Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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KINGI BWANA was experiencing a new sensation. It piqued him. In fact it more than merely piqued him; it nettled him. The thing was so entirely novel; it struck at an emotion against which he—so carefully poised in most things—was unguarded.
It required a grunted observation of his wise little Hottentot head-boy to bring him to a realization that he was letting himself give way to a foolish vanity.
The other two white men whose camp he was visiting had both gone into their tent; gone together by deliberate design, King thought—or rather the one had gone in and the other had deliberately followed him. Kaffa the Hottentot, who had carried the lantern for his master, huddled like a monkey in a blanket in the dim outer fringe of light; motionless, oblivious of the doings of the white lords, a creature only, without soul, ready to come when called and to go when sent—as a good head-boy should be.
Yet Kaffa in the outer circle had the acute ears of the ape that he resembled, and—wise as an ape—he had been a close intimate of his master's doings for sufficient years to have gained a rudimentary understanding of English.
Without moving, looking into the empty night, he grunted his observation.
"Those white men are as the swamp tortoise—fools who will not accept wisdom."
King continued to sit in the luxurious hammock chair under the African stars, also motionless. But he felt a slow flush creep over himself. From his face to his neck it went, and spread then uncomfortably over his whole body, even down inside his mosquito-boots. It had required just that remark of his servant to show him that he was resenting these men's brusk disdain of his experience. He burned with shame at his unguarded pettiness; and he was immeasurably glad that his servant's shrewd remark had brought him to himself.
Yet to the servant he said quietly, still without moving:
"It is ill to speak so, unasked, of white masters. One tenth of your pay for this month is fined."
"Yes, bwana, it is ill," murmured the Hottentot meekly.
He knew that he had transgressed. He knew, too, that by meritorious service he could win rewards during the month well overbalancing the stiff fine.
King relighted his pipe and, calmly master of himself once more, set himself impersonally to analyze this unaccustomed thing.
Americans, these men were. King, crossing trails with them at the last little outpost settlement of M'bandele, had joyfully come over to their camp to ask eager questions of home whence they had just come and to offer his experience of whither they were going. Most men in East Africa would have absorbed that knowledge with thanksgiving; and to most men King would not have given it. But to these two from home he was willing, even anxious, to offer such information and advice as they might need.
And they—or at all events one of them intimated by his cavalier aloofness that when he needed anything out of King's experience of Africa he would ask for it.
This was a quite new experience in Africa for King.
The first man came out of the tent again and let himself wearily down into the adjoining hammock chair. This was Chester C. Howard, large framed, pale faced, tired eyed, and much too young to be legitimately so worn out after a day's trek. An invalid, King judged him to be; a tired business man perhaps, come to Africa to do some hunting in the wholesome outdoors and to give mind as well as body a rest from the frenzied fight for dollars.
This one had been inclined to be more cordial. He had listened attentively to King's proffered information about the hinterland. He sat silent now, drawing a breath every now and then as though on the point of speaking, and then letting it go again and shifting uneasily in his chair. He seemed to find difficulty in coming to a decision.
King leaned back and blew silent smoke rings at the stars, his narrow eyes apparently closed in peaceful enjoyment, but taking in every move of the other.
Decision came to Howard at last. He sat upright and set his shoulders in his overloose coat. He drew a breath again and held it. He had to force himself to say what he wanted.
"Mr. King, I was about to say just now, er—I wanted to ask you, whether you would throw in with my party and give me the benefit of your knowledge of that back country."
King remained as he was, head thrown back in his cupped hands; he lifted one eyebrow to the stars.
"I don't think you need me exactly, Mr. Howard. Mr. Gerardi seems to know his way about pretty well."
The other, having come to his hard won decision, clung to it still.
"Oh, yes, by all means, Dr. Gerardi has safaried extensively in South Africa and in Rhodesia; but he doesn't know that Uganda-Sudan border country. Er—if your fee—forgive me if I put it crudely—I'm fortunate, I suppose, in that money doesn't—what I mean is, from what I've heard of you, Mr. King, I'd be glad to pay you whatever—"
At this juncture the other man came out. He bulked large in the dim triangle of the tent flap. A well set up man with an easy confidence in his hearty manner. He took the third chair and spread his robust legs before him in comfort.
The invalid still clung desperately to his decision.
"I was just telling Mr. King, John; er—I was asking him if he'd care to join us."
The other laughed in loud good humor.
"That's a hell of a compliment to me, Chet. Anybody would think I was a new born tenderfoot."
"No, no, I don't mean that, John. You know I don't. Only, your knowledge of that border country is, on your own admission, hearsay; and you've told me yourself that the big thing about hunting is to know where to look for game. Now Mr. King here—"
The other laughed good humoredly again.
"Good old embarrassed Chet. Heavens, you can't make me mad by getting another man to take a lot of the responsibility off my shoulders. I'll be only too glad to get some more time for shooting. But suppose you talk to him about it in the morning. As your physician, I think your medicine and your camp cot are about due."
The invalid subsided. He was clearly, and quite properly, under the dominance of his friend, physician and expedition leader.
"I suppose you're right," he acquiesced. "I'm not properly on my feet yet. You'll excuse me, Mr. King, won't you?"
His loose clothes flapped about him as he went obediently to the tent. King prepared to go to his own camp. Dr. Gerardi was heartily apologetic
"Sorry you couldn't settle your business tonight, old man; but I don't have to tell you what a lot of details would have to be talked over. We'll be seeing you in the morning, I suppose. I'll send a boy over for you when Howard is up. Good night."
The voice was cordial and the confident dark eyes were smiling. But King felt that there was more of triumph in the smile than cordiality.
He returned to his camp with long thoughtful strides. There was something queer there. Once he muttered to himself—
"The devil you'll send a boy for me in the morning!"
He knew that by the next morning the invalid's decision to hire his services would have been very thoroughly changed for him. If the little Hottentot pattering ahead of him with the lantern had any thoughts he kept them wisely to himself.
In his own tent King saw his face in the little mirror that hung on the center pole. A thin vertical line between his brows, eyes very narrow, mouth compressed hard and drawn down at the corners. He looked at it in frank astonishment; then he laughed at it.
"Shucks, what a fool I am," he grunted to himself. And retrospectively, "What a fool that doctor is too; I wonder do I look to him like I want to steal his job of millionaire herding."
He laughed again, genuinely this time, and he stretched his long corded arms above his head till the shoulder sinews cracked. For him the incident was closed.
OF course, no boy came over in the morning to call King to any discussion. By morning the rich man had changed his mind about the need of that much extra experience. Or rather, his tired mind had been changed for him; and King didn't altogether blame the doctor either; he himself in charge of an expedition would have resented the sudden inclusion of a rival.
He shrank from drawing attention to himself, as though begging to be sent for; so he stayed within his own tent while the other safari packed up and got under way.
A safari departure was no uncommon occurrence at the little mud and corrugated iron village of M'bandele; yet the complete population turned out, as it always did, to stand around and comment and gossip and—the native boys—to scramble for discarded tomato cans.
Kaffa, the Hottentot, and Barounggo, King's big Masai porter driver, stood together and submitted the safari to expert discussion; Kaffa, shriveled, amazingly wrinkled, huddled in a gaudy blanket; the Masai nakedly immense, dressed only in a twist of leopard skin loincloth and monkey hair garters at knee and elbow. He leaned on his great spear and laughed deeply in his chest at the little Hottentot's acid comments.
According to the little fellow's reasoning these people had offered insult to his master by not leaping to engage him. Loyally, therefore, he disliked them. Furthermore, they had cost him a fine of one-tenth of his pay. So presently he was the center of an admiring group who tittered and slapped their thighs at each sally of keen and crude native wit.
At last everything was packed and bundled, and in not too long a time; the doctor man had certainly traveled before. King came out of his tent then. There was no room left now for misunderstanding or embarrassment. These people definitely did not want him and the matter was closed. Any feeling about the thing would have been absurd on either side.
Most particularly these were Americans, countrymen of King's. Friendliness was therefore almost a rite. Among the dwellers of this outpost village were sundry British-Indian halfbreeds, a Greek trader or two, and an English-Africander sergeant of police. Anything less than extreme cordiality between compatriots far from home would have been most unseemly.
So King came out and shook hands all round and wished them luck and passed on the last word information about water holes; and natives shouted farewells and told the safari porters scare stories about lions in that back country; and everybody laughed and waved; and the Hottentot giggled inordinately; and the big safari departed with the proper eclat.
It was not until evening, until the safari was a full day's march distant, that the Hottentot raised a sudden outcry. He had lost his most precious possession.
Every African boy—every one, that is, who hopes to work for a white man—treasures above all things his letter of recommendation; for without one it is difficult to get any save the most menial jobs at manual labor.
Every house boy, tent boy, head boy, safari man, has a greasy scrap or two of worn paper that sets forth his recommendations above the signature of some forgiving past time master. The smart ones have several such. The too smart ones carry a whole sheaf of them—neatly typed on stolen official stationery by Eurasian clerks—bearing the carefully done signatures of generals and famous travelers and governors of colonies. It would astonish the ghost of Colonel Roosevelt to know how many absurdly young boys he had personally employed. These clever ones wait at the ports and the outfitting stations for the ever increasing tide of rich travelers who come out every season to do their Africa.
No such letter had Kaffa the Hottentot. He had never had a master other than King; never hoped to have another. But since every good boy had at least one such letter of recommendation he felt his dignity to be incomplete without a similar witness of his worth, and so had begged King to give him one. Now he wailed its loss. But complacently he besought his master:
"But bwana will give me another one, yes? For, barring that matter of having spoken disrespectfully of those two white lords, I am indeed a very good head boy."
"There have been times," said King, "few and long ago, when you have been not worse than a well trained grass monkey. But I will give you another. Though how can a man not a fool lose such a paper?"
"True, bwana, a wise man does not lose such a paper. But, awai, I have suspicion that it has been stolen from my bundle."
"Huh," grunted King. "Who in this place could steal anything from so wise an ape as Kaffa?"
The Hottentot wriggled in his blanket and then assumed an expression of preternatural innocence, whereat his master immediately regarded him with suspicion.
"Bwana, it is ill to speak ill of any man—I have learned. Yet I have suspicion. That boy Umbobo, whom bwana dismissed for thieving, was in this village."
"Umbobo, hey?" King was interested. "Why, that slick scamp could steal anything; and he knows how to plant his loot with every bush chief along the road, and how to gouge it back from him too. But—" suspiciously again—"why would he steal your paper? Why don't you take Barounggo and beat him and get your paper back? What is all this outcry about nothing?"
The Hottentot was the very embodiment of a wistful monkey.
"Alas, bwana, he was here. He is now gone."
King began to see light.
"Gone where? Tell me truth now, imp."
The Hottentot's artless innocence was that of a wizened ape.
"I think, bwana, he must have gone with that safari; for indeed I saw him talking with the great white lord of whom it is ill to speak ill; not the sick one, the strong one whose hair is smooth like the chi-m'panze and whose eyes are keen and set close in his face—"
King was forced to an effort to keep an immobile face at the cunningly uncomplimentary description. The Hottentot looked everywhere in the air except at his master's expressionless face.
"I have suspicion, bwana—I am afraid that that evil boy stole my paper in order to take my name and to—to—" He could hold that innocence no longer. He writhed in fearful effort; but the giggle burst from him in shrill falsetto.
"Keh-heh-heh-heh—in order to gain employment with that white lord. Keh-heh-heh-heeh-heeh!"
"Phew!" King whistled. "That boy will loot himself rich out of that outfit."
And then suddenly he knew; and on the instant, with a sudden movement, before the Hottentot could leap out of reach, he shot a long arm out and had the boy by the scruff of the neck.
"Devil's whelp!" he shouted. "Bush baboon! You gave him that letter. By wicked design you gave it to him."
"Nay, bwana." The imp squirmed under King's two hands in the air. "Not so. I did not give it to him. By the great rock snake, I swear it."
That oath with the Hottentot meant truth. King let go of his neck. The boy writhed again and stretched it ruefully from his blanket folds like a tortoise. Then he giggled again and quoted with sententious virtue:
"In the wisdom of my people is a true saying. 'The headstrong-man runs his head into the unavoidable snare of justice.' Keh-heh-heh-heh, those white lords ought to have taken bwana who has experience of such things."
King reached quickly for the graceless scamp again; but he had already scuttled out of reach. To have chased him would have been derogatory to white man's dignity.
"Tell truth now, scoundrel," said King. "Or you can go seek service with your paper. How did that Umbobo boy get that paper?"
The Hottentot scuttled farther.
"Nay, bwana, I—it was but justice for the insult to bwana's knowledge—I rented it to him. He is a great thief, but he is honest; he will bring it back."
"For how much?" demanded King grimly.
The Hottentot twisted in desperate abashment, like a boy who must confess a mischief before omnipotent authority. He stood on one leg and scratched himself in an extremity of nervousness with the toes of the other. Unable to meet the boring eyes of his master, he mumbled at last—
"For one-tenth of the amount of my month's pay, bwana."
"So?" said King evenly. "Bush imp. It is therefore justice that I fine you another tenth."
DEPUTY Commissioner Fawcett, dining on his veranda in all the solitary formality of evening dress, rose with alacrity to meet the tall figure that loomed suddenly up out of the dim veranda steps.
"Damn those boys," he grumbled. "Why didn't they tell me you were here? But I was rather expecting you to come and make serious indaba."
King relaxed into a cane chair, stretched his khaki breeched legs luxuriously on its long arms and lighted his pipe before speaking, ignoring the little matter of his unannounced presence.
"Serious stuff? My conscience is clear of anything that your fussy old government can bother me for."
The commissioner chuckled; he was immensely pleased.
"What, what? Have I been getting something that you haven't heard yet? That begins to be news in itself, my dark and devious Kingi."
King blew smoke at the ceiling.
"Lots of things you ought to hear before I do, you with all your official sources."
"Ought to, yes," said the deputy commissioner dryly. "But this isn't your trouble, my dear chap, though it's going to be."
King was vehemently positive.
"Nothing doing a-tall, Dipty bwana. I'm free and guiltless and I'm going Rudolf side to meet a Palestinian friend of mine from Abyssinia to whom I owe thousands of sacks of dust gold—if he's smart enough to build a trade."
The deputy was equally positive.
"All the same, it's going to be your shauri, old man. First of all, though this has nothing to do with it, there's been a man hanging about here for some days, waiting to see you. A native. That's how I knew you were coming."
"That's pretty damn good official deduction." King grinned. "Wouldn't he tell established authority what he wanted, and go away?"
The deputy chuckled again.
"He wouldn't even tell me he wanted to see you. But he has three cicatrices on each shoulder and a row of six across his chest. So—-"
King let his long legs quietly down from the chair and pushed himself upright. Then to cover that movement he rather ostentatiously relighted his pipe.
"And so," continued the deputy slowly, "I thought he might be some tagati man from that old witch doctor friend of yours at Elgon Mountain. Batete the Old One, they call him, I understand; and he carved that pipe bowl especially for you?"
King sat all the way up.
"Fawcett, bwana," he nodded softly—"you're learning so much about dark and devious Africa that you won't be any damn good as an official presently."
The deputy flushed with pleasure at the back handed compliment.
"Well, my Kingi, it was you who taught me how to listen in. But I'm officially handicapped; those fellows won't talk to my men like they do to you."
"I must go see this tagati neophyte," said King. "His news is probably vastly more important than this trouble of yours that I'm not going to mix into."
"All the same you will, my cocksure Kingi. And this time I have no hesitation in asking you. They are your compatriots, not mine."
King stood up and paced the veranda with long silent steps.
"Who is in here at all—except—?"
The deputy nodded.
"Millionaire safari. They're up in the Dodinga country, beyond the big thorn swamp. A deuce of a place to get to. I'm really sorry for you, old chap, because speed is an important factor and all round the swamp is a long way."
"Good Lord!" groaned King. "Why should I have to mix into their troubles? They didn't want me from the start. I met them going in two months ago. And they ought not to be having any bother anyhow; the leader man knows African travel aplenty. Why don't you wire Kitgum to send a police sergeant? He can work around the western end of that filthy bog and get into Dodinga country all sweet and pretty."
The deputy laughed. He was quite sure of his ground.
"Kitgum is two weeks farther away than you can make it through the swamp; and you know how these smoldering native troubles can suddenly flare up into tragedy. I have two native policemen stationed up there as it is. They send a rambling and quite incoherent report about black magic and witchcraft, from which I can make out only that a white man is sick from some queer thing that looks like a magic killing. And if you're going north anyway, it won't be more than a couple of weeks out of your way. And since they're your own silly people, and—"
King could see himself being overwhelmed by sheer mass of argument. He sprang to his feet and made to go away.
"Oh, shut up!" he shouted. "Why did I have to come along? I could just as well have gone to the Rudolf water by way of Lokri and Naura. Witchcraft, you say? Is there any connection, d'you suppose? Where can I see this young tagati man?"
"I fancy—" Fawcett, who was growing to be very wise, smiled—"that if you just go outside my gate and stand in the dark he'll jolly well appear in quick time. And I'll have some dinner warmed up for you."
Fifteen minutes later King stood silently in the veranda again. He nodded morosely.
"You were right. And it clicks. There's some fool of a witch doctor up there who seems to be horning in on white man affairs. So Old Batete sends to remind me of favors he had done in the past."
Fawcett nodded, too, with understanding.
"And he knows that, while we have to keep shuteye on native spellbindery, if they start fooling with white men it will jolly well bring a bee's nest about the ears of the whole brotherhood. So that's two reasons for making this thing your shauri."
"What a mess," grumbled King. "I wonder whether this tagati can get a message to my Palestine date to meet me somewhere else? Sometimes they can."
The deputy commissioner nodded in sober agreement.
"Yes, sometimes they beat the telegraph; and it's too often to be guesswork. Some day I'm going to find out how this mysterious communication is done."
King laughed shortly.
"If you do—which you will not—you'd know the dim beginnings of all the queer things in Africa which no white man will ever know. Me, I'm glad enough that sometimes I can get them pulling for me instead of dead against. You, Dipty bwana, you'll never get them pulling for you; for the simple and unchangeable reason that you're an official of the white man's government that insists upon trying to make the black man in his own country do things the way the white man thinks is right in his country."
The deputy laughed in turn.
"And that is the reason, my Kingi, why you can do this thing better than a policeman from Kitgum; and plain brotherly love for your own troublesome people practically forces the nasty job on to your shoulders."
KING was in the middle of the great swamp and in vile humor. No brotherly love for his countrymen sweetened his disposition. He cursed them as he grumbled:
"I knew it would be a filthy job, and it's twice all of that. I'd let them go hang and get themselves stuffed full of spears like a porcupine, only that commissioner fellow would jeer me for the rest of my life that his crowd never let their own people down; and they're plenty ready to high hat us as it is. Barounggo. Hey, Barounggo, get those men spread out more, and prod any fool in the tail who isn't careful."
Swamp did not mean by any means an endless morass. It meant, rather, muddy pools and soggy paths intersected by oozy runlets between higher ridges of dry ground covered with a dense shrubbery of all the thorns known to Africa and inhabited by mosquitoes and huge gray leeches that knew how to search out the lace holes of high boots and swell up like red striped gooseberries.
In this maze one of King's men was lost, a stupid shenzie who with the animal dumbness of the African porter had disregarded the strict instructions to keep together.
Some men would have gone on, leaving the native to follow, excusing themselves on the perfectly sound ground of the health—and possibly the life—of the whole safari. King knew how a man might be incapacitated by any one of a hundred different accidents and might lie for days before crawling things in their myriads would finally submerge his ever weakening struggles.
King's consideration for his fellow humans was of the practical kind that made him stay in the swamp and search for the lost man; but that, at the same time, grimly promised itself that if the man were not pretty deathly sick from his hurt when they found him, he would be so from the very proper beating that would be his due for getting stupidly lost.
Kaffa the Hottentot shouted directions to a shenzie to work out toward the left and to search in the direction of a scraggy sentinel tamarisk tree. The man made his slow, unwilling way in the direction indicated; and there he suddenly stood shouting, waving uncouth arms. Others scouting in far flung line scrambled, splashed, pole vaulted toward him. King came up to them as they stood in a bovine semicircle, heads stretched forward in fearful fascination, eyes rolling.
Splay footed tracks led to a brown scummy pool; web footed tracks came out of it. Kaffa the Hottentot could read that story like heavy face type.
"Look, bwana. Here that fool stood to look. Awai, what a madness he must have eaten! Here it rushed forth and seized him. Rearing high, it seized him by the hand—for see, his both feet still show. Here he struggled, screaming.
"For ten minutes he struggled, for it was a small one. But in the end it was stronger than he and it pulled him in. And that all happened just four hours ago."
King nodded as he followed the sign reading.
"How do you place the time, O wise little ape?" he wondered.
Kaffa giggled, delighted to show off his astuteness.
"Four hours ago, as bwana sat to eat, the marsh plovers rose with a great screaming at this place. For ten minutes they screamed before they settled. It came to me just now that the spirits of this evil swamp, who must be many and strong, caused the birds to rise in order to cover up the cries of that man whom they had marked for their own."
King nodded again, soberly, with set lips. Here was just another of those mischances, seemingly fortuitous combinations of circumstances, under which the dark gods of Africa exacted their toll.
"That was a good reading," he told the Hottentot. "For that one-half of your one-tenth fine is remitted. Barounggo, make those shenzies understand that there is no profit in staying to hunt that crocodile for blood payment; and ammunition is getting low anyhow. Give them instead out of No. 3 pack a piece of red cloth to hang up for his ghost; and then up packs and trek; and one inch of spear point in the rump for him who straggles."
It was a little thing, a piece of red cloth. Yet in that kind of little thing lay the secret of King's phenomenal speed of travel that left so many other safari conductors wondering. His porters knew he was a merciless driver when it was necessary or convenient to his desires and that the very practical persuasion of a spear prick would be the immediate penalty for any disobedience of orders or shirking of the hardest kind of work; but they knew, too, that in really important matters, such as the proper propitiation of the host of spirits that haunted their dark lives, their master was lenient and gave in to them.
So that in two more days the safari came out of that swamp, whole and well, into the higher rolling plain country of the Dodinga tribes.
A NEW worry was now on hand to drive the vertical furrow deep between King's brows and to send him toiling up every other outcrop of tumbled rock—uncomfortable lion roosts, in the heat of the sun—to scour the undulating skyline with prism glasses.
He had an appointment with his friend Yakoub ben Abrahm the trader. He owed him certain information, promised in return for a previous trade. That appointment had been for a place many days' march to the east. Was it possible, then, that word had somehow been conveyed—by signal drum or smoke or whatever hokum the witch doctors practised—to the other man to edge his route over and meet north of the big swamp?
The thing had been known to happen. King's hope was that the mysterious signals of the African "underground" had this time worked for him instead of, as a white man, directly against him.
And this time they had. News at the first little cluster of thorn fenced huts was that a white man had arrived at a village half a day's journey distant. King's hope rose almost to conviction. This should surely be his appointment; for white men were not frequent in that country. He hurried on. He wanted to meet his friend, explain the change of plan and beg a few days' indulgence while he went on to the scene of the other white men's trouble.
The first distant look at the little encampment told him that this was indeed his trader friend and no other. A disgraceful tent stood in lopsided disarray; oddments of cloth fluttered from its guy ropes, dish rags and clothing; baggage lay about in confusion; porter men lolled.
At King's halloo the man himself appeared. A patriarch out of a scriptural print. Unkempt, grizzled hair hung over his high forehead in wisps, a beard with the first silver threads beginning to show grew up to his cheek bones. Eyes black and alert as a bird's peered from under tangled brows as from the thatch eaves of a roof. A great eagle nose thrust out under them.
The man threw both his hands heavenward in querulous complaint.
"What is this, Meester Kingi? What do you do to me? A black man comes to my camp many days ago and tells my servant that another black man tells him that you do not come as agreed but come to this place. No letter, no sign of recognition, nothing. Is this the way to do business? But I know you have dealings with the devil, so I came. And now what?"
King pulled one of the protesting hands out of the air and pressed it.
"Sorry, Yakoub, old grouch. This was important and none of my own doings."
But the other was not yet ready to be mollified.
"There is always something important with you that is none of your business; that is why you are not long ago rich. But I tell you, my friend, you do me a wrong. I am no wild safari runner of the wilderness. I am a trader, a man of the settlements. I do not like this. I am afraid of these people with their nakedness and their wicked rolling eyes and their weapons. Ha, here is your great fellow, Barounggo, with his frightful spear; he makes one feel safe. But come in, come in. A black man out of nowhere came and told me you were coming; so there is a stew of young kid with red peppers and garlic. Come in, and you shall tell me what new madness it is this time that claims your attention and wastes my time."
King laughed in contentment over the ready meal.
"And yet, old cynic, you believed that black man who came four hours ago. Although four hours ago we had just reached the first of the villages; and no black man has outrun us that fast."
The Jew was immediately suspicious of a trick.
"How do you know he came four hours ago?"
King grinned as delightedly as his own Hottentot might have done.
"It is four hours ago that you must have started this good stew that you remembered I liked. I wish your man could teach my Kaffa how to make it. But Kaffa says your people put snakes into it; and his people of course are children of the great rock snake."
The Jew snorted.
"Your Kaffa is a child of the seventh hell. But all that is not business. Tell me the reason of all this troublesome wandering in the desert."
King told him briefly while he ate, and produced in conclusion his own excuse to himself, that the British deputy commissioner would hold it against him if he did not go to the help of his own people.
THE Jew looked at him intently. And then he threw out his hands in a gesture of helplessness and cackled shrill laughter.
"And that is what you want me to believe for the whole reason? Listen, my friend, and I shall tell you about yourself. That reason, yes, it is a part of it; for it is born in those Englishmen to condescend over the rest of us, even when they like us. But I know your people too, and I tell you this: The best way to cheat an American is first to persuade him that you are from his home town; and the farther away you are from your home town, the wider you are ready to increase its boundaries; till finally in the wilderness you embrace your whole country. Yes, yes, I know, I have dealt with many of your people. You are all children as yet. I know because we too—" cynicism gave way to more sober introspection—"my people too are in the same manner clannish. We feel that we, scattered over the earth, must help each other. You do it because you are very young; we, because we are very old. Aie, aie, yes; it is in your country that we find understanding. Tell me more of this madness that you undertake for your people."
King told him as much as he knew and hazarded—
"I suppose that this physician man, feeling that he knows everything about Africa, and being naturally a rather conceited and overbearing sort of a cuss, has contrived to tread somehow on the toes of the local witch doctor quite heavily; and so the wizard has just set about praying him to death."
"You don't believe in that yourself," said the other quickly.
King's eyes narrowed and looked into distance.
"I don't know, Yakoub; I'm hanged if I know just what I believe in Africa. With natives, maybe, yes. You know the old theory that the native must know about it first; though Old Batete swears that that isn't necessary. But that's neither here nor there. There are other things; things that even the medicos know exist, yet they don't know anything about."
King shrugged, somberly frowning.
"Many things. As just one possibility I'll mention poisons. I know almost nothing; but I know this much, or this little. There's a root the witch men call acca. Thoroughly boiled it is harmless; but parboiled it is poison. They dry and pulverize crocodile gall; and that's a poison: A splinter from a tree they call ujungu is poison. There's a striped beetle called isi-bunu. An infusion of that in hot water is poison. And there's half a dozen other deadly secrets of the same sort."
The Jew looked at him with the fixed eyes of a bird fascinated by a snake. Softly he muttered:
"Truly, my friend, you have dealings with the more hidden devils of Africa. And you think then that—"
He left the sentence unfinished. King took it up.
"I don't know what I think. I don't know how any of those poisons work. Medical men say that there's no such thing as a slow poison; but I'll make a guess that any witch doctor knows a dozen poisons that our medicos don't; and I'll guess further that many a wizard knows how to administer some of his poisons in small doses and to wrap up the whole process in a hokum of mumbo-jumbo about magicking his victim to death. So this white man, whatever sickness is eating him, may well be wasting away from something a darn sight more practical than evil eye."
The Jew clawed sensitive fingers through his beard the while his troubled eyes roamed about and around his shabby little tent, as though looking for something, searching for some escape out of this dark entanglement. Suddenly he shot the question at King:
"And you, my friend, you propose to thrust yourself into this black business that is none of your business? To go to pit yourself against the one most secret, powerful thing in Africa which the white man has never been able to eradicate? You who know a little something of these evil currents that flow under the surfaces?"
"Gosh, I got to go," said King. "The deputy commissioner said the man was already taken with the mysterious sickness before I came away; and I don't know how slow or how fast these things work. The man may be wasted past all help already. But I've got to go and see."
The Jew nodded, quite dismally; and with conviction laid down his opinion.
"You are very foolish, my stubborn friend, and very brave—which is a result of foolishness. And when you have trampled your way into this morass what do you propose to do?"
King's wide shoulders shrugged with a nervous irritation.
"Gosh, I don't know, Yakoub. I'm all in the dark. I've got to go and try and find out just what it is that's happening and who's involved—and then ferret out who is the wizard who's doing the mischief and then—those fellows often have antidotes to their various hokums—to see if I can twist his tail somehow and make him call it all off."
The Jew sat still, nodding, staring into a darkly prophetic future, his slender fingers combing his beard. Snatches of sentences mumbled between his lips.
"Foolish, princely foolish. Just that little thing—to smash into African witchcraft about which we know nothing except that it is bad, and secret, and revengeful. Aie-aie what a business. There is no profit in such a foolishness."
Suddenly the hands flung upward in a gesture of despair; the shoulders shrugged up to the ears; the thick eyebrows disappeared into the low tangle of hair and the lips drew down in a sour grimace.
"I don't like it, Meester obstinate Kingi. I have always been afraid of these meddlings into the dark undercurrent of Africa. We shall probably both be drawn into that current along with your other foolish compatriot who has already meddled, and we shall sicken of something that we do not understand. But—"
The gesture and the deepened grimace finished the sentence. King laughed with quick relief.
"But, Yakoub, you don't have to mix into this mess. You just stay right here for a week, maybe two weeks—the water in this village isn't bad. And when I come back I'll take and introduce you to the various chiefs who control these little collections of gold dust, all exactly as I promised, and you can organize whatever business you think you can. All I ask is that you excuse my appointment with you and give me a couple of weeks' extension."
The hands descended from the air, but the Jew's expression remained one of extreme disgust.
"All you ask?" he grumbled. "When you are already committed to your Kingly foolishness. What use. Besides, you are too foolish and too obstinate for me to let you shove yourself into this black business all by yourself. I must be along to restrain you; otherwise you will never come back to lead me to my gold dust."
King laughed again; this time throatily with a quick warmth of feeling. He tried to be firm.
"Yakoub, you're a good old grouch. But I can't let you run into this danger on my account. I—I'll be all right. You just stick here and—"
The hands pushed the suggestion away with the extremity of impatience.
"Na, na, don't talk more foolishness. It is not on your account; it is for my gold dust. And—" with a sudden resumption of birdlike alertness—"for gold, my friend, throughout all time my people have run into dangers that have made history. Who am I to expect any easier fate?"
KING was traveling light and fast. Only his Hottentot and two strong porters accompanied him. Himself, he had been looking upon this trouble of the two misguided Americans as not much more than an unpleasant tangle requiring for its straightening out a knowledge of native character, a little strong arm work perhaps, and maybe a present or two to soothe the ruffled feelings of some local wizard. It was the dark forebodings of the trader, more sensitive than himself to the under surface of trickery, that had rendered him uneasily anxious to get to the scene of the doings, whatever they might be, as soon as possible.
He left the big Masai and the rest of his safari with Yakoub. His last instructions had been:
"Barounggo, this man is worthy of regard. See that he travels in comfort, and beat some order into those boys of his so that they may know how a safari should be."
And Barounggo had lifted his great spear in salute and growled:
"Nidio bwana, it is an order. It will be three days, maybe four, traveling with these untrained savages, before we come up with you. But upon arrival the safari will be as bwana's own."
King did not know just what he might find at the white men's camp; what queer trickery might be going on, shaping up, as the deputy commissioner had said, for a magic killing. At best he expected to find this Dr. Gerardi mysteriously sick from some ailment that quite baffled his own medical knowledge.
But he found only surprise. Almost a pleasant surprise.
The camp was all in good order; well set up in the shade of two immense baobab trees. A good pool of clear water formed a pleasant oasis of green bush and ferns. The thorn boma round the camp was strong and high. Native villages were not too close. Game tracks were plentiful. The doctor certainly did not lack experience in African ways.
And the man himself—to King, in his preconceived expectation, he was almost a shock. Big and strong and in the best of health, he greeted King cordially and without a care on his mind.
"Hello, Mr. King, how are you? If we had known when we met you a couple of months back that you had business in this part of the land we might have joined forces anyway. I heard you were headed this way only a couple of days ago, so I expected you would drop in."
And that in itself was almost a shock again. The man heard that King was coming. That meant that he was at least in not unfriendly communication with the native gossip that so often preheralded news of importance in their own little affairs. If he had been marked down for any sort of magical vengeance he would have been surrounded by a dense blank wall of ignorance of everything that happened anywhere; he would have met only empty bovine stares in the villages, porters would have deserted, hunters would have been impossible to find, even chickens and eggs would not have been forthcoming. Aloofness and fear would have been in the atmosphere. Yet this pleasant camp seemed to have plenty of everything.
King was on the point of blurting out the cause of his coming, the mysterious report of trouble that had come to the deputy commissioner. Only that cordiality of the doctor's gave him pause. The man had been cordial in the same expansive manner when they had first met two months ago; on that occasion he had quite definitely influenced his wealthy friend to give up the thought of employing King. The smile, too, in those compelling, too close set eyes, was not as truly impersonal as the casual words of greeting tried to imply.
King decided to keep his information to himself for the present. Clearly he had been mistaken in his premise. There was nothing the matter with this man; no mysterious sickness ailed him. The trouble must be with the other one—though how that mild mannered invalid, so completely under the influence of his physician, could have roused the malignant antagonism of some black magician was another mystery. That one was not to be seen; sick, possibly, in his tent.
King inquired after him. The doctor laughed easily
"Chet? Oh, he's having the time of his life. This open air stuff is just what he needed to set him up. He's out somewhere with a couple of the trackers. You'll see him at dinner—you'll stay, I suppose, and take potio with us?"
And there was another blow to the conviction that had brought King hotfoot to the supposed rescue of his compatriots. Chet Howard out with the trackers? The man who used to be so exhausted after a short day's trek? In that case neither could he be, wasting away from any mysterious ailment.
There was mystery in the sheer lack of mystery. Could it be, King wondered, that the two native policemen had become stupidly panicky about some ineffectual mumbo-jumbo and had thereupon sent in a baseless report of spellbinding built largely out of their African imaginations?
But then there had been the corroborative report brought to him by that disciple of wise Old Batete who could foresee a universal trouble in any meddling with white men.
Those two policemen would have to be interviewed. But they, King knew, were stationed at the head chief's village of the Doginga tribes, two days' distant. To the doctor's invitation to stay long enough to take dinner he replied:
"Sure, and thanks a lot. I guess I'll be staying around here a few days. I've got to wait for my partner to catch up. We're not hunting; so we won't be spoiling your sport; we're on a gold dust deal a bit farther east. I'll make camp across the other side of the water hole, if it's all the same to you."
And the doctor said:
"Oh, good indeed. It will be nice to have company for awhile. And there's any amount of game around here anyhow; you won't be bothering us, meat hunting. Come around about sundown then, yes?"
KING, as he thoughtfully selected a camping place, wondered just how much of all that the doctor had meant. The man was cordial—not effusive to a stranger, but friendly to a countryman in a far land—completely at his ease, and astonishingly well. But—
King did not know, but what?
Kaffa, engrossed in camp preparations directing the two shenzies in clearing off bush and stacking up a thorn boma, shrilly abusing their clumsiness, busy as an ant, found time to stop near his master and, speaking into the distant air—
"That great white lord whose eyes are like the black mamba but of whom it is ill to speak ill is not glad that we are here."
That was King's own vague suspicion; though he could not as yet place his finger upon any definite sign to justify his impression, unless upon the Hottentot's acute description of the man.
"In what sign do you read that, O impertinent monkey?" he asked.
Kaffa, wriggling his toes in the dust, gave his observation.
"There is no sign, bwana. Only—the word came two days ago that we were on the road and on that day that white lord was angry for all day and beat his servants for no cause."
"So?" King stared frowningly across the far rolling plain, feet wide apart, thumbs in his belt, squinting into the sun. Quite inconsequentially he said:
"Let the boma be a strong one. There are lions somewhere in that rock kloof."
"Yes, bwana," the Hottentot agreed. "I too have seen the zebra sniff and toss their heads and trot away." And equally inconsequentially he added, "The witch doctor of this place is a lion man."
King continued to squint narrow eyed into the sun. He was forced to a hard little laugh.
"So you know why we are here, most cunning of imps?"
The Hottentot shuffled uncomfortably, as though detected in a crime almost of eavesdropping. With his bare toes he scuffled up a pebble and with a quick jerk of his ankle threw it at a shining skink lizard.
"No, bwana, I do not know. That is, not exactly. I know only that that tagati disciple of Batete the Wise One brought word that there was a witch casting. He did not know what kind of a witch casting, only that it was a strong one that was making a trouble for these white men; and we know, Barounggo and I, that it is bwana's fate that where trouble is there he must go."
"Huh," was King's grunted comment to that observation of his henchman. "So Barounggo knows also?"
"Yes, bwana, Barounggo knows." And then with a sudden rush of candor, "And the shenzies also know. They would have run away; for the word was that this was a strong witchcraft. But we know that bwana is himself a master of wisdom and that he has a strong protection from Batete against all wizardries. So Barounggo said that he would not put spear to any man who thought to run away, but would break him like firewood over his knee. So they came."
King remained silent, interested only in the doings of the distant zebras round that rocky hill. It would be impolitic to express any surprise; though these occasional disclosures, like stolen peeps through a dark window, never ceased to amaze him about the tortuous reasonings of the black man and the intense emotions and fears that went on right under the white man's nose all unbeknown to him—by most white men never even suspected. King therefore said only in a quite impartial tone:
"That was good. There will be a strong ox for Barounggo's father when we next come into his country. It is a promise."
"Yes, bwana, it will be remembered," said the Hottentot. "And I, too, am a very good servant—but there is more to that tale. That man in the swamp, that shenzie who got lost, he would not believe that bwana had a protection against the wizardries, and he was hoping that in that place he could hide and we would not look for him and so he would escape. But when the spirits of that place gave him to the crocodile it was clear that the protection covered all of bwana's doings. So the rest of the shenzies are now without fear. Only the shenzies of that other white man, the wise old one who comes after us, they would like to know whether the protection covers them also."
This time King could not refrain from a thin whistle; and he covered it immediately with a tuneless continuation of disharmonies through his teeth. Would he, or any other white man, ever understand the weird twists of black man's thought? And with what a casualness came these rare and priceless gems of information!
"Those men are covered," he told the Hottentot evenly. "That is why I left Barounggo in order that the spirits might know. I see no witch casting in this place against these white men. But we will stay a few days; and if your eyes are like the snake that does not sleep and your ears like the Semmering gazelle there may be a very small piece of cloth for you."
"Yes, bwana," said the Hottentot. "It will be remembered."
KING strolled over to the other camp for dinner, prepared to be surprised at the condition of the man Howard. But, at that, he had underestimated. Howard, like the doctor, radiated good health. He was brown and cheerful. His loose clothes had filled out considerably during the two months in the open and the real bulk of the man showed beneath. He was full of enthusiasm.
"This is just what I needed, this open air stuff. I was running all to pieces. But this life without any business worries, and this climate!" He laughed and flexed his arms and drew a deep breath. "Gee, I feel like twenty years old. I can do anything."
The man was full of confidence; and he was grateful too.
"I owe a tremendous lot to John here. I would have cracked up in harness; but he persuaded me that a few months of these backwoods where I couldn't get any mail or telegrams or damned telephones were imperative if I wanted to keep my mind; and he was dead right. I feel as husky and carefree as any native."
The doctor murmured a conventional disclaim of the enthusiastic tribute. But Howard was not to be denied.
"Oh, yes, John, you know I'd never have broken away if you hadn't almost hypnotized me into it. I owe it all to you. I'd have been just about dead by this time; .and now look at me; I've forgotten all about business and I can go around just like any black man who has never been sick in his life."
The doctor laughed, a little uneasily, King thought.
"Chet is having such a revulsion from civilized worries that he's going native," he explained.
"Sure thing," boasted Howard. "I can sleep on the ground and paddle around barefoot, just like when I was a youngster."
King sat up alert.
"Say, but you can't do that," he said quickly. "You'll be getting yourself full of hookworm; and while tsetse fly isn't bad here you can't take chances with sleeping sickness. The doctor can tell you that better than I can."
"Yes," agreed the doctor. "But Chet is getting to be very obstinate."
King remembered their first meeting when the doctor's wishes entirely controlled his patient. The doctor found it necessary to explain the change.
"With his health Chet is getting back some of that don't-give-a-damn determination that put him where he is in business—and that, incidentally, brought him to the verge of a nervous breakdown, because he wouldn't listen to me or to anybody else."
"Well, I listen to you now, don't I?" said Howard. "And you admit that there was never anything organically wrong with me; it was just my nerves all shot to pieces. And it's your theory that a white man in good health and condition can do anything that a black man can do, and usually do it better."
"Don't you ever fool yourself," said King. "No white man can do things that a native can do with impunity. They've been building up a resistance for generations that civilization has been losing. And the first instance of that is drinking water. Don't you ever get thinking that you can drink out of the same contaminated puddle that a native can."
And then it came to him suddenly that it was the doctor who should be telling his patient these things. And the doctor said quickly:
"Yes, I've told him that. He's careful about water; but he does everything else; he goes hunting with them without a gun and all that sort of foolishness."
"And why not?" was Howard's confident retort. "Other white men have gone after big game with a bow and arrow. Why shouldn't I be as good a man as they?"
"Yeah," said King with rasping cynicism. "But you take it from me—and I'm telling you what I know—those white men have made good and certain that there's a sure shot with a heavy rifle standing just outside of the moving picture."
"Well—" Howard laughed, full of bravado in his health and returning strength—"these natives don't have any guns and moving pictures handy, and if you'll come out with me tomorrow I'll show you that a white man doesn't run any danger greater than a native does."
King weighed the proposition.
"I'll come with you," he agreed finally. "And I'll watch. I won't hunt with you, 'cause I never take chances just for the fun of taking them. I gave that up ten years ago when the hurts didn't stack up with the profits. And I'll carry a gun, because I go no place in the interior of Africa without a gun."
Howard laughed at him, not ill naturedly but with a certain condescension. He had thought that King, the Kingi bwana of whom he had heard so many tales before he ever came into this hinterland, would be a daredevil who would try anything once.
But King only smiled, wholly impervious to banter. He knew what he knew and he did what he did for his own coldly calculated reasons, and ridicule was not going to tease him into taking a dare.
"I'll come with you and I'll carry a rifle and I'll stay near an easy tree to climb," he promised.
"Oh, come now," Howard jeered him. "There's a million times more kick to it with the primitive weapons. It's man with his nerve and skill against brute; and man's intelligence in addition gives him the advantage."
"Yeah, I've heard all that before." King nodded quietly. "In the moving picture titles—But I've been the man with the gun three paces to the right of the camera."
"Pshaw," said Howard. "The natives go out on their nerve and their skill; and John here will tell you that dozens of scientific tests have proven that physically, in muscular strength and agility and in reaction to brain impulses, a white man is always superior to—"
"Gosh," the doctor interrupted. "If we get on to that argument we shall be shouting at each other all night. Time for your tonic, Chet."
To King he said:
"A little medicine and a lot of sleep. That has been my invariable prescription for the tired business man; and I stand on my results." And to his patient again, "If you are going careering round again tomorrow with your native hunters you'll need a clear eye and steady nerves."
Howard was reluctantly acquiescent.
"Oh, all right, I suppose you're right, John," he admitted with surprising meekness. "It's results that talk, and I'm certainly feeling fitter than I've been in years. I'll come round for you tomorrow, King, and you'll see how much finer sport it is without a gun."
King went back to his camp on the farther side of the water hole and stalked with long strides in front of the fire. Up and down, down and up, thumbs hooked into his belt, pipe stuck at a stiff angle into his tight mouth, eyes glinting thinly under brows that met in a perpendicular furrow. Plenty of sleep was a good prescription when it could be taken conveniently. On the other hand, it was useful to be able to do without any of it sometimes.
King did not know why he was bothered. There was nothing wrong with that other camp. There were two white men in the best of health and on the best of terms with each other—on the part of the one man the regard for the other was almost idolatrous. They were also on friendly terms with the natives, as was evidenced by the hunting parties.
This was no demoralized camp, oppressed by a sinister atmosphere of magic mumbo-jumbo, taboo to the natives, white men wasting away from some mysterious poison, as King had pictured to himself.
And still something was not right. As yet it was no more than a feeling to King. Laboriously he went over every detail, trying to find something, some irregular point in the seemingly harmonious whole to which he could attach the vague disquiet that he sensed and the native policemen's report of a magic killing in the offing.
On the face of it everything was normal. And was quite contrary to all the established villainies. Villains lured their victims away into desolate places in order to kill them. Here the doctor was well and had nursed his patient back to vigorous health. Everybody was happy and nobody was sick.
The camp was in every way normal. A wealthy sportsman, happily rich enough to afford his private medical adviser, had come to Africa for a much needed holiday to recuperate shattered nerves and to regain his health; and under the close control of that quite obviously clever physician had done both.
This Howard was a little unusual in his obsession about hunting with primitive weapons. But there was nothing new in that. Other people had done it before with perfect success though perhaps with not quite such a crazy disregard of personal safety.
The only irregular thing about the whole situation—and it bothered King—was a persistent groping in his mind to try to fit the doctor into the role of villain. Why, he kept asking himself? Was he being unconsciously prejudiced by the Hottentot's shrewd description of the man as one having eyes like a black mamba? Or by the doctor's not very well concealed desire for isolation with his patient?
King was angry with himself for having suspicions for which he could find no reasonable base. And where anyhow in all this did the story of a witch casting come in at all?
King shivered in the chilly night air and kicked some more wood on to the fire. The booming roars of the lions that had greeted the nightfall from the far rock kloof had long ago ceased, and low throaty moanings and muttered grumblings signified that they were hunting closer to the water hole. Inside the boma was a good place to be at such a time. King retreated moodily within and woke a shenzi to pull the ready thorn pile into the opening after him.
HOWARD came around with early morning, full of vigor and impatience. The man had talked loosely enough the night before about native methods; but his appearance surprised King.
He was dressed only in a shirt, the shortest of shorts, British fashion, and light sandals. His muscular legs were criss-crossed with countless little scars in all stages of healing, the results of thorns and sharp grasses. King judged that the man must have been quite an unusual athlete before the lure of making dollars caught him. For weapons he carried only two light throwing spears and a longer heavy thrusting weapon. A boy behind him carried a bundle of replacements.
"You certainly go the whole hog," King commented critically.
"I've never believed in half measures either in work or in play. Let's get along. It's quite a hike to the nearest village where I have a young fellow who supplies the other hunters."
"Doctor not coming?" asked King, methodically inspecting the chamber and magazine of his rifle and buckling his heavy automatic pistol round his waist, while Kaffa collected the civilized impedimenta of fieldglasses, light lunch and water bottle.
Howard shook his head with a pursing of the lips.
"He's strong on the theory of white man's—trained man's, of course—physical superiority over the black man. But he's like you; he hunts with a gun. All set? Let's go."
They talked a little on the way. Howard was full of a nervous tension. His mind was unwilling to dwell on any subject other than the sport in prospect. King had seen enthusiastic hunters before; but this man was a maniac.
At the village a group of about a dozen natives squatted in the sun in front of their boma. A superior sort of man, young for so much authority, counted them off by name and gave them their directions. Howard's boy translated.
King sensed rather than saw that Kaffa was attracting his attention. The Hottentot, casually drawing patterns in the dust with his naked toes and scratching himself with all the restless energy of a monkey, kept his eyes fixed in one direction.
King saw that they were focused on the too young director of proceedings. Casually, therefore, he took critical stock of the man. Upon first survey there was nothing unusual about him beyond the fact that he wore more bits of cloth and dangling ornaments about his person than the underlings. But in the next moment King noted that his amulet pouch, suspended by a thong under his left arm pit like the rest of them, was made of the hairy tuft end of a lion's tail.
All the argument and shouting of Africans left to their own sweet wills hampered affairs. Howard seemed not to mind the wordy delay. He was hunting native fashion; and native fashion the whole business progressed. King in ordinary circumstances would have picked his men, would have given terse orders and would have started. But he kept silent; he was not participating in this hunt; he was only a looker on.
After a wasted hour agreement was finally reached as to where to hunt, and the party straggled off in single file at the long lope of all native hunters the world over. Kaffa, trotting behind his master in the rear, found opportunity to ask at last—
"Bwana saw it?"
King strode on without turning his head.
"That was well observed, little man. The fellow is probably a tagati."
"Yes, bwana. So I, too, thought. A disciple of a lion man."
"Watch him," said King.
He strode on after the line of spear men, his mind busy again with the baffling problem. The circumstance of a young neophyte of a witch doctor accompanying the party might mean nothing at all. All would-be sorcerers had to show their fitness and courage before they were accepted as ready for the more personal and frightful ordeals which formed a necessary part of their initiation into training. Yet this was the first direct contact with witchcraft in a situation that was singularly devoid of witchcraft.
The party headed for a tangle of thorn bush and high grass through which ran a rain scoured gully. As they approached it the noisy chatter died down and the spearmen spread out in a ragged line along the leeward side of it. Howard was tense with excitement.
"This looks like a good place where we might flush a leopard, don't you think?" he asked eagerly of King.
"For your sake I hope you don't," said King. "There isn't much getaway cover beyond this patch; and a leopard, rather than break into the open, is likely to turn and fight through."
Howard only laughed gleefully at the suggestion. It was easy to see how the thrill of personal encounter gripped him. The man was of just that type; big, strong, aggressive. Whether in business in the fight for dollars or in sport, it was the joy of pitting his wits and his brawn against the other side that keyed up every nerve. That was why he had won so well and why the winning had so taxed his nerve forces.
Just now he stood breathing fast, eyes wide and shining, his lips, as he let out a short laugh every now and then, curling up almost in a snarl. So must primitive man have looked when he went out with his primitive weapons to battle or to the chase. So looked the black native hunters waiting for the signal to advance against whatever that brush patch might hide.
The young tagati man whistled piercingly through his fingers. Immediately every native let himself go. Howls, yells, whistles broke out; spears brandished; the line crashed into the thicket. Howard yelled and leaped forward with them.
The strategy was the usual native one of driving whatever game there might be into the steep sided dry water course and then to bottling up the ends and closing in on whatever might not have climbed out at the other side.
King moved along the thicket edge and found for himself a tall anthill from which he could look down into quite a stretch of the donga. He had seen this kind of thing often before; but never a white man in it.
The first signs of startled wild things were, of course, birds. With squawks and screeches they flew high to safety. A flock of guinea fowl raced to the donga edge and sailed superbly across. Came a pause before the slower land creatures arrived. Then a spotted serval cat soundlessly appeared, slunk down and—wise beyond most beasts—climbed daintily up the farther bank and melted away.
A pair of great wolfish looking silver-backed jackals stood looking back with red tongues lolling and then they too dipped down. Other beasts all along the line, with the always astounding silence of wild things, found their way down the donga sides. Quick forms showed along the gully bed. The bottom grasses waved; bushes rustled; a great scuffling and scurrying was apparent.
Wisely the shouting natives did not come too close. Their yells died down. They were separating into two bands to climb down the ends of the donga and converge to the final rush.
Black panting forms appeared at King's end, eyeballs staring, necks craned forward, spears gripped in tense fists.
With them was Howard, eyeballs similarly staring, neck craned. He saw King on his anthill, waved a delirious halloo and plunged down a steep incline as recklessly as any of them.
A BEDLAM of howls and yells broke forth and the party charged up the donga. King, cautious and poised as he was, felt the glowing primal urge to yell, too, and to race in with that hunt. Instead, he smiled thinly and clicked back the safety catch of his rifle. There was no telling what thing might be down there.
With a whoop a wild black form hurled a throwing spear into a bush that moved. Something screamed. Half a dozen spears followed it. Husky throats howled success and charged on.
The white form of Howard was conspicuous. Charging with the rest, he whooped with them, hurled spears with them, yelled with them at spurting blood.
The howls of the other party became apparent at the other end of the gully. A tremendous agitation of the shrubbery between. King sat with ready rifle. Not that he expected any devastating leopard form any longer—a leopard would have showed itself before now. But there was no telling what danger might still be there.
And danger there was. With an angry squeal a gaunt wild pig, dashed from cover and immediately shrieked out its life in piercing agony. Other shrieks indicated a whole herd. The hunters out-shrieked them. Here was meat indeed.
Furious grunts came as a great slate-colored boar crashed out directly in front of Howard. King could see its wicked teeth champ as it tossed foam bubbles aside. Howard whooped and flung a light spear. It struck. The boar squealed its rage and ducked back into cover. In another instant it squealed again and with two spears sticking in its sides charged furiously out, directly at Howard.
It must have weighed all of a hundred and fifty pounds, and one slash of its tusks could have ripped a man wide open from knee to sternum. To shoot into that mass was impossible. King held his breath; for tragedy hung on a hair balance.
But superbly Howard dropped his throwing spears, gripped his heavy lance in both hands and bent to meet the shock. The charging brute impaled itself, reared high with the spear waving in the air, and fell over. A dozen other blades flashed into it.
Howard leaped high and screamed his kill. Black forms leaped and screamed around him. Swiftly converging forms and darting spears marked the end of the drive. Uncouth leapings, howlings, waving of weapons announced triumph.
But there was still ceremonial to be performed. Rites that surround every phase of life for the African to propitiate or to avert the ghosts of slain things that haunt his imagination.
Sharp blades quickly gashed throats to let the still warm blood run. Black men bathed their arms, their thighs and their foreheads in the thick welling liquid. White man Howard bathed and shrieked with them.
King looked down on it all, very still, very serious, with the beginning of understanding in his eyes.
"Good Lord, just like one of them," he muttered.
Kaffa, still too, like a watching creature of the wild and quite as frightened, understood.
"No, bwana," he whispered. "Not just like one of them. He is one of them."
King let minutes pass while he watched the orgy. Then explosively—
"And that, by God, is the witchcraft of this thing."
"Yes, bwana," said Kaffa with conviction. "He is a lion man."
"Who?" said King sharply.
"The witch doctor of this place, bwana. A man who can turn himself into a lion can surely turn a white man into a Dodinga savage."
"Rubbish!" said King. But he could perceive a dim connection to the truth in the Hottentot's ingrained conviction. He continued to sit on the anthill, hugging his knees and gazing down at the screaming mêlée below, seeing nothing of it all.
Howard climbed out of the donga, his excitement all gone. He was pale; he looked quite used up. Rather shamefacedly he was wiping the ritual blood from his forehead and arms with handfuls of grass. His manner was that of a man, come back to his senses after a wild outburst of emotion, who knew that he had been making rather a spectacle of himself. He was almost apologetic.
"There's a tremendous kick in that sort of thing for me," he explained. "I used to be a gun crank; but gunning took up so much of my time that I was neglecting business, and I had to cut it out altogether."
King nodded without speaking. Howard forced the subject.
"But gunning went stale on me. There's no sport in slaughtering animals with a gun. But there's thrill in a bow and arrow; and a spear is even better. To tell you the truth, I don't understand how a man with the experience of Kingi bwana still sticks to the rifle."
King's answer was laconic.
"Shoot only for meat myself," was all that he said.
He could understand easily how any man might grow weary of precision killing with a modern rifle—he knew more than one big game man who had come back as a camera hunter pure and simple. He could understand—he thought—how a man in whom the hunter instinct was strong might be bold enough to revert to primitive weapons, though still retaining the insurance of a gun in case of necessity; he knew such men too. He could understand—almost—how a man of nervous temperament might be so obsessed by the need of a new thrill that he might forego the insurance of a gun. But none of that explained at all satisfactorily how a man might go stark screaming primitive along with his weapons.
He left Howard with his chattering blacks, and struck off on a detour to climb a hill for the ever enthralling purpose of looking over new country and filing away in his photographic mind geographical details for possible future use.
But he filed away little. He was absorbed in other thoughts. So absorbed that when, nearing camp, a reed buck flashed up and skimmed over the grass, he snapped up his rifle and scored a clean miss. A second shot was necessary to bring down the meat that he knew his two shenzies expected.
"It is an omen," said Kaffa lugubriously.
"Rubbish!" snorted King.
But the Hottentot knew better.
"Nay, bwana, it is truth that the happening of any very unusual thing is never by accident but it is a sending from the ghost world to warn of a worse happening to come."
And surely enough, come it did.
The lions were bad that night. In country where game is plentiful for the reason that it is far from the usual route of white men's safaris, lions, too, are plentiful for both of those reasons. And, quite logically, are also correspondingly bold.
MANY a tenderfoot has quaked the night through in his blankets, feeling quite sure, even in his inexperience, than any lion could easily spring over the hastily constructed six or eight foot thorn fence of a camp boma. He has argued the case on the logical basis that if a cat can jump four feet with hardly an effort, a lion surely ought to be able to do six. And he has bolstered his argument by pointing out the discrepancy between the miserable camp protection and the strong, tall, regular stockades of thorn bushes round every established native village.
And of course he has been right. A lion can hop over a camp fence, seize a donkey, or a pig, or a man, and spring back into the night as easily as a cat can do the same thing with its kitten. And lions have done it often enough.
It is only the innate suspicion and caution of the cat tribe that restrains a lion—or any other animal—from forcing a barrier, however flimsy. Animal instincts, or hereditary memories, or whatever the naturalists like to call it. It may be true that a human child does not dread the fire until it has once been burnt. But it is none the less true that the season's new grouse or rabbit or deer whose progenitors have been shot over are much wilder than the same animals in virgin country.
So also lions who have had experience—or perhaps whose parents have had experience—that out of such low thorn barriers surrounding the man smell there are likely to come sharp reports, long flashes of light, and stinging lead, are vastly more cautious than others in faraway districts that have had no such experience.
In this camp it was necessary to keep a good fire burning within the boma and to see to it that the man on watch kept moving about. It is when all has been still and dark for a long period that a lion, watching with that feline patience, will make up its mind that it is safe to make its devastating dash.
As it was, King was kept awake by the ominous circling moanings and snufflings that came too close and he was forced to shoot out into the night at vaguely moving shadows more than once. At the third shot a furious snarling evidenced that something had been scratched, if not worse. And after that there was peace.
Only Kaffa's voice, muffled out of his blanket, proclaimed his conviction—
"Tomorrow if we find that wizard, the lion man, it will be seen that he has received a wound."
"Fool," said King, "so do your brother apes talk in the trees."
But he remembered circumstantial stories, not out of ancient folk lore in Europe; but stories of Africa today that made the same claim.
But the little matter of prowling lions at night was not the presaged ill luck of which the Hottentot had been so sure. It was concerned only indirectly with a much worse happening.
The misfortune came to light in the morning when Kaffa, according to his master's invariable rule, was cleaning the gun used overnight and was preparing to bring it for inspection along with the shells for the new load.
Kaffa scuffed in sudden alarm through the packs. He threw things in every direction, picked them up again and looked under them, opened each impossibly small package and container, before he came to his master in the greatest agitation.
"Bwana, the evil has befallen. The cartridges are gone."
"Hunh?" King whirled, then stood and screwed his eyes in swift thought.
"While we were out yesterday—this is serious—that boy Umbobo from the other camp."
"Nay, bwana. Umbobo is honest. From me he will not steal. Besides, those shenzies were left on guard. It is the witchcraft of this place. It was foretold; and the lion man sent his people to cause bwana to shoot away all the cartridges in his gun."
"Fool," grunted King. "Those shenzies slept like oxen; or they went visiting in the village the moment our backs were turned; or they squatted by the hour at the donga's edge and made monkey talk. They did everything but stay on guard; and from them we shall never extract the truth."
"Nay, bwana, those shenzies have been trained by Barounggo; they would never dare to disobey. And as for truth, it is a wisdom of my country that a hot spear blade under the armpit is a great magic for bringing out the truth."
King gave vent to a bitter little laugh.
"Kaffa, little ape, I have often said that civilized man in a savage country suffers many disadvantages on account of his inhibitions—which phenomenon you will not understand. For the present say no word to any man about this loss. But go to the other camp and talk with a snake's tongue to this Umbobo. Perhaps your wisdom will discover something. This is a matter that requires thought before action."
To be without ammunition in the middle of Africa was serious enough; King knew, of course, exactly what guns the other safari carried. He had known within half an hour of their first meeting. They were not of his caliber. He knew that Yakoub would be coming along within the next day or so with some kind of antiquated gun. He still had his heavy automatic pistol with a belt containing a string of cartridges.
So it was not a matter of starvation in the midst of plenty. The serious aspect of the thing was that this queer plot, whatever it was, that haunted this place had now included him, the interloper, in its field. And it was evidence of what King had almost begun to doubt—that there was a deliberate something going on inimical to white men. He knew enough of Africa not to have to be reminded of the deputy commissioner's warning of how these dark underground unrests could flare into sudden disaster.
Whatever was sinister in Africa, wizardry of course was at the back of it. King's lips set very hard and his jaw muscles swelled. He would have to go and see this witch doctor and would have to show him that his tricks could rebound upon himself. A difficult enough undertaking; for a witch doctor, like a high priest among his own people, could not be attacked without the frenzied hordes of his people coming to his aid.
Still King had made African wizardries his special interest and he hoped that he knew of methods of approach less drastic than strong arm. He would have gone to see this lion man long ago, but that the sorcerer exercised his subtle sway from his residence in a juju grove a full day's journey distant; and King was waiting for Yakoub to arrive and keep his clever old eyes on things before he should absent himself.
KING went round the water hole to the other camp—just to snoop around, as he expressed it to himself; to help his Hottentot ferret out whatever might be discovered. Not for a moment would he permit himself to harbor his insistent suspicion that possibly that very clever doctor who desired his absence might have something to do with his mysterious loss.
The doctor was as cordial as ever. If he had any guilty knowledge, his boldly open eyes and ready smile concealed it wonderfully well. The other man, Howard, was out.
"Gone off somewhere or other," the doctor said carelessly. "Making a day of it. He has got a new excitement quite a long way from here. Some young buck who is making his manhood ceremony is going to pull off some new crazy method of hunting and Chet has gone to see the stunt."
More seriously he went on:
"You know I'm getting to be a bit worried about that chap. He's so reckless about his sport—always was; he used to play polo like a wild man and he hurt so many ponies and riders that at last his club wouldn't play him any more. Then he fell for this new bow and arrow stuff; until business caught him up; and he went for that with bull enthusiasm, till the mental strain just about got him. Now he is back to play with the same intensity. What I'm afraid of is that he'll be getting himself all clawed up some day, and I'll have to patch him up."
King was very subtle.
"You've known him quite long, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes. We were in college together."
"Then you might almost have guessed he'd go off like this," said King accusingly.
The doctor laughed.
"Heavens, how should I have guessed? I never saw so much of him. I was hardly in his class. He always had a fair amount of money and he could play; while I had to study like a dog and to work besides to pay my way. Then I traveled around a good deal, working for an Austrian scientist, a Dr. Holzmann, for very little more than experience. And I had a job with the South African Free State government. In the meanwhile he went into business and in a few years made a spectacular fortune. I saw very little of him till he called me in as his medical adviser; and he was not playing then. I've pieced all his furious history out since we came away."
"Hmh," was all King's ungracious comment to so much personal information. "Was that Dr. Franz Holzmann? A white hunter whom I know took him out some years ago from Dar-es-Salaam when all that country was German East Africa."
The doctor shot a quick glance at King who was absorbed in an extraordinary business of blowing smoke rings through one another.
"Why, er—yes, I suppose that must have been the same man," said the doctor shortly.
King grunted again, even more shortly, and took his leave. He had found out nothing at all about his stolen ammunition; but in its place he had found—he thought—one tiny hook upon which to fasten his vague misgivings.
On the following morning Yakoub ben Abrahm came in with the rest of the combined safari. King, as he made him comfortable, and while Kaffa scurried with hot water in a five-gallon kerosene can for the refreshing bath after travel, watched the orderliness of things with critical amusement.
The big Masai strutted officiously and growled orders. The trader's tent and the cook tent sprang up smartly, with straight walls and taut ropes. Baggage was stowed neatly under the fly eaves. Shenzies went to gather more thorn bush to enlarge the boma. These men had been very properly drilled.
"That was a work well done, Barounggo," King commended.
The Masai lifted his spear in salute and grinned proudly.
"Yes, there is a certain ease, almost a symphony, in travel," said Yakoub, "when that great fellow of yours conducts the music with his spear."
King was glad to have the Jew with him. He wanted to discuss many obscure things, to throw the light of the shrewd old trader's observation upon the darkness in his own mind.
Carefully and methodically he related all the happenings of the last few days, all his vague misgivings and almost groundless suspicions, and then propounded the question that baffled him.
"But why? I ask myself. What would be the motive? I mean, if this doctor has brought him here for any purpose—to get money out of him, let us say, as the natural suspicion—why has he brought him at all? What can he do here that he couldn't do at home? The man has grown well and strong here."
The Jew screwed his face in a grimace while he reviewed out of his own experience all the amazingly involved and twisted things that men would do for money. From time to time he nodded slowly as possibilities opened themselves up, and then clawed sensitive fingers through his beard as difficulties obstructed his theories. At last he chuckled over a quick pointed finger at King as his reasoning ran in an unbroken chain.
"My friend, you are very clever; you do many things that few men can do; but in matters of money you are a small child. Listen to me, Yakoub ben Abrahm, and I will teach you some of the possibilities about money.
"Let us consider a great deal of money, such as would make a long journey worthwhile. Consider a rich man, sick of a nervous breakdown, a little bit off from his mental control. What might such a man do?"
"I've considered all that," said King. "Such a man, grateful, as this man is grateful; a little off balance, as this man was off balance, might be persuaded to pay his doctor a quite unreasonable fee—or to marry his nurse; or to donate a fortune to the church. He might do anything. But why would he have to come here to do it?"
YAKOUB smiled like a benevolent devil who knew the very depths of human avarice.
"I have said much money. Let us consider a million dollars. Do you think a man sick and off balance might be persuaded to write a check for a million dollars?"
"He might if he were crazy. But even so, he would have signed it. It would be cashed. There is still no need for bringing him here."
"Ah." The Jew leered a worldly cynicism. "But, my very simple friend, there are always many difficulties in the way of collecting a million dollars—or half a million, or a quarter million. Consider. Our rich man recovers his senses. He feels that the fee that he has signed away has been exorbitant. If he does not feel so of his own accord, there are always many people to persuade him so. Lawyers. All rich men have lawyers, cold blooded and perfectly balanced, who look after their financial affairs—who would quickly tell him that he has been fooled; who would arouse his anger by showing him that his ill balanced condition has been taken advantage of; who would persuade him to let them take steps—injunctions upon banks and all the legal tricks that earn fees for lawyers—to recover the greater part of that exorbitant fee. You think that is possible, no?"
"The man is of nervous temperament, a strong man, proud. True, he might be so persuaded."
"Good. Our doctor, too, fears this possibility. He persuades his mind sick patient to come away for his health. Perhaps on the voyage, working upon him alone, he persuades him to write a check for much money. Perhaps the rich man then—dies in Africa—"
Quickly outflung hands stopped King's response to the thought. With saturnine logic the Jew continued his deadly argument.
"The man dies, not under any suspicious circumstances, lost in the wilderness alone with his physician. But before witnesses who have seen him regain his health, under the eyes of British native police, as a result of his own very foolish method of going hunting."
He ceased and peered at King with questioning eyes through his wisps of straggling hair.
"By the Lord, I believe you're right, Yakoub." King expelled a long held breath. "You're the very devil, old friend. Only a devil could think of such things."
Yakoub cackled a dry laugh and laid down an axiom.
"For much money, my friend, many men have become devils. And it is for you—" the swift finger pointed compellingly at King. "You have dealings with the dark devils of Africa. It is for you to find out by what witchery a man may be persuaded to go looking for danger in his hunting."
King remained in frowning silence. Carefully he reviewed the facts as he knew them and the shrewd interpretation that the trader put upon them. Then very softly he said:
"It fits. It all fits. I don't see a hole in it anywhere. And as for the man's crazy hunting, being the man he is, I don't think it would need any very great witchery to swing his sporting instincts that way—and our clever doctor man would know that too. But we must have proof. I must go and see this witch doctor."
"Tell me something of this witchcraft," said Yakoub. "What sort of wizard is this lion man?"
King shrugged his shoulders doubtfully.
"I don't know whether that counts so much; but they are like the leopard cult of the West Coast. A lion man establishes the idea that he can at will turn himself into a lion. Same as the old werewolf belief. Lycanthropy, the scientific gents call it. Mixed in with the surrounding mess of hokum is the strong fact that these wizards can persuade their followers that they can actually turn them temporarily into lions or leopards or wolves or whatever it is. The method is probably hypnotism, suggestion, hystero-epilepsy—call it what you will. But it is proven fact that people of a certain nervous temperament can be made to believe that under certain conditions they become the animals of their cult; and they go out and behave like those animals. You've probably seen hyena men in Abyssinia slinking around after dark, fighting with the dogs for dead things."
The Jew shuddered uncomfortably.
"Yes, I have seen. But those men are crazy, afflicted with some horrible madness of this dark land."
"Not a bit of it. They're not crazy. Their original hereditary conviction of its possibility and the enormously suggestive ritual that they go through beforehand makes them believe that for the time being they actually are animals."
The Jew remained dubious.
"You think such unholy things are possible?"
King was positive.
"I know it's possible. Science knows it's possible. It's just a little extension of the principle that if you get a man in a certain mental condition and tell him a thing often enough he will begin to believe it. There's no more magic in it than in advertising."
The Jew was unconvinced. Coldly practical, a man of material business, of purchases and sales and profits and losses, so new an idea of the vagaries of the human mind required time to assimilate.
"So I suppose, my obstinate Kingi, you are going to thrust your head into this lion man's jaws in order to do what you may for your countryman who does not want your help?"
"I'm beginning to wonder whether the lion man is much more than a hired hand in this thing," said King. "But I'm going to see him. Evidence is what we need. Something more than guesswork. I'll start right away. His place is a day's march away. I'll take Kaffa and Barounggo. We'll boma some place overnight and I'll surprise him with an early call."
The Jew shook his head.
"You do not surprise those devil dealers. They know."
Long after King left, he remained standing, a lugubrious figure framed in the tent flap, shaking his head over the profitless effort of such folly.
THE juju grove of the witch doctor stood deserted and silent. The usual litter and claptrap of African sorcery lined the approach. Bones of various sorts—the leavings of lions' kills—impaled upon stakes. Wisps of colored cloths wound, Maypole fashion, round denuded tree boles. Woven grass curtains festooned across paths to obstruct evil spirits. The witch doctor's rather pretentious hut stood in the center, surrounded by a stockade of poles capped with lions' skulls.
King carefully refrained from the customary white man's brazen trampling over all tabus, arousing thereby antagonism. He knew that a witch doctor, whether rightly or wrongly, had established around himself a certain cloak of mystery and that human vanity was a force with which to reckon.
So he sat down and lighted a pipe while he sent Kaffa to follow a maze of carefully marked paths and to call from without the stockade what he knew the wizard knew very well—that a stranger sought interview.
His reward was, if nothing else, a saving of much time. A young tagati neophyte quickly came down the wooded knoll and led King along other paths, carefully holding aside grass curtains so that they might not be touched by the uninitiate. King was ushered within the skull crowned stockade into a roomy circular hut and found himself alone in a dim, smoke filled room with a figure entirely shrouded in a tanned lion skin.
"I can tell you nothing about that white man who is bewitched," came an ungracious voice from beneath the skin.
King was not surprised that the man was already familiar with his object; the thing was pretty obvious. But it was of interest that the man admitted the other to be under a spell. King was wise in the ways of witch doctors; he knew their dignities and their conventions.
"I bring a gift," he said. "A tribute to knowledge that I desire to consult and perhaps to buy a release from a spell."
"I can give you no release," said the voice. But a dark hand emerged from under the skin to receive whatever it might be.
King placed into the open palm a small jar of luminous paint such as is sold to sportsmen for spotting their rifle sights for night shooting. Beneath the shuffling of the lion skin he could hear the soft unscrewing of the cap; some more shuffling and a succession of grunts. This thing was a great and most useful magic to any wizard; and it betokened, moreover, that the giver knew that a certain amount of hokum was legitimate to all magic.
The lion skin was thrown aside and the man showed himself; a native in sturdy middle age with a strong face and fierce eyes, which were, however, just now friendly. King was glad to think that diplomacy had perhaps removed the need of hostile methods against that determined looking face.
"Jambo sana," said the wizard. "This is indeed a gift of one who has understanding. I have heard that there is such a white man. If you are that man, show me the thing that speaks for you."
King handed the man his pipe with its intricately carved bowl that had been done under the direction of the old wizard of Elgon. The man bent with it over the tiny fire that was cooking whatever it was that stank. He peered at the pattern, felt the convolutions of the carving. He looked up over it and asked an unexpected question.
"Do you know what things this says, white man?"
It was noticeable that he did not address King as bwana—master. Had King exacted that established tribute of respect, that would have meant the end of all negotiations.
"I know some of the things," said King. "Some, no white man may know."
"Some, I do not know," said the wizard. "For he is of another brotherhood. But the things are good. I will therefore speak truth, as to one who understands.
"I tell you, therefore, in truth, white man, that I have sent no witch sending upon that other white man. It is ill to deal with the affairs of white men."
"Yes, it is ill," said King. "For the commissioner bwana of all this district is a man who begins to have understanding too. Yet the word came that there was a witch casting."
The wizard grunted angrily.
"Those two black men who take the white serkale's money to interfere with other black men are fools. By their foolishness and because I will not pay tribute to them, they would bring the serkale's trouble upon all my people. I have already seen to it that they shall lose, each man, a cow, taken by lions. It is just; for I do not deal with the affairs of white men."
"Yet that white man does things as the black men do them," said King.
The wizard came closer, confidentially.
"Am I the only one," he asked in a tone full of meaning, "who can do a magic? Are there no small magics among the white men? Look, you who have understanding, I can look into a man's eyes and tell him, 'Lo, upon the rising of the next moon over the tree tops you will be a lion', and forthwith he will go forth and slay like a lion. That is no very hard magic. It is but making a pattern in the soft thing that is a man's mind. Among my young men are already three who can do it. Is there no white man who knows how to plant the seed of a thought in a man's mind and then, by a careful watering with words, make that seed grow? That is a little thing that is not even magic."
King nodded. He felt that this wizard was being candid with him.
"Yes, I was beginning to think so. I wanted to be sure that he had not bought a witch casting from you."
"I deal with no white man," complained the wizard. "There is only trouble in it. How should I know why that other white man has told the foolish one that he is a great hunter and that he can do all things as the black men do them? What affair is it of mine that he has spoken that seed into his mind and has made it grow? What should I care why that other white man is the foolish one's enemy and wishes to destroy him? What business is it of mine that the foolish one is even now in the plain behind this hill looking to do a lion killing with shield and spear? I have no dealings with the affairs of white men."
"Hunh?" King jumped up and caught the other's arm in a sudden grip. "What talk is this?"
"It is a true talk," said the wizard doggedly. "What has it to do with me? This place is the home of many lions."
"What wizardry do you talk here?" snapped King. "Out with the truth."
"There is no wizardry, white man. Yesterday one of my young men who would be a tagati made his manhood test with shield and spear; and the foolish white man came all the day's journey to see that thing done. Today that foolish white man goes forth with shield and spear to show that he can kill as a black man kills, and my young men go to watch that sport. What has it to do with me who kills or who is killed? I have no dealings with the affairs of white men."
"Good Lord! Now, you say? Where? Exactly where?"
"How do I know exactly where he may find his lion? There are many lions in the plain. But wait and I will cast the stones for you; and if the conditions are favorable for a seeing I may see what will be. Though for white men—"
But King was already gone. Shouting to Barounggo and Kaffa, he raced over the brow of the juju hill and anxiously swept his field glasses over the plain beyond.
IT was a typical African plain, rolling ground with low hills covered with long grass and patches of bush and interspersed with clumps of tall umbrella spreading acacias. The hunt—or the tragedy—might be going on anywhere, under one's nose almost, screened by the first low hump of ground. The only hope was to go, to climb each hill, to survey as much as might be and then to race to the next hill. And above all to pray for time. And time, if lions were as plentiful as the wizard implied, was the least likely kind of luck to expect.
King cursed himself for an easily hoodwinked fool that he had no suspicion of the suave doctor's careless remark about a new excitement that Howard had gone a long way off to witness. What a crafty planting of an alibi that had been. In his heat he promised himself some heavy conversation with that doctor man whose eyes were like a black mamba's.
Together the three men trotted. King's impulse was to race; but hard common sense told him that grass covered plain and hills to be climbed called, not for any excited sprinting, but for dogged plodding. The first low hill was a blank. Only peacefully waving grass and brush patches met the eye. A small herd of Grant's gazelles and another of hartebeeste grazed quietly. Their manner was unhurried, confident. No lion scent there.
The three toiled on. More than a mile to cover to the next hill. Slow going. That hill too disclosed no man figures within its horizon. Barounggo pointed silently with his spear at a farther knoll. There, blending marvelously into the sun flecked background, beautifully posed in lazy grace, a magnificent male lion lolled, licking a paw like a great cat. That too was quiet and at ease. No hunting here, nor any man smell downwind.
So downwind King struck. The next knoll, too, was a blank. Only peaceful beasts at their ease. But Kaffa pointed above the flat horizon of acacia tops. King nodded critically.
"They're watching something. But what? Those birds are circling easily and without excitement. Whatever is going on isn't violent—as yet."
A good mile again to that hilltop. Nobody who has not tried to run, urged by anxiety and the need for haste, across bunch grass the roots of which stand up in stiff hillocks with rain scoured trenches between, can understand what a breath taking grind that is. But the little hill was reached, and beyond it the panorama of yellow grass and brown thorn patch and green mimosa scrub stretched pleasingly.
King yelled. Barounggo roared. Kaffa whistled through his teeth. Together the three raised all the uproar that their lungs permitted to attract attention. But only the circling birds took any notice. They shrieked in answer and flapped higher. The far silhouettes of men, black against the sunlit grass, paid no attention. Their full senses were taken up with serious business.
It was a spread out line of men, some twenty of them, like skirmishers, all armed with spears and big oval shields of ox hide. They faced the hillock. The eye caught their contrasting black against the grass at once. Next it flashed to another figure, not so differentiated, facing the black line, some seventy yards away. This figure's brown shirt and khaki helmet cover merged better with the grass; but it was easy to see that that one, too, carried spear and shield and that he was advancing slowly, tense, with weapons poised.
Between the solitary figure and the farther line was something upon which the attention of both was concentrated. The three men on the hill knew instantly, from the strained position of the men, what the something was. But it was only when it moved that their eyes could pick it out from the perfect blend of its surroundings.
It was the black tuft of tail that first attracted attention. In quick sweeping strokes, with short intervals between, it lashed over the grass tops. Then the rest of it could be seen. Its mane was flared out and its head held low as it crouched with wide spread front paws.
It was easy to see that the beast was angry, vicious from having been hunted by men, harried into its present position. It gave out two coughing grunts and plunged forward in a short rush and then crouched again and lashed the grass.
The white man, with superb madness, poised with long spear lifted as the beast charged; and then, as it crouched, he advanced slowly again.
King yelled and raced down the slope as fast as his winded condition would let him, bitterly cursing the fact that his rifle had been left in camp because there were no cartridges for it. At that elevation and distance, he might have overshot the man and possibly have hit the lion.
His pistol, as yet, was useless.
The lion made another short rush and crouched as before. King's heart came up into his mouth and he yelled again and raced on.
Howard, if he heard him at all, paid no attention. He dared not permit himself to divert the littlest fraction of his concentration from the angry beast in front of him. Inch by inch, on soft shuffling toes that felt for the ground, he advanced, his great shield held with its rim just below eye level and his right hand grasping his long spear with point low.
The technique of this thing was to judge time and distance to a hair and, as the lion rushed in on its final charge, to lunge, full armed, knuckles up, and to take the beast in the chest, meeting weight with weight so as to plunge the blade deep into the vitals. The proper stroke at chest center would reach the heart.
Howard plainly knew how the thing ought to be done. He had seen a young tagati perform the supremely dangerous stunt, and without doubt he had asked questions and taken instruction. His pose, as he faced the most perfectly equipped killer of all the great carnivora, was excellent.
Unhappily for himself, in this hunting mania that obsessed him, he was overlooking—or perhaps his attention had been carefully diverted from—a small but very vital factor. However true might be the doctor's thesis—however well bolstered by scientific tests in American universities—that a white man's muscle quality was better than a black man's, that his reflex responses were faster, the inconspicuous but enormous fact that Howard was overlooking was that the plain matter of skill in spear handling comes with the years of constant practise that a black man gives it.
LONG before King could arrive on the scene, the distance between lion and man reached its minimum limit. The lion coughed, a furious hough-hough, and charged in. Howard lunged, gashed only its shoulder and the next instant disappeared under swift batting paws and a roaring, tearing five hundred pounds of beast.
The skilled native technique in this position—provided that the hunter still survived—was not so desperate as it might seem. A man who retained his senses could cover with the big shield, head under and legs drawn up, like a tortoise, clinging desperately to the hand grip to avoid being turned over; in the meanwhile looking for an opportunity to use a short heavy stabbing spear that had been held within the shield in the left hand.
Howard was down and lay inert, whether by luck or by design, covered for the most part by his shield. The lion stood over him and tore indiscriminately at whatever it reached.
King wrenched his pistol from its holster and raced forward. Barounggo's voice growled at his side:
"Let be, bwana, let be. This is my work that is known to me."
His great form outstripped King's. The lion, as the huge black man bounded toward it, held down the shield with one wide spread paw and lifted its head to roar defiance and warning. The big Masai, charging in with great spear balanced for stabbing as though to hurl himself bodily upon the beast, swerved suddenly so as to get behind its tail. The lion scuffled round in two short plunges and reared up on its hind legs, front paws wide apart, to meet this new menace.
Then the Masai struck. Not a lunge in this position, but a full arm downward stab—in the center of the chest, just where the mane began to give way to the lighter colored, short, abdominal hair. The long three-foot blade slid in as though through soft butter. Right up to the close binding of brass wire that held it to its shaft.
The lion gave an immense twisting bound high in the air, away from the thing that stung it so excruciatingly. Landing erect on all four feet, it still tried with splendid courage to charge at the man. But its front paws turned under it. It slid over them. Its white tuft of chin plowed a furrow in the dust while the yellow eyes still glared defiance. Then it rolled on its side and stretched in a series of quivering jerks.
Other men came running. There was shouting and confusion and crowding. The Dodinga men looked at the great Masai spear, tugged tentatively at it, clicked guttural approbation at the power of the stroke. Barounggo, helping King to pick Howard up, affected a vast unconcern. Over his shoulder he admitted carelessly:
"A fair stroke. A not bad stroke. Hey, fellow, be careful there how you draw that blade. Twist it not, or I twist your neck."
"It was a man's deed, cleanly done," said King shortly. "There will be suitable recognition to your father. We must get this man swiftly to the witch doctor's house. There will be water."
Howard lay quite unconscious. Claw tip punctures in a row behind the ear showed where the lion had slapped him with a force almost sufficient to break his neck. The shield rim had probably broken the force of that blow. His left shoulder and upper arm were slashed to the bone in three separate wide gashes. His right leg below the knee, where it had protruded from beneath the shield, was scored in ribbons by the rasping hind claws of the beast. Nothing seemed to be broken.
The wizard came out of his hut as the mob of jabbering men approached.
"So the foolish one has not been destroyed this time," was his only comment. "Why do you bring him here, white man? I have no dealings with the affairs of white men. Yet it was made known to me that you would come; so I have made preparation."
He gave low, quick orders to some of the young men and sent them scurrying for water and various leaves and a frightfully unsanitary gourd containing some sort of pungent ointment.
"For the sake of the gift, white man, I will make a spell that he may live. Ha, that lion was a young one; or he would have known to slay with the first blow."
King found the wizard to be quite expert in helping him to wash and put a temporary dressing on the wounds.
"He will have fever," said the wizard. "He must be made to drink the thing that I was already preparing for him over my fire when you first came."
King knew that the wizard was talking for the gaping natives to hear; and he knew enough not to show anything but belief. He came to a swift decision. He was going to take a heavy responsibility upon himself. To gamble a man's life against—against he did not know just what. For a wounded man a physician was the first and obvious necessity. Yet that physician had had this same man under his care before when he was sick and weak. The man had certainly recovered his health. But King could not be sure— But what?
If those things, the motives that the Jew suggested, were true; and if the mental suggestion that the witch doctor said was no magic at all was so; if the same physician should nurse the man again, would he recover this time? It was a wonderful chance for a man to die surrounded by white men witnesses of his own foolhardiness. Or, if the man recovered again, would he not perhaps go out and next time do some completely fatal thing?
All these considerations raced through King's mind. On the other hand, his own experience of many years in the bush had perforce taught him quite a deal about field doctoring; his own medical kit was quite complete. The man was strong and in good health. It was even possible that King had more actual experience with lion wounds than the physician. And some of those witch doctors had a very keen knowledge of herbs.
Boldly therefore King decided. He drew the witch doctor aside.
"Do this thing for me, Wise One. Give me a place under a tree where I may make a camp. I will send for my things. Do you let the word go out that this is a tabu; that this happening is among the things unspoken. So that that other white man shall know nothing of what has happened, nor shall he know where my men have gone. Let his servants say that they know nothing; and when he asks among the villages let men say, 'They have gone to such and such another place.'"
The witch doctor looked long at King and then looked away while he cogitated; and finally he said:
"For the sake of the good things that the carved pipe says, and because you come to me as one having the understanding, and because the doings of that other man brought blame upon me, I will do this thing. The word shall go out and there will be a wall of ignorance about that man."
And the thing was perfectly possible. It had happened time and again and would happen often again. For their own mysterious reasons, African communities have decided that some happening or other, or all happenings connected with some custom or other, should be kept secret from white men; and forthwith the thing has been a blank wall of mystery which the white man might know to exist but which he would be utterly unable to penetrate.
Once again the dark and devious things of Africa were pulling for King instead of directly against him.
HE GAVE instructions to his two henchmen to go with all speed and to break camp as quietly as possible; to get away, if they could, without the doctor's knowledge. Or if they could not, to tell him that their master was moving along on his own business. They would, of course, not be expected to know anything about Howard or his doings.
The wizard sent one of his young tagati with them.
"To make the servants of that man eat ignorance," he said.
And King told him—
"For these doings I shall make a writing to the commissioner bwana of the Serkale that will speak things of you as good as the carving of my pipe."
There was nothing to do for Howard but to fight the fever, which both men knew would come, by keeping compresses on his wounds and his head. King set a man to swinging a pot of water wrapped in a wet cloth hung from the limb of a tree. Howard moaned presently and feebly opened his eyes. Mumbled questions came from his lips. But the witch doctor said:
"See, my spell has snatched him back from out of the very belly of death. Sleep is now good for him. Much sleep. I do now a magic that will make him sleep for the passing of a whole sun."
He laid an inexpressibly grimy hand over the sick man's eyes and went through a performance of mutterings and rolling of his eyes; but all the while he was gently, very smoothly, stroking Howard's face and cheeks and pressing lightly upon his eyeballs with his finger tips. And presently the sick man's mumblings became very tired and then passed away and he slept.
During the course of the following day the safari arrived. Everything had gone splendidly. The doctor had been away—out hunting. The tagati man had very properly frightened his safari men. Villages along the way had been warned of the silence. The word would go out to all surrounding villages.
Only the sheer accident of the doctor's wandering a day's journey over the empty plain and happening upon that precise spot would discover the new camp.
Yakoub, in something of consternation, propounded the very question that King had weighed with himself and quickly decided—
"What if the man grows worse, beyond the skill of amateur doctoring?"
"Time enough to send for the professional then," said King sturdily. "He won't go away in any hurry because he must, for the sake of keeping face, make a show of looking for his companion."
And he explained all his reasons for taking the grave responsibility. Better that the sick man recover under other hands.
"And maybe we can argue with him quietly about his crazy hunting while he is weak and receptive and work a little magic ourselves."
The Jew nodded agreement.
"Yes, yes, you understand these things, you who have made a study of deviltries. But that doctor, he should be apprehended and held. He is a master devil."
But King, strangely enough, defended the man.
"We know nothing about the doctor, friend Yakoub; we only suspect. We have built a theory to supply a motive. Till Howard regains his senses we know not a single thing."
Yakoub's eyebrows disappeared into his hair as he peered at King and combed his fingers through his beard. It was not till a long time that the slow nods of understanding came.
"Yes, yes, doubtless—it is true, in a court of law he could bring suit. Yes, you have a great foresight, my friend."
Kaffa came into the tent, swollen with importance and mystery and with something under his blanket. King nodded to him to unburden himself.
The Hottentot squatted, still hiding his treasure. With the gloating of a schoolboy detective, he delivered his news.
"Bwana, that white man of whom it is ill to speak ill, but who has evil eyes, owns a box, a small box of metal, very strong and with a lock that is fitted by no key but opens with a magic spell of numbers. The boy Umbobo did not know that spell. But, having spoken of the matter of cartridges, he came to me with much excitement as we were breaking camp there and said, 'Lo, that box has grown heavier, and there are things in it that rattle not like paper.'"
"Ah-h-h," breathed Yakoub. "We are arriving at something more than only suspicion, it seems."
"Therefore, bwana," continued the Hottentot with unholy triumph. "That boy Umbobo stole that box and—behold, it is here."
He swung aside the blanket, with a movement as dramatic as that of a monkey who might have performed the miracle of laying an egg, and disclosed a small steel dispatch box.
"Ah-h-h," breathed Yakoub again.
KING sat on his cot edge, silent, frowning down at the thing that contained who could tell what infamy—or perhaps innocence. Slowly he bent down and lifted it by one brass handle; shook it. Dull, solid thumps came from within.
"Cartridges?" asked Yakoub excitedly. "In packets?"
"Don't know," said King shortly. "Might be. Might be anything else. Papers mostly."
"Ah-h-h," Yakoub's eyes glowed like coals under the dark recesses of his brows. "Papers! Letters perhaps, that throw some light. Evidence. Perhaps—" his voice sank to a dry whisper and he clutched King's sleeve—"perhaps checks—for much money?"
King remained darkly silent.
"You can open it, perhaps, without damaging the lock? Or must you break it?"
For a long time King made no answer. At last, he growled sourly:
"We have no right. We know nothing. We are not policemen."
The Jew gaped at him for a full searching minute this time before he nodded; and then he said:
"Ah, yes, yes. Not till Howard is recovered. He is his employer. He can take the responsibility."
King remained in dark rumination. Then in a voice hard with obstinacy he said:
"It is possible that neither does Howard want to know. He is—was, his friend."
Yakoub peered quickly at King with the wary suspicion of a hawk. To every impulsive suggestion of his the other had raised coldly logical objections; and now he was branching into a guesswork of another's emotions.
King, with very hard set lips and working jaw muscles, went on to dogged decision.
"I think it would be better for everybody if that box were to be utterly lost."
The Jew gasped a grating noise that was no speech and sat back and stared at King in amaze.
"But, my friend, you are insane. That box contains perhaps, evidence of—"
Suddenly he cackled shrill laughter and flung an accusing finger at King's face. Wagging it in high triumph under his nose, he screamed:
"Aie, I see it. You can not befool me, my friend Kingi. I know—yes, yes. We would do the same. So exactly would I do for one of my people. You would save the face of your compatriot. His employer knows what he knows. It is his business; and a lost paper more or less will make no difference. And you do not—what is it?—you do not wash your dirt before the strangers in the land. Aie, my friend, my very good friend, you do not put your American bluff over me."
King got up in confusion. But his determination was hard set.
"I'm taking responsibility enough," he muttered. "I may as well take another."
"Take that box. I do not want to touch it. Take it and let it be completely lost so that no man may find it. It is an order."
"Yes, bwana," said the Hottentot mournfully. "It is an order."
HOWARD'S recovery was as fast as might be expected. His naturally robust constitution and his great reserve force all tended to a quick recuperation. King sat with him for long hours at a time, "working magic," talking quietly, rationally, about men and things; about hunting, of course; anecdotes, methods, customs, general practises, habits of animals, and so on.
Till Howard smiled wearily one day and said:
"Why not save up some of your stock of stories for a camp-fire some time? I know I've been a goat all right."
And on a day not much later, after a long silence—
"Just how much do you know, Kingi bwana, man of circumspection and mystery?"
King looked straight before him.
"I know nothing. Only that you were carried off your feet by a swelled head about your hunting prowess."
"Hmh. And how much do you know about my fr—my physician, Dr. Gerardi?"
King still looked doggedly at the horizon.
"I know only one thing—that the Dr. Franz Holzmann under whom he studied was a leading European expert on mental phenomena and that he came to Africa and gave some exhibitions of hypnotism in Dar-es-Salaam, and that he wrote, among others, a book called, 'Hallucination: Its Analysis and Induction'."
"Hmh." After another long silence. "Well, I guess I'm well enough. Let's send for Dr. Gerardi and let him know where we are."
So the silence was lifted and a messenger went to lead the doctor to where his patient was convalescing. But the news that came back was that the doctor, instead of packing up safari and coming with speed, packed up with speed and went in the opposite direction—the fastest way out of that country.
"Hmh," was all that Howard said, and flushed under his pale skin.
"We can overtake him," said King pointedly. "If you want to overtake him."
"In how long?"
"Plenty of time. He's got six weeks of going round west of the swamp to Nairobi. I've just got to go east to introduce Yakoub among some of the Atbara tributary chiefs. But we can still short cut him and catch up before Nairobi."
Howard smiled slowly, a hard little smile while his big fingers tensed in his lap.
"Yes," he said. "I'd like to catch up. In six weeks I shall be strong enough. Is it possible for us to start tomorrow?"
"Sure, why not? We'll rig you a hammock until you can walk."
"Splendid. Now tell me, what can I give this good witch doctor—and your Masai fellow too? They've both saved my life."
"Oh, some gimcrackery or other." King laughed. "And you can give Barounggo a cow for his father; he can't own anything under their patriarchal system."
Suddenly Howard laughed too.
"But I'm a pauper. I've got nothing in all Africa but a torn shirt and a pair of shorts—and the friendship of Kingi bwana. But I tell you what I'll do; and don't you argue me about it, because I'm a weak man and sick. I'll send out for this sorcerer the biggest assortment of magic gadgets, illusions, er—hallucinations—that Chicago can produce; and for your Masai fifty head of good stock. And I'll hire you, you damned proud Westerner, to bring the things out and deliver them."
A slow grin began to break over King's face. It spread till his eyes disappeared in their slits and his mouth cut a gash parallel with them.
"Well," he agreed. "It'll be a holiday for once with no helpless tenderfoot to lead by the hand. And I guess I'll have earned it; because, take it on my sacredest oath, it's going to be one big safari man's chore to get this outfit out of here and feed us and all those shenzies on no more ammunition than Yakoub's piece of galvanized pipe." He twisted a rueful face. "I was a fathead over that box; but I thought I'd be able to draw on your battery."
Kaffa, squatting in the sun in ready attendance upon his master, expending an immense energy over the useless polishing of his cook pots, caught the word ammunition, and with it the look on King's face.
He fell to squirming and hiding behind his own shoulders while he looked all over the landscape with an expression of agonized virtue; till King demanded—
"What ill thought eats you up, apeling?"
The little man writhed.
"Bwana, in the matter of ammunition, a few cartridges we still have."
King was skeptical.
"Hunh? Where have we a few cartridges?"
"Bwana, that box that was heavier than it used to be."
King was quickly stern.
"Kaffa. It was an order."
The Hottentot twisted in an extremity of confession.
"Yes, bwana, it was an order. It was obeyed. I took it to a steep place in a far donga and threw it down, though my heart was water within me. But the spirits of that donga, who are good spirits, broke that box when it fell; and, looking down, I saw that cartridges speckled the rocks. So—since it was an omen—I went down with a great difficulty, though I was afraid of the spirits; and in three hours of searching I collected one hundred and thirty and seven cartridges. But four of them are bent and will not fit in the gun, and I have been afraid to mend them with the hammer."
King's frown was still on his face. Howard, wincing under his own contorted efforts to keep a straight face, said—
"And for that supreme imp I shall send out a specially tailored full bandmaster's uniform."
So it was that many days later King paraded through Deputy Commissioner Fawcett's headquarters with a jaunty air and with a well fed and contented safari; and Fawcett had them in to dinner and congratulated Howard on his physical condition. And Howard laughed and flexed his big arms and said that there was nothing like open air travel in that East African climate to build a man up fit to fight for his life; and it had all been a mistake anyhow about that witch casting yarn; the wizard, in fact, was a very good fellow who had no dealings with the affairs of white men.
And then they went on their way swiftly to reach Nairobi before six weeks should pass.
But when King, on his way back, met the deputy commissioner, that wise person said with a blank seriousness—
"Oh, by the way, I heard that one of your people got badly mauled by something."
And King brazenly replied:
"Why yes, I told you. A lion clawed him up quite a lot."
"I don't mean that one," said Fawcett, straight faced. "I mean the doctor man. They tell me he got into Nairobi a frightful mess, his clothes in rags, bruised and limping, and with a broken jaw or something."
King's face tried to express concern, but the light in his eyes was one of a very pleasing reminiscence.
"Sounds like something surely must have lit right into him," he said, and he rolled the words in his mouth as though they tasted good.
The deputy commissioner quite needlessly shook hands with him.
"Old humbug—" he laughed—"come on in to dinner."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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