THE IVORY TRAIL By Talbot Mundy
Author of King—of the Khyber Rifles The Winds of the World Hira Singh etc.
THE NJO HAPA* SONG
Green, ah greener than emeralds are, tree-tops beckon the dhows to land, White, oh whiter than diamonds are, blue waves burst on the amber sand, And nothing is fairer than Zanzibar from the Isles o' the West to the Marquesand.
I was old when the world was wild with youth (All love was lawless then!) Since 'Venture's birth from ends of earth I ha' called the sons of men, And their women have wept the ages out In travail sore to know What lure of opiate art can leach Along bare seas from reef to beach Until from port and river reach The fever'd captains go.
Red, oh redder than red lips are, my flowers nod in the blazing noon, Blue, oh bluer than maidens' eyes, are the breasts o' my waves in the young monsoon, And there are cloves to smell, and musk, and lemon trees, and cinnamon.
————- *The words "Njo hapa" in the Kiswahili tongue are the equivalent of "come hither!" ————-
Estimates of ease and affluence vary with the point of view. While his older brother lived, Monty had continued in his element, a cavalry officer, his combined income and pay ample for all that the Bombay side of India might require of an English gentleman. They say that a finer polo player, a steadier shot on foot at a tiger, or a bolder squadron leader never lived.
But to Monty's infinite disgust his brother died childless. It is divulging no secret that the income that passed with the title varied between five and seven thousand pounds a year, according as coal was high, and tenants prosperous or not—a mere miserable pittance, of course, for the Earl of Montdidier and Kirkudbrightshire; so that all his ventures, and therefore ours, had one avowed end—shekels enough to lift the mortgages from his estates.
Five generations of soldiers had blazed the Montdidier fame on battle-grounds, to a nation's (and why not the whole earth's) benefit, without replenishing the family funds, and Monty (himself a confirmed and convinced bachelor) was minded when his own time should come to pass the title along to the next in line together with sufficient funds to support its dignity.
To us—even to Yerkes, familiar with United States merchant kings—he seemed with his thirty thousand dollars a year already a gilded Croesus. He had ample to travel on, and finance prospecting trips. We never lacked for working capital, but the quest (and, including Yerkes, we were as keen as he) led us into strange places.
So behold him—a privy councilor of England if you please—lounging in the lazaretto of Zanzibar, clothed only in slippers, underwear and a long blue dressing-gown. We three others were dressed the same, and because it smacked of official restraint we objected noisily; but Monty did not seem to mind much. He was rather bored, but unresentful.
A French steamer had put us ashore in quarantine, with the grim word cholera against us, and although our tale of suffering and Monty's rank, insured us a friendly reception, the port health authorities elected to be strict and we were given a nice long lazy time in which to cool our heels and order new clothes. (Guns, kit, tents, and all but what we stood in had gone to the bottom with the German cholera ship from whose life-boat the French had rescued us.)
"Keeping us all this time in this place, is sheer tyranny!" grumbled Yerkes. "If any one wants my opinion, they're afraid we'd talk if they let us out—more afraid of offending Germans than they are of cholera! Besides—any fool could know by now we're not sick!"
"There might be something in that," admitted Monty.
"I'd send for the U. S. Consul and sing the song out loud, but for you!" Yerkes added.
Monty nodded sympathetically.
"Dashed good of you, Will, and all that sort of thing."
"You English are so everlastingly afraid of seeming to start trouble, you'll swallow anything rather than talk!"
"As a government, perhaps yes," admitted Monty. "As a people, I fancy not. As a people we vary."
"You vary in that respect as much as sardines in a can! I traveled once all the way from London to Glasgow alone in one compartment with an Englishman. Talk? My, we were garrulous! I offered him a newspaper, cigarettes, matches, remarks on the weather suited to his brand of intelligence—(that's your sole national topic of talk between strangers!)—and all he ever said to me was 'Haw-ah!' I'll bet he was afraid of seeming to start trouble!"
"He didn't start any, did he?" asked Monty.
"Pretty nearly he did! I all but bashed him over the bean with the newspaper the third time he said 'haw-ah!'"
Monty laughed. Fred Oakes was busy across the room with his most amazing gift of tongues, splicing together half-a-dozen of them in order to talk with the old lazaretto attendant, so he heard nothing; otherwise there would have been argument.
"Then it would have been you, not he who started trouble,"' said I, and Yerkes threw both hands up in a gesture of despair.
"Even you're afraid of starting something!" He stared at both of us with an almost startled expression, as if he could not believe his own verdict, yet could not get away from it. "Else you'd give the Bundesrath story to the papers! That German skipper's conduct ought to be bruited round the world! You said you'd do it. You promised us! You told the man to his face you would!"
"Now," said Monty, "you've touched on another national habit."
"Which one?" Yerkes demanded.
"Dislike of telling tales out of school. The man's dead. His ship's at the bottom. The tale's ended. What's the use? Besides—?"
"Ah! You've another reason! Spill it!"
"As a privy councilor, y'know, and all that sort of thing—?"
"Same story! Afraid of starting something!"
"The Germans—'specially their navy men—drink to what they call Der Tag y'know—the day when they shall dare try to tackle England. We all know that. They're planning war, twenty years from now perhaps, that shall give them all our colonies as well as India and Egypt. They're so keen on it they can't keep from bragging. Great Britain, on the other hand, hasn't the slightest intention of fighting if war can be avoided; so why do anything meanwhile to increase the tension? Why send broadcast a story that would only arouse international hatred? That's their method. Ours—I mean our government's—is to give hatred a chance to die down. If our papers got hold of the Bundesrath story they'd make a deuce of a noise, of course."
"If your government's so sure Germany is planning war," objected Yerkes, "why on earth not force war, and feed them full of it before they're ready"
"Counsel of perfection," laughed Monty. "Government's responsible to the Common—Commons to the people—people want peace and plenty. No. Your guess was good. We are in here while the government at home squares the newspaper men."
"You don't mean to tell me your British government controls the press?"
"Hardly. Seeing 'em—putting it up to 'em straight—asking 'em politely. They're public-spirited, y'know. Hitting 'em with a club would be another thing. It's an easy-going nation, but kings have been sorry they tried force. Did you never hear of a king who used force against American colonies?"
"Good God! So they keep you—an earl—a privy councilor—a retired colonel of regulars in good standing—under lock and key in this pest-house while they bribe the press not to tell the truth about some Germans and start trouble?"
"Not exactly" said Monty.
"But here you are!"
"I preferred to remain with my party."
"You moan they'd have let you out and kept us in?"
"They'd have phrased it differently, but that's about what it would have amounted to. I have privileges."
"Well, I'm jiggered!"
"I rather suspect it's not so bad as that," said Monty. "You're with friends in quarantine, Will!"
For a quarantine station in the tropics it was after all not such a bad place. We could hear the crooning of lazy rollers on the beach, and what little sea-breeze moved at all came in to us through iron-barred windows. The walls were of coral, three feet thick. So was the roof. The wet red-tiled floor made at least an impression of coolness, and the fresh green foliage of an enormous mango tree, while it obstructed most of the view, suggested anything but durance vile. From not very far away the aromatic smell of a clove warehouse located us, not disagreeably, at the farther end of one of Sindbad's journeys, and the birds in the mango branches cried and were colorful with hues and notes of merry extravagance. Zanzibar is no parson's paradise—nor the center of much high society. It reeks of unsavory history as well as of spices. But it has its charms, and the Arabs love it.
It had Fred Oakes so interested that he had forgotten his concertina—his one possession saved from shipwreck, for which he had offered to fight the whole of Zanzibar one-handed rather than have it burned.
("Damnation! it has silver reeds—it's an English top-hole one—a wonder!")
So the doctors who are kind men in the main disinfected it twice, once on the French liner that picked us out of the Bundesrath's boat, and again in Zanzibar; and with the stench of lord-knew-what zealous chemical upon it he had let it lie unused while he picked up Kiswahili and talked by the hour to a toothless, wrinkled very black man with a touch of Arab in his breeding, and a deal of it in his brimstone vocabulary.
Presently Fred came over and joined us, dancing across the wide red floor with the skirts of his gown outspread like a ballet dancer's—ridiculous and perfectly aware of it.
"Monty, you're rich! We're all made men! We're all rich! Let's spend money! Let's send for catalogues and order things!"
Monty declined to take fire. It was I, latest to join the partnership and much the least affluent, who bit.
"If you love the Lord, explain!" said I.
"This old one-eyed lazaretto attendant is an ex-slave, ex-accomplice of Tippoo Tib!"
"And Tippoo Tib?" I asked.
"Ignorant fo'castle outcast!" (All that because I had made one voyage as foremast hand, and deserted rather than submit to more of it.) "Tippoo Tib is the Arab—is, mind you, my son, not was—the Arab who was made governor of half the Congo by H. M. Stanley and the rest of 'em. Tippoo Tib is the expert who used to bring the slave caravans to Zanzibar—bring 'em, send 'em, send for 'em—he owned 'em anyway. Tippoo Tib was the biggest ivory hunter and trader lived since old King Solomon! Tippoo Tib is here—in Zanzibar—to all intents and purposes a prisoner on parole—old as the hills—getting ready to die—and proud as the very ace of hell. So says One-eye!"
"So we're all rich?" suggested Monty.
"Of course we are! Listen! The British government took Tippoo's slaves away and busted his business. Made him come and live in this place, go to church on Sundays, and be good. Then they asked him what he'd done with his ivory. Asked him politely after putting him through that mill! One-eye here says Tippoo had a million tusks—a million!—safely buried! Government offered him ten per cent. of their cash value if he'd tell 'em where, and the old sport spat in their faces! Swears he'll die with the secret! One-eye vows Tippoo is the only one who knows. There were others, but Tippoo shot or poisoned 'em."
"So we're rich," smiled Yerkes.
"Of course we are! Consider this, America, and tell me if Standard Oil can beat it! One million tusks I I'm told—"
"You'll say 'Oh!' at me to a different tune, before I've done! One-eye says it never paid to carry a tusk weighing less than sixty pounds. Some tusks weigh two hundred—some even more—took four men to carry some of 'em! Call it an average weight of one hundred pounds and be on the safe side."
"Yes, let's play safe," agreed Monty seriously.
"One hundred million pounds of ivory!" said Fred, with a smack of his lips and the air of a man who could see the whole of it. "The present market price of new ivory is over ten shillings a pound on the spot. That'll all be very old stuff, worth at least double. But let's say ten shillings a pound and be on the safe side."
"Yes, let's!" laughed Yerkes.
"One thousand million—a billion shillings!" Fred announced. "Fifty million pounds!"
"Two hundred and fifty million dollars!" Yerkes calculated, beginning to take serious notice.
"But how are we to find it?" I objected.
"That's the point. Government 'ud hog the lot, but has hunted high and low and can't find it. So the offer stands ten per cent. to any one who does—ten per cent. of fifty million—lowest reckoning, mind you!—five million pounds! Half for Monty—two and a half million. A million for Yerkes, a million for me, and a half a million for you all according to contract! How d'you like it?"
"Well enough," I answered. "If its only the hundredth part true, I'm enthusiastic!"
"So now suit yourselves!" said Fred, collapsing with a sweep of his skirts into the nearest chair. "I've told you what One-eye says. These dusky gents sometimes exaggerate of course—"
"Now and then," admitted Monty.
"But where there's smoke you mean there's prob'ly some one smoking hams?" suggested Yerkes.
"I mean, let's find that ivory!" said Fred.
"We might do worse than make an inquiry or two," Monty assented cautiously.
"Didums, you damned fool, you're growing old! You're wasting time! You're trying to damp enthusiasm! You're—you're—"
"Interested, Fred. I'm interested. Let's—"
"Let's find that ivory and to hell with caution! Why, man alive, it's the chance of a million lifetimes!"
"Well, then," said Monty, "admitting the story's true for the sake of argument, how do you propose to get on the track of the secret?"
"Get on it? I am on it! Didn't One-eye say Tippoo Tib is alive and in Zanzibar? The old rascal! Many a slave he's done to death! Many a man be's tortured! I propose we catch Tippoo Tib, hide him, and pull out his toe-nails one by one until be blows the gaff!"
(To hear Fred talk when there is nothing to do but talk a stranger might arrive at many false conclusions.)
"If there's any truth in the story at all," said Monty, "government will have done everything within the bounds of decency to coax the facts from Tippoo Tib. I suspect we'd have to take our chance and simply hunt. But let's hear Juma's story."
So the old attendant left off sprinkling water from a yellow jar, and came and stood before us. Fred's proposal of tweaking toe-nails would not have been practical in his case, for he had none left. His black legs, visible because he had tucked his one long garment up about his waist, were a mass of scars. He was lean, angular, yet peculiarly straight considering his years. As he stood before us he let his shirt-like garment drop, and the change from scarecrow to deferential servant was instantaneous. He was so wrinkled, and the wrinkles were so deep, that one scarcely noticed his sightless eye, almost hidden among a nest of creases; and in spite of the wrinkles, his polished, shaven head made him look ridiculously youthful because one expected gray hair and there was none.
"Ask him how he lost his toe-nails, Fred," said I.
But the old man knew enough English to answer for himself. He made a wry grimace and showed his hands. The finger-nails were gone too.
"Tell us your story, Juma," said Monty.
"Tell 'em about the pembe—the ivory—the much ivory—the meengi pembe," echoed Fred.
"Let's hear about those nails of his first," said I.
"One thing'll prob'ly lead to another," Yerkes agreed. "Start him on the toe-nail story."
But it did not lead very far. Fred, who had picked up Kiswahili enough to piece out the old man's broken English, drew him out and clarified the tale. But it only went to prove that others besides ourselves had beard of Tippoo Tib's hoard. Some white man—we could not make bead or tail of the name, but it sounded rather like Somebody belonging to a man named Carpets—had trapped him a few years before and put him to torture in the belief that be knew the secret.
"But me not knowing nothing!" he assured us solemnly, shaking his head again and again.
But he was not in the least squeamish about telling us that Tippoo Tib had surely buried huge quantities of ivory, and had caused to be slain afterward every one who shared the secret.
"How long ago?" asked Monty. But natives of that part of the earth are poor hands at reckoning time.
"Long time," he assured us. He might have meant six years, or sixty. It would have been all the same to him.
"No. Me not liking Tippoo Tib. One time his slave. That bad. Byumby set free. That good. Now working here. This very good."
"Where do you think the ivory is?" (This from Yerkes.)
But the old man shook his head.
"As I understand it," said Monty, "slaves came mostly from the Congo side of Lake Victoria Nyanza. Slave and elephant country were approximately the same as regards general direction, and there were two routes from the Congo—the southern by way of Ujiji on Tanganyika to Bagamoyo on what is now the German coast, and the other to the north of Victoria Nyanza ending at Mombasa. Ask him, Fred, which way the ivory used to come."
"Both ways," announced Juma without waiting for Fred to interpret. He had an uncanny trick of following conversation, his intelligence seeming to work by fits and starts.
"That gives us about half Africa for hunting-ground, and a job for life!" laughed Yerkes.
"Might have a worse!" Fred answered, resentful of cold water thrown on his discovery.
"Were you Tippoo Tib's slave when he buried the ivory?" demanded Monty, and the old man nodded.
"Where were you at the time?"
Juma made a gesture intended to suggest immeasurable distances toward the West, and the name of the place he mentioned was one we had never heard of.
"Can you take us to Tippoo Tib when we leave this place?" I asked, and be nodded again.
"How much ivory do you suppose there was?" asked Yerkes.
"Teli, teli!" he answered, shaking his head.
"Too much!" Fred translated.
"Pretty fair to middling vague," said Yerkes, "but"—judicially—"almost worth investigating!"
"Investigating?" Fred sprang from his chair. "It's better than all King Solomon's mines, El Dorado, Golconda, and Sindbad the Sailor's treasure lands—rolled in one! It's an obviously good thing! All we need is a bit of luck and the ivory's ours!"
"I'll sell you my share now for a thousand dollars—come—come across!" grinned Yerkes.
There was a rough-house after that. He and Fred nearly pulled the old attendant in two, each claiming the right to torture him first and learn the secret. They ended up without a whole rag between them, and had to send Juma to head-quarters for new blue dressing-gowns. The doctor came himself—a fat good-natured party with an eye-glass and a cocktail appetite, acting locum-tenens for the real official who was home on leave. He brought the ingredients for cocktails with him.
"Yes," he said, shaking the mixer with a sort of deft solicitude. "There's more than something in the tale. I've had a try myself to get details. Tippoo Tib believes in up-to-date physic, and when the old rascal's sick he sends for me. I offered to mix him an elixir of life that would make him out-live Methuselah if he'd give me as much as a hint of the general direction of his cache."
"He ought to have fallen for that," said Yerkes, but the doctor shook his head.
"He's an Arab. They're Shiah Muhammedans. Their Paradise is a pleasant place from all accounts. He advised me to drink my own elixir, and have lots and lots of years in which to find the ivory, without being beholden to him for help. Wily old scaramouch! But I had a better card up my sleeve. He has taken to discarding ancient prejudices—doesn't drink or anything like that, but treats his harem almost humanly. Lets 'em have anything that costs him nothing. Even sends for a medico when they're sick! Getting lax in his old age! Sent for me a while ago to attend his favorite wife—sixty years old if she's a day, and as proud of him as if he were the king of Jerusalem. Well—I looked her over, judged she was likely to keep her bed, and did some thinking."
"You know their religious law? A woman can't go to Paradise without special intercession, mainly vicarious. I found a mullah—that's a Muhammedan priest—who'd do anything for half of nothing. They most of them will. I gave him fifty dibs, and promised him more if the trick worked. Then I told the old woman she was going to die, but that if she'd tell me the secret of Tippoo Tib's ivory I had a mullah handy who would pass her into Paradise ahead of her old man. What did she do? She called Tippoo Tib, and he turned me out of the house. So I'm fifty out of pocket, and what's worse, the old girl didn't die—got right up out of bed and stayed up! My rep's all smashed to pieces among the Arabs!"
"D'you suppose the old woman knew the secret?" I asked.
"Not she! If she'd known it she'd have split! The one ambition she has left is to be with Tippoo Tib in Paradise. But he can intercede for her and get her in—provided he feels that way; so she rounded on me in the hope of winning his special favor! But the old ruffian knows better! He'll no more pray for her than tell me where the ivory is! The Koran tells him there are much better houris in Paradise, so why trouble to take along a toothless favorite from this world?"
"Has the government any official information?" asked Monty.
"Quite a bit, I'm told. Official records of vain searches. Between you and me and these four walls, about the only reason why they didn't hang the old slave-driving murderer was that they've always hoped he'd divulge the secret some day. But be hates the men who broke him far too bitterly to enrich them on any terms! If any man wins the secret from him it'll be a foreigner. They tell me a German had a hard try once. One of Karl Peters' men."
"That'll be Carpets!" said Monty. "Somebody belonging to Carpets—Karl Peters."
"The man's serving a life sentence in the jail for torturing our friend Juma here."
"Then Juma knows the secret?"
"So they say. But Juma, too, hopes to go to Paradise and wait on Tippoo Tib."
"He told us just now that he dislikes Tippoo Tib," I objected.
"So he does, but that makes no difference. Tippoo Tib is a big chief—sultani kubwa—take any one he fancies to Heaven with him!"
We all looked at Juma with a new respect.
"I got Juma his job in here," said the doctor. "I've rather the notion of getting my ten per cent. on the value of that ivory some day!"
"Are there any people after it just now?" asked Monty.
"I don't know, I'm sure. There was a German named Schillingschen, who spent a month in Zanzibar and talked a lot with Tippoo Tib. The old rascal might tell his secret to any one he thought was England's really dangerous enemy. Schillingschen crossed over to British East if I remember rightly. He might be on the track of it."
"Tell us more about Schillingschen," said Monty.
"He's one of those orientalists, who profess to know more about Islam than Christianity—more about Africa and Arabia than Europe—more about the occult than what's in the open. A man with a shovel beard—stout—thick-set—talks Kiswahili and Arabic and half a dozen other languages better than the natives do themselves. Has money—outfit like a prince's—everything imaginable—Rifles—microscopes—cigars—wine. He didn't make himself agreeable here—except to the Arabs. Didn't call at the Residency. Some of us asked him to dinner one evening, but he pleaded a headache. We were glad, because afterward we saw him eat at the hotel—has ways of using his fingers at table, picked up I suppose from the people he has lived among."
"Are you nearly ready to let us out of here?" asked Monty.
"Your quarantine's up," said the doctor. "I'm only waiting for word from the office."
We drank three rounds of cocktails with him, after which he grew darkly friendly and proposed we should all set out together in search of the hoard.
"I've no money," he assured us. "Nothing but a knowledge of the natives and a priceless thirst. I'd have to throw up my practise here. Of course I'd need some sort of guarantee from you chaps."
The proposal falling flat, be gathered the nearly empty bottles into one place and shouted for his boy to come and carry them away.
"Think it over!" he urged as he got up to leave us. "You might take a bigger fool than me with you. You'd need a doctor on a trip like that. I'm an expert on some of these tropical diseases. Think it over!"
"Fred!" said Monty, as soon as the doctor had left the room, "I'm tempted by this ivory of yours."
But Fred, in the new blue dressing-gown the doctor had brought, was in another world—a land of trope and key and metaphor. For the last ten minutes he had kept a stub of pencil and a scrap of paper working, and now the strident tones of his too long neglected concertina stirred the heavy air and shocked the birds outside to silence. The instrument was wheezy, for in addition to the sacrilege the port authorities had done by way of disinfection, the bellows had been wetted when Fred plunged from the sinking Bundesrath and swam. But he is not what you could call particular, as long as a good loud noise comes forth that can be jerked and broken into anything resembling tune.
"Tempted, are you?" he laughed. He looked like a drunken troubadour en deshabille, with those up-brushed mustaches and his usually neat brown beard all spread awry. "Temptation's more fun than plunder!"
Yerkes threw an orange at him, more by way of recognition than remonstrance. We had not heard Fred sing since he tried to charm cholera victims in the Bundesrath's fo'castle, and, like the rest of us, he had his rights. He sang with legs spread wide in front of him, and head thrown back, and, each time be came to the chorus, kept on repeating it until we joined in.
There's a prize that's full familiar from Zanzibar to France; From Tokio to Boston; we are paid it in advance. It's the wages of adventure, and the wide world knows the feel Of the stuff that stirs good huntsmen all and brings the hounds to heel! It's the one reward that's gratis and precedes the toilsome task— It's the one thing always better than an optimist can ask! It's amusing, it's amazing, and it's never twice the same; It's the salt of true adventure and the glamour of the game!
CHORUS It is tem-tem-pitation! The one sublime sensation! You may doubt it, but without it There would be no derring-do! The reward the temptee cashes Is too often dust and ashes, But you'll need no spurs or lashes When temptation beckons you!
Oh, it drew the Roman legions to old Britain's distant isle, And it beckoned H. M. Stanley to the sources of the Nile; It's the one and only reason for the bristling guns at Gib, For the skeletons at Khartoum, and the crimes of Tippoo Tib. The gentlemen adventurers braved torture for its sake, It beckoned out the galleons, and filled the hulls of Drake! Oh, it sets the sails of commerce, and it whets the edge of war, It's the sole excuse for churches, and the only cause of law!
CHORUS It is tem-tem-pitation! etc., etc. No note is there of failure (that's a tune the croakers sing!) This song's of youth, and strength, and health, and time that's on the wing! Of wealth beyond the hazy blue of far horizons flung— But never of the folk returning, disillusioned, stung! It's a tale of gold and ivory, of plunder out of reach, Of luck that fell to other men, of treasure on the beach— A compound, cross-reciprocating two-way double spell, The low, sweet lure to Heaven, and the tallyho to hell!
CHORUS It is tem-tem-pitation! The one sublime sensation! You may doubt it, but without it There would be no derring-do! It's the siren of to-morrow That knows naught of lack or sorrow, So you'll sell your bonds and borrow, When temptation beckons you!
Once Fred starts there is no stopping him, short of personal violence, and he ran through his ever lengthening list of songs, not all quite printable, until the very coral walls ached with the concertina's wailing, and our throats were hoarse from ridiculous choruses. As Yerkes put it:
"When pa says sing, the rest of us sing too or go crazy!"
I went to the window and tried to get a view of shipping through the mango branches. Masts and sails—lateen spars particularly—always get me by the throat and make me happy for a while. But all I could see was a low wall beyond the little compound, and over the top of it headgear of nearly all the kinds there are. (Zanzibar is a wonderful market for second-hand clothes. There was even a tall silk hat of not very ancient pattern.)
"Come and look, Monty!" said !, and he and Yerkes came and stood beside me. Seeing his troubadour charm was broken, Fred snapped the catch on the concertina and came too.
"Arabian Nights!" he exclaimed, thumping Monty on the back.
"Didums, you drunkard, we're dead and in another world! Juma is the one-eyed Calender! Look—fishermen—houris—how many houris?—seen 'em grin!—soldiers of fortune—merchants—sailors—by gad, there's Sindbad himself!—and say! If that isn't the Sultan Haroun-al-Raschid in disguise I'm willing to eat beans and pie for breakfast to oblige Yerkes! Look—look at the fat ruffian's stomach and swagger, will you?"
Yerkes sized up the situation quickest.
"Sing him another song, Fred. If we want to strike up acquaintance with half Zanzibar, here's our chance!"
"Oh, Richard, oh, my king!" hummed Monty. "It's Coeur de Lion and Blondell over again with the harp reversed."
If Zanzibar may be said to possess main thoroughfares, that window of ours commanded as much of one as the tree and wall permitted; and music—even of a concertina—is the key to the heart of all people whose hair is crisp and kinky. Perhaps rather owing to the generosity of their slave law, and Koran teachings, more than to racial depravity, there are not very many Arabs left in that part of the world with true semitic features and straight hair, nor many woolly-headed folk who are quite all-Bantu. There is enough Arab blood in all of them to make them bold; Bantu enough for syncopated, rag-time music to take them by the toes and stir them. The crowd in the street grew, and gathered until a policeman in red fez and khaki knickerbockers came and started trouble. He had a three-cornered fight on his hands, and no sympathy from any one, within two minutes. Then the man with the stomach and swagger—he whom Fred called Haroun-al-Raschid—took a hand in masterly style. He seized the police-man from behind, flung him out of the crowd, and nobody was troubled any more by that official.
"That him Tippoo Tib's nephew!" said a voice, and we all jumped. We had not noticed Juma come and stand beside us.
"I suspect nephew is a vague relationship in these parts," said Monty. "Do you mean Tippoo's brother was that man's father, Juma?"
"No, bwana.* Tippoo Tib bringing slave long ago f'm Bagamoyo. Him she-slave having chile. She becoming concubine Tippoo Tib his wife's brother. That chile Tippoo Tib's nephew. Tea ready, bwana."
————————- * Bwana, Swahili word meaning master. ————————-
"What does that man do for a living?"
"Do for a living?" Juma was bewildered.
"What does he work at?"
"Has he private means, then?"
"I not understand. Tea ready, bwana!"
"Has he got mali*?" Fred demanded.
"Mali? No. Him poor man."
——————— *Mali, Swahili word meaning possession, property. ———————
"Then how does he exist, if he has no mali and doesn't work?"
"Oh, one wife here, one there, one other place, an' Tippoo Tib byumby him giving food."
"How many wives has he?"
"Tea ready, bwana!"
"How do they come to be spread all over the place?" (We were shooting questions at him one after the other, and Juma began to look as if be would have preferred a repetition of the toe-nail incident.)
"Oh, he travel much, an' byumby lose all money, then stay here. Tea, him growing cold."
There is no persuading the native servant who has lived under the Union Jack that an Englishman does not need hot tea at frequent intervals, even after three cocktails in an afternoon. So we trooped to the table to oblige him, and went through the form of being much refreshed.
"What is that man's name?" demanded Monty.
"Do you know him?"
"Everybody know him!"
"Can you get a message to him?"
"Tell him to come and talk with us at the hotel as soon as he hears we are out of this."
We did not know it at the time (for I don't think that Monty guessed it either) that we had taken the surest way of setting all Zanzibar by the ears. In that last lingering stronghold of legal slavery,* where the only stories judged worth listening to are the very sources of the Thousand Nights and a Night, intrigue is not perhaps the breath of life, but it is the salt and savory. There is a woolly-headed sultan who draws a guaranteed, fixed income and has nothing better to do than regale himself and a harem with western alleged amusement. There are police, and lights, and municipal regulations. In fact, Zanzibar has come on miserable times from certain points of view. But there remains the fun of listening to all the rumors borne by sea. "Play on the flute in Zanzibar and Africa as far as the lakes will dance!" the Arabs say, and the gentry who once drove slaves or traded ivory refuse to believe that the day of lawlessness is gone forever. One rumor then is worth ten facts. Four white men singing behind the bars of the lazaretto, desiring to speak with Hassan, "'nephew" of Tippoo Tib, and offering money for the introduction, were enough to send whispers sizzling up and down all the mazy streets.
———————— * Slavery was not absolutely and finally abolished in Zanzibar until 1906, during which year even the old slaves, hitherto unwilling to be set free, had to be pensioned off. ————————
Our release from quarantine took place next day, and we went to the hotel, where we were besieged at once by tradesmen, each proclaiming himself the only honest outfitter and "agent for all good export firms." Monty departed to call on British officialdom (one advantage of traveling with a nobleman being that he has to do the stilted social stuff). Yerkes went to call on the United States Consul, the same being presumably a part of his religion, for he always does it, and almost always abuses his government afterward. So Fred and I were left to repel boarders, and it came about that we two received Hassan.
He entered our room with a great shout of "Hodi!" (and Fred knew enough to say "Karibu!")—a smart red fez set at an angle on his shaven head, his henna-stained beard all newly-combed—a garment like a night-shirt reaching nearly to his heels, a sort of vest of silk embroidery restraining his stomach's tendency to wobble at will, and a fat smile decorating the least ashamed, most obviously opportunist face I ever saw, even on a black man.
"Jambo, jambo;"* he announced, striding in and observing our lack of worldly goods with one sweep of the eye. (We had not stocked up yet with new things, and probably he did not know our old ones were at the bottom of the sea.) He was a lion-hearted rascal though, at all events at the first rush, for poverty on the surface did not trouble him.
———————- * Jambo, good day. ———————-
"You send for me? You want a good guide?"
The Haroun-al-Raschid look had disappeared. Now he was the jack-of-all-trades, wondering which end of the jack to push in first.
"When I need a guide I'll get a licensed one," said Fred, sitting down and turning partly away from him. (It never pays to let those gentry think they have impressed you.) "What is your business, Johnson?"
"My name Hassan, sah. You send for me? You want a headman. I'm formerly headman for Tippoo Tib, knowing all roads, and how to manage wapagazi,* safari,** all things!"
———————- * Wapagazi, plural of pagazi, porter. ** Safari, journey, and, by inference, outfit for a journey. ———————-
"Any papers to prove it?" asked Fred.
"No, sir. Reference to Tippoo Tib himself sufficient! He my part-uncle."
"Ready to tell any kind of a lie for you, eh?"
"No, sir, always telling truth! You got a cook yet?"
"Can you cook?" Fred answered guardedly.
"Yes, sah. Was cook formerly for Master Stanley, go with him on expedition. Later his boy. Later his headman. You want to go on expedition, I getting you good cook. Where you want to go?"
"Are you looking for a job?" asked Fred.
"What you after? Ivory?"
"I know all about ivory—I shoot, trade ivory along o' Tippoo Tib an' Stanley. You engage my services, all very well."
"Go and tell Tippoo Tib we want to see him. If he confirms what you say, perhaps we'll take you on," said Fred.
"Tell Tippoo Tib? Ha-ha! You want to find his buried ivory—that it? All white men wanting that! All right, I go tell him! I come again!"
"Come back here, you fat rascal!" ordered Fred. "What do you mean about buried ivory? What buried ivory?"
Hassan's face lost some of its transcendent cheek. Even the dyed beard seemed to wilt.
"What you wanting?" he asked. "Hunt, trade, travel—what your business?"
"Fish!" Fred answered genially.
Having no experience of Arabs, and part-Arabs, I wondered what on earth Fred could be driving at. But Hassan wondered still more, and that was the whole point. He stood agape, looking from one to the other of us, his fat good-natured face an interrogation mark.
"I go an' tell bwana Tippoo Tib!" he announced, and departed swiftly.
"What's the idea of fish, Fred?" I asked.
"Oh, just curiosity. The way of getting information out of colored folk is to get them so frantically curious they've no time to think up lies. Tobacco would have done as well—anything unexpected. A bird flying, and a black man lying,—are both of 'em easy to catch or confuse unless they know which way they're heading. Let's go and look at the bazaar."
But in order to look one had to reach. We left the great heavy-beamed hotel that had once been Tippoo Tib's residence, but were stopped in the outer doorway by a crowd of native boys, each with a brass plate on his arm.
"Guide, sah!—Guide, sah!—My name 'McPhairson, sah!—My name Jones, sah!—My name Johnson, sah! Guide to all the sights, sah!"
They were as persistent and evilly intentioned as a swarm of flies, and bold enough to strike back when anybody kicked them. While we wrestled and swore, but made no headway, we were accosted by a Greek, who seemed from long experience able to pass through them without striking or being struck. We were not left in doubt another second as to whether our friend Hassan had dallied on the way, and held his tongue or not.
"Good day, gentlemen! I hear you are after fish! Hah! That is a good story to tell to Arabs! You mean fishing for information, eh? Ha-hah!"
He turned on the swarm of boys, who still yelled and struggled about our legs.
"Imshi!* Voetsak!** Enenda zako!*** Kuma nina, wewe!**** In a minute he had them all scattering, for only innocence and inexperience attract the preying youth of Zanzibar. "Now, gentlemen, my name is Coutlass—Georges Coutlass. Have a drink with me, and let me tell you something."
————————- * Imshi (Arabic), get to hell out of here! ** Voetsak (Cape Dutch), ditto. *** Enenda zako (Kiswahill), ditto. **** Kuma nina (Kiswahill). An opprobrious, and perhaps the commonest expletive In the language, amounting to a request for details of the objurgee's female ancestry. By no means for use in drawing-rooms. —————————
He was tall, dark skinned, athletic, and roguish-looking even for the brand of Greek one meets with south of the Levant—dressed in khaki, with an American cowboy hat—his fingers nearly black with cigarette juice —his hands unusually horny for that climate—and his hair clipped so short that it showed the bumps of avarice and other things, said to reside below the hat-band to the rear. Yet a plausible, companionable-seeming man. And Zanzibar confers democratic privilege, as well as fevers; impartiality hovers in the atmosphere as well as smells, and we neither of us dreamed of hesitating, but followed him back into the bar—a wide, low-ceilinged room whose beams were two feet thick of blackened, polished hard wood. There we sat one each side of him in cane armchairs. He ordered the drinks, and paid for them.
"First I will tell you who I am," he said, when be had swallowed a foot-long whisky peg and wiped his lips with his coat sleeve. "I never boast. I don't need to! I am Georges Coutlass! I learned that you have an English lord among your party, and said I to myself 'Aha! There is a man who will appreciate me, who am a citizen of three lands!' Which of you gentlemen is the lord?"
"How can you be a citizen of three countries?" Fred countered.
"Of Greece, for I was born in Greece. I have fought Turks. Ah! I have bled for Greece. I have spilt my blood in many lands, but the best was for my motherland!—Of England, for I became naturalized. By bloody-hell-and-Waterloo, but I admire the English! They have guts, those English, and I am one of them! By the great horn spoon, yes, I became an Englishman at Bow Street one Monday morning, price Five Pounds. I was lined up with the drunks and pick-pockets, and by Jumbo the magistrate mistook me for a thief! He would have given me six months without the option in another minute, but I had the good luck to remember how much money I had paid my witnesses. The thought of paying that for nothing—worse than nothing, for six months in jail!—in an English jail!—pick oakum!—eat skilly!—that thought brought me to my senses. 'By Gassharamminy,' I said, 'I may be mad, but I'm sober! If it's a crime to desire to be English, then punish me, but let me first commit the offense!' So he laughed, and didn't question my witnesses very carefully—one was a Jew, the other an ex-German, and either of them would swear to anything at half price for a quantity—and they kissed the Book and committed perjury—and lo and behold, I was English as you are—English without troubling a midwife or the parson! Five pounds for the 'beak' at Bow Street—fifty for the witnesses—fifty-five all told—and cheap at the price! I had money in those days. It was after our short war with Turkey. We Greeks got beaten, but the Turks did not get all the loot! By prison and gallows, no! When our men ran before a battle, I did not run—not I! I remained, and by Croesus I grew richer in an hour than I have ever been since!"
"That's two countries," said I. "Which is the third that has the honor to claim your allegiance?"
"Honor is right!" he answered with a proud smile. I, Georges Coutlass, have honored three flags! I am a credit to all three countries! The third is America—the U. S. A. You might say that is the corollary of being English—the natural, logical, correct sequence! The U. S. laws are strict, but their politics were devised for—what is it the preachers call it—ah, yes, for straining out gnats and swallowing camels. By George Washington they would swallow a house on fire! There was a federal election shortly due. One of the parties—Democratic—Republican—I forget which—maybe both!—needed new voters. The law says it takes five years to become a citizen. Politics said fifteen minutes! The politicians paid the fees too! I was a citizen—a voter—an elector of presidents before I had been ashore three months, and I had sold my vote three times over within a month of that! They had me registered under three names in three separate wards! I didn't need the money—I had plenty in those days—I gave the six dollars I received for my votes to the Holy Church, and voted the other way to save my conscience; but the fun of the thing appealed! By Gassharamminy! I can't take life the way the copy-books lay down! I have to break laws or else break heads! But I love America! I fought and bled for America! By Abraham Lincoln, I fought those Spaniards until I don't doubt they wished I had stayed in Greece! Yes, I left that middle finger in Cuba—shot through the left hand by a Don, think of it, a Don! When I came out of hospital—and I never saw anything worse than that hot hell!—I got myself attached to the commissariat, and the pickings were none so bad. Had to hand over too much, though. That is the worst of America, there is no genuine liberty. You have to steal for the man higher up. If you keep more than ten per cent., he squeals. He has to pass most of it on again to some one else, and so on, and they all land in jail in course of time! Give me a country where a man can keep what he finds! There was talk about congressional inquiries. Then a friend of mine—a Greek—who had been out here told me of Tippoo Tib's ivory, and it looked all right to me to change scenes for a while. I had citizenship papers—U. S., and English, and a Greek passport in case of accident. Traveling looked good to me."
"If you traveled on a Greek passport you couldn't use citizenship papers of any other country," Fred objected.
"Who said I traveled on a Greek passport? Do you take me for such a fool? Who listens to a Greek consul? He may protest, and accept fees, but Greece is a little country and no one listens to her consuls. I carry a Greek passport in case I should find somewhere someday a Greek consul with influence or a Greek whom I wish to convince. I traveled to South Africa as an American. I went to Cape Town with the idea of going to Salisbury, and working my way up from there as a trader into the Congo. I reached Johannesburg, and there I did a little I. D. B. and one thing and another until the Boer War came. Then I fought for the Boers. Yes, I have bled for the Boer cause. It was a damned bad cause! They robbed me of nearly all my money! They left me to die when I was wounded! It was only by the grace of God, and the intrigues of a woman that I made my way to Lourenco Marquez. No, the war was not over, but what did I care? I, Georges Coutlass, had had enough of it! I recompensed myself en route. I do not fight for a bunch of thieves for nothing! I sailed from Lourenco Marquez to Mombasa. I hunted elephant in British East Africa until they posted a reward for me on the telegraph poles. The law says not more than two elephants in one year. I shot two hundred! I sold the ivory to an Indian, bought cattle, and went down into German East Africa. The Masai attacked me, stole some of the cattle, and killed others. The Germans, damn and blast them, took the rest! They accused me of crimes—me, Georges Coutlass!—and imposed fines calculated carefully to skin me of all I had! Roup and rotten livers! but I will knock them head-over-halleluja one fine day! Not for nothing shall they flim-flam Georges Coutlass! Which of you gentlemen is the lord?"
We bought him another drink, and watched it disappear with one uninterrupted gurgle down its appointed course.
"What did you do next?" Fred asked him before be had recovered breath enough to question us. "I suppose the Germans had you at a loose end?"
"Do you think that? Sacred history of hell! It takes more than a lousy military German to get Georges Coutlass at a loose end! They must get me dead before that can happen! And then, by Blitzen, as those devils say, a dead Georges Coutlass will be better than a thousand dead Germans! In hell I will use them to clean my boots on! At a loose end, was I? I met this bloody rogue Hassan—the fat blackguard who told me you have come to Zanzibar for fish—and made an agreement with him to look for Tippoo Tib's buried ivory. Yes, sir! I showed him papers. He thought they were money drafts. He thought me a man of means whom he could bleed. I had guns and ammunition, he none. He pretended to know where some of Tippoo Tib's ivory is buried."
"Some of it, eh?" said Fred.
"Some of it, d'you say?" said I.
"Some of it, yes. A million tusks. Some say two million! Some say three! Thunder!—you take a hundred good tusks and bury them; you'll see the hill you've made from five miles off! A hundred thousand tusks would make a mountain! If any one buried a million tusks in one spot they'd mark the place on maps as a watershed! They must be buried here, there, everywhere along the trail of Tippoo Tib—perhaps a thousand in one place at the most. Which of you two gentlemen is the lord?"
"Did Hassan lead you to any of it?" Fred inquired.
"Not he! The jelly-belly! The Arab pig! He led me to Ujiji—that's on Lake Tanganika—the old slave market where he himself was once sold for ten cents. I don't doubt a piece of betel nut and a pair of worn-out shoes had to be thrown in with him at the price! There he tried to make me pay the expenses in advance of a trip to Usumbora at the head of the lake. God knows what it would have cost, the way he wanted me to do it! Are you the lord, sir?"
"What did you do?" asked Fred.
"Do? I parted company! I had made him drunk once. (The Arabs aren't supposed to drink, so when they do they get talkative and lively!) And I knew Arabic before ever I crossed the Atlantic—learned it in Egypt—ran away from a sponge-fishing boat when I was a boy. No, they don't fish sponges off the Nile Delta, but you can smuggle in a sponge boat better than in most ships. Anyhow, I learned Arabic. So I understood what that pig Hassan said when he talked in the dark with his brother swine. He knew no more than I where the ivory was! He suspected most of it was in a country called Ruanda that runs pretty much parallel with the Congo border to the west of Victoria Nyanza in German East Africa, and he was counting on finding natives who could tell him this and that that might put him on the trail of it! I could beat that game! I could cross-examine fool natives twice as well as any fat rascal of an ex-slave! Seeing he had paid all expenses so far, however, I was not much to the bad, so I picked a quarrel with him and we parted company. Wouldn't you have done the same, my lord?"
But Fred did not walk into the trap. "What did you do next?" he asked.
"Next? I got a job with the agent of an Italian firm to go north and buy skins. He made me a good advance of trade goods—melikani,* beads, iron and brass wire, kangas,** and all that sort of thing, and I did well. Made money on that trip. Traveled north until I reached Ruanda—went on until I could see the Fire Mountains in the distance, and the country all smothered in lava. Reached a cannibal country, where the devils had eaten all the surrounding tribes until they had to take to vegetarianism at last."
————————- * Melikani, the unbleached calico made in America that is the most useful trade goods from sea to sea of Central Africa. ** Kanga, cotton piece goods. ————————-
"But did you find the ivory?" Fred insisted.
"No, or by Jiminy, I wouldn't be here! If I'd found it I'd have settled down with a wife in Greece long ago. I'd be keeping an inn, and growing wine, and living like a gentleman! But I found out enough to know there's a system that goes with the ivory Tippoo Tib buried. If you found one lot, that would lead you to the next, and so on. I got a suspicion where one lot is, although I couldn't prove it. And I made up my mind that the German government knows darned well where a lot of it is!"
"Then why don't the Germans dig it up?" demanded Fred.
"Aha!" laughed Coutlass. "If I know, why should I tell! If they know, why should they tell? Suppose that some of it were in Congo territory, and some in British East Africa? Suppose they should want to get the lot? What then? If they uncovered their bit in German East Africa mightn't that put the Congo and the British on the trail?"
"If they know where it is," said I, "they'll certainly guard it."
"Which of you is the lord?" demanded Coutlass earnestly.
"What do you suppose Hassan is doing, then, here in Zanzibar?" asked Fred.
"Rum and eggs! I know what he is doing! When I snapped my thumb under his fat nose and told him about the habits of his female ancestors be went to the Germans and informed against me! The sneak-thief! The turn-coat! The maggot! I shall not forget! I, Georges Coutlass, forget nothing! He informed against me, and they set askaris* on my trail who prevented me from making further search. I had to sit idle in Usumbura or Ujiji, or else come away; and idleness ill suits my blood! I came here, and Hassan followed me. The Germans made a regular, salaried spy of him—the semi-Arab rat! The one-tenth Arab, nine-tenths mud-rat! Here he stays in Zanzibar and spies on Tippoo Tib, on me, on the British government, and on every stranger who comes here. His information goes to the Germans. I know, for I intercepted some of it! He writes it out in Arabic, and provided no woman goes through the folds of his clothes or feels under that silken belly-piece be wears, the Germans get it. But if a woman does, and she's a friend of mine, that's different! Are you the lord, sir?"
————————— * Askari, native soldier. —————————
"What do you propose?" asked Fred.
"Help me find that ivory!" said Coutlass. "I have very little money left, but I have guns, and courage! I know where to look, and I am not afraid! No German can scare me! I am English-American-Greek!—better than any hundred Germans! Let us find the ivory, and share it! Let us get it out through British territory, or the Congo, so that no German sausage can interfere with us or take away one tusk! Gee-rusalem, how I hate the swine. Let us put one over on them! Let us get the ivory to Europe, and then flaunt the deed under their noses! Let us send one little tip of a female tusk to the Kaiser for a souvenir—female in proof it is all illegitimate, illegal, outlawed! Let us send him a piece of ivory and a letter telling him all about it, and what we think of him and his swine-officials! His lieutenants and his captains! Let us smuggle the ivory out through the Congo—it can be done! It can be done! I, Georges Coutlass, will find the ivory, and find the way!"
"No need to smuggle it out," said Fred. "The British government will give us ten per cent., or so I understand, of the value of all of it we find in British East."
Georges Coutlass threw back his head and roared with laughter, slapped his thighs, held his sides—then coughed for two or three minutes, and spat blood.
"You are the lord, all right!" he gasped as soon as he could get breath. "No need to smuggle it! Ha-ha! May I be damned! Ten per cent. they'll give us! Ha-ha! Generous! By whip and wheel! they're lucky if we give them five per cent.! I'd like to see any government take away from Georges Coutlass ninety per cent. of anything without a fight! No, gentlemen! No, my Lord! The Belgian Congo government is corrupt. Let us spend twenty-five per cent.—even thirty-forty-fifty per cent. of the value of it to bribe the Congo officials. Hand over ninety per cent. to the Germans or the British without a fight?—Never! Never while my name is Georges Coutlass! I have fought too often! I have been robbed by governments too often! This last time I will put it over all the governments, and be rich at last, and go home to Greece to live like a gentleman! Believe me!"
He patted himself on the breast, and if flashing eye and frothing lip went for anything, then all the governments were as good as defeated already.
"You are the lord, are you not?" he demanded, looking straight at Fred.
"My name is Oakes," Fred answered.
"Oh, then you? I beg pardon!" He looked at me with surprise that he made no attempt to conceal. Fred could pass for a king with that pointed beard of his (provided he were behaving himself seemly at the time) but for all my staid demeanor I have never been mistaken for any kind of personage. I disillusioned Coutlass promptly.
"Then you are neither of you lords?"
"Pish! We're obviously ladies!" answered Fred.
"Then you have fooled me?" The Greek rose to his feet. "You have deceived me? You have accepted my hospitality and confidence under false pretense?"
I think there would have been a fight, for Fred was never the man to accept brow-beating from chance-met strangers, and the Greek's fiery eye was rolling in fine frenzy; but just at that moment Yerkes strolled in, cheerful and brisk.
"Hullo, fellers! This is some thirsty burg. Do they sell soft drinks in this joint?" he inquired.
"By Brooklyn Bridge!" exclaimed Coutlass. "An American! I, too, am an American! Fellow-citizen, these men have treated me badly! They have tricked me!"
"You must be dead easy!" said Yerkes genially. "If those two wanted to live at the con game, they'd have to practise on the junior kindergarten grades. They're the mildest men I know. I let that one with the beard hold my shirt and pants when I go swimming! Tricked you, have they? Say—have you got any money left?"
"Oh, have a drink!" laughed the Greek. "Have one on me! It's good to hear you talk!"
"What have my friends done to you?" asked Yerkes.
"I was looking for a lord. They pretended to be lords."
"What? Both of 'em?"
"No, it is one lord I am looking for."
"One lord, one faith, one baptism!" said Yerkes profanely. "And you found two? What's your worry? I'll pretend to be a third if that'll help you any!"
"Gentlemen," said the Greek, rising to his full height and letting his rage begin to gather again, "you play with me. That is not well! You waste my time. That is not wise! I come in all innocence, looking for a certain lord—a real genuine lord—the Earl of Montdidier and Kirscrubbrightshaw—my God, what a name!"
"I'm Mundidier," said a level voice, and the Greek faced about like a man attacked. Monty had entered the barroom and stood listening with calm amusement, that for some strange reason exasperated the Greek less than our attitude had done, at least for the moment. When the first flush of surprise had died he grinned and grew gallant.
"My own name is Georges Coutlass, my Lord!" He made a sweeping bow, almost touching the floor with the brim of his cowboy hat, and then crossing his breast with it.
"What can I do for you?" asked Monty.
"Listen to me!"
"Very well. I can spare fifteen minutes."
We all took seats together in a far corner of the dingy room, where the Syrian barkeeper could not overhear us.
"My Lord, I am an Englishman!" Coutlass began. "I am a God-fearing, law-abiding gentleman! I know where to look for the ivory that the Arab villain Tippoo Tib has buried! I know how to smuggle it out of Africa without paying a penny of duty—"
"Did you say law-abiding?" Monty asked.
"Surely! Always! I never break the law! As for instance—in Greece, where I had the honor to be born, the law says no man shall carry a knife or wear one in his belt. So, since I was a little boy I carry none! I have none in my hand—none at my belt. I keep it here!"
He stooped, raised his right trousers leg, and drew from his Wellington boot a two-edged, pointed thing almost long enough to merit the name of rapier. He tossed it in the air, let it spin six or seven times end over end, caught it deftly by the point, and returned it to its hiding-place.
"I am a law-abiding man," he said, "but where the law leaves off, I know where to begin! I am no fool!"
Monty made up his mind there and then that this man's game would not be worth the candle.
"No, Mr. Coutlass, I can't oblige you," he said.
The Greek half-arose and then sat down again.
"You can not find it without my assistance!" he said, wrinkling his face for emphasis.
"I'm not looking for assistance," said Monty.
"Aha! You play with words! You are not—but you will! I am no fool, my Lord! I understand! Not for nothing did I make a friend again of that pig Hassan! Not for nothing have I waited all these months in this stinking Zanzibar until a man should come in search of that ivory whom I could trust! Not for nothing did Juma, the lazaretto attendant tell Hassan you desired to see him! You seek the ivory, but you wish to keep it all! To share none of it with me!" He stood up, and made another bow, much curter than his former one. "I am Georges Coutlass! My courage is known! No man can rob me and get away with it!"
"My good man," drawled Monty, raising his eyebrows in the comfortless way he has when there seems need of facing an inferior antagonist. (He hates to "lord it" as thoroughly as he loves to risk his neck.) "I would not rob you if you owned the earth! If you have valuable information I'll pay for it cheerfully after it's tested."
"Ah! Now you talk!"
"Observe—I said after it's tested!"
"I don't think he knows anything," said Fred. "I think he guessed a lot, and wants to look, and can't afford to pay his own expenses. Isn't that it?"
"What do you mean?" demanded Coutlass.
"I can't talk Greek," said Fred. "Shall I say it again in English?"
"You may name any reasonable price," said Monty, "for real information. Put it in writing. When we're agreed on the price, put that in writing too. Then, if we find the information is even approximately right, why, we'll pay for it."
"Ah-h-h! You intend to play a trick on me! You use my information! You find the ivory! You go out by the Congo River and the other coast, and I kiss myself good-by to you and ivory and money! I am to be what d'you call it?—a milk-pigeon!"
"Being that must be some sensation!" nodded Yerkes.
"I warn you I can not be tampered with!" snarled the Greek, putting on his hat with a flourish. "I leave you, for you to think it over! But I tell you this—I promise you—I swear! Any expedition in search of that ivory that does not include Georges Coutlass on his own terms is a delusion—a busted flush—smashed—exploded—pfff !—so—evanesced before the start! My address is Zanzibar! Every street child knows me! When you wish to know my terms, tell the first man or child you meet to lead you to the house where Georges Coutlass lives! Good morning, Lord Skirtsshubrish! We will no doubt meet again!"
He turned his back on us and strode from the room—a man out of the middle ages, soldierly of bearing, unquestionably bold, and not one bit more venial or lawless than ninety per cent. of history's gallants, if the truth were told.
"Let's hope that's the last of him!" said Monty. "Can't say I like him, but I'd hate to have to spoil his chances."
"Last of him be sugared!" said Yerkes. "That's only the first of him! He'll find seven devils worse than himself and camp on our trail, if I know anything of Greeks—that's to say, if our trail leads after that ivory. Does it?"
"Depends," said Monty. "Let's talk upstairs. That Syrian has long ears."
So we trooped to Monty's room, where the very cobwebs reeked of Arab history and lawless plans. He sat on the black iron bed, and we grouped ourselves about on chairs that had very likely covered the known world between them. One was obviously jetsam from a steamship; one was a Chinese thing, carved with staggering dragons; the other was made of iron-hard wood that Yerkes swore came from South America.
"Shoot when you're ready!" grinned Yerkes.
I was too excited to sit still. So was Fred.
"Get a move on, Didums, for God's sake!" he growled.
"Well," said Monty, "there seems something in this ivory business. Our chance ought to be as good as anybody's. But there are one or two stiff hurdles. In the first place, the story is common property. Every one knows it—Arabs—Swahili—Greeks—Germans—English. To be suspected of looking for it would spell failure, for the simple reason that every adventurer on the coast would trail us, and if we did find it we shouldn't be able to keep the secret for five minutes. If we found it anywhere except on British territory it 'ud be taken away from us before we'd time to turn round. And it isn't buried on British territory! I've found out that much."
"Good God, Didums! D'you mean you know where the stuff is?"
Fred sat forward like a man at a play.
"I know where it isn't," said Monty. "They told me at the Residency that in all human probability it's buried part in German East, and by far the greater part in the Congo."
"Then that ten per cent. offer by the British is a bluff?" asked Yerkes.
"Out of date," said Monty. "The other governments offer nothing. The German government might make terms with a German or a Greek—not with an Englishman. The Congo government is an unknown quantity, but would probably see reason if approached the proper way."
"The U. S. Consul tells me," said Yerkes, "that the Congo government is the rottenest aggregate of cutthroats, horse-thieves, thugs, yeggs, common-or-ordinary hold-ups, and sleight-of-hand professors that the world ever saw in one God-forsaken country. He says they're of every nationality, but without squeam of any kind—hang or shoot you as soon as look at you! He says if there's any ivory buried in those parts they've either got it and sold it, or else they buried it themselves and spread the story for a trap to fetch greenhorns over the border!"
"That man's after the stuff himself!" said Fred. "All he wanted to do was stall you off!"
"That man Schillingschen the doctor told us about," said Monty, "is suspected of knowing where to look for some of the Congo hoard. He'll bear watching. He's in British East Africa at present—said to be combing Nairobi and other places for a certain native. He is known to stand high in the favor of the German government, but poses as a professor of ethnology."
"He shall study deathnology," said Fred, "if he gets in my way!"
"The Congo people," said Monty, "would have dug up the stuff, of course, if they'd known where to look for it. Our people believe that the Germans do know whereabouts to look for it, but dread putting the Congo crowd on the scent. If we're after it we've got to do two things besides agreeing between ourselves."
"Deal me in, Monty!" said Yerkes.
"Nil desperandum, Didums duce, then!" said Fred. "I propose Monty for leader. Those against the motion take their shirts off, and see if they can lick me! Nobody pugnacious? The ayes have it! Talk along, Didums!"
For all Fred's playfulness, Yerkes and I came in of our free and considered will, and Monty understood that.
"We've got to separate," he said, "and I've got to interview the King of Belgium."
"If that were my job," grinned Yerkes, "I'd prob'ly tell him things!"
"I don't pretend to like him," said Monty. "But it seems to me I can serve our best interests by going to Brussels. He can't very well refuse me a private audience. I should get a contract with the Congo government satisfactory to all concerned. He's rapacious—but I think not ninety per cent. rapacious."
"Good," said I, "but why separate?"
"If we traveled toward the Congo from this place in a bunch," said Monty, "we should give the game away completely and have all the rag-tag and bob-tail on our heels. As it is, our only chance of shaking all of them would be to go round by sea and enter the Congo from the other side; but that would destroy our chance of picking up the trail in German East Africa. So I'll go to Brussels, and get back to British East as fast as possible. Fred must go to British East and watch Schillingschen. You two fellows may as well go by way of British East Africa to Muanza on Victoria Nyanza, and on from there to the Congo border by way of Ujiji. Yerkes is an American, and they'll suspect him less than any of us (they'd nail me, of course, in a minute!) So let Yerkes make a great show of looking for land to settle on. We'll all four meet on the Congo border, at some other place to be decided later. We'll have to agree on a code, and keep in touch by telegraph as often as possible. Now, is all that clear?"
"We two'll have all the Greeks of Zanzibar trailing us all the way!" objected Yerkes.
"That'll be better than having them trail the lot of us," said Monty. "You'll be able to shake them somewhere on the way. We'll count on your ingenuity, Will."
"But what am I to do to Schillingschen?" asked Fred.
"Keep an eye on him."
"Do you see me Sherlock-Holmesing him across the high veld? Piffle! Give America that job! I'll go through German East and keep ahead of the Greeks!"
But Monty was firm. "Yerkes has a plausible excuse, Fred. They may wonder why an American should look for land in German East Africa, but they'll let him do it, and perhaps not spy on him to any extent. It's me they've their eye on. I'll try to keep 'em dazzled. You go to British East and dazzle Schillingschen! Now, are we agreed?"
We were. But we talked, nevertheless, long into the afternoon, and in the end there was not one of us really satisfied. Over and over we tried to persuade Monty to omit the Brussels part of the plan. We wanted him with us. But he stuck to his point, and had his way, as he always did when we were quite sure he really wanted it.
THE NJO HAPA SONG
Gleam, oh brighter than jewels! gleam my swinging stars in the opal dark, Mirrored along wi' the fire-fly dance of 'longshore light and off-shore mark, The roof-lamps and the riding lights, and phosphor wake of ship and shark.
I was old when the fires of Arab ships (All seas were lawless then!) Abode the tide where liners ride To-day, and Malays then,— Old when the bold da Gama came With culverin and creed To trade where Solomon's men fought, And plunder where the banyans bought, I sighed when the first o' the slaves were brought, And laughed when the last were freed.
Deep, oh deeper than anchors drop, the bones o' the outbound sailors lie, Far, oh farther than breath o' wind the rumors o' fabled fortune fly, And the 'venturers yearn from the ends of earth, for none o' the isles is as fair as I!
The enormous map of Africa loses no lure or mystery from the fact of nearness to the continent itself. Rather it increases. In the hot upper room that night, between the wreathing smoke of oil lamps, we pored over the large scale map Monty had saved from the wreck along with our money drafts and papers.
The atmosphere was one of bygone piracy. The great black ceiling beams, heavy-legged table of two-inch planks, floor laid like a dhow's deck—making utmost use of odd lengths of timber, but strong enough to stand up under hurricanes and overloads of plunder, or to batten down rebellious slaves—murmurings from rooms below, where men of every race that haunts those shark-infested seas were drinking and telling tales that would make Munchhausen's reputation—steaminess, outer darkness, spicy equatorial smells and, above all, knowledge of the nature of the coming quest united to veil the map in fascination.
No man gifted with imagination better than a hot-cross bun's could be in Zanzibar and not be conscious of the lure that made adventurers of men before the first tales were written. Old King Solomon's traders must have made it their headquarters, just as it was Sindbad the Sailor's rendezvous and that of pirates before he or Solomon were born or thought of. Vasco da Gama, stout Portuguese gentleman adventurer, conquered it, and no doubt looted the godowns to a lively tune. Wave after wave of Arabs sailed to it (as they do today) from that other land of mystery, Arabia; and there isn't a yard of coral beach, cocoanut-fringed shore, clove orchard, or vanilla patch—not a lemon tree nor a thousand-year-old baobab but could tell of battle and intrigue; not a creek where the dhows lie peacefully today but could whisper of cargoes run by night—black cargoes, groaning fretfully and smelling of the 'tween-deck lawlessness.
"There are two things that have stuck in my memory that Lord Salisbury used to say when I was an Eton boy, spending a holiday at Hatfield House," said Monty. "One was, Never talk fight unless you mean fight; then fight, don't talk. The other was, Always study the largest maps."
"Who's talking fight?" demanded Fred.
Monty ignored him. "Even this map isn't big enough to give a real idea of distances, but it helps. You see, there's no railway beyond Victoria Nyanza. Anything at all might happen in those great spaces beyond Uganda. Borderlands are quarrel-grounds. I should say the junction of British, Belgian, and German territory where Arab loot lies buried is the last place to dally in unarmed. You fellows 'ud better scour Zanzibar in the morning for the best guns to be had here."
So I went to bed at midnight with that added stuff for building dreams. He who has bought guns remembers with a thrill; he who has not, has in store for him the most delightful hours of life. May he fall, as our lot was, on a gunsmith who has mended hammerlocks for Arabs, and who loves rifles as some greater rascals love a woman or a horse.
We all four strolled next morning, clad in the khaki reachmedowns that a Goanese "universal provider" told us were the "latest thing," into a den between a camel stable and an even mustier-smelling home of gloom, where oxen tied nose-to-tail went round and round, grinding out semsem everlastingly while a lean Swahili sang to them. When he ceased, they stopped. When he sang, they all began again.
In a bottle-shaped room at the end of a passage squeezed between those two centers of commerce sat the owner of the gun-store, part Arab, part Italian, part Englishman, apparently older than sin itself, toothless, except for one yellow fang that lay like an ornament over his lower lip, and able to smile more winningly than any siren of the sidewalk. Evidently he shaved at intervals, for white stubble stood out a third of an inch all over his wrinkled face. The upper part of his head was utterly bald, slippery, shiny, smooth, and adorned by an absurd, round Indian cap, too small, that would not stay in place and had to be hitched at intervals.
He said his name was Captain Thomas Cook, and the license to sell firearms framed on the mud-brick wall bore him witness. (May he live forever under any name he chooses!)
"Goons?" he said. "Goons? You gentlemen want goons? I have the goon what settled the hash of Sayed bin Mohammed—here it be. This other one's the rifle—see the nicks on her butt!—that Kamarajes the Greek used. See 'em—Arab goons—slaver goons—smooth-bore elephant goons—fours, eights, twelves—Martinis—them's the lot that was reekin' red-hot, days on end, in the last Arab war on the Congo, considerable used up but goin' cheap;—then here's Mausers (he pronounced it "Morsers")— old-style, same as used in 1870—good goons they be, long o' barrel and strong, but too high trajectory for some folks;—some's new style, magazines an' all—fine till a grain o' sand jams 'em oop;—an' Lee-Enfields, souvenirs o' the Boer War, some o' them bought from folks what plundered a battle-field or two—mostly all in good condition. Look at this one—see it—hold it—take a squint along it! Nineteen elephants shot wi' that Lee-Enfleld, an' the man's in jail for shootin' of 'em! Sold at auction by the gov'ment, that one was. See, here's an Express—a beauty—owned by an officer fr'm Indy—took by a shark 'e was, in swimmin' against all advice, him what had hunted tigers! There's no goon store a quarter as good as mine 'tween Cairo an' the Cape or Bombay an-' Boma! Captain Cook's the boy to sell ye goons all right! Sit down. Look 'em over. Ask anything ye want to know. I'll tell ye. No obligation to buy."
There is no need to fit out with guns and tents in London. Until both good and bad, both cowardly and brave give up the habit of dying in bed, or getting killed, or going broke, or ending up in jail for one cause and the other, there will surely always be fine pickings for men on the spot with a little money and a lot of patience—guns, tents, cooking pots, and all the other things.
We spent a morning with Captain Thomas Cook, and left the store—Fred, Yerkes and I—with a battery of weapons, including a pistol apiece—that any expedition might be proud of. (Monty, since he had to go home in any case, preferred to look over the family gun-room before committing himself.)
Then, since the first leg of the journey would be the same for all of us we bought other kit, packed it, and booked passages for British East Africa. Between then and the next afternoon when the British India steamboat sailed we were fairly bombarded by inquisitiveness, but contrived not to tell much. And with patience beyond belief Monty restrained us from paying court to Tippoo Tib.
"The U. S. Consul says he's better worth a visit than most of the world's museums," Yerkes assured us two or three times. "He says Tippoo Tib's a fine old sport—damned rogue—slave-hunter, but white somewhere near the middle. What's the harm in our having a chin with him?"
But Monty was adamant.
"A call on him would prove nothing, but he and his friends would suspect. Spies would inform the German government. No. Let's act as if Tippoo Tib were out of mind."
We grumbled, but we yielded. Hassan came again, shiny with sweat and voluble with offers of information and assistance.
"Where you gentlemen going?" he kept asking.
"England," said Monty, and showed his own steamer ticket in proof of it. That settled Hassan for the time but Georges Coutlass was not so easy. He came swaggering upstairs and thumped on Monty's door with the air of a bearer of king's messages.
"What do you intend to do?" he asked. (We were all sitting on Monty's bed, and it was Yerkes who opened the door.)
"Do you an injury," said Yerkes, "unless you take your foot away!" The Greek had placed it deftly to keep the door open pending his convenience.
"Let him have his say" advised Monty from the bed.
"Where are you going? Hassan told me England. Are you all going to England? If so, why have you bought guns? What will you do with six rifles, three shot-guns, and three pistols on the London streets? What will you do with tents in London? Will you make campfires in Regent Circus, that you take with you all those cooking pots? And all that rice, is that for the English to eat? Bah! No tenderfoot can fool me! You go to find my ivory, d'you hear! You think to get away with it unknown to me! I tell you I have sharp ears! By Jingo; there is nothing I can not find out that goes on in Africa! You think to cheat me? Then you are as good as dead men! You shall die like dogs! I will smithereen the whole damned lot of you before you touch a tusk!"
"Get out of here!" growled Yerkes.
"Give him a chance to go quietly, Will," urged Monty, and Coutlass heard him. Peaceful advice seemed the last spark needed to explode his crowded magazines of fury. He clenched his fists—spat because the words would not flow fast enough—and screamed.
"Give me a chance, eh? A chance, eh?" Other doors began opening, and the appearance of an audience stimulated him to further peaks of rage. "The only chance I need is a sight of your carcasses within range, and a long range will do for Georges Coutlass!" He glared past Yerkes at Monty who had risen leisurely. "You call yourself a lord? I call you a thief! A jackal!"
"Here, get out!" growled Yerkes, self-constituted Cerberus.
"I will go when I damned please, you Yankee jackanapes!" the Greek retorted through set teeth. Yerkes is a free man, able and willing to shoulder his own end of any argument. He closed, and the Greek's ribs cracked under a vastly stronger hug than he had dreamed of expecting. But Coutlass was no weakling either, and though he gasped he gathered himself for a terrific effort.
"Come on!" said Monty, and went past me through the door like a bolt from a catapult. Fred followed me, and when he saw us both out on the landing Monty started down the stairs.
"Come on!" he called again.
We followed, for there is no use in choosing a leader if you don't intend to obey him, even on occasions when you fail at once to understand. There was one turn on the wide stairs, and Monty stood there, back to the wall.
"Go below, you fellows, and catch!" he laughed. "We don't want Will jailed for homicide!"
The struggle was fierce and swift. Coutlass searched with a thumb for Will's eye, and stamped on his instep with an iron-shod heel. But he was a dissolute brute, and for all his strength Yerkes' cleaner living very soon told. Presently Will spared a hand to wrench at the ambitious thumb, and Coutlass screamed with agony. Then he began to sway this way and that without volition of his own, yielding his balance, and losing it again and again. In another minute Yerkes had him off his feet, cursing and kicking.
"Steady, Will!" called Monty from below; but it was altogether too late for advice. Will gathered himself like a spring, and hurled the Greek downstairs backward.
Then the point of Monty's strategy appeared. He caught him, saved him from being stunned against the wall, and, before the Greek could recover sufficiently to use heels and teeth or whisk out the knife he kept groping for, hurled him a stage farther on his journey—face forward this time down to where Fred and I were waiting. We kicked him out into the street too dazed to do anything but wander home.
"Are you hurt, Will?" laughed Monty. "This isn't the States, you know; by gad, they'll jail you here if you do your own police work! Instead of Brussels I'd have had to stay and hire lawyers to defend you!"
"Aw—quit preaching!" Yerkes answered. "If I hadn't seen you there on the stairs with your mouth open I'd have been satisfied to put him down and spank him!"
It was then that the much more unexpected struck us speechless—even Monty for the moment, who is not much given to social indecision. We had not known there was a woman guest in that hotel. One does not look in Zanzibar for ladies with a Mayfair accent unaccompanied by menfolk able to protect them. Yet an indubitable Englishwoman, expensively if carelessly dressed, came to the head of the stairs and stood beside Yerkes looking down at the rest of us with a sort of well bred, rather tolerant scorn.
"Am I right in believing this is Lord Montdidier?" she asked, pronouncing the word as it should be—Mundidger.
She had been very beautiful. She still was handsome in a hard-lipped, bold way, with abundant raven hair and a complexion that would have been no worse for a touch of rouge. She seemed to scorn all the conventional refinements, though. Her lacy white dress, open at the neck, was creased and not too clean, but she wore in her bosom one great jewel like a ruby, set in brilliants, that gave the lie to poverty provided the gems were real. And the amber tube through which she smoked a cigarette was seven or eight inches long and had diamonds set in a gold band round its middle. She wore no wedding ring that I could see; and she took no more notice of Will Yerkes beside her than if he had been a part of the furniture.
"Why do you ask?" asked Monty, starting upstairs. She had to make way for him, for Will Yerkes stood his ground.
"A fair question!" she laughed. Her voice had a hard ring, but was very well trained and under absolute control. I received the impression that she had been a singer at some time. "I am Lady Saffren Waldon—Isobel Saffren Waldon."
Fred and I had followed Monty up and were close behind him. I heard him mutter, "Oh, lord!" under his breath.
"I knew your brother," she added.
"I know you did."
"You think that gives me no claim on your acquaintance? Perhaps it doesn't. But as an unprotected woman—"
"There is the Residency," objected Monty, "and the law."
She laughed bitterly. "Thank you, I am in need of no passage home! I overheard that ruffian say, and I think I heard you say too that you are going to England. I want you to take a message for me."
There is a post-office here" said Monty without turning a hair. He looked straight into her iron eyes. "There is a cable station. I will lend you money to cable with."
"Thank you, my Lord!" she sneered. "I have money. I am so used to being snubbed that my skin would not feel a whip! I want you to take a verbal message!"
It was perfectly evident that Monty would rather have met the devil in person than this untidy dame; yet he was only afraid apparently of conceding her too much claim on his attention. (If she had asked favors of me I don't doubt I would have scrambled to be useful. I began mentally taking her part, wondering why Monty should treat her so cavalierly; and I fancy Yerkes did the same.)
"Tell me the message, and I'll tell you whether I'll take it," said Monty.
She laughed again, even more bitterly.
"If I could tell it on these stairs," she answered, "I could cable it. They censor cablegrams, and open letters in this place."
"I suspect that isn't true," said Monty. "But if you object to witnesses, how do you propose to deliver your message to me?" he asked pointedly.
"You mean you refuse to speak with me alone?"
"My friends would draw out of earshot," he answered.
"Your friends? Your gang, you mean!" She drew herself up very finely—very stately. Very lovely she was to look at in that half-light, with the shadows of Tippoo Tib's* old stairway hiding her tale of years. But I felt my regard for her slipping downhill (and so, I rather think did Yerkes). "You look well, Lord Montdidier, trapesing about the earth with a leash of mongrels at your heel! Falstaff never picked up a more sordid-looking pack! What do you feed them—bones? Are there no young bloods left of your own class, that you need travel with tradesmen?"
——————- * The principal hotel In Zanzibar was formerly Tippoo Tib's residence, quite a magnificent mansion for that period and place. ——————-
Monty stood with both hands behind him and never turned a hair. Fred Oakes brushed up the ends of that troubadour mustache of his and struck more or less of an attitude. Will reddened to the ears, and I never felt more uncomfortable in all my life.
"So this is your gang, is it?" she went on. "It looks sober at present! I suppose I must trust you to control them! I dare say even tavern brawlers respect you sufficiently to keep a lady's secret if you order them. I will hope they have manhood enough to hold their tongues!"
Of course, dressed in the best that Zanzibar stores had to offer we scarcely looked like fashion plates. My shirt was torn where Coutlass had seized it to resist being thrown out, but I failed to see what she hoped to gain by that tongue lashing, even supposing we had been the lackeys she pretended to believe we were.
"The message is to my brother," she went on.
"I don't know him!" put in Monty promptly.
"You mean you don't like him! Your brother had him expelled from two or three clubs, and you prefer not to meet him! Nevertheless, I give you this message to take to him! Please tell him—you will find him at his old address—that I, his sister, Lady Saffren Waldon, know now the secret of Tippoo Tib's ivory. He is to join me here at once, and we will get it, and sell it, and have money, and revenge! Will you tell him that!"
"No!" answered Monty.
I looked at Yerkes, Yerkes looked at Fred, and Fred at me.
There was nothing to do but feel astonished.
"Why not, if you please?"
"I prefer not to meet Captain McCauley," said Monty.
"Then you will give the message to somebody else?" she insisted.
"No" said Monty. "I will carry no message for you."
"Why do you say that? How dare you say that? In front of your following—your gang!"
I should have been inclined to continue the argument myself—to try to find out what she did know, and to uncover her game. It was obvious she must have some reason for her extraordinary request, and her more extraordinary way of making it. But Monty saw fit to stride past her through his open bedroom door, and shut it behind him firmly. We stood looking at her and at one another stupidly until she turned her back and went to her own room on the floor above. Then we followed Monty.
"Did she say anything else?" he asked as soon as we were inside. I noticed he was sweating pretty freely now.
"Didums, you're too polite!" Fred answered. "You ought to have told her to keep her tongue housed or be civil!"
"I don't hold with hitting back at a lone woman," said Yerkes, "but what was she driving at? What did she mean by calling us a pack of mongrels?"
"Merely her way," said Monty offhandedly. "Those particular McCauleys never amounted to much. She married a baronet, and he divorced her. Bad scandal. Saffren Waldon was at the War Office. She stole papers, or something of that sort—delivered them to a German paramour—von Duvitz was his name, I think. She and her brother were lucky to keep out of jail. Ever since then she has been—some say a spy, some say one thing, some another. My brother fell foul of her, and lived to regret it. She's on her last legs I don't doubt, or she wouldn't be in Zanzibar."
"Then why the obvious nervous sweat you're in?" demanded Fred.
"And that doesn't account for the abuse she handed out to us," said Yerkes.
"Why not tip off the authorities that she's a notorious spy?" I asked.
"I suspect they know all about her," he answered.
"But why your alarm?" insisted Fred.
"I'm scarcely alarmed, old thing. But it's pretty obvious, isn't it, that she wants us to believe she knows what we're after. She's vindictive. She imagines she owes me a grudge on my brother's account. It might soothe her to think she had made me nervous. And by gad—it sounds like lunacy, and mind you I'm not propounding it for fact!—there's just one chance that she really does know where the ivory is!"
"But where's the sense of abusing us?" repeated Yerkes.
"That's the poor thing's way of claiming class superiority," said Monty. "She was born into one class, married into another, and divorced into a third. She'd likely to forget she said an unkind word the next time she meets you. Give her one chance and she'll pretend she believes you were born to the purple—flatter you until you half believe it yourself. Later on, when it suits her at the moment, she'll denounce you as a social impostor! It's just habit—bad habit, I admit—comes of the life she leads. Lots of 'em like her. Few of 'em quite so well informed, though, and dangerous if you give 'em a chance."
"I still don't see why you're sweating," said Fred.
"It's hot. There's a chance she knows where the ivory is! She has money, but how? She'd have begged if she were short of cash! It's my impression she has been in German government employ for a number of years. Possibly they have paid her to do some spy-work—in the Zanzibar court, perhaps—the Sultan's a mere boy—"
"Isn't he woolly-headed?" objected Yerkes.
"Mainly Arab. It's a French game to send a white woman to intrigue at colored courts, but the Germans are good imitators."
"Isn't she English?" asked Yerkes.
"Her trade's international," said Monty dryly. "My guess is that Coutlass or Hassan told her what we're supposed to be doing here, and she pretends to know where the ivory is in order to trap us all in some way. The net's spread for me, but there's no objection to catching you fellows as well."
"She'll need to use sweeter bait than I've seen yet!" laughed Yerkes.
"She'll probably be sweetness itself next time she sees you. She'll argue she's created an impression and can afford to be gracious."
"Impression is good!" said Yerkes. "I mean it's bad! She has created one, all right! What's the likelihood of her having double-crossed the Germans? Mightn't she have got a clue to where the stuff is, and be holding for a better market than they offer?"
"I was coming to that," said Monty. "Yes, it's possible. But whatever her game is, don't let us play it for her. Let her do the leading. If she gets hold of you fellows, one at a time or all together, for the love of heaven tell her nothing! Let her tell all she likes, but admit nothing—tell nothing—ask no questions! That's an old rule in diplomacy (and remember, she's a diplomat, whatever else she may be!) Old-stagers can divine the Young ones' secrets from the nature of the questions they ask! So if you got the chance, ask her nothing! Don't lie, either! It would take a very old hand to lie to her in such way that she couldn't see through it!"
"Why not be simply rude and turn our backs?" said I.
"Best of all—provided you can do it! Remember, she's a old hand!"
"D'you mean," said Yerkes, "that if she were to offer proof that she knows where that ivory is, and proposed terms, you wouldn't talk it over?"
"I mean let her alone!" said Monty.
But it turned out she would not be let alone. We dine in the public room, but she had her meals sent up to her and we flattered ourselves (or I did) that her net had been laid in vain. Folk dine late in the tropics, and we dallied over coffee and cigars, so that it was going on for ten o'clock when Yerkes and I started upstairs again. Monty and Fred went out to see the waterfront by moonlight.
We had reached our door (he and I shared one great room) when we heard terrific screams from the floor above—a woman's—one after another, piercing, fearful, hair-raising, and so suggestive in that gloomy, grim building that a man's very blood stood still.
Yerkes was the first upstairs. He went like an arrow from a bow, and I after him. The screams had stopped before we reached the stairhead, but there was no doubting which her room was; the door was partly open, permitting a view of armchairs and feminine garments in some disorder. We heard a man talking loud quick Arabic, and a woman—pleading, I thought. Yerkes rapped on the door.
"Come in!" said a voice, and I followed Yerkes in.
We were met by her Syrian maid, a creature with gazelle eyes and timid manner, who came through the doorway leading to an inner room.
"What's the trouble?" demanded Yerkes, and the woman signed to us to go on in. Yerkes led the way again impulsively as any knight-errant rescuing beleaguered dames, but I looked back and saw that the Syrian woman had locked the outer door. Before I could tell Will that, he was in the next room, so I followed, and, like him, stood rather bewildered.
Lady Saffren Waldon sat facing us, rather triumphant, in no apparent trouble, not alone. There were four very well-dressed Arabs standing to one side. She sat in a basket chair by a door that pretty obviously led into her bedroom; and kept one foot on a pillow, although I suspected there was not much the matter with it.