Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE bearded man spoke fluently, appealingly, with only the faintest trace of a foreign accent. He was even convincing.
But the other man, King, sat back, hugging a cord-breeched knee in his two brown hands and observing the speaker through thin slits of eyes from behind a smoke screen made by his pipe. He heard the man out; led him on to talk about distances, directions, costs of safari and so on. Then leisurely he changed knees and said pointedly—
"Why don't you go in yourself and get him out?"
The bearded man shrugged deprecatingly.
"I, Mr. King, am a man of science."
King let go his knee and grinned at the man quizzically.
"Yeah, I know. Herr Professor Reinsch, director of anthropology of the University of Heidelberg. I've known that ever since you came here to Dar es Salaam a month ago. And you've written three books on your subject, and you've lectured over most of Europe."
The professor raised his eyebrows.
"Your information is very accurate. You will see, then, that for a man such as I a safari into Central Africa is no—"
King, with head on one side, continued to grin with such sardonic amusement that the professor stopped in confusion. King took up the unfinished sentence.
"You were going to say that for you a safari is no novelty—at least, I hope you weren't going to try to tell me anything else."
The professor stared at him with round eyes for a moment and then he threw up his hands with a rueful expression and laughed.
"I perceive," he said, "that what they told me about Kingi Bwana is true. Very well, I admit. I have safaried before. But tell me, please, from where you get your so accurate information."
"Shucks," said King. "What do you think I gabbled such a lot of hot air about safari for? Just to see how much you knew about it. The other is no gumshoe work of mine. They checked up on you as soon as you came here."
"They? Who is this they?" asked the professor quickly. King chuckled as he spoke. He had found his own moments of irritation from the same source.
"His Britannic Majesty's very careful government of the mandate territory of what used to be German East Africa."
"Aa-ah! So?" A long breath of understanding came from the professor. "But how do you know this? You are not one of them."
"Well," drawled King, "things are different from what they were in your time. Now there's a whole lot of East Indian clerks and Eurasians in the offices and in the telegraph and so on. Things leak, and if you're not too high up to listen you can hear them hit the ground."
The professor nodded absently. He was connecting up in the light of this new knowledge the long circumstantial chain of hindrances and delays that had reduced him to despair and brought him to King. The latter added an item—
"And just about that time Biggs, inspector of police, took a holiday and went by train to Ujiji to make safari up to Emin Pasha Gulf on Lake Victoria."
"Ss-so," hissed the professor. "They know something, then."
King's mood of banter changed. He pushed back his chair and prowled with long and singularly noiseless strides up and down the room, his thumbs hooked in his belt, his lean, angular face impatient, and his wide mouth a thin line. He stood and shot a long finger out at the professor with the suddenness of a gun.
"Now, listen, Professor. I don't like this deal on its looks. To begin with, you're offering me too much money. Why? To go on with, the British authorities are too much interested in you. It's none of my business, but I want to know why. Now if you'll cut out all the clever stuff and play cards on the table I'll listen to you, though that don't mean that I'll take up your proposition."
The professor lifted his hands in quick apology and defense at the outburst. He had already decided that he must tell all the truth to this man.
"Sit, please, down again, Mr. King, and I will tell you everything. Everything, at least, that I know. It is all true as I have said. We of the university received a letter from our colleague, Doctor Hugo Meyer. In this letter it said that he had discoveries of such a great importance to science that we should please send an expedition to bring him out with his proofs. Unfortunately the letter was so worn out and tattered that we can not guess at the date. It may have been a month; it may have lain in some hut for years—you know how a letter is that is entrusted to an African runner. We receive what is not worn out. The date line is gone; and of the address we have only Deutsch Ost-Afrika.
"Our colleague, it seems, is one of those not reconcilables who will never admit that we have lost our colonies. You see it was before the war that he went up there into the interior, and we had since then heard no word from him until now."
"Umph," grunted King, still suspicious. "How come you haven't his war record for at least the next four years, since your people hung out till the end and surrendered only after the armistice when Von Lettow was guaranteed military honors and repatriation for every German in his command? How come you have no repatriation record? How come the university didn't see him before he came out again? Come clean now, Doctor, or I can't waste time talking to you."
The professor held up his hands again.
"Please, my dear sir, please. Listen and I will tell you true. The very extraordinary circumstance about our colleague is that he had no military record. You understand that. No military service in a time when every German in Africa was a soldier. We of the university received a letter at that time—that was fifteen years ago—in which our Hugo Meyer said that he was not interested in this stupid war; he was interested only in a study of botany and zoology—especially of anthropoid apes, and he would go into the deep jungles and would not waste time with marching up and down.
"We there in Heidelberg, we laughed and said to each other how fine he would look in a kitchen uniform; for every man of us within the age was immediately in the army. But the very strange circumstance was that when Von Lettow came back after it was all over and we who were left made inquiries; it was true; our Hugo had disappeared and had escaped service; and from that time on we have no news until this letter."
"Good Lord," murmured King. "Fifteen years in those jungles! Alone! How do you know he isn't dead long ago? How d'you know that letter hasn't been lying in some native hut for years before some one had a whim to take it out?"
"This, we do not know," agreed the professor simply. "Except that Meyer was a young man and of a very unusually strong physique to withstand the sickness of the jungle. But there is one more thing that we do not know; and this I will tell you true. We of the university were debating what we should do. For safari expeditions cost much money; and we have not so much money nowadays. We were almost thinking to wait for another letter, when suddenly from somewhere the university president told our department of zoology that all the money we should need would be available and we should make this expedition immediately to bring out these discoveries of so great importance to science with all the proofs. Particularly must we bring all the proofs."
King's steel gray eyes narrowed to gaze into distant nothing as a thought came to him in connection with the sudden mysterious source of money for an expedition, and the equally mysterious interest of the British government in the colony.
"You say this man was a zoologist and a botanist? He wasn't by any chance a mining man, was he? Or an oil expert, huh? Could he locate oil, maybe?"
"No, no, my dear sir. Positively not. He was what you call a crank on the anthropoid apes; and he was interested in botany from the point of food—the food of nature as the monkeys eat it and keep their health; you understand? Dietetic botany, you say, is it not? Nothing else. Nothing else at all. The man was of a very single purpose mind."
"Then that upsets that little theory," grunted King. "Well, what else?"
"That," said the professor, "is all that I know. I was quickly sent out with sufficient money to make this safari to look for our colleague in those not so well determined jungles. I arrive. I find only obstructions. Everywhere I meet with the greatest politeness from all officials, I am invited to the race meet, to the club, to the sacred ceremony of tea. But I get nothing more than politeness. I receive no permits to make safari. I am unable to hire porters except through the government agency; and the agent does no more than invite me to accept many whisky pegs and to play billiards and tennis at his club. I am not a fool. I see that there is an obstruction. I do not know why."
King's hard face cracked in a wide grin of appreciation. He had his experience of that masterly method.
"Yeh, that's their way," he chuckled. "Always polite and good fellows; no rough stuff. But, golly, how gracefully they can stall when they're tipped off from higher up."
Then a certain exasperation came over him and his face set hard again and his chuckle changed to a grumble.
"They give me an awful pain. Not only they—I mean all governments, all officials. Stuffed out like bullfrogs with the importance of their jobs. If they've got some private deal on why can't they come to a fellow and say, 'Hey, lay off, this is private?' Anybody'd say, 'All right, brother, it's your business, not mine.' But when they go stalling around, giving each other the secret high sign on some huge diplomatic maneuvering that is already common bazaar gossip it sure stirs the wishbone in me to buy in on the game."
"And so, Mister Kingi Bwana," said the professor, stepping adroitly into the exasperated mood, "I come to you. You are American; you owe no loyalty to these diplomatic maneuvers in a colony which is only mandate. You will carry through this business in which I am so from the underhand prevented."
King's quick grin broke through his irritation.
"Wait a minute, brother. Not so fast. You haven't bought me yet. Let's talk some more. Tell me exactly what it is you want me to do."
The professor was quite candid.
"It is simply that you go in, that you find our colleague, if he is alive, and that you bring him out. I do not know why he can not come out alone. It is perhaps that he needs money or that he needs safari to bring out his collections, his proofs, whatever they may be. There is only one proviso—these scientific discoveries, if they are of such importance, they must be delivered to us of the university. In Germany these days much of our activities are restricted by treaty. We wish very jealously to retain our credit for scientific discovery."
"Hm-mm, that's fair enough."
King frowned into the distance, musing. He could see no objection. He believed that the professor had been open with him and had told all he knew. The only possible fly in the ointment was this mysteriously obstructive interest on the part of the mandate government. And that, if anything, was an attraction.
Nobody had come and confided anything to King; he was an outsider, not of the great official family; and not, therefore, bound by any loyalty to a confidence. If officialdom chose to make a ponderous mystery of some trivial thing, that was—he grinned—well, that was just their hard luck. He had suffered so often from restrictions set up by an autocratic officialdom, too proud to explain why, that his natural sympathy was with the underdog who, without official backing, suffered under similar restraint.
His mind was made up. He pointed his terms as though taking aim with his forefinger.
"All right. I'll play with you. I'll go in and find this scientific nut of yours. If he's dead, I'll find his cache or whatever reports there are about him. And I'll deliver to you in Heidelberg. You'll turn over to me now about a thousand dollars expense money for safari—better make it fifteen hundred in case there's a lot to bring out. I'll collect the balance when I deliver the goods. That's how I prefer to work. No tickee no washee. And—" the long forefinger aimed a final shot—"don't let any methodical skinflint at your end ask me for any piffling account of expenditures, 'cause I won't keep 'em."
It was the professor's turn, now that the thing was settled, to find misgivings.
"Do you think, my dear sir, that you can accomplish this? They will try to stop you, as they have hindered me."
The deep lines and abrupt angles of King's face stiffened to the semblance of crudely carved hardwood. He grunted rather grimly.
"I've done nothing they can lock me up in jail for; and I don't see anything else in sight that'll stop me. Don't you worry about that; that's my shauri. You go and holler your head off to the high muckamucks and keep them busy stalling you off with tennis and tea. I'll see you in Heidelberg. Always wanted to come to your country anyway to buy one of those three barrel shot and rifle combinations."
"Also, auf Wiedersehen," said the professor. "I shall have one waiting for you when you come—a handmade 'Drilling' by Sauer."
"It's a bet," said King.
KING was enjoying scenery. He sat on a high, rocky bluff, smoking a pipe and watching a red sun smolder through misty layers of thin vapor that floated upon long, torn streamers of violet, from beneath which radiant shafts of hot orange flared over the edge of a dead flat, ash-gray cloud.
Behind his back gray parrots squawked discontentedly in huge, blue-black euphorbia trees and an occasional shriek of a terrified colobus monkey indicated that the creatures of the night were beginning to prowl forth on the hunt.
The flaming sky mirrored itself in the waters of a deeply indented lagoon that stretched away beyond vision into the dusky gloom.
This was the gulf that Stanley had named after Emin Pasha of Egypt. It reached in a crooked, lava broken creek out of the southwestern corner of the vast square of Lake Victoria Nyanza. King knew that there were two thousand miles of that jagged waterfront of which less than two hundred miles—and those mostly at the northern end—could be said to be inhabited.
Somewhere in this unmapped maze Dr. Hugo Meyer had last been seen—fifteen years ago. Fifteen awful years in the silence. And now a great university wanted him and a government was interested and King was looking for him. It was almost as much of a needle hunting in a haystack as had been Stanley's search for Livingstone.
King was alone. That is to say, it is the custom of explorers in Africa to speak of themselves as being alone if there is no other white man with them—no matter how many dozens of porters, trackers and camp boys they may have.
It was King's peculiarity that he did not consider himself to be alone. With him was Barounggo, his Masai henchman, an unusually powerful great fellow, a member of one of the most warlike peoples of Africa. Also his cook, whose whole grandiose name was Kaff'enq'uam-undh-lovu, a Hottentot as shriveled and dried up as the Masai was huge, possessor of uncanny bush lore and cunning as an ape.
They were just niggers to most of the lordly white men who ruled the land. But King had a queer quiet way all his own of making a distinction between Africans and just niggers. He had niggers with him too; forty of them; many more than he needed; more than he had ever had on a safari before. Most safaris had at least that many. But King had learned his camping, not in the luxury of tropical cheap manpower, but back home in the Western hills where a pair of tough old prospectors would go out with a single pack burro, and contrive to stay six months.
The forty were shenzis, dull oxen who carried thirty-five pounds of camp duffle apiece on their thick heads in country where the tsetse flies would kill horses or cattle in a week.
Forty of them at thirty-five pounds apiece, with all the attendant trouble of looking after and controlling them, were as great a surfeit of worry as of carrying capacity. So much so that King seemed to have gone quite crazy, and most of his shenzis carried upon their wooly heads, instead of the assortment of canned foods that burdens the greater part of most safaris, nothing more valuable than grass with a few large stones to bring up the regulation weight.
King had collected them at Ujiji and, since there were no orders in his case to the contrary, had set out for the tip of Emin Pasha Gulf before a rather bewildered local official had interfered. But he knew that heliographs had winked across the hilltops behind him and that the scattered native constables in the villages ahead of him had not been surprised at his coming.
Nor was it any surprise to him, therefore, when his Hottentot took form out of the shadows and announced:
"Bwana, that man whom we sent out has come. He says a white bwana comes. In one hour he will be here."
"Good," said King evenly. "Prepare food and hot water for the bath against his coming and send Barounggo to me."
The Masai was already there, blending with perfect match of color into the deeping shades behind him. Only the flutter of the plaited monkey hair garters above his great elbows and knees and the breeze ripple along the furry edge of his leopard skin girdle denoted that something moved that was not entirely natural to the wild. That, and two perpendicular scintillations of light; one thin sharp one at the ground and the other, a broad stab of flame, in a direct line seven feet above it. These were the glint of the last sun on the iron spike at the butt and the broad two-foot blade of the Masai spear.
The man leaned motionless upon his great weapon. King asked him what he knew to be a superfluous question.
"Barounggo, is all ready as I have ordered?"
"All is ready, Bwana."
"And the twelve men, they are the strongest of the lot, and you can surely hold them that they do not run away?"
The Masai laughed a deep rumble in his great chest.
"Surely I can hold them, Bwana. I have picked only Banyoro men and Baseses. Their fathers were the slaves of my fathers."
King laughed silently at the man's shrewd selection of men of these two tribes. Since all time—as far back as their grandfathers could remember—before the white man came these fierce Masai had enslaved their people and had slain them relentlessly for the least of misdeeds. They might run away from a white man, as shenzis had often done as soon as there had been a hint of the least little procedure unusual to their dim minds.
A white man would never chase them with murderous ferocity through the woods; the most he would do would be to try to catch them and perhaps beat them before putting them back to work. To run from that great spear flashing at their heels would be worse and infinitely more certain death than taking their chances of doing the most usual thing that the wildest white man might order.
"Good," he said. "Take the twelve and travel swiftly, and hold them till we come; it may be one day; it may be two. And do not, on your life, forget to make the trail of the secret sticks that the Hottentot has taught you."
WHEN the white man came hotfoot into King's camp he found all the litter of an African safari getting ready for supper. This was not the open plain country of farther East, favorable for lions; so there was no need of a thorn boma. It was heavy stunted mimosa bush; and King had selected the tiniest possible natural opening that just gave room for his diminutive tent and his simple needs.
"Ha, hello, Big Chief Biggs," King greeted the police inspector. "I got word you were coming, so I've got a hot bath ready for you and then we can eat."
"Hello, Kingi Bwana." Biggs shook hands. "You heard I was coming? The deuce you say. I wish I could get the service out of my niggers that you seem to get out of yours. How do you manage the thing?"
"One way," said King lazily, "is not to think of them as just niggers. But go ahead and clean up and let's eat."
During the meal both men tacitly agreed not to discuss the business that both knew brought them together. When it was over and Kaffa had removed the enamel plates King lighted his pipe, stretched himself comfortably on the ground and said—
"Now then, shoot."
The police inspector hesitated. His mission was, to his inherited principles of courtesy, an awkward matter to bring up to a man with whom he had always been on friendly terms.
King laughed at his confusion and helped him out.
"Hell, Chief, you know I've come up here to find this Meyer man, and I know you came up a month ago to look for him yourself. Now let's start from there on."
The inspector was relieved. King's open minded attitude made things easier.
"Well," he said, "he isn't anywhere around here; and unless you have some information which we have not, I believe the man must be dead. I've come to find out what you know and what you propose to do."
King was relieved, too. Immensely relieved. He wanted just that information; it saved him many weeks of fruitless search. If the policeman, with his connections and his channels of inquiry through native constables and headmen and so on, had established the fact that the lost scientist was not there, that eliminated an enormous district. In fact, had it not been for the need of this information which he could have got in no other way, it is probable that King would not have been there when the policeman came. King was willing to trade news for news.
"You want to know what I know? It's darn little. Except—d'you know about the letter the Heidelberg crowd received?"
The inspector did not. King told him frankly. He explained the content of its quite ambitious claims about the value of the discoveries, and the condition in which it had been received; also the unexpected and unknown source of funds.
"I thought it might be gold or oil; but it seems that this bird knew nothing about such things. Now there's my cards on the table. That's all I know and that's why I'm looking for him. It's up to you to tell me why your people are officially interested."
"That might be a few months old; or it might be a few years," said the inspector, referring to the letter. "It establishes nothing. What is your opinion of the professor from the university?"
"I believe he's on the level," said King. "His crowd is interested in the scientific findings, if any. He doesn't know where the money comes from; though his higher-up probably does."
The inspector ruminated. He was inclined to believe with King. As to why officialdom was interested, it seemed to him that since King already knew so much and was there on the spot, there could be no harm in telling the secret.
"I'll tell you, Kingi Bwana, since you've been so candid. The professor thought it was queer that their man wasn't just picked up and shoved into a uniform. Well, after the trouble was all over and our people got to straightening up and looking over whatever records there were, we came across a notation to the effect that this Hugo Meyer was to be let alone because he was doing something or other of immense possible value to the German arms.
"That was all. It didn't say what; only that he was not to be bothered. Now that it is all over, the thing is possibly useless. But we made a note of it, of course; and when this professor suddenly cropped up after all these years to look for him we thought we'd better find out what it was all about. But now that the man is dead, I suppose that closes the chapter."
"I have a hunch," said King slowly, "that he isn't dead. I think you've looked in the wrong place. He dropped out of sight here; but—he was interested in anthropoid apes—the fighting around here drove away every live thing that the Heinie troops didn't have to shoot and eat—and from what I hear those birds ate about everything. Why wouldn't it be reasonable that this scientist nut moved west, up toward the Ruwenzori foothills? There's supposed to be more of his apes there, anyway. That's where I'm to go look-see."
"Good Lord!" gasped the inspector. "My dear fellow, you can't do that. That's Urundi and Ruanda districts. Positively ghastly country. Nothing but solid jungle for hundreds of miles. It would take an army ten years to find a man there if he wanted to hide. You could go in there and in the first day you'd be lost to the human world. It took our whole African army, helped by the Belgians, four years to round up the Fritzies in the comparative open country around here; and still they were holding out after they had given up in Europe. Nobody lives in that frightful country."
"Pygmy tribes do," said King stubbornly.
"Oh, pygmies, yes; but they are half monkeys, anyhow. And for that matter a missionary once told me a fairy story about giants. But good Lord, my dear chap, that is the last, lost end of nowhere. You don't mean to tell me that you hope to find a white man in there after fifteen years?"
King's face wore his hard look of determination.
"I've hired out to go and look, anyway," he insisted. "And if he's dead I'm hired to look for anything he may have left."
The inspector relapsed into silence. He knew King. He knew it was useless to argue. He thought the matter over from his official angle and finally he said—
"Well, I don't suppose there can be any objection to your going idiot if you want to—er, provided, of course, that, if you should find anything and come out alive, you'll let our fellows look it over—just in case, you know; if this fellow might after all have found something of military importance."
King was positive.
"Hell, no! I deliver my findings, if any, to the crowd that's hired me. Just the same as if I was a mining man or a plain business scout, I'd be bound to turn in my reports to my employers."
The inspector was officially thoughtful; out of which grew a great embarrassment. He looked at King's dogged expression and found it difficult to give words to his decision. At length he forced himself to mumble—
"Well, my dear fellow—er, I know it's no use trying to dissuade you; but—I'm awf'ly sorry, I'll have to detain you—er, at least until I can communicate with headquarters and find out whether they want to go any further into the matter themselves."
King took the announcement with surprising coolness.
"Yeah, I figured you'd think that way," he said. "Although Urundi and Ruanda are Belgian mandate and you've got nothing to do with it at all."
The inspector was more determined and more embarrassed than ever.
"Sorry, old man, but—by Jove, that complicates things. We'll have to get in touch with the Belgians—because, you know, there might be something in all this. It might be a matter of the gravest international importance. Dash it all, I wish you could see this thing my way."
"Oh, I do," said King. "I can see your point exactly. I figured just that anyhow. And I suppose the negotiations will take weeks and months."
"I'm afraid they will, my dear chap. But—I'm really frightfully sorry—but it's my duty to stop you until the thing is settled. I'm beginning to think it may be much more important than we had thought—that mysterious money, you know; and the insistence upon bringing out all his proofs, whatever they might be. Somebody besides the university is interested. Sorry, old man, but I've just got to stop you."
"And just how do you propose to stop me?" asked King pointedly.
The inspector was excruciatingly embarrassed. Not because he had any doubt of his ability to stop King. This was not any wild and woolly West of America where men settled such personal issues at the swift point of a gun; this was British territory and the British policeman had the ingrained conviction of his kind that all and sundry persons would be amenable to the majesty of the law. He was embarrassed at the need of displaying his authority.
"Oh, come now, my dear fellow." He laughed constrainedly. "We don't have to fight about a thing like this. But, if I must, of course, the simplest thing is to order your safari men not to go any farther with you and to send word through the villages that you don't get any others. And you'll have to stay with me, of course. So—" He finished his exposition of authority with another constrained laugh.
"Yeah," King said resignedly. "We don't have to fight. I figured you'd do just that."
"Sorry, old man," apologized the inspector. "But there's just a chance that the thing might be frightfully important."
King grinned at him without a trace of rancor.
"Oh, that's all right, Chief. You're acting just like I figured you'd have to according to your best lights. But we're deadly enemies, and I won't ask you to share my tent—haven't got room for two, anyway."
"Awf'ly glad you take it that way," said the inspector with huge relief. "I'll pitch my tent in the next little hole in the bush. My sergeant will take care of your safari men."
The next nearest available hole in the bush where a tent could be set up—King had carefully seen to that—was a hundred yards away.
So that night, when everybody was asleep and contented and secure, King and Kaffa quietly rolled up the tiny tent with the few cooking pots in its center and melted away from that place, leaving twenty-eight safari men with their loads of grass and stones in care of a trusty sergeant of police.
"Now then," whispered King to the Hottentot, "see to it, little monkey man, that you don't fail to find the secret stick trail that you taught to Barounggo."
"Keh-heh-heh-heh," giggled the Hottentot. "If that great man of more war than wit has not forgotten it I will surely find it. Have no fear, Bwana. Surely will I follow it."
THE little safari had arrived. The queer Hottentot code of broken sticks had been surely laid—the man of war had not forgotten—and as surely followed. The twelve shenzis had remained intact, wondering and fearful under the shadow of that great spear.
That was a week ago. No angry minion of the law had followed. As the inspector had said, one could go in there and in the first day one would be lost to the human world. King was lost in the lost end of nowhere. He did not know where he was. Nobody knew. He had traveled westward from Lake Victoria Nyanza, crisscross, zigzag and around, as the lesser densities of the jungle had best permitted. He had covered many tedious miles; he did not know how many.
Perhaps he was twenty miles away from the lake, perhaps a hundred. Maps were indications of nothing. In mere unsurveyed country maps are a help in that when one comes to a river one may figure that this may be such and such a river and that it may be perhaps within fifty miles or so of where a random cartographer drew it.
This map showed but one river, the Kagera, which rose theoretically somewhere near Lake Kivu, the "gorilla lake", and flowed generally northwestward and emptied into the Victoria Nyanza by the swamps of Bukoba—at least the map thought it was the same river. King had already crossed three rivers, three quite sizable lu-anzas—or maybe it was the same river three times. He had skirted round the shores of five large ni-anzas, two of them salty and one whose edges were heavily encrusted with potash. The map knew nothing about these.
King knew something about the elements of ascertaining position by sextant observations; and he was wondering rather grimly just now how some explorers could come back with such confident traverse notes out of dense forest country where one could scramble along for days without ever catching a glimpse of the sky, to say nothing about horizon, or stars, or sun.
Positions, however, are relative; their scope and usefulness is in connection with other known and established points. Had King been able to establish his accurate position to a pin prick on the map, what good would it have done him? It would not, since the rest of the map was vague, have told him how far he would have to hack his way through the jungle to come to the next water or to a pygmy village.
He was looking for a village. He thought he was in pygmy country. If he could find a settlement of these queer, shy little people he hoped to inquire whether anything was known of a white man alive somewhere in the district. If anywhere within fifty miles—which was about the life and trade association radius of these forest dwellers—so unusual a phenomenon existed, it would surely be known.
For all that King knew he might be surrounded by the little people at that very minute. Furtive and aloof as animals, they might skulk in their own fastnesses and peer cautiously at strangers for a week before they would permit themselves to be seen—or rather, might grow careless enough to be surprised. It has happened that the first intimation strangers have had of their presence has been a poisoned arrow from a diminutive bow or a blowgun dart out of the night.
But if one stopped to think of the possibility of treacherous natives one would never get anywhere. That is a chance that the stranger must take, and he must be careful in his slow progress to mind his jungle p's and q's; to do nothing, not even any unknown anything, that may offend the unsuspected conventions of the suspicious denizens of the forest.
King was being very careful. His course was an erratic zigzag. He picked openings where he found them; he pushed through where he could; he detoured rather than let his men chop a path; for all forest dwellers are of necessity tree-worshipers. How could one tell when a blade might chop some sapling whose evil spirit required to be propitiated, or might scar some tree whose tutelary deity called for reverence? Until the people had been met, how should these things be known?
Fortunately for his progress this was rain forest, not liana jungle. The elevation was nearly four thousand feet and was gradually ascending to the lower flanks of the Ruwenzori range. The trees were tropical giants of silk cottons, tamarisks, yews; the underbrush was sapling and bush growth rather than the awful interlaced thorny vines of the lower levels. Now and then occurred spaces where the overhead growth was so dense, the light that filtered through so dim, that undergrowth struggled but feebly for life. Here one could progress almost as fast as a slow walk.
Suddenly King, in the lead, stopped and held up his hand. Kaffa at his heels immediately did the same. The first porter behind Kaffa followed suit. And so the signal passed along the winding line to the Masai who brought up the rear with an ever watchful eye upon stragglers. The shuffling line came to a halt and stood to listen.
For awhile there was nothing. Then from far ahead came the sound again; a swishing of branches and a crackle of dead leaves. King looked at Kaffa. The Hottentot listened awhile and then nodded.
"Yes, man," he whispered.
"Ba-m'bute or Ba-nande? Dwarf man or forest man?" inquired King.
Kaffa weighed the question.
"I think forest man," he pronounced. "The moving of branches is too high up for dwarf."
"Guess you're right," agreed King. "Now if you know any forest talk like you've always bragged, call to him."
Kaffa grinned his readiness to show off his accomplishment and gave forth a throaty barking hail. Instantly the growing noise stopped. The jungle was as still as if a deer had crouched in hiding. King was wise. He made no advance toward where the sounds had been. He motioned Kaffa to call again. After a long hesitation a voice came questioning.
The Hottentot was wise, too. He made no blundering statement about a white man with a safari; he said only that he wanted information about where there might be habitations and that he would give a piece of meat if the man would come forth.
"Nay, come thou to me," the man called with innate suspicion. In this way he would avoid falling into a trap and would be able to hear whether one man approached or many.
King signed to Kaffa to go. The rest would be up to the astute little fellow's power of persuasion. King sat down and lighted his pipe. He knew that all the questions that could come within the scope of the jungle dweller's reason would have to be satisfactorily answered before he would even begin to consider the advisability of coming forward. And indeed an hour passed before the sounds indicated two men coming back.
Kaffa came grinning his triumph, clucking like a hen to encourage its offspring to advance. The man came cautiously into view, but remained standing at a little distance, ready to make an instant dash for safety. He was very black. His scrawny body was short and pot bellied, but abnormally long legs brought him to normal height. His forehead retreated into overhanging crinkly hair; enormous lips protruded in counter proportion; a nose flattened over half the face, was slit by great elongate nostrils. Except for the lack of the cranial ridge and the over developed canines the face might have been a gorilla's.
THE first thing King did, before putting a single question to him, was to give him a large lump of cold meat. With animal intentness the man fell to gnawing at it, watching over its top with wide alert eyes.
"He says," announced Kaffa, "that a white man came long ago with a safari four days' journey to the south. He does not know how long ago; he did not see that white man; he never saw any white man; but he heard about him; and that man went away."
"Hm. Right useful piece of news, isn't it," grunted King.
"He says also," continued Kaffa with triumph at all the information that he had elicited, "that he has heard about another white man who came long ago and he has never heard about that man's going away."
"Ha, that begins to sound like friend professor."
King's eyes sparkled. He had not in his most sanguine dreams hoped to strike the trail at his very first effort. It was almost too easy.
"Ask him if he knows anything about where that white man may be, or if he knows where there are people who may know."
Kaffa translated and the man mumbled back at long length over his meat, pointing with his eyes and with inclinations of his head.
"He says he does not know. The jungle people were afraid of that man because the Ngai had looked into his eyes and he was mad." King knew that the Ngai was an almost universal Central African name for the great Nature god. "The Ngai had looked into his eyes," continued Kaffa with prosaic indifference, "and so he married a monkey and went away to live with them."
"What? What's that you say?" King's shout was so suddenly vehement that the jungle man sprang back and crouched ready to run for fear he had in some manner offended.
"He says," giggled the Hottentot as though the thing were merely funny, "that that white man married a chim'panze and went away to live with her people in the jungle."
"Good Lord!" This was news with a vengeance. And told with such simplicity that the astounding thing sounded true. "Went crazy and married a chimpanzee." Good heavens, what wild and weird things could happen in Africa!
And then, as reason began to assert itself and to interpret this stark statement of the native, King began to nod with slow understanding, to smile as he nodded, and then to laugh. He leaned back against a tree and held his sides as mirth rocked him. Of course he understood it all now. The professor absorbed in his study of the anthropoid apes, prowling in the deepest forests all the time: That was quite sufficient for the primitive mind to set him down as having been touched by Ngai, the Nature god.
There were plenty of civilized people who were quite ready to set down as crazy any fellow human—and particularly a foreigner—who acted so radically differently from their own established conventions of life.
The good professor was quite possibly a bit eccentric, too; a man would have to be, to come and immure himself in the jungle for so long in order to pursue a study. Even though he had never intended to make fifteen years of it, circumstances had just so happened. That was Africa.
Man proposed and Africa disposed. How many men were there who had come to Africa for a year of business and had stayed the rest of their lives? Cursing it, many of them, moaning about exile, longing for home; but there they had stayed. Africa had just reached out and taken them into her maw. Here was himself. If anybody had tried to prophesy to him that he would stay in Africa for eight years he would have laughed—he would, in fact, have called that person crazy.
Of course the natives would say that the professor was crazy. And when he went away, when he withdrew to some other part where the opportunities for his study were better, they would say—what was more probable than that he had a tame ape or two?—they would naturally say with perfect African logic that he had married it. Why not? They unanimously insisted that apes stole their women. It was true that he, King, had never known of such a case personally; but more than one white man had vouched for the story; and King had heard plenty of sly stories about bush natives who had reciprocal unholy tastes. Why not—in their simple minds—a white man too?
Of course that was it. King was quickly persuading himself. That was the explanation. Ha-ha, what queer ideas these primitives could evolve out of the simplest things. That, without any manner of doubt, must be the whole truth of the matter.
Still—King laughed less whole-heartedly—this was Africa; the lost end of nowhere in the very center of Africa. Nothing was sure in Africa until one had seen and talked and knew for oneself. He turned to Kaffa.
"Ask him about any people who might know something more about this white man."
Kaffa had already done that. One of Kaffa's greatest assets was that he did not need to have each item of order detailed to him one by one. The little Hottentot had a thinking apparatus within his monkey-like head and he frequently used it.
"He says that one day's trek to the north is a village of the Ba-m'bute. The white man went away with his wife to the north. There is a trail. He will show us. I have said that Bwana will give him potio, the same meat and mealies that the shenzis get and a strong knife."
"Good," said King. "Tell him to start."
THAT trail was a godsend. Crooked, aimless, scarcely more discernible than an animal track, much overgrown, often requiring crawling upon hands and knees; none the less it more than trebled the distance that could be covered in a blind blundering about the forest.
Even at that, it was not till well into the following day that they began to reach indications of human habitation. King had expected no more than that. He knew that a native stating the time distance of any journey always states it in terms of how fast he can do it according to his usual mode of travel, walking, running, canoe, or mule back; he never thinks to translate it into the probable speed of men with packs or of slow footed white men who flounder through unaccustomed bush.
Indications of a village began to be plentiful enough. Little trails crisscrossed; piles of refuse festered in the hothouse air—for these were simple people who disposed of their garbage by throwing it out at the very doors of their crude shelters; and when the stench became unbearable even to their nostrils they just moved their habitations to a less polluted spot.
Over all hung the pervading effluvium of rottenness which the wind, howsoever fiercely it might rage above the far treetops, never got a chance to blow clear in the dim, humid lanes below.
The jungle man stopped and explained to the Hottentot that he had better go ahead and announce the arrival of so unusual a thing as a safari, making clear not only that its object was pacific, but—much more important—that it knew how to treat jungle natives; otherwise some startled villager might send a blowgun dart whispering through the leaves as a stop message; and with those things just a touch, as light as the whisper of its coming, was sufficient to stop its recipient for all time.
"Go ahead," grunted King, and sat down.
To the wary Hottentot's suggestion that the man might be going in advance to arrange an ambush—for the little safari gear would mean fortune to the village during the lives of all that generation—King grunted again with malicious humor—
"For that purpose do you, little bush man, walk in front, and so shall your cunning which you boast be the security for all of us."
At which Kaffa twisted and wrapped his knees around each other like a shy schoolgirl and grinned with less good cheer than usual.
That interview between the jungle negro and the dwarf village took up half a day. Time, of course, was a nonexistent element with them. Tomorrow there would be daylight again. It might rain or it might shine; what difference did that make? One could fight or one could run away and hide in the woods equally well in either case. To run or not to run, that was the weighty question.
The village elders had to squat in conclave and jabber that matter over from all possible angles. In the meanwhile any impatient advance on King's part would mean a hasty blowgun dart or two before running.
So King smoked many pipes and kicked his heels in the patience that is bred of Africa. In the course of weary time the messenger came back and clucked at the Hottentot. Kaffa translated with sly malice.
"He says the little people are prepared to make talk with the bwana but they are afraid of the Wa-kuafi."
The Masai gave vent to a noise like the explosive grunt of a buffalo. The Wa-kuafi are a branch of the Masai, pastoral tribes, rich in cattle and in tilled fields, and therefore envied and looked down upon by the fighting men. Barounggo was an Elmoran, a warrior, who owned nothing, but took what he wanted with his spear. He rumbled deep in his throat.
"Many people are afraid of me, little monkey man. Why should not your relatives in this place of stinks also fear?"
"Keh-heh-heh-heh," chuckled the little Hottentot.
It was one of his most enjoyable amusements, to excite the somber ferocity of his master's other servant; although he had in reality a great regard for the Masai's loyalty and courage, as the Masai in turn envied the little man's superior cunning which he acknowledged with a lordly condescension to be a necessity to a man who could not wield a seven-foot spear.
And indeed it was not to be wondered that the little people were nervous about the great fellow. From some mysterious place he had produced a single black ostrich plume which he had bound over his left temple so that it nodded above his plaited hair to exaggerate his height, which was already twice that of the pygmies. To them he typified the stories that had filtered in even to their forest fastness of the fierce great men of the plains who condescended to no work but slew for their needs.
"It is well," said King. "Barounggo stays with the shenzis and makes camp in a clean place. You and I go and make indaba with these Ba-m'bute."
The village itself stank with a concentrated force much worse than its surrounding middens. It consisted of tiny huts of interlaced brush, hardly more than rain and wind shelters, scattered among giant tree trunks. No sun ever came here to sweeten the air by dessicating the litter of refuse. Everything lay as it was thrown and rotted in the humidity.
What impressed King most about these people was the extraordinary vitality that they must have, their resistance to disease. They must be very close to the lower animals to be able to live in such conditions without dying off like flies in the fall. Their shelters, except that they were on the ground, were not much more than the nests that the chimpanzees of the same district built in the trees.
What, indeed, separated them from the apes? The faculty of reason? There was no doubt that they did possess a certain dull quality of reason. But might that not be a matter of degree rather than kind? Various learned professors had recently made elaborate experiments to prove that the greater apes could distinctly reason. What, then, was the great dividing line? Something mysterious in the structure of the body cells? King did not know. Perhaps Dr. Hugo Meyer, after fifteen years of close study, would know.
A GROUP of the little people waited for King under a tree. No other live thing was in sight. The reception committee wriggled their toes with nervous tension through the moist muck of mud and rotting banana pulp that made a malodorous slush on the ground. Monkeys did just that in their cages when visitors came to the zoo.
They were sturdy, little, quite naked creatures, most of them well under four feet, and—King was quite startled—they were not black. Reddish yellow, rather; though some tended to brownish black; and the hair of some of them was distinctly russet. It was an amazing discovery to King.
Bristly black hair grew on the upper lips and chins of the older males; heavy and curly on their chests; and—extraordinary again—fleecy yellowish on their cheeks and limbs, quite a mat of it on their backs.
King's thoughts, as he looked, were running curiously riot. Chimpanzees were black, he reflected; but the gorillas of Mount Karisimbi, not so far distant, gorilla beringii, were often no more brownish black than some of these creatures, whose faces, too, were remarkable for their long upper lips, their depressed broad noses with enormous alae and their heavily prognathous jaws.
Where in the scale of evolution would Dr. Hugo Meyer place these people? He had to try to make clear to them that he was seeking information of Dr. Hugo Meyer.
First of all he distributed gifts, little coils of copper wire that he brought out of his pockets—they were that far ahead of the apes in that they did make crude arm bands of beaten metal. And they carried weapons. Each man held either a diminutive three-foot bow or a long eight-foot blow tube. But for that matter King had seen a reddish brown orang-utan carry a club; the difference was in degree again, not in kind. The little men took the presents and chattered to one another, showing their teeth under lips which turned up as they grinned.
King motioned to Kaffa without speaking; he felt almost as if a human voice would frighten these creatures. The Hottentot clicked and clucked to the Ba-nanda man and he in turn made staccato noises at the Ba-m'bute folk.
There seemed to exist a confusion in their minds. The question required to be assimilated. That required time. They pointed inquiringly at King; they thrust out pointing chins to the surrounding jungle; they acted out comings and goings and climbing of trees; they shook their heads; they accompanied all their wealth of motion with chatterings in high tenor voices. At intervals the Ba-nanda man gabbled to the Hottentot and the Hottentot back to him. Fifteen minutes it took to put over that question and answer. Then Kaffa reported the stunning disappointment.
"They say they have never heard of any white man as far as they travel or as far as the people whom they meet travel. There is no white man here. There are no people here except their own people and the chi-m'panze. The Ba-nanda man told them that his people had heard that the white man had married a chi-m'panze, and had come here; and they say, well then it is clear that one must ask the chi-m'panze, but they themselves are civilized people and do not know how to talk to the chi-m'panze. Perhaps the white bwana, who must know everything, knows how to talk with them."
King's high hopes dropped to zero. He had dared to let himself hope when he had first heard the Ba-nanda man's vague story, although he had felt the insistent warning that his quest was shaping up too easily. Things did not fall out as easily as that in Africa. Surely the curse of Adam had concentrated in the African jungles. In the sweat of one's brow one had to labor. Health and life and the indomitable will to carry on had to be heaped in the balance. Only in payment for continuous toil and high courage would the jungle ever yield a grudging return.
All these things King knew from experience. It never occurred to him that possibly the patience and skill and judgment that had gone into his arduous journey into this lost end of nowhere might have appeased the jealous gods of the land.
He made Kaffa question again from every possible angle that might overcome any misunderstanding. But the reply was definite. There was no white man. There had never been any white man. The little people were positive. The one ray of hope that they offered was that perhaps he had gone by another way up toward the foothills where his wife's people were plentiful.
They themselves did not go to the foothills because the Ba-n'tongo lived there. The Ba-n'tongo were bad people, big people, bigger even than the big black man who had stayed with the porter men, and they did not permit the little people to come into their country.
The big people? King's eyes widened. Those must be the giants of whom the police inspector's missionary acquaintance had told. They could not be so hostile, then. If a missionary had penetrated to the country there was no reason why another white man should not have done so; and particularly no reason why yet another white man should not follow. And the apes were plentiful in the hills? Quite likely then that the professor had worked his way up there.
King's hopes began to rise again. He told Kaffa to see whether he could find out anything about directions, routes of travel, trails, anything. Kaffa relayed the question. But the little people's minds had tired of concentration upon the one subject. They had gone off on another tangent and nothing could shake the new thought from their heads.
They were glad, they rambled on, that the white bwana had come; because he was without doubt a bwana m'kubwa, a very great white master, and he had guns; and they were going to make a war and they wanted him to help them. This very night they had been planning to make their war and it was surely the sending of the ghosts of their fathers that so strong a white man had come, and he must surely help them in their war.
"To which, tell them most surely not," answered King. "If they are out for trouble that's their affair and I'm certainly not going to bring white man's weapons into play to slaughter their enemies for them. Tell them they're fools and that their silly quarrel, whatever it is, can probably be arbitrated, and I'll go so far that I'll see the other side and we'll sit in white man's judgment over the quarrel."
The long winded answer to that boiled down to that the matter could not be settled by talk because the other side could not understand.
"H'm, that's what all our most civilized belligerents say," said King. "Besides—" with a sudden suspicion that fighting might be some sort of an excuse for treachery—"ask them what kind of a yarn is that; since they said that there were no people around here but their own people."
The reply was startling in its insight into some of the mental processes of these folk. Oh, they were not planning to fight with any people, they said; they were going to war against certain marauding apes; and since the great apes were very fierce, they wanted the help of the white man's guns.
A war it was in their minds. Not just an expedition of humans to hunt some animals; but a conflict against creatures who fought back.
But King was one of those who objected on principle to the unnecessary killing of the great anthropoids. The advance of man into their jungles had already exterminated them from all but a few of the remotest fastnesses; and even to these more than enough millionaire sportsmen came with a covering excuse of collecting specimens for little tank town museums. One of the great indignations of King's life remained against a European prince who came at vast expense into the western flank of the great mountains on whose less accessible slope he now was, and murdered fourteen gorillas and then posed all over the landscape to be photographed with his carcasses for the delectation of his admiring subjects.
King, in common with many other people, had heard and read a vast amount of hysterical propaganda about atrocities committed by the Belgian government in the Congo; most of which propaganda he considered to be lies circulated by a rival power in Africa. But, lies or no, he was inclined to forgive them all in return for the splendid action of the Belgian government in setting aside the whole of the Karisimbi Mountains as a sanctuary for the great apes.
He would certainly not be a party to any war on them. But he wanted to know for what reason the pygmy people were so intent upon a war. The reason was simple enough, crude and direct. The apes were robbing the pygmies' melon and yam patches. And they were foreign apes; not the local apes of their own trees; that was what made the crime the more unforgivable. If they would permit this insult, the ghosts of their fathers would bring sickness upon them.
THESE people were becoming more amazing every minute. They stood at the very dawn of human reason and yet in this matter of war and killing, these almost Neanderthal men reasoned exactly as did the most civilized statesmen of today. Foreigners. That was the major crime. Their own monkeys might be shooed off; but when foreign monkeys—astounding thought that; foreign monkeys—when strangers looted their land that was a matter that touched their honor and could be settled only by war.
How could these astounding little savages know that the marauding apes were not the same cunning beasts that lurked in the thickest of their own jungles, King wanted to know.
Oh, that was easy—the little men tossed their heads and grinned in open boasting—they had long ago disciplined their neighbors in their own trees; those apes were wise enough to have learned that punishment followed melon thieving. These overbold marauders always swooped down from the hills where there were no melons and yams, traveling fifty miles in a day along their tree roads and retreating just as fast when they were routed.
Not the best warrior of the little people could follow half as fast along the jungle paths; and besides, up in those hills lived the Ba-n'tongo, the big people who allowed no man to enter their country.
The Hottentot translated everything with perfect seriousness. Why not? He knew that in his own bush country far down to the south monkeys were a pest to his own people. Only there they were the big hamadryas baboons and they raided the mealie patches with immense damage. Many a time had he sallied out with the rest of his village—by no means ever alone—to chase off the robbers.
It was King who laughed, almost giggled. The idea was so ludicrous.
It was just as if he were transported to the beginning of the world and was observing one of the major causes of war that had persisted throughout the rest of the world's history. It had always been the bold mountaineers who had swooped down from their barren hills to raid the comparatively prosperous habitations of their more civilized neighbors, and had fled back into their inaccessible haunts when defeated.
The little men saw him laugh and took heart to press their plea. Would he not help them with his might and his knowledge, for the raiders were very fierce and cunning? If one of them could drop from the thick foliage of a tree upon a pygmy man alone it would give but one tug of its great hands and would tear an arm from the socket; or it might hang from a branch by one hand and clutch a man round the throat with a great strangling foot.
And the leader of these apes—the little savages were building up their case—he was a particularly huge and cunning devil; he could see through every trap, forestall every strategy. From the hills he came; from those hills where that other white man must have gone with his ape wife; perhaps this leader was a son of theirs—that would explain his cunning. It was, in fact, practically the duty of the white bwana to help them against this aggression.
King laughed no more. He could not tell just why. He did not entirely believe all the horrors of ape warfare that the savages recounted; that was sheer sympathy seeking craft on their part, he decided. These things might well have happened within the memory of their generation. Anything could happen in these dark primeval jungles. Still, he could not accept them as habitual tactics of malice aforethought.
It was not that that chilled his mirth. It was that recurring reference to the white man's ape wife. The thing came so naturally; it was accepted so easily, without demur, as a commonplace that called for no argument.
Was it remotely possible that—No, the thing was monstrous. A native perhaps, one of these pygmies who were not so very far advanced beyond the tree stage—with only a little more of that horrible brown-yellow hair their faces would be absolute ape. Yes, he had heard plenty of such stories of miscegenation. But a white man? Never! Impossible!
No, this was just the primitive mind ascribing to others what might be quite natural to itself. But Africa—Fifteen terrible years alone in the jungle. Absorbedly interested in the anthropoids—for the sake of science—possibly crazy....
King shook himself. He looked around rapidly and blinked his eyes. He was becoming morbid. These dim sunless jungles, these debased dwarfs. They were hypnotizing him into a condition of bizarre unreality. He turned to Kaffa.
"Tell them," he ordered, "that I will not use my guns against these monkeys who rob a few yams. But I will come with them; and if any man is in a great danger from which he can not escape then I will shoot to save his life."
That was a concession, though King scarcely realized it, to the dramatic ability inherent in these savages. They had told a good story; they had built up, unknown to themselves, a situation of man against nature; and King responded to it. As man, howsoever far removed from these naked primitives, he stood by man to the extent at least of defending human life.
That was as far as he could go; and with that the little savages had to be content. Very well then; the war party was to steal out that same night. By night because the apes were too cautious to be surprised by day; and they, humans, had so far progressed beyond nature that they could postpone the time for sleep; while the apes, evolved beyond the nocturnal creatures, had not yet gone far enough, and slept with the coming of the dark.
IT is a phenomenon among savages that their little patches of cultivation are frequently astonishingly distant from their habitations. Travelers have wondered why. Does anybody know just why a farmer will sometimes walk a mile or more to some outlying field when untilled land lies at his elbow? Possibly he has persuaded himself that the distant soil is more fertile than the nearer and prefers to go according to his hard ingrained "experience" rather than let the government analyst test his soil and give him a true report of its values.
Savages whose analyst is their local witch doctor go according to his expert whim. This crooked branched tree harbors a benevolent spirit; or that curious outcrop of rock is a good omen. And so one finds little hidden patches of crude clearing scattered in a wide flung radius around every village.
The pygmies had located a small troupe of apes that were looting a distant field. They were cunning enough to avoid all traps and ferocious enough to attack any small boys who might be stationed as scarecrows. An armed party of men could keep them off; but then they would simply go to another field. The only recourse, therefore, was war; a surprise night attack upon their roosts. A scout had discovered the group of giant silk cotton trees in which they slept.
King was all eager to see how these primitives conducted a war. And a war it was to them. Man to man, a chimpanzee was as big as a pygmy, much heavier and infinitely stronger—and, King reflected, not so very much less intelligent.
The little people set out with as much precaution and stealth as though they were attacking a neighboring hostile tribe. Their fear exaggerated the intelligence of their enemies; the apes kept a spy posted to give warning of their movements, they insisted. It was a serious business for them. Every man knew that, as in any war, death was a grim factor that played no favorites.
King stumbled along an unseen track in a grotesque dream. He was at the dark dawn of civilization and these were dawn men fighting to maintain their hard won superiority over the apes. He could just discern shadowy little shapes that hurried along and he followed the pattering of their hard feet.
There was a thin moon. Not that it could be seen through the dense mat of foliage; but a pale glow filtered through sufficiently to show shadow masses where otherwise everything would be the utter blackness of the pit.
Good for them but bad for the apes, the little men chattered gratefully. That seemed to be an enigma born of some queer superstition. But Kaffa's woodcraft knew the answer to that one. Monkeys always crouched desperately still on moonlight nights because the great snakes, the tree boas, which were unable to see in the pitch darkness, hunted like cats in the dim glow.
King was hard put to it to keep up with the pygmy army. His stride was twice theirs and his walking speed proportionately so. But those twisty trails had been cut to suit pygmy stature. At six feet of height sudden unseen branches rasped across a tall man's face. More than once a thick limb, like some ghostly arm reaching out of the night, thudded against King's chest and staggered him.
After an interminable stumbling and ducking through the dark jungle maze the swift patterings of little feet began to slow down. Shadows gathered in groups and hissed sibilantly at each other. The groups congested, broke up, melted out into deeper shadows.
There seemed to be no order, no plan; nobody, apparently, was in charge. Shadow groups formed, larger or smaller, according to whim of individuals. They moved away according to mob impulse.
King judged that they had arrived and that the flitting shadows were surrounding a certain group of vast trees whose thick limbs hung low to the ground. Nobody paid any attention to him; nobody suggested any vantage point. These primitives made war each man according to his own unrestricted desire.
King had always been under the impression that chimpanzees were pacific creatures. But he had seen them only in zoos. A big male ape in its own jungle might be a very different beast from the consumptive creature in a cage. At all events, these pygmy people ought to know; and small wonder, then, that their night foray was a matter of serious moment to them. So formless an expedition, without thought, without plan, was bound to leave a loophole for disaster to strike somewhere.
Kaffa whispered at King's shoulder.
"There, Bwana, but a little distance to the right is an open place. No tree is there from which anything can drop. That is a good place. This is a fool's war that plays with death in the dark."
King felt his way out in the direction indicated, Kaffa with him and the Ba-nanda man so close to his heels as to impede his stumbling progress. King wanted to curse him for a frightened fool, but he had not the heart. Fighting with apes was outside of his experience; but he did know that the big hamadryas baboons of the plains gullies would not hesitate to attack a single man or two. These chimpanzees were twice as big as the biggest dog baboon; and there was something creepy about the thought of a black demoniac something dropping, all tearing hands and feet, upon one's head out of a tree in the dark.
Suddenly a spark of fire winked between the farther tree trunks. Another glimmered out, and another. They formed a rough circle round the tree group. Goblin figures showed in silhouette against the light, stepping cautiously under the trees—not too close-peering upward, poised with toy bows and deadly little arrows.
Stealthy shufflings commenced among the high branches. The goblin figures darted about beneath, hoping to catch a glimpse of a moving mass between the deeper abysses of blackness. Gibberings came from above. Excited chatterings answered from below. In the trees a springy creak of wood, a threshing of branches and leaves as a heavy body launched itself through space to a farther branch. On the ground a frenzied patter of feet as the goblins huddled in a protective mob.
King felt as if he were in a nightmare of ghouls. It was weird and unholy warfare. Shadows flitting in the firelight hunting shadows. It was not of the material world, this thing. It was gloomily unreal; a flickery moving picture of a maniac director's inferno.
King did not blame the dwarf people for being afraid of this war of theirs. In that dark setting any horror might happen.
An angry coughing bark sounded from a low hanging mass of foliage. A flurry of pygmies fled that spot. Gibberings answered the bark. The fling and crash of heavy bodies took a definite direction. The angry bark sounded with insistent command.
It seemed to King that there was more purpose and direct plan among the tree folk than among the dwarf mob. He was telling himself that it was as he had expected. The apes were clearly trying to get away and, unless cornered with retreat cut off, would not show fight. And he could then picture the howling, tearing, fury of that fight.
He was just beginning to relax from the tension of an unwarranted expectation of danger, when the horror that he had imagined might happen in the ghoulish setting materialized out of the dark with a suddenness that was the more horrible because it exceeded the wildest probability of his imagination.
The apes were moving successfully along their line of retreat. The goblins were unable to keep up with their fresh fires to light the attack. It looked like a clear getaway, when a lucky arrow flew truer than the rest. There came the shriek of a wounded animal and a frenzied scurry among the branches. The dwarfs yelled in shrill chorus and rushed in a mob to keep up with the scurry.
The arrow, of course, was poisoned. Its effect would be to paralyze the nerve centers within a few seconds or a few minutes, depending upon the freshness of the venom. The inevitable result would be that the victim, unable to hold on, would fall from its tree. The venom on this particular arrow was fairly fresh and so the end was swift. The ape, feeling its weakness growing apace, began with the last fading of its instinct to climb down in order to avoid a heavy fall.
A dark shape could be discovered lowering itself slowly down the bole of a tree a little beyond the rim of the farthest fires. Desperately it clung; reluctantly it slipped lower. Inevitably lower.
Hobgoblin shadows howled and danced in infernal jubilation. They ringed the tree and leaped in grotesque antics, throwing vast shadows of devils on the farther greenery. The picture required only the master fiend to complete it.
He came. A half human bellow of rage burst from the nearest bushes as a monstrous shape rushed from the blacker darkness and hurled itself upon the leaping shades. In the smoky gloom it looked to be twice as huge as it really was; but allowing even for that, it was enormously bigger than the dwarfs.
Screaming its fury, it charged into the thick of them. Vast arms and feet clutching, swinging, it swept half a dozen little figures whirling into the air in its first rush. After one long second of awful silence the yells of jubilation broke out in shrill yelpings of fear. For a moment a massed mob formed. Not with any idea of attack; it was a huddle of horror.
A bow or two twanged, but without apparent effect. The monstrous shape roared again and rushed the huddle. A luckless dwarf came into the clutch of its vast hands. In a moment it dangled high by one foot. Holding it so by the ankle with both hands, the monster flailed at the mob with the limp body, screaming its fury.
It was enough to terrorize braver people than the dwarfs. With high pitched shrieks the mob broke and fled like devils at cock crow. In an instant every shrieking imp was swallowed into the surrounding blackness. In the same instant the monster made a leap and was gone. A crashing in the bushes, smaller scuttlings in other directions, and the night was as silent as a cave. The devil's nightmare had vanished as suddenly as it had come. Only the flicker of the encircling fires was proof that the thing had happened at all.
King exhaled a long shuddering breath.
"Twist a grass torch, Kaffa, with speed," he ordered; and when it was ready he advanced warily to the scene of the awesome fight.
It had all come about so suddenly and so far in the gloom that to use his rifle had been out of the question. But there would probably be some first aid to be given, and he was quite sure that none of those pygmies would return to give it.
The torch disclosed six twisted bodies. Dead. Horribly dead. Crushed. Distorted in impossible positions, with broken backs or necks. If there had been any wounded, they had crawled off into the bushes. At the base of the tree huddled the black hairy form of the chimpanzee, already stiff.
As complete as it had been sudden had been the typhoon of death. King was awed. He had never seen anything so sudden even in Africa. Kaffa chattered at his elbow.
"Bwana, this is an evil place of devils. We have yet to find our way back to camp through these imp trails without a guide."
"Let us go," said King. "Let the Ba-nanda man make torches as fast as you burn them up."
Occupied as King's faculties were, finding the way back through the jungle maze by sheer trial and error, the thing that he had seen found place to intrude. Anything could happen in Africa, he had often said. But not this thing. This was too impossible.
That the pygmy people should organize a hunting party to chase away some marauding monkeys was nothing. It was their superstition and their own limited mentality that ascribed a proportionate super-intelligence to the apes and built up their expedition in their minds to the dignity of a war.
But what was this other thing? This sudden avenging monster? No chimpanzee had ever grown to half that size. This creature must have been at least six feet in height; possibly more; though in that gloom it had been impossible to gage with any accuracy. And there had been more than ape intelligence behind the ferocity of its fight. Was an ape physically built so that it could stand on wide spread legs and swing a body round its head with both hands?
Kaffa, trotting along with the torch, might almost have been reading his thoughts.
"In my own country," he broke out of a long silence, "the monkeys have a god whose name is Han-Hau. We give him mealies and pawpaws to keep his people out of our fields. This great one is undoubtedly the god of these chi-m'panze. It is good that we took no part in that war. He is a very fierce god."
"Which is about as far as we shall ever get with any explanation," grunted King. But to the Hottentot he said for the sake of morale, "Monkey gods for monkey people. This was an ape as great as you are a fool. With the morning the little people will make it clear."
And with the morning it was his amazement that the pygmy folk bore him out to the letter. Yes, they said, this was the leader of those apes about whom they had spoken; very big and very terrible and very cunning; had not all men heard him barking his orders to his people?
King, forgetting his reproof to Kaffa, said—
"Rubbish; who ever heard of a chimpanzee growing to that size?"
They answered with perfect readiness, of course not; this was not a chi-m'panze, but a wo-m'panze, one of the greater apes from the big mountain, and the chi-m'panze had chosen it for their leader. Was not a greater ape wiser than a lesser ape even as a big man was a better leader than a small man?
To which sound logic there was no answer. What though King growled irritably that no gorilla would herd with chimpanzees any more than hamadryas baboons would herd with chacmas. The little people would not even argue the matter. There it stood; they had seen with their own eyes and he had seen; what more was there to talk about?
More important was that since the white bwana had miserably failed in his promise to shoot his gun and save their lives, he should now come with them to give a belated protection. They had to go and bring in their dead. And the body of the ape would have to be skinned and the hide stuffed with grass and hung up in a tree as a horrible object lesson. The skull would be brought back and decorated with yellow and white clays and kept in the tribe as a trophy.
King was not averse to returning to the scene of the nightmare by daylight. He wanted to convince himself of the impossible by looking for gorilla tracks. The distance which had been an interminable torture by night was agreeably shortened by day. The pygmies approached the battlefield with caution and a certain awe; but took courage from the presence of the white man who towered in the center of their mob.
But once upon the scene and satisfied by throwing stones into the trees that no vengeful enemies lurked in ambush, they dragged their dead aside with animal callousness. Death was something that came in its various forms of suddenness and horror; and the dead would have to be properly cared for according to tribal convention and tradition; otherwise their ghosts would come back and make things unpleasant.
But all that could come later. Just now was the occasion for the quite as important matter of offering indignities to the body of a slain enemy with all the proper ceremonies so that his ghost would suffer an unpleasant time and would not be able to come back.
Ordinarily King would have been intensely interested in watching these ceremonies and in finding out the why and wherefore of each move. It was a necessity of Africa, he considered, to know what all kinds of natives did and why they did it, and from that to reason out in what queer manner they thought. More than once he had been able to apply his accumulated knowledge to the working of some simple hokum that had gained for himself a considerable reputation as a white witch doctor.
But just now he was busy on a more absorbing matter. For the sake of his peace of mind he wanted to see those gorilla tracks. He prowled, therefore, over the ground, searching for footprints. In the immediate vicinity was only a mess of trampled mud. No hope there.
At the base of the tree where the ape had been shot were a couple of prints of foot and knuckle before the sagging body had blurred the rest. King studied these carefully. A gorilla print ought to be very similar to these, only larger. He cast around for larger tracks without success. Going back to the actual spot of the demon fight, he reconstructed the direction from which the monster had charged forth.
From that heavy underbrush it had come. King went there and dropped to his hands and knees so as to miss nothing.
And there it was. Startlingly King saw it, and he froze. Stiffly on all fours, like a trained dog, he tensed over his find.
There it lay, quite clear and sharply outlined; and a little behind it was another deeply impressed by a heavy weight, unmistakable.
King gave a thin, hissing whistle, and in a moment Kaffa was at his side—also on all fours, gazing incredulously at the tracks, broad nostrils twitching as though to find a clue by scent. King spoke no word, but looked at his man. The Hottentot slowly turned his head and puzzled wonder was in his eyes. This track that shouted out loud at them from the silent ground was just not possible.
The imprints were clear all round, easy to read, unmistakable. The wonder lay in that there were no long prehensile toes, no great opposed thumb as in the prints of the chimpanzee. The marks were long and quite flat with sharp edges, slightly wider in front than at the heel. There was no possible room for error.
This thing had worn shoes!
Or moccasins, rather, would be more accurate; for there was no sharp indication of a heel. These were moccasins such as a man might make who had long been out of touch with a shoe store.
KING squatted back on his heels and his eyes narrowed to long, barely open slits. What wild and impossible enigma of Africa was this? A thing that had worn moccasins and had rushed out to murderous battle on the side of chimpanzees? What ancient Roman was it who had written, "Out of Africa always some new thing?" As long ago as that this dark land had startled the world with its bizarre unrealities; and what new manifestation was this?
King strode to the busy group of pygmy skinners and frightened both the leader of them and the Ba-nanda interpreter by taking them both by the arm and leading them to look at those inexplicable tracks.
But the little leader was in no way nonplused. He had the explanation in a second. He looked, and a great understanding broke in upon him.
"Why, it is quite clear then," he said. "It is not a wo-m'panze from the hills at all. It is without any manner of doubt the son of that white man who married the chi-m'panze and went up into the hills. That is why it is so cunning."
King pushed away the dwarf with an exasperated mutter.
He stood looking with hard eyes in the direction of the hills where the man had pointed. After many minutes he called Kaffa.
"Little man," he said, "you are wise; wise in the ways of the woods and of the people of this dark land. Tell me now out of your wisdom. Would any native of Central Africa ever wear a foot covering like that?"
"No, Bwana, never," answered the Hottentot with instant conviction.
"Who, then, would?"
"Only a white man, Bwana."
King nodded. Slowly and with deliberation he nodded, still looking toward the hills which he could not see.
"Well," he breathed at last, "I don't know what weird mystery of this unbelievable land this is. But to those hills we must go. The trail leads to the hills. Little man, go swiftly and tell Barounggo to bring along those shenzis. I wait here—on the hill trail."
THE little safari toiled up a long slope of a vast lateral ridge that reached from the high shoulders of the Ruwenzori to splay out into the far plains of the southeast. It was still the same limitless rain forest, but its nature was changing. King felt a thrill of home to recognize an occasional witch hazel. A scattered grove of junipers gave a tang to the air. Begonias grew in sheltered limb crotches as cosily as in parlor window pots.
But the reminder of Africa was ever present in enormous, somber podocarpus trees and in thorny vines; in the grating squawk and clear whistle of gray parrots and the thin cough of toucans.
Now and again the long lost sky became visible where some decrepit forest king, falling, had torn a hole in the green canopy. Gray clouds hung sullenly over these openings. These Ruwenzori Mountain flanks were beyond the terrible monsoon belt; but a hundred inches of rainfall distributed themselves fairly evenly through the twelve months with a preference for Spring and Fall. This was April. The relentless gods of the land substituted extreme wet in place of extreme heat.
Wet clothing—wet bedding—wet tents—wet food. It was not cheerful. Ammunition alone was dry; and that was almost a miracle. But the outstanding achievement of King's organization was that he traveled with the same twelve porters with whom he had started.
These were men of the open plains; people who traveled not at all during their monsoon. They shivered like wet monkeys in this permanent damp. Their normal food was maize, with meat as a very occasional treat. Here King kept them supplied with plentiful meat; but, animal-like, they moaned at the substitution of yams for their mealies. Still, here they were, all twelve of them. Barounggo, cheerfully grim, saw to that.
The safari slowly topped the windblown back of the ridge. A wide valley that rippled and tossed in waves like a green sea spread before them. This was bamboo. The solid ground was a hundred and fifty feet below its liquid surface. A far, sublimated yelping came up with the wind. It sounded almost like the jolly chorus of fox hounds. But King's eyes narrowed and he looked keenly to the far right and left to see whether that bamboo jungle could be avoided.
Kaffa was appraising the same forest with glistening eyes.
"There will be elephant in that jungle, Bwana. Much meat for many days."
The shenzis awoke to a hungry interest with thick red grins. There spoke Africa. Meat. A gorge or two before quick decay would turn even those calloused appetites; and the remaining tons of waste would be left.
King had heard of the curious subspecies of straight tusked elephant that might be found in these jungles; but he was slaughtering no vast, inoffensive beast just to feed his safari; there was plenty of smaller game that would be picked to the clean bone at a single meal.
Beyond the bamboo forest another ridge swung in a slow heave to a higher escarpment, blue in the misty haze; and beyond that another again. Those were the true hills. There would be—if the little pygmy men spoke true—the lairs of the great apes. And there—God alone knew—perhaps the haunts—or rather, the home—of this dark mystery that had worn moccasins.
The long descent commenced. The grade was not steep; but going was difficult on account of the long trailers of thorny vines that stretched, as though with the set purpose of impeding, always across the choicest openings where one hoped to pick a path. Not high, low creeping things they were, seldom more than knee height; more usually hidden under the sparse grass tops, and tough as wire. Many people will remember how a barbed wire entanglement impeded advance.
Once in the bamboo jungle, however, going was easy. The giant grasses grew in clumps, twenty or thirty knotted stems as thick as a man's thigh in a close bunch. Between clumps the ground was clear, carpeted only with the fallen leaves of all the centuries.
King paced silently in the lead. This was excellent ground for getting a snap shot at a buck or a pig, so avoiding the later delay of hunting meat. But King carried his rifle by its sling over his shoulder; he was not hunting—he was listening. The shenzis, far behind, feeling the first easy going in more than a month, the ground soft underfoot, broke into a grunting rhythm of song, one man supplying a short impromptu verse and the rest barking a chorus.
King cursed venomously and ran back to stop the idiots. He did not shout at them but, as soon as within view, signaled with his both hands to shut up. The shenzis blundered cheerfully ahead and kept up their barking. It was not till their master was almost upon them and they could see the impotent rage in his eyes that they came to a confused halt in staring wonder.
Barounggo, man of the open plains himself, had not known of any need for silence, and he too stood wondering, but outwardly emotionless. King cursed the men with silent ferocity for fools, and hoped that perhaps luck would be with them.
But it was not to be. A thin ki-yi of yelping came from far down the valley. An answer followed quickly; many more answers. King damned loudly, then:
"Make boma swiftly," he snapped. "Tree boma."
Kaffa, with the first yelp, was alive to the need. Under a barrage of obscene invective he drove the now frightened shenzis to the task.
In bamboo forest, fortunately, to make a tree boma was easy. It required but to scramble up a clump and to chop half through a few of the great hollow tubes at a height of eight or ten feet; to wedge them fast or, if necessary, lash them, where they fell into the next clump; and to lash cross pieces of split bamboo to make a rough platform, using twisted strips of the tough green cortex for the purpose.
King was taking no chances. He had recognized those distant yelpings in the first instance to be the terribly destructive hunting dogs of Central Africa. These ever hungry brutes had been known to range in packs of fifty or more and in those numbers to attack men. It might well be that the present pack would not be large enough to molest a party as large as his. It might, however, just as well be the record pack of all time. It was by not taking unnecessary chances that King was here.
With the same number of white men he would have collected them in a compact body and would have pushed on. But with twelve panicky natives who could be held together no better than sheep, King was taking the precaution of being sure. It was for just such reasons that he had his same twelve porters.
"Up you get, monkeys. Squat and dangle your dumb feet. Pass up those packs first."
A quite close yelp of the scent discovery punctuated the order and sent the men scrambling with frenzied haste. At the farthest visible opening between the bamboo clusters a rangy, tawny creature sat back on its haunches with red tongue lolling and watched.
IT Was plain dog; nothing wolfish about it. Just long haired, underfed hound dog; and its tongue lolled in a grin of friendly looking interest.
Barounggo stood his ground. His eyes rolling white, nostrils twitching, full lips protruded, he gripped his great spear and stood to give battle. It was beneath Masai dignity to take shelter from a big dog, or from an army of dogs.
King grinned at him and pointed at other shapes that sat still, expectant. No yelping now; only watchful waiting with long lolling tongues, and in the farther, unseen distances, a pattering of many feet.
"This is something, old blood letter, where your great spear will avail you little. I, too, make a monkey of myself."
And with that he swung himself on to the platform. With his master's example before him, the Masai could not but unbend. Yet he did it reluctantly—those chattering shenzis must see no haste. Scowling ferociously and with cold deliberation, he prepared to hoist himself to safety.
There came a rush of quick feet, a clicking of teeth, as a hungry red beast, seeing the last of its hoped for meal escape, mustered courage to charge in, snapping at the Masai's dangling foot.
With iron nerve the great fellow never hurried. With the same slow deliberation he lifted his foot clear, only inches from the white teeth. Then with the sudden speed of light he whirled up his spear and drove down. The wretched creature yelped once in agony, rolled over twice in desperate effort, and then stretched in its last convulsive tremor. A hell's chorus of howls answered the yelp, and the lean brutes closed in to see what had died.
"One," said the Masai.
"But forty are left," said King.
He was being sincerely glad of his swift precaution of the boma. With so large a pack in attendance, had he been caught on trek, nothing would have prevented the panic crazed porters from dropping their loads and scrambling, belated, for trees; and nothing then could have saved at least one of the number from being dragged down.
As it was, King lighted his pipe. Seeing which, the Masai with a vast show of unconcern drew a little tube of ivory from the lobe of his ear, pulled its wooden plug and tapped a meticulous measure of snuff on to his thumbnail.
"What now, Bwana?" he asked. "Do we grow tails and become shenzis and stay in the trees, or do we cut, each man, a stick, and drive these dogs before us?"
The shenzis, looking down through the wide openings of the hasty platform at the red tongues and clicking teeth, chattered horror at the thought.
"When they are fed and full bellied," said King, "they will go their ways in search of water."
"Wherefore," Kaffa chimed in quickly, "one of these who by their ape song called these beasts forth, we might well throw down quickly in order that the delay be short—keh-keh-keh-hee-hee-bee-ee-ee."
The porters rolled fearful eyes at him and then, slowly grasping the idea, tittered with faces averted. They were used to Kaffa; but the great Masai they never understood, whether serious or not. His somber ferocity that lay just beneath his calm exterior kept them in a condition of permanent awe.
"If we should lose a shenzi," said King seriously, "then would Kaffa have to carry his load."
This, to the shenzis, was brilliant repartee. If their master could joke it meant that he knew some way of getting them out of the nasty situation, as he had so often done before. So they guffawed their appreciation. When King drew his Luger automatic and shot one of the gaunt hounds, and quickly another and then three more, their minds grasped the stupendous strategy almost at once.
"Awo! Meat for their full bellies," they told one another, and gabbled for an hour thereafter about the astounding wisdom of their master who could think of such a brilliant maneuver.
Wild dogs, of course, like wolves, are cannibalistic. And King's nature craft, too, was correct. The great brutes snarled and gorged and fought and gorged again, till, surfeited, they began to drift away in a search of water and a secure lie-up. Only a few, that thought gluttonously to wait awhile until their distended bellies could hold some more, made themselves comfortable in the immediate vicinity.
To chase a full fed dog, of course, is no very difficult feat. With snarlings and ferocious growlings and all the noisy bluff of canine belligerence, these few got to their feet and slunk into the farther jungle. The total delay had been less than three hours; the loss, nil. The whole thing had been no more than an inconvenience.
But Kaffa knew. He was astute enough to perceive what would have happened had it not been for the prompt order to construct a tree boma. The Hottentot theology, almost as complex as its grammar, recognized various gods of woods and trails. To them he would give a goat, a pure black goat with no blemish on it. And when he told his laudable plan to his master as he trotted alongside and explained that the offering was really in thanks that no shenzis had been eaten—not that shenzis mattered; but that the whole safari would have been slowed up on account of the heavier proportionate loads—his master said:
"Good. I will give you the money to buy that goat, for I no longer know what gods or devils guide this quest for a thing which is not possible."
CAMP was made that night in the rain, well away from the bamboo valley and up the side of the farther ridge in a grove of conifers. The next day's going was worse than it had yet been. It was not that the slope was steeper; it was the thorns. Those terrible barbed entanglements. Something in the soil there, or the rainfall, just suited the growth of these tough vines. They crept insidiously through the grass; they spanned every opening between the underbrush. And they grew higher here than on the other ridge; at waist height almost they plucked at the clothing and raked the tenderest skin.
For a white man, well cord breeched and high booted, it was bad enough; for bare legged, bare footed natives, the going was well nigh impossible. King, in the lead with a bush knife, was forced to cut a path. Kaffa remarked wisely:
"I think, Bwana, that the little man said true. Here indeed must the great apes take refuge, coming by their tree roads, for here no man can follow."
It was beginning to be literally true. The thorn vines grew in tough tangles to the exclusion of all other growth. Turn whichever way they would, the barrier grew worse with each new cast. King was realizing the hopelessness of progress and considering a return and a detour, possibly of many days, to come up on the other flank of the ridge, when he chanced on a heaven given trail.
There it was, hardly discernible through the encompassing bush, but still a trail. Little used and faint, but obviously a human road through the otherwise impassable barrier. The vines had been cut with a sharp instrument and forced apart.
Whose path, or why a path at all, was a matter for surmise as one went along. The important thing about it was that it led in the right direction; the direction in which King was determined to go, detour or backtrack or around, north-northwest by his little pocket compass to the hills. King accepted the trail thankfully. He was almost inclined also to accept Kaffa's quick suggestion that this was the direct and immediate result of promising that goat.
The providential trail led unerringly over the back of that ridge. From its high point a vista of tremendous country spread out. Green—all the various shades of green. Treetops, treetops, miles beyond rolling miles of them. From the far west a cool breeze washed the cheek; and there, beyond the ridges that turned from green to blue, from blue to purple, a ghostly white broken cone glimmered out of the gray sky. Toward the north the grayness was accentuated to a sullen storm darkness.
King breathed the fresh air with a crinkling of the nostrils. That smoky blackness must surely be the one of the M'fumbiro craters. The snow peak would then be Ugali, or maybe Ubungo. He must be in the Ruanda country. If that were so, then farther to the north again, behind the smoke screen, would be Karisimbi, the gorilla mountain. This began to be like getting somewhere.
Kaffa pointed silently. King followed the line of the skinny finger. At first he could discern nothing besides softly waving high lights and deep shadows of green. Then his eye picked it out—something that did not wave. Motionless it hung and peered through an opening in the high branches; a black face with round wondering eyes.
"It seems that the little people spoke true," whispered the Hottentot, "and here the great monkeys live."
"Maybe then this path goes some place where people live," murmured King. "People who can tell us about a something that wears shoes."
For an hour the safari followed the trail diagonally down the flank of the great ridge. Without it progress would have been impossible. The thorn vines grew in an impenetrable mat. Kaffa sniffed with head high, quartering the breeze.
"I smell man," he announced.
King knew that this was no superhuman power of scent that the Hottentot possessed to detect, as a dog might, the actual scent of man; but that he had distinguished a whiff of the effluvium that surrounds the habitation of African man.
In another minute the path opened out into a small clearing. Yam vines and a great yellow cucumber thing grew along one side. The path went straight across the clearing and dived into the thorn tangle on the other side as into a tunnel. At the mouth of the tunnel was a wattle-and-daub thatched hut around which lay the usual litter of fire wood and gourds and oddments of bone and dirt.
At the noise of the safari a man came out of the hut, bending low under the opening and leisurely covering a yawn behind a long hand.
King was startled as the man unbent himself and straightened up; and a gabble of wonder came from the porters behind him.
It was an immense creature that stood up. King himself stood his good six feet, and the Masai was a couple of inches taller. But this man towered from the shoulders above them both. Well over seven feet his height must have been, and the spear that he held was longer even than the Masai's, though the blade was a tiny thing compared to the great Masai weapon which was practically a sword, four inches wide and two feet long, stuck on to the end of its polished shaft.
Enormously naked and black he stood, except for a wisp of loin cloth; and it was easy to see that his growth had gone into his great height. He was not as broad as King or the Masai.
"By golly, the Ruanda giant that the missionary told the policeman about," murmured King.
THE man was unpleasantly self-possessed. There was a wonder in the rather protruding eyes in his long, bony face; but it was a wonder not at a white man and a safari, but a surprise that a safari should be there at all. There was calm hostility in his bold stare.
"See if you can make him understand anything, Kaffa," ordered King.
The Hottentot tried various of his bush dialects. The man shook his head; he understood nothing. He wanted to understand nothing. Imperturbably, like some huge traffic policeman, he pointed with his spear along the road they had come. There was no mistaking the command that they should make no fuss about it, but should quietly turn back.
"The little people—they said there were great fierce men who let no man pass."
The wide corners of King's mouth began to take the faintest possible downward turn, and the beginning of a thin, vertical line appeared between his brows.
"Try to make him understand we don't want trouble, that we're looking for a white man. Tell him that we bring gifts."
King smiled with outstretched, open hands; he showed his own hunting knife and indicated that there were similar things in his packs. He tried in a questioning tone all the words meaning white man he knew—m'zungu, bwana, bakwale, and a half a dozen others—which Kaffa supplemented with a variety of clickings and chatterings.
The man seemed to understand something of it all, for he repeated one or two of the words that Kaffa had uttered, and pointed with his long spear to the slopes behind him. It was done with an impersonal air of disinterest, and with the same swing of the spear shaft he pointed inexorably again to the way the safari had come. It was the traffic policeman admitting that the desired goal might well be there, but the road was definitely closed.
The thing was common enough. King had met isolated tribes before who desired to maintain their isolation. Usually such tribes, if a superior party forced an entry, resorted to ambushes, sniping at night, poisons, anything. This tall fellow did not at all seem to feel that he was confronted by a superior party. He was confident and becoming rapidly more hostile. He held his spear threateningly and spoke in a curt tone, that clearly indicated there was to be an end to all fooling and the intruders should get out.
The corners of King's mouth drew lower; the line between his brows deepened; into his eyes came the wary, alert look of one who faces conflict. If his goal were there, as he had come so far to find out, he was not going to turn back. He could not turn back. As a white man, leading a party of natives, he could not afford to let himself be ordered from his objective by a single spearman—or, for that matter, by ten.
The bold front, the sheer weight of white man's prestige applied with determination, had carried through many thousands of such situations in Africa. Delay and argument would be only a sign of weakness.
King advanced without further hesitation. In an instant the point of the giant's spear was over his heart—and in no half hearted warning, either. The man was by no means afraid; his point pierced the khaki shirt and pricked well into the skin. King knocked it aside with a quick sweep of his left hand and stepped inside of its range.
That was the last move in this game of bluff. If determination and prestige would win, well and good. If the man shortened his weapon for a thrust King would have to decide upon his instant next move and then carry the thing through to its finish.
Neither thing happened. Instead the man gave a great shout, obviously a call, and with splendid courage, in view of the numbers that opposed him, dropped his hold on his weapon and grappled with King; just as might a policeman who knew that reenforcements were behind him.
King found himself in the grip of this huge man whose strength, in spite of his leanness, was quite as great, if not greater, than his own.
The sling of his rifle slipped from his shoulder and hung on his arm. He let it go, feeling even in that strenuous moment the pang of dropping the meticulously oiled bolt mechanism into the dust.
He was not flurried. He had been at grips with strong men before; and he had found that a cool head and a quite extensive knowledge of rough and tumble methods could offset most handicaps.
But this giant fought in a manner entirely new. Owing to his immense height and his tremendous reach, he could bring into play an unexpected and murderous trick.
He brought a bony knee up against King's chest and, twining his long arms behind King's back, was able to join hands and exert a terrific pressure against the chest.
Wrestlers given to foul tactics sometimes in desperation bring into play a similar principle, with the head against the opponent's chest. If not swiftly broken the hold is capable of crushing in the chest wall. It can be broken, if the opponent retains sense and strength long enough, by the equally foul defense of battering under the hugging arms at the unprotected face and jaw.
With this giant, face and jaw were out of reach. King gasped under the sudden pressure. It was his salvation that this man had not the huge biceps of a wrestler; but, at that, he felt his chest cracking under the strain and spots danced before his eyes.
He could still reach the pistol in his belt holster; but there remained inexorable in his mind the white man's religion—prestige. Hand to hand the sudden fight had started. Hand to hand he must finish it. In the presence of his native following he could not, would not, take unfair advantage of a gun. By the sheer, indomitable faculty of winning against odds he held his people together and commanded the loyalty of his followers. If he could not continue so to hold it, he might as well be dead as far as his successes in Africa would be concerned.
Through the gathering mist in his eyes he could see the form of Barounggo circling with poised spear. To him he gasped an order to keep off. Against the pounding pressure in his head he must force himself to concentrate on some method of combating this deadly hug while he could still stand on his feet.
That was it. He was still on his two feet. His own wide spread legs and his opponent's one formed a firm standing tripod, with the advantage on the side that could use the free leg as a deadly weapon.
King collected his strength for an effort and threw himself with all his force over to one side, twisting as he fell. The third leg of the tripod whirled a circle in the air. Both bodies crashed to the ground together. The terrible knee slipped from King's chest and passed under his armpit. The awful pressure was broken. Like an anaconda King's arm encircled that thigh and hugged it close while he lay for a moment to gasp his relief.
The advantage was now his. The African knew nothing about fists. Fists are a weapon evolved by a civilization that has discarded arms. The giant clawed futilely at King, battered at him with wrists and elbows. King was able to drag close enough to bring a short chop to the base of the man's ear. The great arms and legs jerked galvanically to the shock. Both King's hands were free. He picked his spot and smashed his right fist at the protuberance behind the man's ear again; and then quickly again.
The great limbs dropped away from him. King rolled off.
"Tie him," he was able to pant, and he lay and drew in great lungfuls of life-giving air.
But weakness would not do. He pushed himself to a sitting position, leaning on one arm, and forced his voice to direct the operation.
A quick thudding of running feet sounded in the farther tunnel of the path. Barounggo turned to meet the menace, as another tremendous man burst into the clearing, brother in every way to the first giant; if anything, a little taller, and a broader built man.
At sight of so many people he stopped short and glared with wondering eyes. He saw only black people. The white man sitting on the ground was partly hidden by Barounggo's burly form. The black men were clearly maltreating his fellow tribesman.
Once again the analogy to the policeman was evident. The newcomer did not howl and rush at the strangers with his spear as a supremely brave man might have done. He acted as though his sheer immensity gave him authority. He took a great stride forward and with a long arm made to brush the obstructing Barounggo aside.
The Masai stood on braced feet, immovable, and growled out of his belly at the giant. The firmness of the resistance stopped the huge fellow in quick surprise. Resistance to authority.... The giant looked a moment, then snarled impatient truculence and struck the obstructor with closed fingers and wrist on the side of the head.
A rasping noise like a threatening lion came from the Masai's throat, and his instant retaliation was to lift his foot high and kick the aggressor in the stomach.
The giant let out a hoarse scream of fury and rushed to the side of the hut; he snatched up a great oval shield and turned to take immediate vengeance. Barounggo faced him, shieldless, crouched forward, balancing warily on his toes, and hissing softly between his teeth.
King struggled to his feet. But even as he did so he knew the futility of any interference. He himself was in no condition to take on a new fight, particularly against an armed man. His pistol! The thought came, but with his hand on the butt he dismissed it.
The ancient code of all fighting men checked him. Mortal personal offense had been received and given. How few years ago was it even in America that duelists claimed the sacred right to avenge their personal honor. Did it make any difference that the duelists were black men?
The giant hesitated. The sudden appearance of a white man complicated things. He stood, half hidden behind his big shield, and eyed King suspiciously. Barounggo, out of the corner of his watchful eye, noted the hand on the gun butt and, as his master had checked him a little while ago, he demanded his right to non-interference now.
"Let be, master, let be," he growled with a whine in his throat. "This dog has put hand upon an Elmoran of the Masai. Look, I have seen dogs before; are not their marks upon my breast? Where are they, those who struck? Their bodies have been eaten by other dogs."
The giant still stood and watched suspiciously.
"Take at least a shield, Barounggo," said King. "Look, there is another great shield beside the wall. I hold him off with the gun."
"A big shield for dancing among the women," growled Barounggo. "A little shield for fighting. What does this jungle man know about fighting? But hold him, master, till I shed this garment that chokes my shoulders. But a moment, master, and I will give this great fool instruction."
King drew his pistol, while with a deft wriggle the Masai shook his old shooting coat from his shoulders and stood only in his leopard skin girdle. The velvety black skin of his chest and shoulders and thighs was scarred with innumerable thin white cicatrices, the marks of those who had once struck and had paid the price.
He moved his big scarred arms in the shoulder sockets and drew a long breath of comfort. He exhaled with a soft hiss.
"It is well, master; let him go."
King shoved his pistol back into its holster with a gesture of hopelessness. The Masai crouched again. His big chest indicated lung capacity, stamina; his rippling shoulders, driving power; his flat thighs and knotty calves, speed; his wide spread toes, sure footedness. And the white scars were evidence that all had been many times proven. It was an ominous figure of poised alertness, the Masai made.
He sounded the sibilant fighting noise of his kind and stepped on wide splayed toes to maneuver into a more favorable light. He held his great spear in an unusual and novel manner. Not with the point forward, as a lance for a thrust; but diagonally across his body with hands wide apart.
The giant towered immense over his crouching form; only his perplexed face was visible over the edge of his shield, and his long spear projected from the side. He was at a loss to understand what this curious pose meant. It looked to be defenseless, yet the growling man behind it seemed to vibrate power and confidence.
But the Masai was working into the better light. The giant made up his mind that attack, from behind his shield, was the proper move. He made a sudden, enormous lunge. The Masai swayed only his body, and with a swift stroke of his vertically held spear shaft diverted the giant's point to zip past his side. At the same moment he stepped in and with a heaving thrust of his lower hand brought up the spiked butt of his weapon to stab at the inside of the lunging leg.
The giant recovered with astonishing speed for his size and hid behind the lowered shield, alert for defense or attack. But a thin trickle of blood began to run down that leg.
The Masai turned back red lips and grinned at him. He taunted him with words the other could not understand.
"Ho-ho, thou jungle fellow that would deal blows without thought. Thou tree. By cutting the stem has many a tree been felled. Strike again, thou long wood, and receive instruction in spear play."
Though he could understand no word, anybody could understand the scorn in the tone. The man gave a great war cry and charged forward with the intention of bearing his opponent to the ground by superior weight, his spear held short for stabbing behind the shield.
The Masai defense was to crouch quickly, quite low, so as to trip up the attacker by the knees and then to stab him from behind. With an ordinary man this trick would probably have succeeded. But the giant sprang high in the air and clear over the Masai turning himself in time to make a long thrust at Barounggo as he still rested on one knee and hand.
The Masai ducked in the fraction of time below the point, but the blade, flashing over his shoulder, cut a red gash in the muscles of his back.
For the moment King's heart stopped. The Masai's confidence in himself had bred a similar feeling in King, despite the frightful handicap of his opponent's enormous length of arm coupled with the defensive shield. It seemed now that the handicap was more of a factor than the over-confident Masai had been willing to admit.
Barounggo, too, astounded him by roaring over the cut like a wounded lion. It seemed to be an outcry out of all proportion to the seriousness of the hurt. But the incoherent bellowings began to make themselves clear.
"My back! Oh, my back! I am wounded and my life is gone! Never have I been thus wounded."
Screaming in his anguish, he rushed at his huge opponent and, whirling up his spear in both hands, drove at him with all his force. The giant took the stroke on his shield, and such was its force that the great blade pierced the tough double hide and protruded a foot in front of his startled face.
That was the giant's chance for swift victory. Had he retained sufficient presence of mind to drop his shield he would have left his opponent's weapon stoutly held in its cumbersome weight and his opponent helpless.
But the man knew no tactic of spear play other than the crude thrust and shield defense. He clung desperately to his defense and tugged to wrest it free. His precious moment was lost. Barounggo, tugging at the other end, tore the blade from the hide.
King saw the need for jolting his man out of the blind rage that consumed him.
"Does an Elmoran fight with his mouth?" he called. "Does he frighten his enemy with words and beat at his shield like a fool?"
The sting in the words brought the Masai to his senses like a douche of cold water. In an instant he dropped back and circled warily. Only the glare of his eyes and the dog grin on his lips showed the rage that filled him. A growling came from his throat.
"Count thy last ten breaths, thou tall spear dancer. Thy recompense is that thy ghost may laugh when the women point to my back and say, 'Lo, there was one who ran faster than he.'"
The giant felt that he had learned that when the other man talked was the time for him to attack. His blade and arm flickered out in another enormous lunge—this time with shield low to counter that swift return of the spiked butt.
The Masai swayed his body as before, pushed the thrust aside with his spear, and this time slid his hands together along the shaft, swung his blade in a whistling, horizontal stroke at the other's neck.
The giant threw up his lowered shield in a panic and ducked behind it. The Masai's great blade, whirling like a medieval pike, sheared clearly through the apex of the oval, exposing the scared face behind it.
The giant, feeling his safety, was just beginning to grin his fierce derision when the blade, curving in a swift return circle, bit with a soft chuck deep into his unprotected thigh.
"Hau!" shouted the Masai. "A good stroke! Five breaths, I count it, O tree. Five more I have promised thee."
The giant staggered as the gashed muscles gave. Then in his last desperate hope to bear his smaller opponent down and finish it at hand grips on the ground, he charged in once more with shield held close and all the weight of his vast body behind it.
The Masai gripped his spear in both hands and braced himself like a bayonet fighter to meet the shock. As the mountain of man and shield bore down on him he drove square at it with all the force of his loins and legs and shoulders.
The combined impact gave a tremendous power to the thrust. Through the tough hide the great blade went like paper; through muscle and gristle and bone of the great chest behind the hide, and stood out half its length behind the back. It would have gone farther if the Masai's hand on the shaft had not smacked hard against the shield.
The giant jerked up short in his rush; a grating intake of the breath gagged in his throat. Then, slowly, he straightened up—and slowly, like a tree, fell backward. The Masai spear stood straight in the air, transfixed in the wide shield that decently, quietly, covered the death beneath it.
There followed a long minute of tense silence. A tiny rivulet of blood made a crooked path from under the edge of the shield. Then the hissing, steam exhaust sound of many breaths slowly escaping.
"Ss-ss-so," said the Masai, breathing hugely. "Upon my back did he put dishonor; but what shall the ghosts of his women say to the hole in his back?"
His nostrils were flaring wide and his eyes glared white against his fierce black face. A bass humming noise commenced to issue from his throat. King knew that he was preparing to launch into one of those impromptu declamations of braggadocio which are an outstanding trait of his people. Being stolid and undemonstrative, King always felt that these brag-fests, as he called them, were unworthy of a brave and strong man; but nothing, he knew, would stop the Masai before he had worked off at least a portion of the heroic emotion that remained as the aftermath of a good fight.
"Aho," chanted the warrior, stamping his feet in heavy rhythm. "Aho, it is I. It is I. I heard a noise and I looked. My spear said to me beware. Lo, one came running swiftly. Ow, he was great; Whai, he was fierce. He put forth his hand and touched me. An Elmoran was defiled. Where is he, that great one? Foolishly he flourished a spear. Lo, I have seen many spears. Like an elephant he charged in his rage. What is this turtle that lies at my feet? This turtle under its shield? What is this that stands so straight before me? Hau, it is the spear of an Elmoran!"
This paean of victory would have gone on for an hour. The Masai would have recounted in flowery detail every action, each separate move—while the immediate future could bring whatever the gods of battle might send.
But King had other considerations to weigh and decide swiftly. How many of these hostile giants were there? How far might this outpost guard be from a village? There were two of the great shields. From that one could easily deduce two men to the guard. But how soon might others come? Were these men relieved every hour or every week?
That path, did it lead direct to a nearby village? Or was it only a distant entrance into this inhospitable country? If strangers penetrated into that country, would they be just herded out—or would they be incontinently speared? And if one entered anyhow, was it in the farther hills that the great apes congregated and would it be there that one might pick up the trail of Dr. Hugo Meyer?
And then King knew that that one was the only consideration. Was the lost scientist somewhere in those hills?
It seemed that he might be. The trail had led consistently there. Vague and evanescent, scarcely more than a rumor, yet there it had steadily pointed. And now at the last it had seemed to be definite. That first giant guard who now lay bound had distinctly understood the reference to a white man and had indicated the hills behind him.
King's frown sat deeply between his eyes and the pugnacious droop twisted the corners of his mouth. That settled it, then. If a white man were there, a white man of any sort, King was there to find out about it. So into those hills he was going; hostile giants—or monstrous mysteries of the dark that wore shoes—notwithstanding. And the sooner he went from this place the better.
"Peace. Peace, great slaughterer," he told Barounggo, who had reached his fortieth stanza, all about the disgrace that had come upon him because of the wound in his back and how people would jeer at him for it and how he would instantly slay them.
"Peace. Cease this bragging. And, since it was a good fight—though it should never have been—I will now quickly wash it and put a white man's medicine upon it so that no scar will show. Kaffa, there will be water in the hut—and open the medicine pack."
The Masai ceased his chant and looked his incredulous hope.
"Bwana has such a medicine? Whau, then there is no sorrow to this great fight. Aho, a good fight it was. A good stroke I smote. Like a—"
"Shut up!" shouted King. "Like a woman grinding corn do you sing. This is time for work. Bring here that shoulder."
Quickly and not too gently he washed the half congealed blood from the wound and swabbed it with iodine. It was a long, though not serious gash. Left to its own African devices, it would fill up with many kinds of dirt, and when the strong vitality of the man had finally thrown off the resultant infection it would leave a neat white scar. With simple hygienic treatment there would hardly be any mark visible. Sticking plaster, that godsend among bush remedies, completed the treatment, and the safari was ready to go.
The captured giant was a problem. He lay his enormous length on the ground and looked sullenly at King. He did not cringe, although in his mind there could be but one fate in store for him. Inherently the man was brave enough, as had been shown by his sturdy opposition to so large a party; but there was a certain awe in his eyes, an almost superstitious fear at these men, so small in comparison to his vast tribe, who yet were able to win against all the odds.
King looked down upon the man, biting his lip with a sardonic crooked smile at his own limitations. He knew what decision now confronted him; he knew how he would decide; and he knew his decision would inevitably rebound to his own detriment, perhaps even to the extent of death. He had been up against such decisions before and he had always suffered for his action, and he was going to do the same foolish thing again. And so his smile was bitter as he knew that his rule of taking no unnecessary chances must be broken on account of his white man's inhibitions.
Certain principles of civilization, he knew, and thousands of others like him knew, to be inapplicable to African conditions. The white man who so applied them placed himself under an inevitable handicap. Here was just another one of those situations in which the white man had to take up the burden. The African method was so much simpler.
"A spear stroke and the thing is finished," growled Barounggo.
And Kaffa quoted the Hottentot of a universal proverb—
"The tongue that does not wag makes no trouble."
"Shut up," King snapped irritably.
He knew these things from long experience; and he knew that his followers would blame him—as the white man's followers have always blamed—for the trouble that would follow upon impractical squeamishness. He cursed inhibitions the more bitterly because he knew that when the white man's government went to war, then such squeamishness went by the board. It was when the white man found himself involved in a matter of life and death without the solemn sanction of the graybeards of his government that the "civilized" code must hold.
"Tie his hands behind and hobble his feet so that he can walk but slowly," King ordered.
And to himself—
"Damn it, I wish we knew how far his village might be."
To Kaffa again:
"Is there food in the hut? Put some in a basket. If he needs it for a long trek he can carry it in his teeth." And once more to himself, "He'll probably wriggle loose anyhow and bring the gang down on us. Hanged if I know, unless I set up a gangrene, how to tie a man so he can't get away.
"Come along," he shouted. "Speed it up there. We must get out of this and travel far in a hurry. There's nothing that we want here."
"One moment, master, one moment and I come," grumbled the Masai. He was standing upon the shield that covered the dead giant, carefully prying his great spear loose from the tenacious grip of wet earth and stiffened muscle and tough hide. "This is a thing of which we shall yet have need. Surely we shall have need."
Kaffa left King inspecting the thongs that bound the other giant, and came and whispered quickly to Barounggo. The Masai stopped short a moment in his tugging at the spear while the thought soaked in. His eyes showed white as they rolled furtively to the prisoner; then a ghost of a fierce grin played over his face and he continued nonchalantly to disengage his spear. Kaffa flitted back to fuss around King.
"Try him again," King told him. "The first time he was too full of fight to listen. See if you can find out anything about his village, and try him about the white man again."
The Hottentot chattered and made inadequate signs, while King fretted that in Africa there had not evolved any semblance of a universal sign language like that of the American Indian. The giant listened stolidly. If he understood anything about a village he made no sign; but to the reiterated question of white man he pointed with eyes and lips to the hills as before.
That was all they could get out of him, though King bade Kaffa set the basket of food beside him and indicate that they were going to leave him so, unhurt and alive. The man accepted the gift of his life with ox-like indifference.
"All right," said King briskly. "That's all we can get out of him. March."
Kaffa sped a quick look from under his brows at Barounggo and herded the shenzis together with their packs. King stood at the mouth of the tunnel of thorn.
"Barounggo," he said quietly without looking round. "Do you go first with that ready spear—in case armed men spring upon us. For a little way I come last."
Kaffa exchanged a baffled glance with the Masai. The latter passed into the tunnel before King with a sheepish expression on his face.
"Keh-heh-heh," giggled Kaffa, unabashed. "What use? The bwana knows all things."
IN the hills—at last the true hills beyond the long ridges of toil and tribulation. It was good country. Not too hot, though wet beyond comfort. The forest was forest, not jungle. The thorn belt had been left behind. That path had wound down the valley to habitations somewhere. King did not know how near or how far. He had struck directly across and made for the next ridge, and the next. He hoped he was lost.
It was easy country to get lost in. Trees were close enough and high enough to conceal all landmarks. Rounded green pericarps were evidence that nuts of various kinds would be ripe later in the season. Fruition in that climate seemed to be permanent. Vivid, heart shaped vine leaves indicated wild yams.
And apes were there. Solemn black faces looked down out of round, wondering eyes at the scarcely more intelligent black faces of the shenzis, who looked up out of equally wondering eyes and chattered with no more understanding. Nor were the tree folk any more afraid of the humans than the latter were of them. Long and steadily they looked and grunted, and when they moved it was with the heavy leisure of contentment.
It seemed at last to be the promised land. Good country for the great anthropoid apes—or for a white man who might be eccentric enough to belong to the school of raw vegetarians.
"The apes," King deduced, "have never been hunted; therefore they aren't afraid of man—which means again that this would be the ideal place for a scientist to come and observe them. But why—" musingly—"did those pygmies say that they came to loot their fields because there were no yams here? And why would the apes go so far afield when food is plentiful right at home?"
Kaffa quoted a proverb again from the wisdom of his people.
"When one's own food brings no appetite one visits one's relations. Their food may be worse, but it will taste better."
"I wish," said King, "that we had brought one of those relations along so he could ask them about this white man who must be somewhere around."
It did seem to be something of a hopeless task to find one particular person in those miles upon miles of forest, where one could not see forty yards through the trees. But King had been thinking of a plan which was quite simple and ought to be practical. He proposed to fire his rifle at intervals—the ordinary requirements of hunting meat should be almost sufficient—and then, if the lost professor were anywhere within hearing, he would surely know that his relief party had arrived.
The Hottentot's thoughts ran along entirely different lines. They persisted upon the humanness of the great beasts that observed them with the same slow, ruminative speculation that village elders bestow upon tourists.
"Look, Bwana; see that old one who gazes without fear? If I talk to him as I did to that giant of little wit whom Bwana, alas, left alive, will he not understand as much? And is he not much more friendly? Surely he will carry the word of our coming."
"Go ahead and try him," King acquiesced; and Kaffa, with perfect seriousness, clucked and chattered at the ape who balanced on a high limb, one long arm holding on to a branch above, and looked solemnly at the gesticulating human below. Then it emitted a croak and moved away.
"See, Bwana, see?" the Hottentot gabbled excitedly. "It told me, kor au-au, which in the bushman talk means 'all right.'"
"And surely," supplemented Barounggo with lofty prejudice, "that new friend of our Kaffa knows as much as a bushman."
King had to laugh. It was seldom that the Masai was able to score a verbal hit over the quick witted little Hottentot, who this time had fallen so completely into the trap of his own imagination that he had no repartee to make. In place of which he muttered obstinately—
"Even if he does not know the bushman talk they will talk among themselves and the word will come to the she of their people who is the wife of this white man whom we seek."
King said nothing. There it was again, that persistent reminder of what the black man accepted as perfectly natural fact; and King had seen too many weird things in Africa to lay down any didactic law that some new thing was positively not so, just because he did not know of it himself.
He was content to travel up and down this good forest country, to quarter the ground, spacing his routes by the approximate carry of gunshot explosions. If the lost professor—or, as Kaffa insisted, any of his family—should be within hearing, they would come.
IT was to the second camp that something came. It was growing dusk. The safari had eaten, and lay in sensuous enjoyment of the camp-fire in a grove of scented junipers. King sat on a folding camp stool before his little tent flap and smoked his pipe. The evening was still, except for the tree frogs that piped their thanks for the afternoon's rain. The faintest possible crackling of tiny dry twigs came downwind.
King reached quietly for his rifle. The shenzis had been trained at that sign to stop their uncouth jabbering. The whole camp stilled to listen. Something was moving softly in the brush. King's lips framed the question—
Kaffa shook his head. He rolled over and came up on his knees to whisper:
"Man would know enough to hunt upwind. Lion would know; leopard would know."
King nodded. It was true. The predatory creatures had learned to make their approach so that the wind would carry away their scent. Some non-predatory beast it was, then, that stalked the camp with such caution. There was comfort in that thought. The thing, whatever it was, settled down with the tireless patience of the wild to watch before it would make another move.
There was nothing to do but to match its patience and wait. Any move in its direction, since it was clearly nervous of approach, would bring about immediate flight.
More than an hour passed before the thing had gathered confidence enough to move again. By this time it was dark. The most cautious movement could be heard carefully working its way nearer. Kaffa hissed softly and pointed. It was at a sound in the shadows rather than at anything he had seen; though King had often thought that the little devil could see in the dark. King reached a long arm and groped in his tent for his field glasses. With their aid he could distinguish a dim shape that moved.
A form, no more. He could make out the size of it, not the outline. It moved quickly, through a lane of the flickering firelight. The sight was blurred, though he thought he perceived an upright figure. But Kaffa was crouching in the greatest excitement.
"Monkey," he whispered. "The man ape with whom I made speech."
King signed to Barounggo to gather an armful of dry brush and kindling wood and to hold it in readiness. He fixed his glasses on the moving shadow and waited. Presently his chance came. It stood in a clear alleyway between the black tree trunks.
Barounggo dumped the kindling upon the fire and blew a long breath into it. It blazed up. The figure gave a startled leap and was gone. But King had caught a fleeting view.
"Man," he announced. "A pygmy."
"Monkey," said Kaffa with equal conviction.
"Monkey would not be prowling in the night," said King.
"Man would not come from upwind," insisted Kaffa. "Moreover there are no dwarf men in these hills. They said so themselves."
"Bring a torch, and the tracks will tell," said King; and there was an uneasy wonder in his mind as to just what impossible tracks this indeterminate creature might have made.
But the ground under those trees was covered with the springy needles of the conifers. There were no tracks other than vague indentations.
So the talk round the camp-fire reverted perforce to what a man or an ape might, would, or could do; each side citing instance and experience, and the shenzis offering among themselves proofs that the thing could be no other than a wood devil. The last word was with Kaffa. All arguments, one side or the other, having failed to be convincing, he was left with a firm conviction. There could be nothing else.
"Very well, then," he said. "It could not have been man for such and such reasons, and it could not have been monkey for such and such reasons. Yet with our eyes we saw it. Therefore it must have been the offspring of that white man who married the monkey. Who else would be interested in us?"
And that logical solution satisfied them all, with the exception of King, who sat in his tent in deep cogitation as to what this new mystery of the woods might be.
Those pygmies, they had offered the same solution for the monstrous thing that had rushed out of the dark to do battle with them. To them the solution was perfectly natural and proper, as to the Hottentot it was a satisfactory explanation of this smaller creature.
But that first furious creature had worn shoes—if this thing were remotely possible; if so astounding a combination could exist—and King would have taken no oath that, in Africa, it could not. He was convinced, however, of one thing, and that was that it most certainly would not have worn shoes. He was building his own theory about what that other thing might have been. But what, then, was this? Good heavens, the woods could not be full of these incredible hybrids!
Only one decision could he arrive at before turning in. This inaction was all wrong; he was sure now. This sitting quiet in fear of scaring away the night visitants would discover nothing. He went to sleep on a plan to ambush the next scout, or whatever it might be; and he would then at least know whether he was dealing with furtive dwarfs or with some new creature—possibly some new ape, hitherto unknown to zoology—that could transcend some of the laws that bound the animal kingdom.
King's proposal was to go about the evening camp preparations as usual; to build the ordinary little fire and to lie around it in the abandonment of relaxation. Everything as usual, except that he and Barounggo—the latter on account of his superior physical strength—would lie out, perhaps in a tree, at some favorable point outside of the firelight, and stalk the stalker.
It was a good plan. If the night creature was an ape, the same curiosity that had impelled it in the first instance would bring it round again. If it were man, spying out the newcomers, he would come again to find out more. If he had already found out enough and if the night would bring an attack of his fellows, an unexpected sortie from the rear would be most valuable.
Kaffa, in charge of the shenzis in the camp, would indicate to the watchers by means of simple signals with a glowing stick in which direction the stalker might be approaching.
An excellent plan. And it might have worked had not the night stalker been so much more skilful than the watchers, both within and without the camp, that nobody was aware of his presence until his sudden warning arrived out of the darkness into their midst.
The first that King and Barounggo knew about it was a yelping and crying among the shenzis and the shouts of Kaffa cursing them into silence, punctuated with the whacks of the cane that symbolized authority.
King tensed. If this were a night attack, it behooved him to give a little thought to his best move. Barounggo leaped down from his tree, ready to charge into anything that might be battle. But it was immediately evident, from Kaffa's energetic action to control the frightened porters, that no attack was taking place.
Cautioning the Masai to be wary about blundering into any trap, King ran to the center of disturbance. The camp was in confusion and consternation—the reason of which stood starkly apparent. Out of the silent dark—even Kaffa had heard no sound—had whizzed a great spear which stuck now straight out from the bole of a tree.
"Douse the fire, fools, and lie flat," King snapped at the prancing shenzis. "Kaffa, scout a half round this side. Barounggo, there."
With all the caution at his command King wormed his way out in the direction from which the weapon had come.
He found nothing. No movement; no sound. He came back and found the others already there. They too had drawn a blank. The forest was as darkly silent after the coming of the portent as before.
"Well—" King gave his opinion—"whoever it be is as clever as a devil and this thing is a warning—he could just as easily have got a man as a tree."
He leveled the spear loose from the tree and tendered it to the Masai, the expert. Within the tent he lighted a campers' candle lamp and said—
"What, now, do you read from that spear?"
The expert examined it carefully, went outside of the tent to feel its heft and balance, and then announced:
"It is not a spear of those giant folk. It is better balanced and the blade is better set in the shaft. See, an iron pin holds it fast in the wood. Thus do we of the Masai set our blades. The blade, too, is not of this land. It is a blade such as the Banyan traders sell in the market in Nairobi. The steel is much better than of this land; but the style of the blade is foolish. Those who make such toy blades have never used one. The wood is of the black tree such as grows here—good, but too heavy. That is all that I read."
"Read yet one more thing," said King. "Could a dwarf man such as we saw last night—or a half ape—wield such a spear?"
The expert was immediately positive.
"Never, Bwana. To wield such a spear with any skill would require a man such as I; though for me the blade is too light for the shaft. To throw such a spear would require a man greater than I."
"Humh," grunted King, and sat in thought. "Not a Ruanda spear. Then the giants are not after us—yet. A trade blade, imported by the Banyans—those things are all made in Germany. Thrown by an unusually big and strong man...."
Those descriptions were definite and they pointed in only a single possible direction. What particularly big strong man who used a German made blade might there be in this lost end of nowhere?
The Masai broke in on his cogitation.
"One other thing does this spear tell, Bwana, though that, for Bwana, makes no difference. It says, 'Go from this place swiftly.'"
The corners of King's mouth dropped and the vertical indentation sprang into being between his brows. Then as quickly they passed, and he looked at his henchman with speculation.
"Would you go?" he asked.
The Masai stared in wonder at the question; as though the baffling developments of this thing, the dark mystery of it all, had driven his master off his normal balance to think in such a manner as he had never known him to think before. He spoke in almost a frightened tone.
"But nay, Bwana. How can this be that we should go away, having come this far and having accomplished nothing?"
King's hard grin dissipated the obstinate frown. The sturdiness of the Masai's intrenched viewpoint was a comfort.
"Good man!" he grunted shortly. And then his troubled mind harked back to his thoughts of a moment ago, and to himself he wondered, "But why should Dr. Hugo Meyer throw a spear as a warning to get out of here?"
ONE benefit, at least, came out of that latest addition to the tangle of guess and surmise and enforced belief in the utterly incredible. If indeed it had been Dr. Hugo Meyer who had thrown that spear—and who else could it have been—who else could possibly fit into all the circumstances?—then there was no further need to go hunting through the limitless forest for the lost scientist.
The object now to be achieved was to have speech with him. But this was Central Africa and the way of man in Central Africa is not easy. If Dr. Meyer threw spears at people out of the dark and disappeared into the silence again, how difficult was it going to be to attain to that speech? And furthermore, if that speech should be attained, what sort of speech might it be? What gruesome thing might Africa have done in fifteen years to the scientist that first he sent an indeterminate something in the night to spy out the white man's safari, and then came and threw a spear into it?
For the moment King could see nothing ahead. Here he had arrived into the hills that had been his hard won goal. The difficulty had seemed to be the finding of a single man in that wilderness. But now, having found him, the new difficulty seemed to be a hundred times greater than ever before.
This lost scientist had of his own volition managed to get a letter out to his fellow savants in his home country, a fairly recent letter, for the man was still alive and apparently in the most vigorous health. The letter called for a relief expedition to bring out the results of fifteen years of study; results which the doctor in his letter claimed were of immense scientific value. The relief expedition had come; it was here—and the doctor crept in at night and threw a warning spear at it. The mystery of the whole thing was more than just discouraging. It was enough to turn any man back.
King ground his teeth together and swore to himself that he would stay in that forest till he could, if necessary, track down and capture the mysterious scientist and find out what the whole mess meant. Tracks once again. In the morning he must hunt for tracks and hang on the trail of his quarry till the final showdown.
But for this one time, that difficulty was spared him. The morning showed upon a distant tree trunk an irregular, lighter smudge that had not been there before. King went to inspect the product of the night and as he came near enough to distinguish it his pulse quickened. It was a piece of paper. A very crumpled, very much stained and torn piece of what had once been white paper. It was pinned to the tree trunk with slivers of bamboo. There was writing in pencil upon it.
The writing was in English, the broken English of a foreigner, wild and threatening, but perfectly coherent. It read:
To the sport hunter, warning. You shall not these apes in this forest murder. If you will not immediately go away I make with my people war against you. My power have I shown. I can yet much worse perform.
The ultimatum was unsigned. But what signature was necessary? King read it and his pent breath broke from him in a great laugh; a whole hearted laugh of vast relief, This truculent warning made everything easy. Kaffa and Barounggo stood in the helpless wonder of the illiterate at the magic of script. King in his lightness of heart translated the ultimatum to them just to get their separate reactions.
Kaffa, the wise and cautious one, said—
"It will be necessary to sleep in boma and to set spring traps of the sharpened bamboo until this enemy be wounded."
Barounggo, ever belligerent, murmured appraisingly—
"This great spear thrower, if he has any skill, ought to make a good fight, a very proper fight."
King's heart glowed to know that neither of the men harbored the thought of obeying that warning and going away, and he laughed with carefree abandon again. To him the note made everything clear; it explained everything—or at least a part of everything; for nothing in Africa is ever completely explained. The writing explained nothing of the furtive, half human creatures of the dark; nothing of the insistent mystery of ape wives. But it did very clearly explain this latest development that had seemed to be the most baffling mystery of all.
King understood it perfectly, now. The scientist, his life devoted—fifteen awful years alone in the jungle—to his study. His secure retreat broken rudely in upon by a white man's safari; not a relief safari of German colleagues—that was what the indeterminate spy in the night must have reported. What else could this white man be but one of those so-called sportsmen who had penetrated at last into this lost haven of the fast vanishing anthropoids?
King could well understand the devoted scientist's rage; and he did not blame him one bit. He knew more than one or two such sportsmen whose necks he would like to twist himself. He was able to laugh, therefore, out of a full heart, and he felt an immense weight slipping from his shoulders. He was beginning at last to see the end in sight. This warlike warning could be quite easily settled.
King had with him, as credentials, the letter from the Herr Doctor Director der Naturforschung of the University of Heidelberg, which commissioned him to come in and bring out Doctor Hugo Meyer.
That night, therefore, King spiked his credential letter to the same tree of the ultimatum and hung above it as a guiding beacon his camp lantern. Then he withdrew his camp to a little distance and sat down to wait. And for the first time in many nights he let himself relax and take his full measure of unworried sleep.
THE day brought the expected result. And, though expected and awaited, it was startling in its suddenness. King was sitting smoking in front of his tent, listening to pick up any sound of approach from the forest. He heard nothing, saw nothing, till from behind a tree not thirty yards away stepped the figure of a man.
An enormous man. Not particularly so in height—though he topped the six-foot mark—but enormous in bulk, with massive shoulders and thick, corded arms, huge thighs and knotted calves. A tawny, bearded Hercules dressed in skins.
He stood a moment and took in every item of the camp through quick, flashing eyes. There was suspicion in his poise. Then with a lithe animal grace, in spite of his bulk, he advanced.
King sprang up to meet him, desperately ashamed at having been caught napping, and with unconscious mimicry of a world famous phrase said—
"Dr. Meyer, I presume?"
The huge man's eyes lighted in quick recognition of the words and strong teeth showed for a moment under his Viking mustache. Speech came to him haltingly, dug with an effort out of a memory of a language known long ago.
"Ach, so, the finding of Doctor Livingstone, no? From here not so very far. This also is a—a—how says one?—a like feat, yes? Ach, you Americans!"
King offered him his battered camp chair; but the man sank by preference to his heels and squatted native fashion. King called to Kaffa to bring the coffee which had been in readiness for the past hour, and to serve what was left of the previous day's broiled pig with the leathery corn flapjacks that took the place of bread, where wheat flour necessitated the labor of a few porters who would carry but thirty-five pounds apiece. The man's eyes lighted again.
"Ha, coffee I have since many years forgotten. Bread I have from yams made but in the past. Since years I have no fire used. I thank you, I am not flesh eater. I have already a long time ago learned the raw vegetables to eat; and so, like my friends, I keep in the jungle good health."
King experienced a vague uneasiness. He had, as a matter of fact, been making up his mind to find the long lost scientist to be a good deal off the normal. He seemed, so far, to be normal enough. But that reference to "his friends." That was the second time. In the ultimatum on the tree he had written of making a war with "his people." What friends? King wondered. What people? There was, of course, no reason why the doctor should not have established himself with some isolated forest tribe; but somehow that expression rang uncomfortably upon King's ears.
The doctor, of course, wanted to know everything. King found it difficult to adjust his answers to the incredible fact that fifteen frightful years of darkness had to be sketchily elucidated. Some major events the doctor knew with a certain modicum of accuracy; but all were most amazingly colored by the African minds through which they had passed.
He knew, for instance, that the war was long since over; that the Bwanai Inglesi now controlled all the country to the east of him and that the native chiefs were becoming strong again—absorbing insight into the native acceptance of the British pacific policy of colonization. He knew that the Bwanai Belgani controlled all the country to the west. But he did not know who controlled the immediate district in which he was—Which satisfied him well enough; for he inferred that nobody cared very much about it.
His contacts with natives had been sporadic and less and less frequent since the servants whom he had originally brought had died off—the fools would insist upon eating meat, he swore with sudden flare of rage at the recollection.
Natives, the doctor explained, never came of their own free will into this retreat. It was necessary to make long journeys to catch them.
"And," wondered King, "what the devil did the man mean by that—journeys to catch natives?" That sounded as queer as the talk about his people. And with that connection the uneasiness that had assailed him before sprang into life as a strong sense of disquiet. "If there were no natives, who were his people?"
The doctor asked a thousand questions, mostly from a scientific angle—world events were of minor importance. Some of them King could answer in a superficial manner; but his answers never held the doctor's interest. While he spoke the other's attention wandered off the subject to gaze with acute interest at some trifle of camp gear, to look into the distant treetops, to scratch himself with absorbed intentness.
It came to King with a qualm of realization that the man, living that way, must be verminous.
But the doctor always brought himself back with a visible effort to ask some new question; and King began to find a definite connection running through all of these inquiries. They tended, every one, to inquire into the most modern developments in the study of anthropology, with a special curiosity about what was being accepted in the theory of man's evolution.
It began to be clear to King that the scientist's mind clung to a fixed idea. Accurate answers to these technical queries were beyond King's knowledge. But his answers did not matter. The doctor wanted only answers which he knew to be wrong. He chuckled to himself out of the satisfaction of a superior knowledge that was his alone.
What was being said about the apes? The doctor wanted to know. What were these complacent scientists deciding about their place in the scale? This was his subject and an excitement was growing upon him as he questioned.
King happened to know such of the more outstanding arguments, pro and con, as had furnished newspaper copy; and through his connection with an animal collector he knew that some remarkable experiments had been made with a young gorilla. But the doctor leaped to his feet with a single springy bound and strode immensely back and forth, his skin garments flapping raggedly in the wind of his own making.
No, no, that was wrong, he shouted; all wrong. The gorillas were all very well; but they were an inferior tribe. It was the chimpanzees that possessed a far superior intelligence. To these chimpanzees here an obstinate science must look for the link, the infallible connection. And he, Dr. Hugo Meyer, he would show to the thick headed world that—
He strode up to King and shook a thick finger under his nose, as though lecturing to a headstrong pupil.
"Look you now, sir. I will show you—I will before you place the proofs which I have now with certainness established. With your eyes you will see, and you will believe what—" With a huge inhalation the doctor recovered a certain measure of control over himself. His voice fell to an angry mutter. "But what use? What use? My papers, they have all. I have it written down. My experiments, they live. They will to those stubborn professors who know nothing give proof; and these murderings shall cease."
He came again to King, apologetic.
"You, my friend—you do not understand. But I shall show you, and you shall then my papers guard with your life. As I too, with my last life. Look you. I thought in the first sight that you were hunter—" at the hated word the doctor's excitement began to grow again; his voice rose—"a collector, come to murder these anthropoids for their skins; where so long no hunter has come. That is why I made you a warning. I shall not permit this murder!" The doctor stamped up and down and shouted, "I shall not permit! I shall defend. With my life I shall defend—" the thick arms raised themselves high, the fists clenched, the tawny, leonine head lifted back and the great voice roared its warning—"to the death I shall my friends defend."
THE huge figure stood on its tremendous, wide spread legs, great chest outflung, eyes glaring, unmistakably snarling its defiance to the world.
And in that moment King knew it for the monstrous maniac thing that had rushed from the dark upon the pygmy mob that had hunted the apes with their poisoned arrows.
Kaffa, shrinking away from the little folding table where he was clearing up the meal, knew it too; but for another reason. He edged up to King and whispered:
"Look, Bwana; look at the feet. It wears shoes of rawhide."
The only sentiment that King experienced was pity. A vast pity for the man, overlaid with a certain awe. This was Africa. This man had matched himself against the dark gods of Africa, had adapted his living to the hard conditions of their jungles; and the inexorable gods, unable to touch the splendid physical specimen to put the mark of Africa upon him, had reached out quiet, insidious fingers and put their mark in his brain.
King's one thought was to calm the man down. When not excited he was perfectly normal. King told him a piece of news.
"But, Doctor, here is something that I'm sure will please you. You don't know perhaps that the Belgian government has formally set aside the whole of the Karisimbi Mountain as a sanctuary for the great apes, where no man may hunt under any circumstances."
For a moment it seemed as if this information would increase the raving man's excitement rather than diminish it. He glared into King's face. One hand gripped King's arm as though to wrench it off if there should be any trick about this thing.
"What is? What do you say there? Lie not to me!"
King repeated the information at great length. How a famous American explorer had campaigned to raise public interest and how the Belgian government had responded to the appeal to create this great sanctuary for the vanishing anthropoids against all encroachment for all time.
The scientist drank in this information. Slowly he absorbed all of it; and as he understood its whole significance he quieted.
"You will mean to tell me," he asked, still half incredulous that the white man in Africa could have shown so much foresight, "that all the anthropoids who live in—or who to Karisimbi may go—shall remain by the law from killing protected?"
King nodded. The scientist sank slowly to the squatting posture on his heels. It astonished King to see tears in those fierce eyes.
"Ach Gott, wenn ich gewusst hätte. If I had known. If I had this known, I would have—but it is not too late. I will immediately tell them and they shall go. Ach, yes, there will be a Völkerwanderung. We shall emigrate."
The great man smiled with an expression of singular benignity, as of some kindly nomad patriarch arranging for the moving on of his tribe to better pastures. He was apologetic again.
"You must excuse, my friend. I am angry when I think of these murders. My good friend, this is a very beautiful information. It is progress. Yes, it is good. But it is not enough. They must be everywhere protected. But you shall come. You shall see my papers, my proofs. You shall meet my Cri-ack, my halfbreed. You shall carry to the world my proofs; and they shall by law be protected. Come, it is far, my house."
He started off at a tremendous pace, walking King along with him, holding him by the arm. King hung back.
"Wait a minute. Ease up. I've got things to attend to here first. I can't barge off like that at a second's notice."
The big man checked his stride.
"Ach, your safari? It shall follow. My people shall show the way."
He lifted his head and barked up toward the treetops, and King was awestruck to hear a gibbering answer from above. The man started off again in a vast impatience, but King shook free.
"Barounggo," he called. "I follow this wild man. Kaffa comes with me. We mark the trees with a knife. Do you bring the safari. Explain to the shenzis that there is nothing to fear."
The Masai, watching all this extraordinary happening, leaning imperturbably on his spear, boomed comfortingly:
"It is well, Bwana. We follow. To these shenzis I explain that there is more to fear from me if they think not to follow."
The German was already disappearing through the trees. King stepped out after him. Kaffa trotted at his heels.
"Bwana, look; his wife's people are thick in the trees above us."
"Shut up," snapped King, and exerted himself to keep up with the tremendous pace set by their guide.
His head swam with speculation. Well might the Hottentot wonder. One thing, of course, was pitifully clear; the man's highly strung brain had broken down under the stress of intensive study of a single subject and frightful conditions of living. How badly or how permanently King could not guess. He hoped fervently that when he should get the man out—and that was going to be more than a small job—proper attention and rest might restore him to normal.
But how much was there to all this talk about his people. What were all these half spoken hints about proofs? Proofs of what? His people must be protected legally from being murdered—the man insisted upon calling it murder. Good Lord, that sounded as though he really considered them to be people. The Hottentot's firm acceptance of that forest negro's yarn about marrying a monkey. Absurd! Insane! But—what was the impossible meaning of "my Cri-ack, my half-breed"?
All these almost insane thoughts raced in a confused maelstrom in King's brain as he struggled not to lose sight of the German. And above him the swoop and swish of heavy bodies through the branches indicated that the "people" were coming along.
King felt that he was walking in a Grimm fairy tale—a particularly grim African fairy tale, he punned to himself with a strained laugh. The laughing did him good. It released some of the tension; and the relief enabled him to think more clearly, to sort out the confusion in his mind. An explanation of the ape people's presence grew out of a simple application of wood lore.
It was perfectly possible that the doctor, living in isolation among the apes, never molesting them, knowing their habits, had established a certain sense of his harmlessness among them. Many a hermit had been known to tame the wild creatures of his environment. It was perfectly possible, too, that certain of the bolder apes—there were certainly not more than a score of them above, in spite of all the noise—having learned that the man often had food for them, or could lead them to food, followed him about whenever hunger prompted them.
And as for the apparent answer to the man's bark, which so impressed the Hottentot, King had seen native hunters locate colobus monkeys by giving vent to a sudden ringing call in the silence of the jungle, which the monkeys would invariably reply to with indignant chatterings at the disturbance.
The explanation pleased King. It refreshed him. It removed some of the gruesome mystery of the whole thing. Possibly there might be similar perfectly normal explanations of some of the mysteries that remained.
THE German strode on. His tremendous vigor was a tribute to the efficacy of vegetables as a salutary diet for the jungle—raw vegetarianism at that. A thought flashed into King's mind that possibly that was why the great apes never survived long in captivity; because they were given, among other things, cooked vegetables—those little understood vitamins, or something, were lacking. King stored this theory away for future use.
The wild man evinced no desire to talk. Apparently he had nothing to say until he was ready to demonstrate his proofs, his papers which were to be of such vital value to the world. What were these proofs going to be? Would anybody but a scientist understand them? The wonder stayed with King throughout the most strenuous day's march of his life.
It was approaching evening when the tireless guide suddenly stopped before no less a miracle than a woven wattle cabin of extraordinary symmetry. The vertical upright poles were of perfect thickness and alignment and the corners were of a sharp squareness that betokened a phenomenal skill in bush carpentry.
And then as he came close to examine the phenomenon, King was astounded to see that the thing was an iron cage; a great iron cage, the bars which had been interwoven with split bamboo to make a very compact wall. And then he remembered. Long ago—he had forgotten how long ago—he had read a newspaper account about some professor who had gone into the interior of Africa with a hare brained proposal to live in the jungle within the security of a cage to make a phonetic study of the noises made by apes and to trace, if possible, a language out of them.
He seemed to remember that this professor had come back with a claim that he had established a vocabulary of some twenty or more words. Was this Hugo Meyer the same wild philologist come back for more words, or was he another and more persistent enthusiast? The doctor indicated the cabin, apologetically again.
"In the early times I used here to sleep; but that fear is no more. The house is, however, of value my writings to protect—my valuable papers from the curiosity of my friends. I will show you. You shall see and you shall believe. Come, while yet there is light left."
The man paused as an idea came to him; an idea of not much moment, but one to be disposed of before proceeding to the important matter of the papers.
"You do not, I suppose, require to eat, is it? Or is it not?"
King could, at a pinch—and frequently had—gone without food for many more than twenty-four hours. But just now he saw no need. Papers that had waited fifteen years could wait a little longer. Furthermore, he wanted to see whatever there was to see by full daylight; he wanted to talk a lot more to the professor first, so that he might get an inkling of how he should receive the information contained; what sort of replies he should make so as not to occasion excitement; and particularly did he not want to have an excited madman on his hands in the gathering dusk. Therefore he claimed a consuming hunger that left him weak.
The eager professor was disappointed. But, except on his one subject, he was normal. Hospitality's claims could not be ignored.
"Fruit I have; nuts I have; yams I have. Nourishment for all needs of the body. Somewhere it is possible a tin plate I have, but I do not know. If cooking is for you necessary you must, alas, your own matches have. For fire I have not in many years known."
King was amazed again at the simplicity to which this man had reduced his life. Fruit, nuts, yams; all the food content for a balanced ration. If this single track man had so controlled his appetite that it needed none of the variety that civilization has gradually evolved with all its coincident ills, so much the better for him; and he certainly most abundantly testified to the benefit of his diet in his own person. But perhaps no one but a man single tracked to the point of mania could ever so have controlled the impulses of his heredity.
King had often made a meal less tasty than that which the doctor enumerated; though yams, to his mind, did very much need to be baked. Kaffa, turned inside out with hunger, made a fire; smelled out, or by some other process of wizardry discovered the store of yams and some plantains and had them baking in the embers while the white men were still talking about the need as against the dispensability of fire.
After the meal King smoked. The doctor evinced no desire for tobacco; he seemed to have reduced his desires to the simple needs of an animal—of one of his apes. It was dark. King was glad. Those disturbing documents would have to be postponed till the next day. He was willing to talk; or rather, to listen to the fanatic talk about his subject that was of such vast importance to the world.
"Look you now," said the scientist. "Tomorrow I show you and you shall believe. Tonight I tell you and you shall laugh. It does not matter. Those others, those doctors of the university who know so much, they shall laugh—until they my papers have seen.
"Listen now with care. Imprimis—" the lecturer was to the fore—"Imprimis I have a full vocabulary established. One hundred and six words. In my papers it is written down—System Hugo Meyer, upon the phonetic of Gaston Larue based; every known sound can be thus written. By a study of the phonetic and a good practise of the tongue a man may the anthropoid sound also reproduce and he will understand. Presently I shall from the tree one summon and you shall hear. Good. But that is small things. That is nothing. Wait yet and I tell you."
"Nothing?" thought King to himself. If the man called that stupendous achievement nothing, what marvel had he yet to disclose? If it were actually so that the man had isolated as many sound groups as he claimed and had connected a meaning to each, or even to half as many, why, then, that would be a language; that would mean the power of consecutive thought; it would mean—King hesitated to let himself speculate what it might mean, if all this were not the imaginings of an overenthusiastic brain.
King wondered. The man talked so sanely. It was only when he was excited upon the subject of killing that he went into maniac rage. Could it be possible that he was normally balanced when he spoke of a vocabulary?
He was talking with perfect normality now. His great hand fell upon another packet of papers, a fat notebook with many inserted sheets, all neatly bound together with twisted grass fiber.
"Here, my friend, I have—" he looked at it and stopped.
His mood changed. The feverish eagerness with which he had been expounding his thesis lost its interest. He smiled in his tawny beard, half pityingly, disdainfully. He shrugged his big shoulders.
"This is—yes, this also represents a labor. But—it is foolishness. Gott, how foolish is man! Look, here is complete description with drawings from microscope of a fungus. A very unusual fungus of mold. In the time of war I was for this fungus searching; but I did not until long afterward isolate it. It does not matter.
"In the native condition here where I have isolated it with much trouble, the rain keeps all things so moist that the fungus does not grow. In foodstuffs, which must above all things be preserved dry, you see, my friend, how this thing is a danger. For eradication the complete burning of everything is necessary.
"Look you, this fungus, it is very extraordinary; it propagates in the dry, not in the moist. It is of the family of the dry rot; and it propagates with a quickness like the devil and in time of war this fungus—one little pinch, so—if it shall be placed in the food supplies of an enemy, will quickly spread through everything. This is a weapon more deadly than guns; for it is silent and it can with only very great difficulty be stopped."
The scientist was deadly serious.
"My friend, I tell you that who in a war has this weapon can spread the mold in all the foods of his enemy. This is a terrible thing, is it not? But—" the mood changed swiftly again to a lofty pity for the follies of man, and the strong, blond, hairy hand swept the packet aside—"this is nothing. It is of no importance. I tell you something better. I tell you something of very much bigger importance." Enthusiasm glowed in the fierce eyes again. The leonine face lighted with interest. "I tell you—no, I do not tell. You shall not laugh. I show you my Cri-ack."
HE went to the steel door of his queer composite home and called out into the night. King's eyes were glued in fearsome fascination upon that deadly packet. That was the work, then, that had been so important as to render this man immune to military service. That explained the notation which the conquerors had found in the records. That explained, too, the mysterious source of funds to the impoverished university.
The thing came over King with sudden horror. Good Lord, could this be literally true?
He was living through a fairy story now; a wild romance of men and apes and jungle, far from the known world. But, great heavens, could it be possible that this scientist with his deadly concentration of purpose had actually discovered a new and terribly insidious weapon of destruction? A weapon that he brushed aside as of no importance in comparison with his obsessing interest in his apes?
The monomaniac was calling into the jungle.
"Cri-ack!" he called, and King could distinguish other sounds which seemed to be restricted in their gamut to various renderings of grunts and squeaks; no scale between these seemed to exist.
Perhaps they were words; perhaps no more than calls in various tones. King could not tell. A dread expectancy encompassed him.
"Cri-ack," the doctor called. "Kom mal her, du."
Something rustled in a low bough of a tree and plopped softly to the moist ground somewhere beyond the circle of Kaffa's firelight. Kaffa left the fire and edged closer to the steel cabin.
The doctor called again, persuasively, affectionately. The something came hesitantly into the outer fringe of the fire light and stood upright, peering under its hand, but fearful of coming closer. It stood in the dim outer fringe and made cricket-like noises. King cursed himself that in the hurry of leaving he had left his prism glasses in his tent. The figure, as far as he could make out, was a pygmy man; not the same as those of the earlier jungle; a lower type, longer in the arm and shorter in the neck. But the firelight flickered horribly; King could not be certain.
The doctor stepped out to reassure the hesitant savage, to bring him in. Kaffa slipped close to King and whispered—
"The same monkey who came to spy upon the camp."
"The same," agreed King. "But man. He stands upright."
"Monkey," insisted Kaffa. "He is afraid of the fire."
It was the same difference of opinion as before; and it was settled the same way.
"Look, Bwana," the observant little Hottentot compromised. "Listen how with affection he calls. Surely it is his son. But like a monkey it runs to hide."
"Rubbish," snorted King. But into his mind flashed the doctor's own words, "My halfbreed." It was with a fascinated horror that he watched.
The doctor strode back through the gloom with that extraordinary litheness of step, annoyed but self-possessed and calm.
"He is afraid. Fire is a new fear to him. But no matter. Tomorrow you shall see close and you shall believe. Now I tell you."
He paused, the lecturer once more, arranging in his mind his discourse so that his pupil might understand.
"I do not into the pathology enter. That is all in my papers for my colleagues to understand. All. With slides for the microscope. Sufficient I tell you this elementary. Those doctors, those Dummköpfe, have always said the difference between the man and the anthropoid is absolute. There is no link. It is in the blood construction. For them it is finished. The science has spoken.
"But I tell you, my friend, I, Hugo Meyer, have the science to be a liar proved." He thwacked two thick fingers into his other palm to emphasize his statement and his strong white teeth glinted in the firelight above the mane of his beard as he chuckled his triumph. "My friend, to you, since you have first come, is the privilege to be the first man to hear what is a—how says one?—a revolution, ja, an epoch, in the thought of man, in the science, in the religion, in everything.
"Listen." His deep voice sank to a portentous bass of authority. "You have seen my Cri-ack. Not good; but you shall see him better. You shall see others; not so clever like my Cri-ack, but similar. What do you think he is? Man? Or do you think he is ape? I will tell you."
The great voice whispered the secret.
"He is halfbreed."
King sat silent. He was spellbound, hypnotized by the tremendous force of this man. Whether crazy or sane, King was in no condition to judge. He knew only that there in the black African night, with only the fire flicker for light, this huge shaggy scientist convinced him of truth. The thick finger laid down the details of explanation.
"In the blood cell construction is the not-to-be-overcome difference, say those doctors of the science. Unsinn. Stupidness. They know nothing. Listen. I, Hugo Meyer, have made experiment where the difference is the least. I have the lowest type of man selected and the highest type of ape—I have the pygmy men kidnapped."
King was beyond surprise any longer. Anything was possible in that African night. It came to him, as a pleasing solution of a puzzle that that raid upon the pygmy people had not been for the useless and paltry purpose of looting a few yams but in order to obtain specimens for an enormously important scientific experiment.
The calmly convincing voice continued to state cold fact.
"Ja, it has been difficult, the men. They are so cautious to catch. Formerly I have the women kidnaped; they are easy; and they do not so much trouble with the mating make. But that was my mistake with which I have many years wasted. The progenys die—they are weak. The true reason I will tell you. The pygmy man for the male parent is better; for the anthropoid mother has the instinct for the rearing instead of the savage superstition. So are the progenys stronger.
"Ja, it is more satisfactory so. The men I can then let run away; the women I would have to keep four, five years. They have made for me much trouble. Always they wish with their progenys to their tribe to run. And I, ho-ho-ho, you can see, my friend, I am for a nurse not so good."
The natural, normal laugh brought King out of a dream. He shook himself to shake off the hallucination of reality. But the thing remained so damnably real. The more he thought over it the less improbable it seemed. The scientist was stating callous fact. Why not? Other scientists with the loftiest aims performed hideous experiments of vivisection upon living animals. They had coldly proposed to perform various experiments with condemned criminals. Who could say that this scientist's experiments had not been inspired by an equally lofty—or perhaps loftier—aim?
The scientist proceeded to lay his claim to the latter.
"And so you see, my friend, my Cri-ack and the others, they are proof that the so not-to-be-overcome difference in the blood construction can be overcome. I ask you then, is this not proof that the blood difference does not exist? And if this blood difference does not exist—" The scientist took a long breath and held it. This was the supreme conclusion, the ultimatum of fifteen years of awful devotion. His voice vibrated with his strong emotion and he enunciated his words with incisive precision. "Where, then, is the difference between pygmy and anthropoid?"
Excitement began to overcome him.
"What man shall say that between European and pygmy is a less difference than between pygmy and anthropoid? Where does man cease and monkey begin? You understand, my friend, do you not?" Passion shook the voice in a fierce gust, and the man strode hugely up and down before the dim fire glow. "One may not, by the law, kill pygmy. The law says murder. One must not, by the law, murder anthropoid who is a tribe not so much different from pygmy."
The fanatic gesticulated with his arms and shouted the challenge of his proven thesis into the night. And from the farther darkness his furtive proofs chattered to him in support.
Hurriedly King agreed with the shouting, stamping enthusiast. In the face of that cold logic—of those apparently incontestable proofs—in the looming African night, he was convinced. Or at any rate he was in no condition to argue with himself whether or no. He agreed. He said that it was indubitably so; that it was murder; worse than the killing of a pygmy, because the apes were peaceful, defenseless, unprotected—which, had he thought of it, was not so very far from his real conviction.
The German calmed down. He stressed the importance of his discoveries.
"You see, my friend. It is so, is it not? My papers, my proofs, they must before the world be brought. The science shall recognize. With your life you will now this so important trust guard."
King promised. At that moment he was convinced. Those documents and those living proofs—whatever they might be—must be brought before the world of science. Murder must cease.
Far into the night the scientist lectured. He gave details of his experiments, of his earlier gropings in the dark, of his progressive loss of human contacts, of the dying off of most of the native servants whom he had at first thought to be necessary, of the frightened flight of the rest, of his loneliness, of his gradual adaptation to the requirements of the jungle, of his slow winning of the apes' confidence, of his mistakes, of his weary reconstruction, of his troubles with his human captives—there was where the cage had been so useful. The whole story was an amazing jungle tapestry of a tireless energy, of a perfectly astounding fortitude, of a fanatical singleness of purpose.
To King came the thought: Where did fanaticism cease and mental unbalance begin? But he dismissed the thought; and he dozed over the tireless recital of technical details of cell construction which he could not understand. He dreamed fanatic dreams of debased savages and cultured apes and of a voice that droned on with an awful conviction of impossible things.
KING awoke to a confusion; to a hurrying and scuttling in the trees; a grunting and barking of orders and a gibbering and a squeaking of response. He was immediately wide awake and on his feet. Dawn was turning the blacker shadows to gray. The doctor strode back and forth, collecting various objects of his primitive life and throwing them into the big cage.
King looked quickly to the bolt of his rifle, wiped it over with his handkerchief and stepped to the scientist. That one barked a terse explanation.
"The Ruanda men. That at this time they should come. Never before have I had with them trouble. But only now I receive word that a war party comes. Gott, what a bad luck."
King did not ask in what mysterious manner he had received word; this was no time for questioning. He swore whole heartedly with the scientist. It was his white man's inhibition that he cursed. The penalty had come as he had hoped against hope it might not come. That wretched prisoner whom he had let live solely because his heredity and his upbringing had inculcated in him a certain code that distinguished between killing in hot blood and killing in cold blood. Of course the man knew that he was looking for the lost white man and so the reprisal party knew just about where to come.
Gratitude on the part of the man who had been spared? Bah! This was not an uplift story. This was stark, savage Africa. The white man had accepted the disadvantage of his inhibition and the white man must pay the price.
King did not feel that it was necessary just then to tell the fuming scientist that his trouble with the giant people en route had brought this visitation upon them; but to Kaffa he snapped the information—
"The giant men from the place of thorns."
The Hottentot let out a long hiss. He was humanly savage enough to rub it in.
"Ah-h-h. If Bwana who is so wise had but been wise enough not to let his eyes see or his ears hear."
The scientist, cursing his luck and his ill fate in a deep, continuous growl, called to them to come within the cage.
"Better here. These people have only spears; they do not know bows. These walls of bamboo are proof against such. Here we hold a fort."
"How many of them, do you know?" asked King.
"Verdammt, no, I do not know. They count not with ease, my people."
Even in the tense atmosphere of expected attack King felt the surge of wonder whether this bizarre thing could be true—this was daylight today; the hypnotism born of the night's fierce personality no longer swayed him. This hybrid Cri-ack creature who had presumably brought the news, was he a crazy creation of the fanatic's brain, or was he no more than a pygmy halfwit who hung about the doctor's home for the sake of shelter and food?
The doctor was bolting the cage door. He grumbled grimly:
"Your rifle, I see it is good. A rifle I also have; but my ammunition since many years is finished. For weapons I have no use. Only my friends live in these hills. They have the leopards chased away. There is nothing else. My weapons are these."
He lifted from a corner, both in one vast paw, a builder's broad ax, rusty from disuse, and a light lumberman's swamping ax still shiny along the edge from occasional wood chopping. A flashback of schoolbook memory brought to King a picture of a huge Goth ancestor with matted long hair and tawny flowing beard wielding just such an ax and shouting the names of heathen gods as he hewed his foemen down. Himself a good woodsman, well used to swinging an ax, he knew what a terrible weapon it could be in the hands of such a physical specimen as the forest hardened scientist.
But all that was idle speculation. There was going to be no foolish hand to hand encounter here. This was a matter of holding a fort with arms and ammunition. The white man, having accepted the disadvantage of his inhibitions, had a right to accept the advantage of his weapons.
That was why King was anxious to know how many there were in the war party. His store of ammunition was with the safari which had been forced to camp overnight somewhere as soon as it had become too dark to follow the trail of the blazed trees. In his rifle King carried six cartridges. They were all he ever needed. It was seldom that he required more than a single one for the day's supply of meat. He carried a Luger pistol in a belt holster, also with only six cartridge in the magazine; for he adhered to what was probably no more than a superstition of his father's, one of the old-timers of the six-gun days in the West, who thought that more than six cartridges to a gun was not quite decent. And since his father had taught him to shoot, he had found that six shots were as many as a man might need in a pistol.
Twelve shots. How many men? Would twelve be sufficient to discourage the rest?
He was soon to know. Lank figures of abnormal height could be discerned among the farther tree trunks. The number of them could not yet be determined in the density of the forest. An unfortunate thing, too, was that the doctor, with his simple needs, had never found it necessary to make a clearing round his cage. It was the sheerest luck that his native servants, while he still had them, had felled the nearest trees to give sunlight to their mealie patches.
King—so strong are the qualms of hereditary conscience—still hesitated to take the advantage of the first offensive while there remained the possibility of the parley which the foolish white man always hopes for. But the Ruanda men had no stupid inhibitions; they were out to make a war.
The cage had a little square opening cut in the bamboo wattle of each of its four walls to admit light, making neat little barred windows. A light throwing spear whizzed through one of these and stuck in the farther wall.
King whirled with a certain grim joy that he was free at last. His rifle found his shoulder as he spun. It cracked like many whips in that slatted enclosure. The spear thrower flung his long arms wide and embraced the tree from behind which he had stepped. Then slowly, like a drunkard, he slipped down the trunk, sagging ever lower, till he clutched its roots.
"One," counted Kaffa in imitation of Barounggo who always tallied off his dead.
"So," said the doctor coolly. "You shoot well, my friend; as well as one would expect from one who has come here as you have come. But these holes we must with something defend."
The cage contained a couple of sturdy folding camp tables of wood such as the German outfitters used to supply to safaris in the days when they owned territory to which safaris might go. The doctor carefully removed his methodical piles of papers from these. With a wrench of one great hand he tore the lid from a box. These things could be propped or jammed between the bars to form shutters.
While he worked King's rifle cracked twice more.
"Three," counted Kaffa, without glancing from his work.
Three was true. But only three shells were left. King decided to hold these in reserve and drew his pistol. Thanking his stars that his father had taught him to shoot, he discarded right there his father's superstition about six cartridges. He swore to himself that if he should ever get out of this he would in the future carry his pistol magazine jammed to its full complement of nine, and one cartridge in the chamber besides.
A snarled oath from the doctor following on a rattle of spear heads against wood caused King to spin on his heel. His own front was clear. A volley had been fired at the table top that the doctor was fixing in place, and the tip of a particularly well hurled shaft had pierced the wood sufficiently to prick his hand.
"Quick," snapped King.
He snatched the board down and two fast shots dropped their men before the rest vanished behind protecting trees. The horrible proximity of the cover gave the one advantage that it was impossible to miss at that range.
Kaffa, on his front, was hopping before his window, holding his box lid as a shield and catching the spears as they came. King darted to his side and relieved him of three overconfident attackers who had thought that side almost safe enough to rush.
"How many, Bwana? I have lost count," panted the Hottentot. "These great men are devils; they have no fear. Would that Barounggo were here."
The scientist stamped from one shutter to another, peeping hurriedly through the narrow slits that he had left and fretting at his inaction.
"Gott im Himmel! You shoot hundert Prozent, my friend; but I—I can nothing help. Verdammte Schweinehunde, why must they just now come when all the departure is at last ready?"
The big man, inherently a nervous organism of enormous energy, could ill stand the ordeal of attack without retaliation. His anger rose with each minute and his great limbs quivered as he fought with himself for control.
King was husbanding his ammunition. Only one pistol shot and three rifle cartridges remained, and it seemed to him that quite a dozen giant figures still slunk among the trees.
American Indians in that number, as he had heard his father relate, would have had enough of that unerring shooting and would have drawn off, if not for good, at least to consider a safer plan of attack. But Africans—the warrior tribes—less intelligent, possessed greater animal courage. And these Ruanda giants had shown themselves, from their very first contact in the thorn belt, to be physically brave.
A YELL from Kaffa called King's attention to the hitherto undefended side of the cabin. He rushed to the shutter board in time to see a long figure that had crawled, flattened out under his shield, almost to the very wall. The last shot in the pistol, fired straight down through the shield, must have broken the man's spine; for he lay without a move and the shield settled quietly over him.
Kaffa yelled a triumphal count of nine. But King was very grave. His eyes were nearly closed slits and the corners of his mouth were tightly drawn and white.
For that man had been earning a weapon far deadlier than a spear. In the hand that protruded from beneath the shield a twist of grass glowed red under a thin blue spiral of smoke. The man must just have been blowing upon it preparatory to sticking in between the dry bamboo slats. King watched with a nauseous fascination while the dead fingers tensed and curled slowly over the bright flame and crushed it dead.
The doctor called to him.
"Those devils there, they are some hell thing doing. I do not know what."
But King knew and he waited with ready rifle. From behind the sheltering tree an occasional giant elbow showed, and once the curve of a long back bent over a horizontal spear shaft. The attackers seemed to be grouped together in that place, their combined brains engrossed in their task.
King might have snapped a rifle bullet into one of those incautious elbows; but he waited for the surety that was deadly necessary.
A spear thrower suffers under the great disadvantage that he must expose all of his body in order to throw. A rash warrior thought to dash from behind an unexpected tree and make his cast. But the rifle cracked and he lurched forward before the spear left his hand. It buried its point in the ground and its twist of grass went out in harmless smoke.
"Gott!" came from the doctor in a strained gasp. "Gott! That, also, they have thought of. My papers! Du lieber Himmel, my papers!"
Two shots left. Ten men, as far as King could make out; perhaps nine. It was very hopeless. Two shots would quite surely not frighten those men away.
But their minds had at last assimilated the lesson of that deadly gun. They were cautious, very cautious. And they were becoming crafty. The group showed themselves just enough to show that they were there. They stayed farther away among the trees and all that remained visible for any length of time were the shafts of their spears as they worked assiduously upon them.
King watched like a hawk. The doctor strode mightily in his cage, at times growling his awful rage and then trembling in fear for the papers that were his very life.
Time passed. The group of tall forms beyond the trees began to move as though on some concerted action. Something was about to happen. King held his rifle for a snapshot at the first advance.
The thing happened to one side of him. A heavy thud sounded low in that wall. A spear point projected through the wattle. While the doctor still looked at this aimless cast, a wisp of smoke crept between the chinks and curled lazily into the room.
But King had already torn the improvised shutter from its place. A lank figure was running for shelter. The rifle spat viciously after him, and he pitched forward in a long dive and slid on his face in the gravel.
The group of men yelled their derision and triumph. One more had fallen; but his spear stuck in the wattle and the red flame was beginning to lick higher with more fuel than the grass that it had brought. His fellows flung their arms high and danced in uncouth glee.
"Verfluchter Gott!" It was an animal scream from the doctor. "My papers!"
He stood for just one moment in an agony of horror. Then he went berserk. With one enormous bound he snatched up his broad ax, tore open the bolt of the cage door and rushed screaming out to the giant gang that massed together to meet him.
His mane of hair streamed in the wind; his yellow beard streaked over his shoulder; his garments of dressed skins fluttered behind. So must his ancestors have rushed roaring forth to battle to slay until they should themselves be slain.
King fired his last shot into the group. A man fell. Seven seemed to be left.
"Kaffa," he yelled. "Look to that fire. There is water in jars."
Then he, too, snatched up the only weapon that remained in the house, the lumberman's ax, and raced out after the screaming scientist. Passing a fallen man, he stooped and grabbed up his shield. He knew little enough about its use; as he ran he wished it were as familiar to his hand as the swamping ax.
He saw the raging doctor brace himself mightily on his legs to meet a giant who rushed toward him. The giant lunged with his spear. He seemed to miss. The broad ax whirled in the air, swung in both great hands. The giant went down, spouting blood, seemingly hewn in two from chest to thigh. Other giants stood in the way. The maniac roared on to meet them.
And then King found a tall spearman in front of himself. The man made a tremendous lunge at him. King caught the point somehow on his shield. His impetus carried him beyond the glade and inside of its scope. The man's great shield was up before his body. King swung his ax in with an underhand stroke. He felt surprise and a savage joy to feel it bite deep under the man's arm pit. The man screamed like a stricken horse and dropped below his line of vision.
He heard the doctor roaring somewhere close by, and a fierce shout following a crunching sound. A long black arm worked at him from behind a shield; a spear shaft rasped along his neck. He struck savagely at the arm and saw it turn suddenly red.
Clutching arms were round his waist, dragging him down. He struck at them, but his ax fell on a shield. A rank odor of sweating African sickened him even in that fierce mêlée.
And then he heard the most welcome sound that he had ever heard in his life.
Long drawn and high, it sounded over the roaring of the berserk scientist and over the hoarse shouts of the Ruanda men.
"Ss-zwee-ee, m'bale! Ss-zwee-ee!"
The strident, hissing war whistle of the Masai.
The clutching hands slipped from his waist to his knees. His feet felt something that might be a face. Savagely he stamped upon it. He could see nothing. In front of his own face a great shield was pressed. He hacked at it with his ax.
Suddenly the shield disappeared of its own accord. In the space it left he saw a fierce, eager face under a rearing black ostrich plume and a great blade that he knew.
"Hau!" shouted the face. "Jambo, Bwana? A good fight is this!"
The great blade glittered a streak and disappeared.
"Hau!" shouted the Masai again. "Ss-zwee-ee!"
And then there were less of the lunging Ruanda giants. And then only one. His back was toward King and was going away fast. The Masai bounded after it and the great blade whispered ss-s-whee. Then there were no more giants.
King stood panting in the shambles, splashed a spotted red, nauseated with the reek of hot blood. The Masai with wide nostrils breathed it in. He stepped high footed over the sprawled bodies with ready spear—he was taking no chances of an escape this time. But there was no need. He grinned joyfully at his master.
"Whau, Bwana. A good fight, a very proper fight. But these people are fools. With their long spears and arms they should fight at long distance and apart. Massed thus like saplings swaying in a wind, the ax hews them down. Truly a good fight. But, tche-tche, it is my ill fate that I did not come sooner. Already had Bwana and that great man there slain—look, Bwana, the great one is hurt."
The big man stood, braced on massive legs leaning on his terrible broad ax. Face and hair and yellow beard were red from the spouting of that first man whom he had hewn nearly in two. The massive forearms were bathed in blood. The raggy skin garments dripped red. But the dripping continued in a steady tiny stream. Then King saw that the broken neck of a spear protruded from his right side, and that the man stood with closed eyes, fainting as he stood.
"Quick, Barounggo, hold him."
King jumped forward and caught the swaying figure. Together they helped him on sagging feet back to the cage and let him slip down to a patch of grass. Kaffa, unbidden, brought water and a grimy cloth. King washed some of the blood from the leonine face. The eyes opened wearily. Uncomprehendingly they looked as far as could be without moving the head. They saw the cage that had been home for fifteen years, intact. The tired eyes lighted up and looked their wonder.
"The boy managed to put it out," King explained.
A long breath filled the straining lungs. The doctor nodded.
"Good boy. In the box is still a little money—I give it to him."
He smiled slowly with closed eyes and nodded many times. He strained another bubbling inhalation.
"Yes, it is good. My papers. My friend, you make me now a promise. You will my papers take—By the Semliki forest you shall go out. North, three days; then east, ten days—Uganda—safe. Thirty more days to the English railway. My life, it is nothing. In my papers it is all written down. Those so stupid doctors will understand. You will my papers with your life defend. They are many lives worth. My proofs, my Cri-ack and his brothers, that will be now more difficult. But—you will tell—with your eyes you have seen. The science will believe—and this murder shall cease."
The tired voice stopped and the shaggy head rolled over. King thought it was finished. But the eyes opened once again and held King's commandingly.
"The science is pighead. It will demand with its own eyes to see. You will bring them. But not here. My people, I have told them. They go to the reserve of Karisimbi."
The lion eyes glowed a last flame and the voice took on sudden strength.
"My friend, you are a brave man. You give your promise?"
King nodded silently. The eyes smiled and closed still smiling. A whisper came from the lips—
"The murder shall cease."
KING spent a long day in that place; a day of cleaning up and of burials. He was glad of the strenuous work that made it unnecessary for his mind to think. He did not want to think about anything for awhile. But in spite of his resolution, an insistent question groped in the back of his mind—the question of this dark riddle of Africa that had reached out and drawn him into its maze. Nor did the succeeding days tend to elucidate one single item of it.
That night, as the collected safari sat about the camp and moaned in fear of the ghosts of the dead who must be prowling about the scene of their last fight, a something howled a high pitched shriek at intervals from the high trees.
"It is his wife who mourns," said Kaffa with conviction.
"You are a fool," said King. "He had no wife—and apes do not howl in the night. It is the man thing, whom he calls Cri-ack."
"Men do not howl in trees," said Kaffa.
And so the old argument was on, the question which must be settled; for its importance was vast.
Still another day King spent in that place, and another. He was trying to lure the Cri-ack creature to a nearer approach. At times he would catch a fleeting glimpse of it; but always in the farthest woods; never clearly. Was it hybrid, as the scientist claimed, or was it halfwit pygmy? King could never decide.
He tried to trap it. With all of Kaffa's craft and ingenuity to help him he constructed snares and traps of half a dozen kinds and set them with all the care of their joint command.
They were good traps; they would have caught the cunningest monkey or ape. But—it was weirdly extraordinary—there were no apes. The solemn black faces that had looked down upon them so contentedly had all disappeared. Kaffa said—
"His people have gone to shave their heads and to put clay upon their bodies for the period of the moon, as is due to the passing of a great chief."
"You are a fool. They have gone to Karisimbi." And he did not know why he said it.
The traps remained empty. The Cri-ack thing was too clever for them. They would have caught an animal, but not even a weak witted man.
King had a fleeting hope that he might glean something from the scientist's papers, some word of friendship, of reassurement for the creature, from that astounding vocabulary. But the explanations were all in German. Perhaps those German colleagues would understand and perhaps some student among them, with the stolid pertinacity of his race, would master that miracle language.
At the end of a week King's mind was made up. Whether the dead scientist were crazy or whether he were coldly sane, here was one mystery of Africa that science must settle so definitely that the world would know once and for all.
He gave orders to pack up the camp gear; to burn, as a careful camper should, the week's litter in the last of the breakfast fire. He packed very carefully the scientist's collection of precious papers and notebooks, wrapping them in a rubber ground sheet. In his hand he held the notebook.
The innocuous looking fat notebook with its many inserted leaves tied with grass string. King paused in his operation of packing and looked into distant nothing through thin slit eyes.
Was there anything in that? Was it possible that a new and horrible weapon was contained within those closely written leaves? When the scientist wrote it all painstakingly down—that was years ago—had his mind already succumbed to the awfulness of the African jungle? Had it, for that matter, succumbed at all? King did not know what he thought.
But that book. That deadly, innocent looking book. The power behind the German university that had supplied the funds to get it out; would it find within those pages a ghastly weapon for some future conflict? Or perhaps—suppose on his way out that his ingenuity failed to avoid an overhauling from the British authorities and an investigation of his finds—would this weapon be theirs by right of seizure?
King pondered long, frozen in motionless introspection. Who had a right to this weapon, if any? Or had anybody a right to so evil a thing?
Then decision came. King shook himself out of thought into action. A hard grin split his face.
"Heinies or Limeys," he muttered. "It's all one to me—and I'm darn sure we don't want it. And Hugo Meyer was right; the other things are more important."
He stepped to the fire and dropped the deadly little package into the flames with the rest of the litter. He watched the string char and burst asunder, the stiff covers curl up as they blackened, the little lines of blue flame race along the edges of the paper sheets. And he laughed out whole heartedly.
The rest was easy. All these other papers; all that he had seen and would report. That was for science to decide; to come out with an expedition properly prepared, and to investigate and decide and publish. He called Kaffa and Barounggo to him.
"I place an order upon you," he said. "From here we go to Nairobi. From Nairobi I take train and steamer to this great man's country. If I should die on the road, as death may come to any man in this dark land, this is the order: You will wait in Nairobi. Whether I come or no, men will come speaking my name. The Ngai will have looked upon all of them, as upon this great man. You will bring them to this place with all the care that you know and you will tell them all things that you have seen. Is it understood?
"It is an order," said both men.
"Good," said King. Then to himself, "And I think, whatever they find out, whatever they decide, there will be sufficient interest so that the murder of the great apes shall cease."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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