep into those hookworm coons and kept on going."
But the simple African, it transpired, objected to being pepped up.
"—kicked like steers at a paltry twenty-five miles a day."
And when the tenderfoot—who had made his pile in railroad contracting and had run some pretty durned lazy construction gangs in his day—proceeded to inject some efficient driving methods, the untutored African safari had quite simply vanished into the bush overnight, leaving the gang driver marooned with all his expensive gear, his burly gunboy and scrawny little cook, who had remained faithful to their quite exorbitant pay.
The trio grinned sourly at the idea of anybody trying to drive safari porters at twenty-five miles a day. And what was this rich sport proposing to do now?
"Well, gee, now—" the sport was dubious—"I've got my license right here to shoot four elephant and two rhino and a raft of other stuff, and I'm not licked bad enough yet to figure on going back empty.
"And, say now—" looking the others over with calculation—"you gentlemen look like you know your way around. How about if you could see your way to signing up with me and seeing me out of the hole? The check of Cyrus P. Carmody is good in Nairobi for anything reasonable you'd like to say."
The eyelids of Mink McCarthy flickered and he spoke quickly before the others could get in a word.
"Well, now, Mr. Carmody, we don't like to see any white man bushed this way; but, you see, we're really a prospecting outfit and your idea would break up our plans to smithereens. Let me and my mates here step aside and talk it over awhile."
The three walked off together. Immediately Jan Ruys, the hasty, blurted:
"Ah, what 'cher need to talk it over? Le's leave 'im sit. He's stuck safe. Carn't foiler us—no porters nor nothin'; else we'd mebbe have to put 'im away quiet. Him an' 'is blarsted checks; just 's if we was workers for lousy wages."
Tino Corra saw the scorn growing in McCarthy's eyes and hastened to put himself on what he knew would be the winning side.
"But you are fooleesh, amigo," he purred in his soft Latin voice. "Pairhaps he have monnaie cash, who is so reech. Wan license for wan elephant cost heem hundred pound. So then four license—ees eet not so? And he have gun, raifle, cartridge, everytheeng of best."
Mink's impatience with stupidity was savage. His lip quivered over his small, pointed eye-teeth.
"If either of you blighted fools had a half human head, I wouldn't have to worry about any game commissioner in all Africa. You look no further'n any other monkey can see with his silly eyes. Now, listen while I say it slow."
Slowly and impressively he proceeded to lay out the quick thought that had come to him.
"License for four elephant. Let that soak in awhile. Four tuskers to be shot all due and proper under the law. Does that mean anything to you? No, of course it don't. So I'll tell you. We sign on as guides. We take this silly blighter where we want to go. Four licenses—" the predatory teeth clicked in anticipation—"four little bits o' stamped paper can be stretched to cover up a hell of a lot of shooting if any trouble comes sneakin' along in a uniform. And we ditch him when we come to the Belgian border with a full load. Why, the thing's a Christmas present."
Tino Corra's flashing smile came first, and the heavier one of Jan Ruys followed it more slowly.
"Meenk, he's got the haid," Tino conceded.
And Ruys, though the full possibilities of the gift would have to be assimilated later, grunted agreement.
They went back to the rich sport, all smiles. They were poor men, and prospecting was a precarious game. They would throw over their plans and would sign on with the gentleman as regular white hunters. And to show their worth they would even contrive to find porters for the gentleman's baggage—or at all events for the valuable portion of it. And then the place for elephants, of course, was the great Semliki forest, not four days' trek distant.
TO the three who had found Rhodesia too hot for comfort this was new country. But their safari headman was a Zanzibar Arab halfbreed whose father had been a doughty Rift Lakes slave raider in the good old days, and who himself, now that the profitable "black ivory" business was gone, had become a small scale poacher of the white. He knew his Budonga and his Semliki.
It was not long before the parched, flat, thorn scrub country began to give place to rolling grassland. Game was everywhere and foolishly tame. A splendid pair of rare roan antelopes, the hunter's prize, stood and looked at them from a little knoll, their magnificent horns curving back to their flanks. But the hurrying travelers were not interested in any such commercially valueless thing as sportsmen's prizes; and this rich sport did not even know the antelopes were rare.
He clamored buck-feverishly about all the minor items on his licenses. But Mink told him glibly:
"They'll be here when we come back. Elephants 'll be movin' up into the mountain valleys before the rains come. We'd never see a one. Now's the time for tusks."
The grass country began to give place to low hills covered with clumps of timber and patches of bamboo thicket—elephant country. The safari porters, instead of stringing out in front with all their noise and confusion, were ordered to the rear. The white men took the lead with the cunning old Zanzibar headman.
Extraordinary luck was with them. On the third day the American, ranging restlessly afar, fell into a hole that looked as if a small tub had been sunk there by some mysterious jungle gardener and as mysteriously removed. It seemed as if the gardener had been a lunatic and had sunk a whole row of tubs, removing them afterward.
Without a word among the three, Ruys gave Tino Corra a hoist up a not too leafy tree. Corra was down again in two minutes, nostrils twitching and eyes shining. He reported, whispering as if already within distance of great sensitive ears:
"Wan nice ravine that side look ver likelee. Wan sweet vallee, all euphorbia, an' bamboo, leetle bit left, look best place evair I see."
Mink was tersely efficient.
"All right, we'll take the ravine first. If they're not bottled there, we'll split and jockey 'em up and down the valley. Come ahead."
The three hired white hunters gave no thought to the disposition of their greenhorn employer who had spent his thousands to shoot an elephant. Though Mink, as an afterthought, told him curtly—almost ordered him:
"You stick with the safari and see no fool comes blunderin' an' crashin' behind us." And he threw over his shoulder as they departed, "We're just goin' scoutin' to see how they stand."
They disappeared up the ravine, the Zanzibari with them, treading like cats. The greenhorn smiled thinly after them, nodding to himself. The smile went through the changing gradations from whimsicality to cold satisfaction. To his gunboy the greenhorn said in perfect Swahili—
"The safari stays here."
The gunboy replied simply: "It is an order, bwana. They stay."
He threw his blanket from his enormous shoulders and soberly, unhurriedly, went to one of the packs from which he produced an immense spear blade—a long sword of a thing that fitted snugly to the end of the strong, beautifully polished stick that he carried. And with the putting together of that weapon, as if it were a symbol of domination, he was suddenly transformed into a formidable fighting man.
To the scrawny camp cook the greenhorn said—
"How do you read the signs, little wise one?"
The little man balanced on one leg and surveyed jungle and sky with the wisdom of a wizened ape.
"The wind blows from the valley over my left shoulder," he translated from the book of the jungle. "The vultures circle high against it. The toucans and the mik-mikki fly with it. What moves will be therefore in the valley."
"Good," said the greenhorn. "Come."
The two disappeared up the valley, treading like very wary cats.
ALMOST immediately they were in giant bamboo jungle, each knotted stem as thick as a man's leg, grouped in close clumps of twenty or thirty. Between the clumps lay open ground carpeted with the debris of long narrow leaves that had no crackle to them.
Good jungle, that. So softly could they proceed on that velvet pile that guinea fowl scratched contentedly all around them, and once two water-buck were surprised on the far side of a score of towering stiff stems. Safe jungle, because one could see anything that came; and a charging elephant, for instance, could easily be dodged among the palisaded stems.
That jungle gave place to junipers, witch-hazels, and giant yews of the Ruwenzori foothills, all interlaced with tangled scrub and vines—bad jungle, for any quick movement, or fast getaway from danger, was impossible. The greenhorn ducked and twisted through the tangle like a ghost, and the little black man followed like his shadow.
The rain forest again gave place to a wide amphitheater of bamboo grass. Not in giant clumps here; more like a close sown field of exaggerated corn, twenty feet high, stiff, sword edged—impossible jungle. Only a steam roller, or an elephant, could penetrate this barrier. And one of the two was in it. Soft cracklings, muffled snappings, moist crunchings issued from within. A giant, trampled tunnel bored into it.
A foolhardy hunter or an ignorant novice might have plunged on into this close walled tunnel. The greenhorn climbed up into the high flung roots of a huge fallen yew that the slowly spreading bamboo grass had killed. The little black man leaped up after him like a monkey.
From the lofty perch just on a level with the grass tops the jungle amphitheater looked like an undulating green, lake; and, like a lake, the surface heaved and billowed with a heavy groundswell of monstrous motion beneath the surface.
Half an hour passed. The little black man touched his master's foot and pointed silently. Down the valley sides a cautious crackling was coming. Slowly it worked down to one edge of the amphitheater and stopped. It divided, and the careful crackling took different directions. One worked softly round in the direction of the fallen yew.
"Hmph! They know their business all right," the greenhorn muttered. "Ringing them round."
The nearest crackling came to a halt at the tunnel. A grunt of satisfaction followed. Faint shufflings indicated a man composing himself to wait.
Silence enveloped the jungle amphitheater. Even the ponderous sounds from within stilled. Suspicious, tense, the whole jungle waited. Breathless, the still air was heavy with enormous happenings.
The faintest cautious click of a breaking twig sounded from the farther side. From within the matted cane came a quick scuffle and a great, windy woosh of expelled air.
The little black man raised his hands to the sides of his head, fingers fanned out, and then pointed an arm snakily from his nose. It was a silent picture of great ears flapping forward and a trunk breathing questingly for the least draft of wind.
There was no wind or sound. There was nothing—only wire edged waiting.
Into the tenseness a rifle spat viciously, thin and tenuous in the vast expectancy. Thunderous echoes rolled back from the wooded hills. And on that signal, as if it had been the first primal upheaval of worlds in the making, chaos exploded into the still jungle amphitheater—siren screamings, throaty trumpetings, more fast rifle shots, shouts, vast roarings, confusion, earthquake.
On the undulating sea of grass tops the watching greenhorn saw a tidal wave rise and go hurtling across the glade to the side farthest from the rifle fire, leaving a swath of destruction behind it. Merciless rifle shots met its approach, and then a hell of machine gun fire.
The greenhorn's face grew grim with disgust; but he said nothing. The little black man spat into the air before him.
The tidal wave broke into a wild tossing of grassy billows. Enormous lurchings heaved under the surface. Terror trumpeted. Human voices screamed hysterically. Bamboo stems crackled like fireworks. Ponderous impacts thudded together. The air quivered with immense forces in confusion.
The tumbled jungle surface began to disintegrate, to melt away beneath huge trampling feet. A twisted trunk licked up into the air. A great gray back heaved itself out of the destruction. Milling, struggling forms bulked huge in the confusion. Bursts of machine gun fire crackled above the uproar.
The greenhorn on his perch sat white and silent. The little black man made a single comment which expressed more than abuse.
"Females and young with the herd."
Then, with the queer unanimity of wild things in terror, the herd hurled itself into the tossing greenery again. The tidal wave formed and went whirling and crashing off in another direction.
"Poor silly brutes. They follow their own tunnels," the greenhorn muttered. "And—" his teeth gritted—"those swine know it." A moment later, "And, by heaven, it's this tunnel."
It was true. The whole stampede came thundering down this familiar passageway, splitting it apart, smashing ruin upon devastation. The ground trembled under its rushing weight. The tidal wave resolved itself into an avalanche of hurtling flesh and elemental sound.
THE man hidden beneath the greenery at the tunnel's mouth coolly held his ground. He knew his own power. His rifle roared into the tunnel. Giant throats screamed. Vast momentums impacted and recoiled. The avalanche piled up on itself. Pressure from behind split its front. Huge shapes staggered aside into the thick grass wall. Shouts from the man. Again his rifle roared.
An immense head in which little eyes gleamed bloodshot appeared out of the grass fringe and crashed into the dead yew tree. The whole great stem lurched over. The watcher and the little black man were catapulted from its root. The watcher, dazed, had the wit to roll under the lee of the fallen bole. Again a shouted curse and the rifle's roar. Muddy things moved close to the fallen greenhorn's face. They were the tunnel man's boots. The greenhorn raised himself and stood behind the other. It was big Jan Ruys.
Ruys gave only a startled look and then aimed into the wrecked tunnel again. A huge bulk filled it like a rushing projectile. The heavy rifle roared. The bulk staggered but hurtled on, enormous, screaming rage. Only a shot placed in a spot as big as the palm of a hand could stop it—the most difficult shot in all elephant hunting. It was a charging, head-on shot, requiring lightning quick allowance for height and angle of head and thickness of trunk, with time for only one shot.
Ruys tore his rifle bolt out and back and aimed with a steady hand. The firing pin clicked upon emptiness. Ruys shouted a curse and stood. There was nothing else to do. His time, as it comes to most elephant hunters, had come to him.
The greenhorn snapped up his rifle and fired. The charging bulk became an avalanche slide, pushing great furrows of earth before its immense feet. The slide stopped within reaching distance of the muddy boots. The huge bulk rolled slowly and crushed a crackling hollow into the cane wall.
Ruys breathed noisily.
"Phe-ew! Gaw strike me if that ain't the damnedest tusker ever I seen. Knocked 'im endways harf a dozen times, an' he gets up an' keeps comin'."
He was admirably self-possessed in the face of his near obliteration. Suddenly he looked queerly at the greenhorn who had made that clean, cool shot. Then he shouted and crammed fresh cartridges into his gun to fire at a gray shape that milled in the tangled confusion.
The confusion broke up at last. Silence settled over the trampled tangle of what had been fresh, softly billowing jungle less than ten minutes before—ten tremendous minutes.
Then came shouts from the farther side. Shouts answered from the left. Ruys bellowed hoarsely. On the right remained silence. Ruys advanced slowly. He had to climb over the great carcass that blocked the tunnel. The greenhorn followed, wondering what lay beyond.
In a great niche in the tunnel wall formed by a falling mass lay an elephant. Beyond, in a flattened area of destruction lay another—a rounded heap that might have been a rock rising above the debris of greenery. Tusks gleamed white from a pile of twisted stems. Something bulked darkly beyond.
Ruys began to laugh, uncertainly at first, then in loud jubilation. His guffaw was a shout.
"Gawblime, but it's six ov 'em! An' I says to meself, 'Strike me if this ain't the toughest bull as ever I shot at.' Him keepin' a-comin' after I knocks 'im. Ee-yow! I'm a perisher if that ain't prize shootin'."
Joyous discovery shouts came from the other side of the slaughter pen. Ruys bellowed simian glee and tramped to meet them.
The greenhorn stood with tight pressed lips. He felt sick. Disgust swept over him in a hot wave. This was not shooting—it was a shambles. The little black man climbed upon a great rounded flank and squatted there upon his heels. Cynically he picked a snuff horn from his ear lobe and sniffed a pinch.
"It is a pity, bwana," he said, "that you did not hold your shot until after the charging elephant had taken that great ox. There would then have been only two to reckon with."
His master became aware of his presence and his eyes traveled then to where that human scream had been before the remainder of the herd had broken away. The little man clicked his tongue and his grimace was that of a pleased ape.
"That one was the Zanzibari," he said. "So screams a man when the elephant's foot is upon his belly."
The white man shivered. But his eyes were on the bodies of slaughtered elephants, not in the direction of the late Zanzibari ivory poacher.
"Pah!" He spat. "Let's get out of here."
THE greenhorn sat in his tent alone. The others had broached a bottle from the rich sport's luxurious supplies and were celebrating their successful morning.
"Best show we ever had," said Mink McCarthy. "The perfect spot to catch 'em in. Never been another like it. Sixteen all told, and nine of 'em tuskers. And if that blighted Zanzibari hadn't been a fool we'd ha' got more. But I reckon it's close on eight hundred pounds of ivory at that, an' that's pretty good these days."
There was cause for rejoicing. But Jan Ruys had a disquieting note to inject. As sometimes happens to a stupid man, a keen idea had come into his mind earlier that morning; and it had taken root and grown alarmingly.
"This 'ere American bloke—" he lowered his great bull voice and looked cautiously out of his little eyes—"he ain't no tenderfoot sport. I seen 'im shoot. Clean an' cool as you an' me. I been thinkin' on that; an' d'yer know what?"
The others looked at him, ready for any suspicion, as in their business they had to be.
"Yer wanter know what I think?" He whispered the ill thought. "I'll bet yer he's no one else but that blarsted King feller."
The others started. Tino Corra pulled at his little mustache and considered the possibility. Mink McCarthy's keen wits raced over the pros and cons, while a tight frown contracted his brows under which his eyes glittered redly.
"Look at 'im," Ruys enlarged his accusation. "Tall an' big in the shoulder an' hard as nails. An' look at his niggers. The big feller—he's a Masai or I'm a bloody fool. An' the little un— he's the Hottentot. You've 'eard of Kingi Bwana an' his two men. We've all 'eard all about 'em. An' now I arsks yer: What's he doin' pretendin' he's a rich sport lost on a heap o' safari goods right in our road?"
Mink's narrow jaws set as if he were sinking sharp teeth into each item in turn and chewing upon it. And, as he digested each one, his face became harder and more deadly. Abstractedly, as he revolved the possibilities again, he reached for his rifle and began counting cartridges into the magazine. The vicious push of his thumb marked his decision on each separate point.
There was no more than suspicion that this man was the Kingi Bwana of camp-fire legend. But that did not matter. To those three in their ruthless game, it was sufficient that the man was not what he pretended to be.
Ruys swallowed a furious oath. He picked up his rifle with sudden resolve and made to stride for the stranger's tent. This thing would have to be finished then and there. Mink hissed throatily after him, his face bleak with rage. Quick as a small rodent, he rose and caught at Ruys's belt.
"You blasted fool!" he grated. "You'll be getting all of us lagged some day with your thick wit. Can't you see we'll have to take 'em all together—him and his niggers? If they're who you think, they're smart as monkeys. Let one of 'em escape as a witness, an' we'd be in the soup up to our necks."
Ruys stood, clumsily irresolute and half rebellious, till the blood-chilling common sense of his comrade soaked into his dull brain. Then he allowed himself to be dragged back. In a flat tone, conceding only a postponement, he said—
"When the big nigger comes to fix 'is tent an' the little devil is cookin'."
The three looked at one another, the eyes of all of them showing agreement. Slowly they nodded.
No fuss about this thing, no dramatics, without the necessity of speech. Only a glance between men who understood one another.
The stranger kept to his tent. He could not bring himself to fraternize with those three under a pretense of amity. And the three—cold, unhurried, determined—watched for the appearance of the big tent boy.
Evening came. Unsuspiciously the stranger came out of his tent. Like a blanket-wrapped baboon the little Hottentot crouched over his cook pots. But the figure of the huge Masai was nowhere in sight.
Moodily the stranger sat down to eat. A gasoline pressure lantern flooded him and his Hottentot in clear white light. Each one of the waiting three was an expert rifle shot. But, inexplicably, no Masai came.
Night fell. The man who might be the redoutable Kingi Bwana retired to his tent. The three cursed in furious whispers and took turns to watch. Sooner or later the third witness would return to the camp—and then!
Dawn came. Mink, whose watch it was, kicked the others to snarling wakefulness.
It was just the tall stranger's luck and his inherent caution that had sent the big Masai with a message to Fort Portal, a long day's run distant.
THE three took council. If this were indeed the Kingi Bwana of camp-fire legend, they were up against wits as keen as all their own. Mink spat poisonous curses and fetched out a map. He pressed a pointed thumbnail upon it. His red eyes burned into the paper.
"We're too damned close to that blasted Fort Portal place. It's marked as a police outpost, curse it." The claw-like thumbnail cut a groove across the map. "There's the Semliki River. A day's fast trek beyond is the Belgian Congo border. If we can get to the river—"
Mink's fist slammed on to the map.
"By all hell, if we can get across I'll drop this fly cove at long range, I don't care who's with him or who isn't. Belgian Congo 'll be safe country, all right."
Ruys gazed at the map, judging distances. He breathed heavily. He was satisfied it could be done.
"Why not burn the two of 'em now an' make a run for it? We kin get there, ivory an' all, before anybody'd ketch up."
Mink looked at him with hate. He sneered, coldly venomous.
"Don't you ever think? D'you even know what month it is? How about if the rains are breaking on the Ruwenzori, an' the river's flooded forty foot deep an' a mile wide? Then where'd we go?"
Tino Corra showed his even teeth.
"Yess, shure. Bettaire we see first the rivaire."
Ruys was forced to curb his bloodthirsty impatience once more. But he fretted. If only that Masai would show up. During the midday halt he approached the busy little Hottentot, and with immense unconcern inquired about the other man.
He might as well have hoped to pit his wits against a wise old chimpanzee. The little black man chattered as volubly as an ape and dissembled as smoothly. Oh, the big Kaffir boy? He was careful not to name him a Masai. The clumsy great oaf had stepped upon a black scorpion and his leg had swelled up like an elephant's. So he had gone to the nearest witch doctor to have the poison magic performed. He would catch up with the safari when he was well. And maliciously the wizened imp added—
"Surely will that great black one catch up; for he is a great runner and can travel distance as the antelope travels."
Later the wise little one, suspicious as a monkey, related the episode to his master over the solitary lunch at the folding canvas table; and he quoted a proverb of his own people.
"When the ox seeks for information, then must it indeed be a matter of great importance."
King cogitated over this news, his eyes very narrow, squinting out under the corners to empty distance. He fired a short question or two at the Hottentot. He whistled a tuneless air through his teeth. Then he shrugged. His bleached brows met in a straight line over his eyes. He shrugged again. With his hands deep in his breeches pockets he sauntered over to where the three squatted, heads together.
Smiling a little grimly, King teetered on widespread legs and looked down on them.
"Well," he challenged, "it seems we know each other. Now what?"
Three sets of ferocious eyes glowered at him. The three were ready for fight on the drop of a hat. But King's thumbs were hooked into his belt; and a belt holster hung at the very heel of his hand. Like the grating hiss of a ferret came Mink's words:
"Get to hell outa here before we send you sudden, you blasted police spy! Yes, sure we know you. We've heard plenty about you, but nothing that low."
King's smile was like a knife blade. He shook his head.
"Not spy. But something nobody's ever heard about me yet—deputy warden."
His voice hardened to match the smile.
"I don't give a hoot what you crooks may have done down Rhodesia way—whom you've bumped off or why. That belongs to the police. It's none of my shauri. But this filthy thing that you've just done is right up my street. It's the personal affair of every decent white man in Africa."
Mink smiled grimly at King.
"All right. D'you think you're going to arrest the three of us, Mr. Holy Man Game Warden Deputy?"
King knew very well he could not. While he had the drop on them just now, he had far too much respect for their collective wit to think that he could divert his attention from the group and concentrate it upon the disarming of any one man. They were all three fast and expert shots.
Mink kept his grin.
"I'd advise you to get to hell away," he spat forth again. "And you're damned lucky the breaks came the way they did. Get away—before the breaks maybe take a turn."
Again King shook his head. The smile had gone from his face; only the steely hardness was left.
"Oh, no. We don't exactly part just yet. Of course, I don't like you civet cats well enough to safari along with you. But you're not fools enough to think I won't stick right on your trail; and I'm sure you're not fools enough to try and bushwhack me as long as one of my boys remains at large. So we understand one another. I'm going to take you boys in, if I can. And you're going to do me in, if you dare."
He stood awhile longer, surveying their rage with sardonic grimness. Then he turned and left them.
Mink's grin became the throaty growl of an animal nuzzling its meat. But at no time did he lose his alertness. With a quick look he satisfied himself that Jan Ruys was making no rash move. Then very meaningly, for his friends to hear:
"We daren't bushwhack you? You think you're going to take us in. You hope? You're damn right, you hellion Yankee! We dare do nothing, until we're sure we can cross the Semliki River."
King had no fear of turning his back upon the three. He understood fully the insurance of one of his men remaining alive as a witness. To the Hottentot he said:
"We move camp swiftly. And from now on we must be as wary as the gray jackal and as sleepless as the rock snake."
The Hottentot grimaced. White man's squeamishness was a permanent sore point with him.
"Did I not say, bwana, that it would have been better to have let the elephant take that one? So there would be now only two. Even as we—" he whispered hissingly through his teeth—"even as we are two."
King was inwardly pleased at the little man's loyal hint at cooperation. But he said gruffly:
"The Masai will be returning at the hour of dusk. He surely must be met and warned. For this is our insurance: that at no time shall the three of us be seen in one place at the same time."
Without requiring to be told, the astute little man understood the significance of that thought; and on the instant he had a thought to add.
"It is well. It is, therefore, in my head that this night bwana shall watch in the boma alone, as sleepless as the rock snake; and like the gray jackal, the Masai and I, we shall creep in and stab those three as they sleep."
"Out!" ordered King. "Out, little murderer! And make speed to move from these evil associations that corrupt the morals of an ape."
AND so that strangely divided safari trekked on its way—closely bound together, hating and helpless, hard bound by diametrically opposing restrictions. Either party was willing to do the other deadly hurt; yet each found its hands quite securely tied. Kingi Bwana could make no foolish play against those three experienced gunmen unless he could separate them. They dared not attack him unless they could get his trio all together. And somewhere in the bush, hurrying along to add the hazard of win or lose to the game, came the police from Fort Portal.
At last they reached the river. When the long line of wild fig trees that marked its course showed on the horizon, even the coldly calculating Mink was impelled to hurry. The game depended upon the river's condition. When they came near enough to look over the brim of its gully, Ruys capered uncouthly and shouted.
Down at the bottom of the great swath gouged by the monsoon into the plain a wide gray ribbon zigzagged—a good two hundred yards wide, but width mattered nothing. The water was at the bottom, not racing level with the top as it might have been.
"Here's where we settle that interferin' blighter's hash," Ruys rejoiced vindictively.
Mink McCarthy's expression was split in a lipless grin.
"Plenty of time yet," he purred. "Plenty time. We'll send the ivory over first. That son of a long legged snoop will come sticking his nose into the game sooner or later; an' then, when we're safe over—" He chuckled croakingly.
Presently a long line of black figures was stringing across the wide gray ribbon. Long white arcs gleamed on their shoulders, submerged in places. Neck deep it was and cold from the Ruwenzori heights, but easily fordable.
And presently, as prognosticated, King arrived to stick his nose into the game. Only he and the Hottentot were in sight.
Warily watching the men, his hand on his pistol butt, he surveyed the scene. It promised to be a very successful escape, unless the police should suddenly arrive like a cinema miracle. But the river seemed to offer an obstacle.
King spoke banteringly, but with a hard edge to his tone.
"Kinda like the riddle about the missionaries and the cannibals, no?"
"Meanin'?" Mink was quickly hostile.
King grinned amiably.
"Meaning the little matter of getting across. It's going to be difficult shooting for you gentlemen out in the deep spots."
Mink was suddenly affable.
"Don't you worry about that, you blasted Yank. We're not silly."
He drew his grinning friends away. Even the surly Ruys was good humored.
"Now listen," he told them. "I go first. You cover this smart Yank till I'm across. I'll hold a bead on him while Tino comes. And then the two of us covers you. And when we're all across—" he cackled harshly—"I'll lay you fifty pounds of tusk I drop him first." Suddenly he was savage. "Follow us, will he, the blasted swine! Only thing I'm sorry about is we don't get the big nigger too."
The plan was perfect. Mink waded in. He had to hold his rifle above his head out in the middle of the stream, but he had no difficulty in making it. On the far side he scrambled up the steep bank and settled himself with his back to the bush fringe, his elbows on his knees, his rifle held comfortably and steadily. He looked frail and insignificant nearly three hundred yards away; but nobody, least of all King, had any impression that the man was not deadly.
Tino Corra showed white teeth to King.
"Goodbai, senhor," he told him fondly. "Pairhaps I don' see you no more. Pairhaps nobody see you nevair no more."
He chuckled sweetly, scrambled down the bank and waded in.
King stood looking across the water. Big Jan Ruys, his back to the river, stood warily watching King, a heavy grin on his face about an impending joke that King did not know.
King scarcely looked at Ruys. His attention was all on the farther side of the river where Mink sat venomously waiting, blending with his protective coloring into the bush fringe behind him.
Hawk-like, King watched that distant figure, himself waiting for something to happen. The little Hottentot standing behind him balanced on one foot and writhed in excitement over imminent happenings. King's eyes, puckered hard and narrow in the sun, dropped for a moment to Tino Corra laboring in midstream. From him they flashed to Jan Ruys.
Ruys stiffened to alertness. He had a wholesome respect for King's wit. Had he stood alone, nervousness might have impelled him to draw a gun and precipitate a showdown. But there was comforting assurance in the steady rifle of the cold blooded Mink a scant three hundred yards across the river—an assurance of deadly precision that King fully shared. So King only stood and waited.
Jan Ruys was reassured that King knew enough not to try any foolhardy tricks against the double hazard. He felt that he could indulge in a little heavy humor before his turn to cross over.
"Yer been pretty smart, Yank, ain't yer? Well, Mink over there—" he jerked his head backward—"he's pretty smart too. Me, I'll be across there in a couple minutes." He guffawed at the thought of the long range sport that was due to commence as soon as he should be safely across. "Then you'll see how smart Mink is. He's been a damn sight too smart for a whole lot o' damned copper spies. An' he's been too smart for you."
King, tensely watching, found it in himself to grin back at the confident Ruys. Ruys instantly confronted him again with pig-eyed suspicion. So it was that he hid not see the swift events that began to take place on the other side.
And Mink, too, all his concentration fixed upon this direction from the far side, did not see what was shaping behind him. Only Tino Corra, up to his neck in water, facing Mink, saw.
TWO stalwart black arms emerged from the bush fringe behind Mink McCarthy. Mink, intent upon the sights of his rifle lined up on King's broad chest, heard not a thing, never daring to relax his attention or look about him. He knew much better than did Ruys how suddenly capable King might be of outwitting the big dullard.
Tino Corra, watching catastrophe shape itself, shrieked warning. Gray water swirled about his neck. His eyes bulged; his mouth gaped to shout. One arm holding his rifle clear waved frantically. The other arm emerged and joined it.
"Behind! Guard you behind!" Tino gurgled in his sick frenzy.
King whooped his sudden satisfaction. The little Hottentot shrieked like a steam whistle and flung his arms aloft in a demoniac leap.
Mink trained his eyes over his front sight to see what all this fuss was about. He could make nothing of the bobbing head and splashing arms out in the river. They pointed behind him; but arms pointing out of nothing are indefinite as to direction. Some damned stupidity on the fool's part, Mink was savagely deciding. Then the strong black arms descended upon him from behind.
Tino Corra shrieked his final despair. Jan Ruys snatched a look behind, and at that instant King rushed him.
Jan's quick glance over his shoulder only half took in what was happening. He turned heavily to meet King's catlike onslaught. There was not time to get his gun into play. King was at hand grips with him; and Ruys, burly, great brute that he was, felt a stab of apprehension at the expertness and power of those long, steel sinewed arms.
But Ruys was a tough barroom fighter. Though taken aback, he had the ingrained instinct to swing his hips away and to drive his knee hard for his opponent's groin.
King wilted with the numbing shock of it. He had been appraising this great bull of a man and all his instinct of competitive combat had been anticipating the inevitable tussle for the showdown. But here was no time for pretty fighting. With set teeth he clung to the cursing, shouting ox, and managed to get his pistol free. Grunting, he swung it upward. Its barrel collided with a sharp snap against the protruding bone behind the other's ear. Ruys went down without a struggle or a sound.
Tino Corra was floundering in shallower water, trying to get his rifle into play. King dropped behind Ruys's bulk. The Hottentot flung his rifle to him. King lay panting, the rifle thrust out over Ruys's side, like a cavalryman behind his fallen horse.
"Drop that!" he shouted. "Drop it! Right into the river!"
Corra had heard as much about King's marksmanship as King had heard about Mink McCarthy's. Only for a glaring moment he hesitated. He could see King's head. His own head and chest were clear of the water, but the current whirled about his legs. Slowly he let his gun drop.
"So!" King shouted, and his tenseness relaxed. "Now come ashore. This side. And don't try anything with the pistol in your belt."
On the farther bank Mink McCarthy and the strong black arms had disappeared, swallowed up into the bush fringe that remained as peacefully blank as when Mink had disposed himself against it. But King had no apprehensions on that score.
Painfully he flexed his body while the Hottentot tied both men up with as many twists and knots as a monkey would use.
"Good," said King, and he smiled with pinched lips. "Sit on them while I go and help the Masai bring that other one across. Then the two of you can round up those ivory porters. The men from Fort Portal ought to be along any time now."
A blend of indignation and grim satisfaction chased the pain from his face, as he growled to himself—
"Go murdering elephants wholesale, will they?"
Non sibi sed omnibus
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