THE LEOPARD WOMAN
STEWART EDWARD WHITE
Illustrated by W. H. D. Koerner
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. The March II. The Camp III. The Rhinoceros IV. The Stranger V. The Encounter VI. The Leopard Woman VII. The Water Hole VIII. The Thirst IX. On the Plateau X. The Suliani XI. The Ivory Stockade XII. The Pilocarpin XIII. The Tropic Moon XIV. Over the Ranges XV. The Sharpening of the Spear XVI. The Murder XVII. The Darkness XVIII. The Leopard Woman Changes Her Spots XIX. The Trial XX. Kingozi's Ultimatum XXI. The Messengers XXII. The Second Messengers XXIII. The Council of War XXIV. M'tela's Country XXV. M'tela XXVI. Waiting XXVII. The Magic Bone XXVIII. Simba's Adventure XXIX. Winkleman's Safari Arrives XXX. Winkleman Appears XXXI. Light Again XXXII. The Colours XXXIII. Curtain
"'Go, I say!' cried the Leopard Woman. 'And hold up your head. If this is suspected of you, you will surely die'" ... Frontispiece
"'If you will ride in a hammock, you ought to teach your men to shoot,' was Kingozi's greeting"
"After the flat crack of the rifle a hollow plunk indicated that the bullet had told"
"Their eyes were large with curiosity as to this man and woman of a new species ... Kingozi touched his lips to the tembo"
"'Cazi Moto, take this stick and make on the ground marks exactly like those on the barua. Make them deep, so that I may feel them with my hands'"
"The search party found Winkleman, very dirty, quite hungry, profoundly chagrined"
"At the top of the hill the guide stopped and pointed. Kingozi gathered that through the distant cleft he indicated the strangers must come"
"So intent was the Leopard Woman on the examination and on Kingozi that she seemed utterly unconscious of the men standing over opposite ... A more startlingly exotic figure for the wilds of Central Africa could not be imagined"
THE LEOPARD WOMAN
It was the close of the day. Over the baked veldt of Equatorial Africa a safari marched. The men, in single file, were reduced to the unimportance of moving black dots by the tremendous sweep of the dry country stretching away to a horizon infinitely remote, beyond which lay single mountains, like ships becalmed hull-down at sea. The immensities filled the world— the simple immensities of sky and land. Only by an effort, a wrench of the mind, would a bystander on the advantage, say, of one of the little rocky, outcropping hills have been able to narrow his vision to details.
And yet details were interesting. The vast shallow cup to the horizon became a plain sparsely grown with flat-topped thorn trees. It was not a forest, yet neither was it open country. The eye penetrated the thin screen of tree trunks to the distance of half a mile or more, but was brought to a stop at last. Underfoot was hard-baked earth, covered by irregular patches of shale that tinkled when stepped on. Well-defined paths, innumerable, trodden deep and hard, cut into the iron soil. They nearly all ran in a northwesterly direction. The few traversing paths took a long slant. These paths, so exactly like those crossing a village green, had in all probability never been trodden by human foot. They had been made by the game animals, the swarming multitudinous game of Central Africa.
The safari was using one of the game trails. It was a compact little safari, comprising not over thirty men all told. The single white man walked fifty yards or so ahead of the main body. He was evidently tired, for his shoulders drooped, and his shuffling, slow-swinging gait would anywhere have been recognized by children of the wilderness as that which gets the greatest result from the least effort. Dressed in the brown cork helmet, the brown flannel shirt with spine-pad, the khaki trousers, and the light boots of the African traveller little was to be made of either his face or figure. The former was fully bearded, the latter powerful across the shoulders. His belt was heavy with little leather pockets; a pair of prismatic field-glasses, suspended from a strap around his neck, swung across his chest; in the crook of his left arm he carried a light rifle.
Immediately at his heels followed a native. This man's face was in conformation that of the typical negro; but there the resemblance ceased. Behind the features glowed a proud, fierce spirit that transformed them. His head was high but his eyes roved from right to left restlessly, never still save when they paused for a flickering instant to examine some gazelle, some distant herd of zebra or wildebeeste standing in the vista of the flat-topped trees. His nostrils slowly expanded and contracted with his breathing, as do those of a spirited horse. In contrast to the gait of the white man he stepped vigorously and proudly as though the long day had not touched his strength. He wore a battered old felt hat, a tattered flannel shirt, a ragged pair of shorts, and the blue puttees issued by the British to their native troops. The straps of two canteens crossed on his breast; a full cartridge belt encircled his waist; he carried lightly and easily one of those twelve-pound double cordite rifles that constitute the only African life insurance.
Fifty yards in the rear marched the carriers. They were a straight, strong lot, dressed according to their fancy or opportunity in the cast-off garments of the coast; comical in the ensemble, perhaps, but worthy of respect in that all day each had carried a seventy-pound load under a tropical sun, and that they were coming in strong.
And finally, bringing up the rear, marched a small, lively, wizened little fellow, dressed as nearly as possible like the white man, and carrying as the badge of his office a bulging cotton umbrella and the kiboko—the slender, limber, stinging rhinoceros-hide whip.
It was the end of a long march. This could be guessed by the hour, by the wearied slouch of the white man, above all by the conduct of the safari. The men were walking one on the heels of the other. Their burdens, carried on their heads, held them erect. They stepped out freely. But against the wooden chop boxes, the bags of cornmeal potio, the bundles of canvas that made up some of the loads, the long safari sticks went tap, tap, tap, in rhythm. This tapping was a steady undertone to the volume of noise that arose from thirty throats. Every man was singing or shouting at the full strength of his lungs. A little file of Wakamba sung in unison one of the weird wavering minor chants peculiar to savage peoples everywhere; some Kavirondos simply howled in staccato barks like beasts. Between the extremes were many variations; but every man contributed to the uproar, and tapped his load rhythmically with his long stick. By this the experienced traveller would have known that the men were very tired, tired to the point of exhaustion; for the more wearied the Central African native, or the steeper the hill he, laden, must surmount, the louder he sings or yells.
"Maji hapana m'bale, bwana," observed the gun bearer to the white man. "Water is not far, master."
The white man merely nodded. These two had been together many years, and explanations were not necessary between them. He, as well as Simba, had noticed the gradual convergence of the game trails, the presence of small grass birds that flushed under their feet, the sing-sing buck behind the aloes, the increasing numbers of game animals that stared or fled at the sight and sound of the safari.
Nothing more was said. The way led to the top of one of those low transverse swells that conceal the middle distance without actually breaking the surface of the veldt. In the corresponding depression beyond now could be discerned a wandering slender line of green.
"Maji huko!" murmured Simba. "There is the water."
Suddenly he stooped low, uttering a peculiar hissing sound. The white man, too, dropped to the ground, throwing his rifle forward.
"Nyama, bwana!" he whispered fiercely, "karibu sana!"
He pointed cautiously over the white man's shoulder. The safari, at the sight of the two dropping to a crouch, had stopped as though petrified, and stood waiting in silence.
"We have no meat," Simba reminded his master in Swahili.
The white man eased himself back to a sitting posture, resting his elbows on his knees, as all sensible good rifle shots do when they have the chance. Simba, his eyes glowing fiercely, staring with almost hypnotic intensity over his master's shoulder, quivered like an eager dog.
"Hah!" he grunted as the loud spat of the bullet followed the rifle's crack. "Na kamata—he has it!" he added as the wildebeeste plunged into full view.
The hunter manipulated the bolt to throw in a new cartridge, but did not shift his position. In less remote countries the sportsman, unlimited in ammunition but restricted in chances, would probably have pumped in four or five shots until the quarry was down. The traveller and Simba watched closely, with expert eyes, to determine whether a precious second cartridge should be expended.
"Where?" asked the white man briefly.
"Low in the shoulder," replied Simba.
The wildebeeste plunged wildly here and there, kicking, bucking, menacing the unseen danger with his horns. For several seconds longer the two watched, then rose leisurely to their feet. Simba motioned to the waiting safari, who, correctly interpreting the situation, broke into a trot. Both Simba and his master knew that had the animal not received a mortal wound it would before this have whirled to look back. The fact that it still ran proved its extremity. Sure enough, within the hundred yards it suddenly plunged forward on its nose, rolled over, and lay still.
The fierce countenance of the gun bearer lit up in triumph. He shifted the heavy rifle and reached out to touch the lighter weapon resting again in the crook of his master's arm.
"Nyama Yangu! Nyama Yangu!" he murmured. That was Simba's name for the light rifle that did most of the shooting. The words meant simply "my meat." Simba had a name for everything from the sheath knife of his office to the white man himself. Indeed Culbertson in the Central countries was Culbertson to none. Should you inquire for news of him by that name news you could not obtain; but of Bwana Kingozi you might learn from many tribes and peoples.
But now the safari, topping the hill, swept down with a rapid fire of safari sticks against the loads and a chorus whose single word was "n'yama!"
Simba was already at the carcass, Kisu M'kubwa, his thin-bladed knife, in his hand. The men eased their loads to the ground, and stood about with eagerly gleaming eyes, as would well-trained dogs in like circumstances. Simba briefly indicated the three nearest to act as his assistants. The wildebeeste was rapidly skinned and as rapidly dismembered, the meat laid aside. Only once did the white man speak or manifest the slightest interest.
"Sarrara indani yangu—the tenderloin is mine."
The wizened little headman with the umbrella and the kiboko, who answered to the name of Cazi Moto, stepped forward and took charge of the indicated delicacy. Soon all was ready for a resumption of the march. Nothing was left of the wildebeeste save the head and the veriest offal. The stomach and intestines, even, had been emptied of their contents and packed away in the hide.
Already the carrion birds had gathered in incredible numbers. The sky was full of them circling; an encompassing ring of them sat a scant fifty yards distant, their wings held half out from their bodies, as though they felt overheated. And in the low bushes could be discerned the lurking, furtive, shadowy jackals.
The men were laughing, their weariness forgotten. Maulo, the camp humourist, declaimed loudly at the top of his lungs, mocking the marabouts, the buzzards, the vultures great and small, the kites and the eagles.
"Go to the lion," he cried, "he kills much, and leaves. Little meat will you get here. We keep what we get!"
And the men broke into meaningless but hearty laughter, as though at brilliant wit.
But Bwana Kingozi's low voice cut across the merriment.
"Bandika!" he commanded.
And immediately Cazi Moto and Simba took up the cry.
"Bandika! bandika! bandika!" they vociferated over and over. Cazi Moto moved here and there, lively as a cricket, his eyes alert for any indication of slackness, his kiboko held threateningly.
But there was no need for the latter. The men willingly enough swung aloft their loads, now augmented by the meat, and the little caravan moved on.
Scarcely had Cazi Moto, bringing up the rear, quitted the scene when the carrion birds swooped. They fell from the open sky like plummets, their wings half folded. When within ten feet of the ground they checked their fall with pinion and tail, and the sound of them was like the roar of a cataract. Those seated on the ground moved forward in a series of ungainly hops, trying for more haste by futile urgings of their wings. Where the wildebeeste had fallen was a writhing, flopping, struggling brown mass. In an incredibly brief number of seconds it was all over. The birds withdrew. Some sat disgruntled and humpbacked in the low trees; some merely hopped away a few yards to indulge in gloomy thoughts. A few of the more ambitious rose heavily and laboriously with strenuous beating of pinions, finally to soar grandly away into the infinities of the African sky. Of the wildebeeste remained only a trampled bloody space and bones picked clean. The jackals crept forward at last. So brief a time did all this occupy that Maulo, looking back, saw them.
"Ho, little dogs!" he cried with one of his great empty laughs; "your stomachs will go hollow but you can fill your noses!"
They tramped on steadily toward the low narrow line of green trees, and the sun sank toward the hills.
The game trails converged at a point where the steep, eroded bank had been broken down into an approach to a pool. The dust was deep here, and arose in a cloud as a little band of zebra scrambled away. The borders of this pool were a fascinating palimpsest: the tracks of many sorts of beast had been impressed there in the mud. Both Kingozi and Simba examined them with an approach to interest, though to an observer the examination would have seemed but the most casual of glances. They saw the indications of zebra, wildebeeste, hartebeeste, gazelles of various sorts, the deep, round, well-like prints of the rhinoceros, and all the other usual inhabitants of the veldt. But over these their eyes passed lightly. Only three things could here interest these seasoned African travellers. Simba espied one of them, and pointed it out, just at the edge of the narrow border of softer mud.
"There is the lion," said he. "A big one. He was here this morning. But no buffalo, bwana; and no elephant."
The water in the pool was muddy and foul. Thousands of animals drank from it daily; and after drinking had stood or wallowed in it. The flavour would be rich of the barnyard, which even a strong infusion of tea could not disguise. Kingozi had often been forced to worse; but here he hoped for better.
The safari had dumped down the loads at the top of the bank, and were resting in utter relaxation. The march was over, and they waited.
Bwana Kingozi threw off the carefully calculated listless slouch that had conserved his strength for an unknown goal. His work was not yet done.
"Simba," he directed, "go that way, down the river and look for another pool—of good water. Take the big rifle."
[Footnote 1: Every watercourse with any water at all, even in occasional pools, is m'to—a river—in Africa.]
"And I to go in the other direction?" asked Cazi Moto.
Bwana Kingozi considered, glancing at the setting sun, and again up the dry stream-bed where, as far as the eye could reach, were no more indications of water.
"No," he decided. "It is late. Soon the lions will be hunting. I will go."
The men sprawled in abandon. After an interval a shrill whistle sounded from the direction in which Bwana Kingozi had disappeared. The men stretched and began to rise to their feet slowly. The short rest had stiffened them and brought home the weariness to their bones. They grumbled and muttered, and only the omnipresence of Cazi Moto and the threat of his restless whip roused them to activity. Down the stream they limped sullenly.
Kingozi stood waiting near the edge of the bank. The thicket here was very dense.
"Water there," he briefly indicated. "The big tent here; the opening in that direction. Cook fire over there. Loads here."
The men who had been standing, the burdens still on their heads, moved forward. The tent porter—who, by the way, was the strongest and most reliable of the men, so that always, even on a straggling march, the tent would arrive first—threw it down at the place selected and at once began to undo the cords. The bearers of the kitchen, who were also reliable travellers, set about the cook camp.
A big Monumwezi unstrapped a canvas chair, unfolded it, and placed it near his master. The other loads were arranged here, in a certain long-ordained order; the meat piled there. Several men then went to the assistance of Mali-ya-bwana, the tent bearer; and the others methodically took up various tasks. Some began with their pangas to hew a way to the water through the dense thicket that had kept it sweet; others sought firewood; still others began to pitch the tiny drill tents—each to accommodate six men—in a wide circle of which the pile of loads was the centre. As the men fell into the ordered and habitual routine their sullenness and weariness vanished.
Kingozi dropped into the canvas chair, fumbled for a pipe, filled and lighted it. With a sigh of relief he laid aside his cork helmet. The day had not only been a hard one, but an anxious one, for this country was new to every member of the little expedition, native guides had been impossible to procure, and the chances of water had been those of an arid region.
The removal of the helmet for the first tune revealed the man's features. A fine brow, upstanding thick and wavy hair, and the clearest of gray eyes suddenly took twenty years from the age at first made probable by the heavy beard. With the helmet pulled low this was late middle age; now bareheaded it was only bearded youth. Nevertheless at the corners of the eyes were certain wrinkles, and in the eyes themselves a direct competent steadiness that was something apart from the usual acquisition of youth, something the result of experience not given to most.
He smoked quietly, his eye wandering from one point to another of the new- born camp's activities. One after another the men came to report the completion of their tasks.
"Pita ya maji tayiari," said Sanguiki coming from the new-made water trail.
"I zuru," approved Kingozi.
"Hema tayiari," reported Simba, reaching his hand for the light rifle.
Kingozi glanced toward the tent and nodded. A licking little fire flickered in the cook camp. The tiny porter's tents had completed their circle, and in front of each new smoke was beginning to rise. Cazi Moto glided up and handed him the kiboko, the rhinoceros-hide whip, the symbol of authority. Everything was in order.
The white man rose a little stiffly and walked over to the pile of meat. For a moment he examined it contemplatively, aroused himself with an apparent effort, and began to separate it into four piles. He did not handle the meat himself, but silently indicated each portion with his kiboko, and Simba or Cazi Moto swiftly laid it aside.
"This for the gun-bearer camp," commanded Kingozi, touching with his foot the heavy "backstraps" and the liver—the next choicest bits after tenderloin. He raised his voice.
"Kavirondo!" he called.
Several tall, well-formed black savages of this tribe arose from one of the little fires and approached. The white man indicated one of the piles of meat.
"Wakamba!" he summoned; then "Monumwezi"; and finally "Baganda!"
Thus the four tribes represented in his caravan were supplied. The men returned to their fires, and began the preparation of their evening meal.
Kingozi turned to his own tent with a sigh of relief. Within it a cot had been erected, blankets spread. An officer's tin box stood open at one end. On the floor was a portable canvas bath. While the white man was divesting himself of his accoutrements, Cazi Moto entered bearing a galvanized pail full of hot water which he poured into the tub. He disappeared only to return with a pail of cold water to temper the first.
"Bath is ready, bwana," said he, and retired, carefully tying the tent flaps behind him.
Fifteen minutes later Kingozi emerged. He wore now a suit of pajamas tucked into canvas "mosquito boots," with very thin soles. He looked scrubbed and clean, the sheen of water still glistening on his thick wavy hair.
The canvas camp chair had been placed before two chop boxes piled one atop the other to form a crude table on which were laid eating utensils. As soon as Cazi Moto saw that his master was ready, he brought the meal. It consisted simply of a platter of curry composed of rice and the fresh meat that had been so recently killed that it had not time to get tough. This was supplemented by bread and tea in a tall enamelware vessel known as a balauri. From the simplicity of this meal one experienced would have deduced—even had he not done so from a dozen other equally significant nothings—that this was no sporting excursion, but an expedition grimly in earnest about something.
The sun had set, and almost immediately the darkness descended, as though the light had been turned off at a switch. The earth shrunk to a pool of blackness, and the heavens expanded to a glory of tropical stars. All visible nature contracted to the light thrown by the flickering fires before the tiny white tents. The tatterdemalion crew had, after the curious habit of Africans, cast aside its garments, and sat forth in a bronze and savage nakedness. All day long under the blistering sun your safari man will wear all that he hath, even unto the heavy overcoat discarded by the latest arrival from England's winter; but when the chill of evening descends, then he strips happily. The men were fed now, and were content. A busy chatter, the crooning of songs, laughter, an occasional shout testified to this. A general relaxation took the camp.
The white man finished his meal and lighted his pipe. Even yet his day's work was not quite done, and he was unwilling to yield himself to rest until all tasks were cleared away.
"Cazi Moto!" he called.
Instantly, it seemed, the headman stood at his elbow.
"To-morrow," said Kingozi deliberately, and paused in decision so long that Cazi Moto ventured a "Yes, bwana."
"To-morrow we rest here. It will be your cazi (duty) to find news of the next water, or to find the water. See if there are people in this country. Take one man with you. Let the men rest and eat."
"Are there sick?"
"Let them come."
Cazi Moto raised his voice.
"N'gonjwa!" he summoned them.
Kingozi looked at them in silence for a moment.
"What is the matter with you?" he asked of the first, a hulking, stupid- looking Kavirondo with the muscles of a Hercules.
The man replied, addressing Cazi Moto, as is etiquette; and although Kingozi understood perfectly, he awaited his headman's repetition of the speech as though the Kavirondo had spoken a strange language.
"Fever, eh?" commented Kingozi aloud to himself, for the first time speaking his own tongue. "We'll soon see. Cazi Moto," he instructed in Swahili, "the medicine."
He thrust a clinical thermometer beneath the Kavirondo's tongue, glancing at a wrist watch as he did so.
"Cazi Moto," he said calmly after three minutes, "this man is a liar. He is not sick; he merely wants to get out of carrying a load."
The Kavirondo, his eyes rolling, shot forth a torrent of language.
"He says," Cazi Moto summarized all this, "that he was very sick, but that this medicine"—indicating the thermometer—"cured him."
"He lies again," said Kingozi. "This is not medicine, but magic that tells me when a man has uttered lies. This man must beware or he will get kiboko."
The Kavirondo scuttled away, and Kingozi gave his attention to the second patient. This man had an infected leg that required some minor surgery. When the job was over and Kingozi had washed his hands, he relighted his pipe and sat back in his chair with a sigh of content. The immediate foreground sank below his consciousness. He stared across the flickering fires at the velvet blackness; listened across the intimate, idle noise of the camp to the voice of the veldt.
For with the fall of darkness and the larger silence of darkness, the veldt awoke. Animals that had dozed through the hot hours and grazed through the cooler hours in somnolent content now quivered alert. There were runnings here and there, the stamp of hoofs, sharp snortings as taut nerves stretched. Zebras uttered the absurd small-dog barks peculiar to them; ostriches boomed; jackals yapped; unknown birds uttered hasty wild calls. Numerous hyenas, near and far away, moaned like lost souls. Kingozi listened as to the voice of an old acquaintance telling familiar things; the men chattered on, their whole attention within the globe of light from their fires.
But suddenly the noise stopped as though it had been cut by a knife. Total silence fell on the little encampment. The men, their various actions suspended, listened intently. From far away, apparently, a low, vibrating rumble stole out of the night's immensity. It rose and seemed to draw near, growing hollow and great, until the very ground seemed to tremble as though a heavy train were passing, or the lower notes of a great organ had been played in a little church. And then it died down, and receded to the great distance again, and was ended by three low, grunting coughs.
The veldt was silent. The zebra barkings were still; the night birds had hushed; the hyenas and jackals and all the other night creatures down—it almost seemed—to the very insects had ceased their calls and cries and chirpings. One might imagine every living creature rigid, alert, listening, as were these men about the little fires.
The tension relaxed. The men dropped more fuel on the fires, coaxing the flame brighter. A whispering comment rose from group to group.
"Simba! simba! simba!" they hissed one to the other.
A lion had roared!
In the first gray dusk Simba and Cazi Moto slipped away on the errands appointed for them—to find people and to find water, if possible. The cook camp, too, was afoot, dark figures passing and repassing before a fire. But the rest of the men slept heavily, seizing the unwonted chance.
When the first rays of the sun struck the fly of the small green master's- tent Kingozi appeared, demanding water wherewith to wash. At the sound of his voice men stirred sleepily, sat up, poked the remains of their tiny fires. As though through an open tap the freshness of night-time drained away. The hot, searching, stifling African day took possession of the world.
After breakfast Kingozi looked about him for shelter. A gorgeous, red- flowering vine had smothered one of the flat-topped thorn trees in its luxuriance. The growths of successive years had overlaid each other. Kingozi called two men with pangas who speedily cut out the centre, leaving a little round green room in the heart of the shadow. Thither Kingozi caused to be conveyed his chop-box table, his canvas chair, and his tin box; and there he spent the entire morning writing in a blank book and carefully drawing from field notes in a pocketbook a sketch map of the country he had traversed. At noon he ate a light meal of bread, plain rice with sugar, and a balauri of tea. Then for a time he slept beneath the mosquito bar in his tent.
At this hour of fiercest sun the whole world slept with him. From the baked earth rose heat waves almost as tangible as gauze veils. Objects at a greater distance than a hundred yards took on strange distortions. The thorn trees shot up to great heights; animals stood on stilts; the tops of the hills were flattened, and from their summits often reached out into space long streamers. Sometimes these latter joined across wide intervals, creating an illusion of natural bridges or lofty flat-topped cliffs with holes clear through them to the open sky beyond. All these things shimmered and flickered and wavered in the mirage of noon. Only the sun itself stared clear and unchanging.
At about two o'clock Kingozi awoke and raised his voice. Mali-ya-bwana, next in command after Cazi Moto and Simba, answered.
"Get the big gun," he was told, "and the water bottles."
Mali-ya-bwana was not a professed gun bearer, but he could load, and Kingozi believed him staunch. Therefore, often, in absence of Simba, the big Baganda had been pressed into this service.
The blasting heat was fiercest at this hour. The air was saturated by it just as water may hold a chemical in solution. Every little while a wave would beat against the cheek as though a furnace door had been opened. Nevertheless Kingozi knew that this was also the hour when the sun's power begins to decline; when the vertical rays begin to give place. For it is not heat that kills, but the actinic power of rays unfiltered by a long slant through the earth's atmosphere.
The two men tramped methodically along, paying little attention to their surroundings. Game dozed everywhere beneath the scanty shade, sometimes singly, sometimes in twos or threes, sometimes in herds. Motionless they stood; and often, were it not for the switch of a tail, they would have remained unobserved. Even the sentinel hartebeestes, posted atop high ant hills on the outskirts of the herds, seemed half asleep. Nevertheless they were awake enough for the job, as was evidenced when the two human figures came too near. Then a snort brought every creature to its feet, staring.
The objective of the men seemed to be a rise of land which the lessening mirage now permitted to appear as a small kopje, a solitary hill with rocky outcrops. Toward this they plodded methodically: Kingozi slouching ahead, Mali-ya-bwana close at his heels, very proud of his temporary promotion from the ranks. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. At the signal Kingozi stopped and looked back inquiringly over his shoulder.
Mali-ya-bwana was pointing cautiously to a low red clay ant hill immediately in their path and about thirty yards ahead. To the casual glance it looked no different from any of the hundreds of others of like size and colour everywhere to be seen. Kingozi's attention, however, now narrowed to a smaller circle than the casual. It did not need Mali-ya- bwana's whispered "faru" (rhinoceros) to identify the mound.
Cautiously the two men began to back away. When they had receded some twenty yards, however, the huge beast leaped to its feet. The rapidity of its movements was extraordinary. There intervened none of the slow and clumsy upheaval one would naturally expect from an animal of so massive a body and such short, thick legs. One moment it slumbered, the next it was afoot, warned by some slight sound or jar of the earth or—as some maintain—by a telepathic sense of danger. Certainly, as far as they knew, neither Kingozi nor Mali-ya-bwana had disturbed a pebble or broken a twig.
The rhinoceros faced them, snorting loudly. The sound was exactly that of steam roaring from a locomotive's safety valve. Strangely enough, in spite of the massive structure and the loose, thick skin of the beast, it conveyed an impression of taut, nervous muscles. Though it faced directly toward them, the men knew that they were as yet unseen. The rhinoceros' eyesight is very short, or very circumscribed, or both; and only objects in motion and comparatively close enter its range of vision. Kingozi and his man held themselves rigidly immovable, waiting for what would happen. The rhinoceros, too, held himself rigidly immovable, his nostrils dilating between snorts, his ears turning; for his senses of smell and hearing made up in their keenness for the defects of his eyes.
Suddenly, without the slightest warning, he stuck his tail perpendicular and plunged forward at a clumsy-looking but exceedingly swift gallop.
An inexperienced man would have considered himself the object of a deliberate "charge"; but an old African traveller, such as Kingozi, knew this for a blind rush in the direction toward which the animal happened to be headed. The rhinoceros, alarmed by the first intimation of danger, unable to get further news from its keener senses, had been seized by a panic. Were nothing to deflect him from the straight line, he would continue ahead on it until the panic had run out.
But the two men were exactly in that line!
Kingozi hitched his light rifle forward imperceptibly. Although this was at present only a blind rush, should the rhinoceros catch sight of them he would fight; and within twenty-five yards or so his eyesight would be quite good enough. As the beast did not slow up in the first ten yards, but rather settled into its stride, Kingozi took rapid aim and fired.
His intention was neither to kill nor to cripple his antagonist. If that had been the case, he would have used the heavy double rifle that Mali-ya- bwana held ready near his elbow. The bullet inflicted a slight flesh wound in the outer surface of the beast's left shoulder. Kingozi instantly passed the light rifle back with his right hand, at the same motion seizing the double rifle with his left.
But at the spat of the bullet the rhino veered toward the direction from which it seemed to his stupid brain the hurt had come. Tail erect, he thundered away down the slope.
For a hundred yards he careered full speed, then slowed to a trot, finally stopped, whirled, and faced to a new direction. The sound of his blowing came clearly across the intervening distance.
A low bush grew near. The rhino attacked this savagely, horning it, trampling it down. The dust arose in clouds. Then the huge brute trotted slowly away, still snorting angrily, pausing to butt violently the larger trees, or to tear into shreds some bush or ant hill that loomed dangerously in the primeval fogs of his brain.
"Sorry, old chap," commented Kingozi in his own language, "but you're none the worse. Only I'm afraid your naturally sweet temper is spoiled for to- day, at least."
He turned to exchange guns with Mali-ya-bwana.
"N'dio, bwana," assented the latter to a speech of which he understood not one word. Mali-ya-bwana was secretly a little proud of himself for having stuck like a gun bearer, instead of shinning up a thorn tree like a porter.
Kingozi slipped a cartridge into the rifle, and the two resumed their walk toward the kopje.
By the time the two men had gained the top of the hill the worst heat of the day had passed. Kingozi seated himself on a flat rock and at once began to take sights through a prismatic compass, entering the observations in a pocketbook. Mali-ya-bwana, bolt upright, stared out over the thinly wooded plain below. He reported the result of his scouting in a low voice, to which the white man paid no attention whatever.
"Twiga bwana," he said, and then, as his eye caught the flash of many sing-sing horns, "kuru, mingi." Thus he named over the different animals—the topi, the red hartebeeste, the eland, zebra, some warthogs, and many others. The beasts were anticipating the cool of the afternoon, and were grazing slowly out from beneath the trees, scattering abroad over the landscape.
[Footnote 2: Giraffe.]
From even this slight elevation the outlook extended. Isolated mountain ranges showed loftier; the tops of unguessed hills peeped above the curve of the earth; the clear line of the horizon had receded to the outer confines of terrestrial space, but even then not far enough to touch the cup of the sky. Elsewhere the heavens meet the horizon: in Africa they lie beyond it, so that when the round, fleecy clouds of the Little Rains sail down the wind there is always a fleet of them beyond the earth disappearing into the immensities of the infinite. There is space in African skies beyond the experience of those who have dwelt only in other lands. They dwarf the earth; and the plains and mountains, lying in weeks' journeys spread before the eye, dwarf all living things, so that at the last the man of imagination here becomes a humble creature.
For an hour the two remained on top the kopje. The details of the unknown country ahead, toward which Kingozi gave his attention, were simple. From the green line of the watercourse, near which the camp showed white and tiny, the veldt swept away for miles almost unbroken. Here and there were tiny parklike openings of clear grass; here and there more kopjes standing isolated and alone, like fortresses. Far down over the edge of the world showed dim and blue the tops of a short range of mountains. Vainly did Kingozi sweep his glasses over the landscape in hope of another line of green. No watercourse was visible. On the other hand, the scattered growth of thorn trees showed no signs of thickening to the dense spiky jungle that is one of the terrors of African travel. There might be a watercourse hidden in the folds of the earth; there might be a rainwater "tank," or a spring, on any of the kopjes. Simba and Cazi Moto were both experienced, and capable of a long round trip. The problem of days' journeys was not pressing at this moment. Kingozi noted the compass bearings of all the kopjes; took back sights in the direction from which he had come; closed his compass; and began idly to sweep the country with his glasses. In an unwonted mood of expansion he turned to Mali-ya-bwana.
"We go there," he told the porter, indicating the blue mountain-tops.
"It is far," Mali-ya-bwana replied.
Kingozi continued to look through his glasses. Suddenly he stopped them on an open plain three or four miles back in the direction from which he had come the day before. Mali-ya-bwana followed his gaze.
"A safari, bwana," he observed, unmoved. "A very large safari," he amended, after a moment.
Through his prismatic glasses Kingozi could see every detail plainly. After his fashion of talking aloud, he reported what he saw, partly to the black man at his side, but mostly to himself.
"Askaris," he said, "six of them. The man rides in a machele—he is either a German or a Portuguese; only those people use macheles— unless he is sick! Many porters—four are no more white men. More askaris!" He smiled a little contemptuously under his beard. "This is a great safari, Mali-ya-bwana. Four tin boxes and twelve askaris to guard them; and eighty or more porters; and sixteen men just to carry the machele! This must be a Bwana M' Kubwa."
[Footnote 3: Native troops, armed with Snider muskets.]
[Footnote 4: A hammock slung on a long pole, and carried by four men at each end.]
"That is what Kavirondos might think," replied Mali-ya-bwana calmly.
Kingozi looked up at him with a new curiosity.
"But not yourself?"
"A man who is a Bwana M'kubwa does not have to be carried. He does not need askaris to guard him in this country. And where can he get potio for so many?"
"Hullo!" cried Kingozi, surprised. "This is not porter's talk; this is headman's talk!"
"In my own country I am headman of many people," replied Mali-ya-bwana with a flash of pride.
"Yet you carry my tent load."
But Mali-ya-bwana made no reply, fixing his fierce eyes on the distant crawling safari.
"It must be a sportsman's safari," said Kingozi, this time to himself, "though what a sportsman wants in this back-of-beyond is a fair conundrum. Probably one of these chappies with more money than sense: wants to go somewhere nobody else has been, and can't go there without his caviare and his changes of clothes, and about eight guns—not to speak of a Complete Sportsman's Outfit as advertised exclusively by some Cockney Tom Fool on Haymarket."
He contemplated a problem frowningly. "Whoever it is will be a nuisance—a damn nuisance!" he concluded.
"N'dio, bwana," came Mali-ya-bwana's cheerful response to this speech in a language strange to him.
"You have asked a true question," Kingozi shifted to Swahili. "Where is potio to be had for so large a safari? Trouble—much trouble!" He arose from the flat stone. "We will go and talk with this safari."
At an angle calculated to intercept the caravan, Kingozi set off down the hill.
After twenty minutes' brisk walk it became evident that they were approaching the route of march. Animals fled past them in increasing numbers, some headlong, others at a dignified and leisurely gait, as though performing a duty. The confused noise of many people became audible and the tapping of safari sticks against the loads.
At the edge of a tiny opening Kingozi, concealed behind a bush, reviewed the new arrivals at close range, estimating each element on which a judgment could be based. As usual, he thought aloud, muttering his speculations sometimes in his own language, sometimes in the equally familiar Swahili.
"Askaris not pukha askaris of the government. Those are not Sniders they carry—don't know that kind of musket. Those boxes are not the usual type—wonder where they were bought!"
[Footnote 5: Genuine—regular.]
The hammock came into view, swinging on the long pole. It was borne by four men at each end—experienced machele carriers who would keep step with a gentle gliding. Eight more walked alongside as relay. They would change places so skilfully that the occupant of the hammock could not have told when the shift took place. Alongside walked a tall, bareheaded, very black man. Kingozi's experienced eye was caught by differences.
"Of what tribe is that man?" he asked.
But Mali-ya-bwana was also puzzled.
"I do not know, bwana. He is a shenzi."
[Footnote 6: Wild Man.]
The unknown was very tall, very straight, most well formed. But his face was extraordinarily ugly. His flat, wide nose, thick lips, and small yellow eyes were set off by an upstanding mop of hair. His expression was of extraordinary fierceness. He walked with a free and independent stride, and carried a rifle.
"He is not of this country. He is from the west coast, or perhaps Nubia or the Sudan," was Kingozi's conclusion.
"Many of these people are shenzis," Mali-ya-bwana pursued his own thought.
"That is true," Kingozi acknowledged. "If this is a sportsman, from what part did he hail to have got together this lot! We will see."
As the swinging hammock came opposite his concealment, Kingozi stepped forward.
Every one in sight looked in his direction, but none showed any astonishment at this apparition out of the wilderness. The sophisticated African has ceased to be surprised at anything a white man may do. If he can make fire by rubbing a tiny stick once, why should he not do anything under heaven he wants to? A locomotive, an automobile, a flying machine are miracles, but no less—and no greater—than ordinary matches. Once admit the ability to transcend natural laws, once admit the possibility of miracles, why be surprised at anything? If a white man chose to appear thus in an unknown country, why not? If he chose again to vanish into thin air, again why not? Only the fierce-looking savage carrying the rifle rolled his eyes uneasily.
But at this precise moment a diversion on the opposite side of the line attracted attention enough. A galvanic shiver ran down the string of porters, succeeded at once by a crashing of loads cast hastily to the ground. With unanimity the bearers swarmed across the little open space toward and to either side of Kingozi and his attendant. Reaching the fringe of flat-topped trees they sprang into the low branches, heedless of the long thorns, and scrambled aloft until at least partially concealed. A few of the bolder members lurked behind the trunks, but held themselves ready for an instant ascent. From a hundred throats arose a confused cry of "Faru! Faru!"
Not joining this first flight remained only the askaris, the eight men bearing the hammock, and the tall Nubian. Of these the askaris were far ahead and to the rear; the hammock bearers were decidedly panicky; only the Nubian seemed cool and self-possessed. The occupant of the hammock thrust out a foot to descend.
But before this could be accomplished a rhinoceros burst fully into view across the open space. His tail was up, he was snorting loudly, and he headed straight for the hammock. That was large, moving, and directly in his line of vision. The sight was too much for the bearers. With a howl they dropped the pole and streaked it to join their brothers in the thorn trees. The pole and the canopy of the hammock tangled inextricably its occupant.
A ragged volley from the muskets of the askaris merely seemed to add to the confusion. With great coolness the Nubian discharged first one barrel then the other of the heavy rifle he carried. The recoil, catching him in a bad posture, knocked him backward. The bullets kicked up a tremendous dust part way between himself and the charging beast. He was now without defence. Nevertheless he stepped in front of the entangled struggling figure on the ground.
Before the appearance of the rhinoceros into the open Kingozi had exchanged rifles, and stood at the ready. He was a good hundred yards from the hammock. Even in the rush of events he, characteristically, found time for comments, although they did not in the least interfere with his rapid movements.
"Hope they don't wing one another," he remarked of the askaris' volley. "Rotten shooting! rotten!" as the Nubian stood his ground. At the same time he pushed forward the safety catch and threw the heavy rifle to his shoulder.
A charging rhinoceros—or one rushing near enough a man's direction to be dangerous—is not a difficult problem. Given nerve enough, and barring accidents—which might happen in a London flat—a man is in no danger. If he opens fire too soon, indeed, he is likely to empty his weapon without inflicting a stopping wound, but if he will wait until the beast is within twenty yards or so, the affair is certain. For this reason: just before a rhinoceros closes, he drops his head low in order to bring his long horn into action. If the hunter fires then, over the horn, he will strike the beast's backbone. The shot can hardly be missed, for the range is very close and the outstanding flanges of the vertebrae make a large mark. The formidable animal goes down like a stone. In country open enough to preclude the deadly close-at-hand surprise rush, where one has no chance to use his weapon at all, the rhinoceros is not dangerous to one who knows his business.
But in this case Kingozi was nearer a hundred and twenty than twenty yards from the animal. The mark to be hit was now very small; and it was moving. In addition the heavy double rifle, while accurate enough at that range, was not, owing to its weight and terrific recoil, as certain as a lighter rifle. These things Kingozi knew perfectly. The muscles under his beard tightened; his gray eyes widened into a glare like that of Simba in sight of game.
Just before the rhinoceros dropped his head for the toss, the Nubian stepped directly into the line of fire.
"Lala!—lie down!" Kingozi shouted.
Somehow the whip-snap of authority in his voice reached the Nubian's consciousness. He dropped flat, and almost instantly the white man fired.
At the roar of the great gun the rhinoceros collapsed in mid career, going down, as an animal always does under a successful spine shot, completely, without a struggle or even a quiver.
"That was well shot, master," said Mali-ya-bwana.
Kingozi reloaded the rifle and started forward. At the same time the occupant of the hammock finally emerged from the tangle and came erect.
Kingozi saw a tall figure without a coat, dressed in brown shirt, riding breeches, and puttees. The Nubian had retrieved a spilled sun helmet even before the stranger had scrambled erect, so the head and face were invisible. Kingozi's countenance did not change, but a faint contempt appeared in his eyes. The first impression conveyed by the numbers of the tin boxes and their bearers and escort had been deepened. Why? Because the riding breeches were of that exaggerated cut sometimes actually to be seen outside tailor's advertisements. They were gathered trimly around an effeminately slender waist, and then ballooned out to an absurd width, only to contract again skin tight around the knees.
"M'buzi!" grunted Kingozi, applying to the stranger the superlative of Swahili contempt. He did not know he spoke aloud; for it is not well for one white man to criticise another to a native. But Mali-ya-bwana replied.
"Bibi," he corrected.
Kingozi stared. "By Jove, you're right!" he exclaimed in English. "It is a woman!" He burst into an unexpected laugh. "It isn't balloon breeches; it's hips!" he cried. This correction seemed to him singularly humorous. He approached her, laughing.
It was evidently an angry woman, to judge by her gestures and the deprecating attitude of the Nubian. Kingozi surmised that she probably did not fancy being dumped down incontinently before an angry rhinoceros. After a moment, however, her attitude lost its rigidity, she gestured toward the dead monster, evidently commending the savage. He shook his head and motioned in Kingozi's direction. The woman turned, showing an astonished face.
Kingozi was now close up. He saw before him a personality. Physically she was beautiful or not, according as one accepted conventional standards. The dress she wore revealed fully the fact that she had a tall, well-knit figure of long, full curves; a thoroughly feminine figure in conformation, and yet one that looked competent to transcend the usual feminine incompetencies. So far she measured to a high but customary standard. But her face was as exotic as an orchid. It was long, narrow, and pale with three accents to redeem it from what that ordinarily implies—lips of a brilliant carmine, eyes of a deep sea-green, and eyebrows high, arched, clean cut, narrow as though drawn by a camel's-hair brush. Indeed, in civilization no one would have believed them to have been otherwise produced. In spite of the awkward sun helmet she carried her head imperiously.
"If you will ride in a hammock, you ought to teach your men to shoot," was Kingozi's greeting. "It's absurd to go barging through a rhino country like this. You look strong and healthy. Why don't you walk?"
Her crest reared and her nostrils expanded haughtily. For a half-minute she stared at him, her sea-green eyes darkening to greater depths. This did not disturb Kingozi in the least: indeed he did not see it. His eyes were taking in the surroundings.
The dead rhinoceros lay a scant fifteen paces distant; loads were scattered everywhere; the askaris, their ancient muskets reloaded, had drawn near in curiosity. From the thorn trees across the tiny grass opening porters were descending, very gingerly, and with lamentations. It is comparatively easy to ascend a thorn tree with the fear of death snapping at your heels: to descend in cold blood is another matter.
"Why don't you do your work!" he addressed the soldiers. "Do you want to catch kiboko?"
The startled askaris scuttled away about their business, which was, at this moment, to herd and hustle the reluctant porters back to their job. Kingozi, his head and jaw thrust forward, stared after them, his eyes— indeed, his whole personality—projecting aggressive force. The men hurried to their positions, their loud laughter stilled, glancing fearfully and furtively over their shoulders, whipped by the baleful glare with which Kingozi silently battered them.
Only when the last man had picked up his load did Kingozi turn again to the woman. Although her bosom still heaved with emotion, it was a suppressed emotion. He met a face slightly and inscrutably smiling.
"You take it upon yourself to manage my safari?" she said. "You think I cannot manage my men? It is kind of you."
Her English was faultless, but some slight unusual spacing of the words, some ultra-clarity of pronunciation, rather than a recognizable accent, made evident that the language was not her own.
"Your askaris are slack," said Kingozi briefly.
"And how of these?" she demanded imperiously, sweeping with an almost theatrical gesture the miserable-looking group of hammock bearers.
"They are at fault," replied Kingozi indifferently, "but after all they are common porters. You can't expect gun-bearer service or askari service from common porters, now can you?"
He looked at her directly, his clear, steady eyes conveying nothing but a mild interest in the obvious. In contrast to his detached almost indifferent calm, the woman was an embodiment of emotions. Head erect, red lips compressed, breast heaving, she surveyed him through narrowed lids.
"So?" she contented herself with saying.
"It's the nature of the beast to run crazy," pursued Kingozi tranquilly. "You really can't blame them."
"Then am I to be thrown down, like a sack, when it pleases them to run?" she demanded tensely. "Really, you are incredible."
"I should expect it. The real point is that you have no business to ride in a hammock through a rhino country."
The woman's control slipped a very little.
"Who are you to teach me my business?"
For the first time Kingozi's careless, candid stare narrowed to a focus.
"You have not told me what your business is," he replied with an edge of intention in his tones. Their glances crossed like rapiers for the flash of an instant.
She turned to the hammock bearers.
"Lie down!" she commanded. Then to the impassive Nubian, "The kiboko! I suppose," she observed politely to Kingozi, "that you will admit these men should be punished, and that you will permit me to do so?"
"Surely they should be punished; that goes without saying."
"Give them thirty apiece," she ordered the Nubian.
"That is too many," interposed Kingozi. "Six is a great plenty for such people. It is their nature to run away."
"Thirty," she repeated to the Nubian, without a glance in the white man's direction.
The huge negro produced the rhinoceros-hide whip, and went to his task. To lay thirty lashes on sixteen backs and to do justice to the occasion is a great task. The Nubian's face streamed sweat when he had finished. The bearers, who had taken the punishment in silence, arose, saluted, and begun to skylark among themselves, which was their way of working off emotion.
"Askaris!" summoned the woman.
They came trotting.
"Lay down your guns! Lie down!"
A mild wonder appeared in Kingozi's gray eyes.
"Do you kiboko your askaris?" he asked.
She jerked her head in his direction.
"Do you presume to question my actions?"
"By no means; I am interested in methods."
She paid him no more attention. Kingozi waited patiently until this second bout of punishment was over. The askaris lay quietly face down until their mistress gave the word, then leaped to their feet, saluted smartly, seized their guns, and marched jauntily to their appointed positions. The woman watched them for a moment, and turned back to Kingozi.
Her mood had completely changed. The orgy of punishment had cleared away the nervous effects of the fright she had undergone.
"So; that is done," she said. "I have travelled much in Africa. I what you call know my way about. See how my men fall into line. It will be so at camp. Presto! Quick! The tents will be up, the fires made."
Her lips smiled at him, but her sea-green eyes remained steady and inscrutable.
"They seem smart enough," acknowledged Kingozi without interest. "Have you ever tried them out?"
"Tried them out?" she repeated. "I do not understand."
"You never know what hold you really have until you get in a tight place."
"And if I get in a 'tight place,'" she rejoined haughtily, "I shall get out again—without help from negroes—or anybody."
"Quite so," conceded Kingozi equably. His attitude and the tone of his voice were indifferent, but the merest flicker of the tail of his eye touched the dead rhino. His expression remained quite bland. She saw this. The pallor of her cheek did not warm, but her strangely expressive eyes changed.
"Bandika!" she cried sharply. The men began to take up their loads.
"I will wish you a good afternoon," observed Kingozi as though taking his leave from an afternoon tea. "By the way, do you happen to care for information about the next water, or do you know all that?" "Thank you, I know all that," she replied curtly.
The askaris began to shout the order for the advance, "Nenda! nenda!" the men to swing forward. Kingozi stared after them, watching with a professional eye the way they walked, the make-up of their loads, the nature of their equipment; marking the lame ones, or the weak ones, or the ones recently sick. His eye fell on the figure of the strange woman. She was striding along easily, the hammock deserted, with a free swing of the hips, an easy, slouch of the relaxed knees that indicated the accustomed walker. Kingozi smiled.
"'I know all that,'" he repeated. "Now I wonder if you do, or if some idea of silly pride makes you say so." He was talking aloud, in English. Mali- ya-bwana stood attentive, waiting for something he could understand. Kingozi's eye fell on the dead rhinoceros.
"There is good meat; tell the men they can come out to get what they wish of it. There will be lions here to-night."
"If she 'knew all that,'" observed Kingozi, "she knew more than I did. Small chance. Still, if she has information or guides, she may know the next water. But how? Why?"
He shifted his rifle to the crook of his arm.
"That bibi is a great memsahib," he told Mali-ya-bwana. "And this evening we will go to see her. Be you ready to go also."
THE LEOPARD WOMAN
In the early darkness of equatorial Africa Kingozi, accompanied by Mali- ya-bwana with a lantern, crossed over to the other camp. Simba and Cazi Moto had come in almost at dusk; but they were very tired, and Kingozi considered it advisable to let them rest. They had covered probably thirty-five miles. Cazi Moto had found no water, and no traces of water. Furthermore, the game had thinned and disappeared. Only old tracks, old trails, old signs indicated that after the Big Rains the country might be habitable for the beasts. But Simba had discovered a concealed "tank" in a kopje. He had worked his way to it by "lining" the straight swift flight of green pigeons, as a bee hunter on the plains used to line the flight of bees. The tank proved to be a deep, hidden recess far back under overhanging rocks, at once concealed and protected from the sun and animals. Its water was sweet and abundant.
"No one has used that water. It is an unknown water," concluded Simba.
"Vema." Kingozi bestowed on him the word of highest praise.
The stranger woman's camp was not far away; in fact, but just across the little dry stream-bed. Her safari was using the same pool with Kingozi's.
At the edge of the camp he paused to take in its disposition. From one detail to another his eye wandered, and in it dawned a growing approval. Your native, left to his own devices, pitches his little tents haphazard here, there, and everywhere, according as his fancy turns to this or that bush, thicket, or clump of grass. Such a camp straggles abominably. But here was no such confusion. Back from the water-hole a hundred yards, atop a slight rise, and under the thickest of the trees, stood a large green tent with a projecting fly. A huge pile of firewood had been dumped down in front of it, and at that very moment one of the askaris, kneeling, was kindling a fire. Behind the big tent, and at some remove, gleamed the circle of porters' tents each with its little blaze. Loads were piled neatly, covered with a tarpaulin, and the pile guarded by an askari.
Kingozi strode across the intervening space.
Before the big tent a table had been placed, and beside the table a reclining canvas chair of the folding variety. On a spread of figured blue cloth stood a bottle of lime juice, a sparklets, and an enamelware bowl containing flowers. The strange woman was stretched luxuriously in the chair smoking a cigarette.
She wore a short-sleeved lilac tea gown of thin silk, lilac silk stockings, and high-heeled slippers. Her hair fell in two long braids over her shoulders and between her breasts, which the thin silk defined. Her figure in the long chair fell into sinuous, graceful, relaxed lines. As he approached she looked at him over the glowing cigarette; and her eyes seemed to nicker with a strange restlessness. This contrast—of the restless eyes and the relaxed, graceful body—reminded Kingozi of something. His mind groped for a moment; then he had it.
"Bibi ya chui!" he said, half to himself, half to his companion, "The Leopard Woman!"
And, parenthetically, from that moment Bibi-ya-chui—the Leopard Woman— was the name by which she was known among the children of the sun.
She did not greet him in any way, but turned her head to address commands.
"Bring a chair for the bwana; bring cigarettes; bring balauri— lime juice——"
Kingozi found himself established comfortably.
She moved her whole body slightly sidewise, the better to face him. The soft silk fell in new lines about her, defining new curves. Her red lips smiled softly, and her eyes were dark and inscrutable.
"I was what you call horrid to-day," she said. "It was not me: it was the frightenedness from the rhinoceros. I was very much frightened, so I had the porters beaten. That was horrid, was it not? Do you understand it? I suppose not. Men have no nerves, like women. They are brave always. I have not said what I feel. I have heard of you—the most wonderful shot in Central Africa. I believe it—now."
Kingozi's eyes were lingering on her silk-clad form, the peep of ankles below her robe. She observed him with slanted eyes, and a little breath of satisfaction raised her bosom. Abruptly he spoke.
"Aren't you afraid of fever mosquitoes in that rig?" said he.
Her body stirred convulsively, and her finely pencilled eyebrows, with their perpetual air of surprise, moved with impatience; but her voice answered him equably:
"My friend, at the close of the hard day I must have my comfort. There can be no fever here, for there are no people here. When in the fever country I have my 'rig'"—subtly she shaded the word—"just the same. But I have a net—a big net—like a tent beneath which I sit. Does that satisfy you?"
She spoke with the obvious painstaking patience that one uses to instruct a child, but with a veiled irony meant for an older intelligence.
"I do appear to catechize you, don't I? But I am interested. It is difficult to realize that a woman alone can understand this kind of travel."
He had thrown off his guarded abstraction, and smiled across at her as frankly as a boy. The gravity of his face broke into wrinkles of laughter; his steady eyes twinkled; his smile showed strong white teeth. In spite of his bushy beard he looked a boy. The woman stared at him, her cigarette suspended.
"You have instructed me about my camp; you have instructed me about my men; you have instructed me about my marching; you have even instructed me about my clothes." She tallied the counts on her slender fingers. "Now I must instruct you."
"Guilty, I am afraid," he smiled; "but ready to take punishment."
"Very well." With a sinuous movement she turned on her elbow to face him. "Listen! It is this: you should not wear that beard."
She fell back, and raised the cigarette to her lips.
For a moment Kingozi stared at her speechless with surprise; but immediately recovered.
"I shall give to your advice the same respectful consideration you accord mine," he assured her gravely.
She laughed in genuine amusement.
"Only I have more excuse," continued Kingozi. "A woman—alone—so far away——"
"You said that before," she interrupted. "In other words, what in—what- you-call? Oh, yes! what in hell am I doing up here? Is that it?"
She turned on him a wide-eyed stare. Kingozi chuckled.
"That's it. What in—in hell are you doing up here?"
"Listen, my friend. In this world I do what I please—always. And when I find that which people tell me cannot be done, that I do—at once. My life is full of those things which could not be done, but which I have done."
"I believe you," said Kingozi, but he said it to himself.
"I have done them at home—where I live. I have done them in the cities and courts. Whatever the people tell me is impossible—'Oh, it cannot be done!'—with the uplifted hand and eye—you understand—that I do. Four years ago I came to Africa, and in Africa I have done what they tell me women have never done. I have travelled in the Kameroons, in Nyassaland, in Somaliland, in Abyssinia. Then they tell me—'yes, that is very well, but you follow a track. It is a dim track; but it is there. You go alone— yes; but you have us at your back.' And I ask them: 'What then? where is this place where there is no track?' And they wave their hands, and say 'Over yonder'; so I come!"
She recited all this dramatically, using her hands much in gesticulation, her eyes flashing. In proportion as she became animated Kingozi withdrew into his customary stolid calm.
"Quite so," he commented, "spirit of adventure, and all that sort of thing. Where did you get this lot?"
He waved his hand.
She considered him a barely appreciable instant.
"Why—the usual way—from the coast."
"They are strange to me—I do not recognize their tribes," Kingozi replied blandly. "So you are pushing out into the Unknown. How far do you consider going?"
"Until it pleases me to stop."
Kingozi produced his pipe.
"If you do not mind?" he requested. He deliberately filled and lighted it. After a few strong puffs he resumed:
"The country, you say, is unknown to you."
"I imagined you told me this afternoon that you knew of this water. I must have been mistaken."
He blew a cloud, gazing straight ahead of him in obviously assumed innocence. She examined him with a narrow, sidelong glance.
"No," she said at last, "you were not mistaken. I did tell you so."
"Well?" Kingozi turned to her.
"I was very angry, so I lied," she replied naively. "Women always lie when they get very angry."
"Or tell the truth—uncomfortably," grinned Kingozi.
"Brava!" she applauded. "He does know something about women!" With one of her sudden smooth movements she again raised herself on her elbow. "How much?" she challenged.
"Enough," he replied enigmatically.
They both laughed.
Across the accustomed night noises came a long rumbling snarl ending sharply with a snoring gasp. It was succeeded by another on a different key. The two took up a kind of antiphony, one against the other, now rising in volume, now dying down to a low grumble, again suddenly bursting like an explosion.
"The lions have found that rhino," remarked Kingozi indifferently.
For a moment or so they listened to the distant thunders.
"I have not sufficiently thanked you even yet for this afternoon," she said. "You saved my life—you know that."
"Happened to be there; and let off a rifle."
"I know shooting. It was a wonderful shot at that distance and in those circumstances."
"Chancy shot. Had good luck," replied Kingozi shortly.
Undeterred by his tone, she persisted.
"But you are said by many to be the best shot in Africa."
He glanced at her.
"Indeed! I think that a mistake. For whom do you take me?"
"You are Culbertson," she told him. She pronounced the name slowly, syllable by syllable, as though English proper names were difficult to her.
"Whoever he may be. I am known as Kingozi hereabouts."
"You are not Cul-bert-son?"
"I am anything it pleases you to have me. And who are you?"
She had become the spoiled darling, pouting at him in half-pretended vexation.
"You are playing with me. For that I shall not tell you who I am."
"It does not matter; I know."
"You know! But how?"
"I know many things."
"What is it then? Tell me!"
He hesitated, smiling at her inscrutably. The flames from the fire were leaping high now, throwing the lantern-light into eclipse. An askari, wearing on his head an individual fancy in marabout feathers, leaned on his musket, his strong bronze face cast into the wistful lines of the savage countenance in repose. The lions had evidently compounded their quarrel. Only an occasional rasping cough testified to their presence. But in the direction of the dead rhinoceros the air was hideous with the plaints of the waiting hyenas. Their peculiarly weird moans came in chorus; and every once in a while arose the shrill, prolonged titter that has earned them the name of "laughing hyena."
"Bibi-ya-chui," he told her at length.
She considered this, her red lower lip caught between her teeth.
"The Leopard Woman," she repeated, "and it is thus that I am known! You, Kingozi—the Bearded One; I, Bibi-ya-chui—the Leopard Woman!" She laughed. "I think I like it," she decided.
"Now we know all about each other," he mocked.
"But no: you have asked many questions, which is your habit, but I have asked few. What do you do in this strange land? Is it—what-you-call— 'spirit of adventure' also?"
"Not I! I am an ivory hunter."
"You expect to find the elephant here?"
"Who knows—or ivory to trade."
"And then you get your ivory and make the magic pass, and presto! it is in Mombasa," she said, with a faint sarcasm.
"You mean I have not men enough to carry out ivory. Well, that is true. But you see my habit is to get my ivory first and then to get shenzis from the people roundabout to act as porters," he explained to her gravely.
Apparently she hesitated, in two minds as to what next to say. Kingozi perceived a dancing temptation sternly repressed, and smiled beneath his beard.
"I see," she said finally in a meek voice.
But Kingozi knew of what she was thinking. "She is a keen one," he reflected admiringly. "Caught the weak point in that yarn straight off!"
He arose to his feet, knocking the ashes from his pipe.
"You travel to-morrow?" he asked politely.
"That I have not decided."
"This is a dry country," Kingozi suggested blandly. "Of course you will not risk a blind push with so many men. You will probably send out scouts to find the next water."
"That is possible," she replied gravely; but Kingozi thought to catch a twinkle in her eye.
He raised his voice:
Mali-ya-bwana glided from one of the small porters' tents.
"Qua heri." Kingozi abruptly wished her farewell in Swahili.
"Qua heri," she replied without moving.
He turned into the darkness. The tropical stars blazed above him like candles. Kingozi lapsed into half-forgotten slang.
"Downy bird!" he reflected, which was probably not exactly the impression the Leopard Woman either intended or thought she had made.
A seasoned African traveller in ordinary circumstances sleeps very soundly, his ear attuned only to certain things. So Kingozi hardly stirred on his cork mattress, although the lions roared full-voiced satisfaction when they left the rhinoceros, and the yells of the hyenas rose to a pandemonium when at last they were permitted to join the feast. Likewise the nearer familiar noises of men rising to their daily tasks at four o'clock—the yawning, stretching, cracking of firewood, crackling of fire, low-voiced chatter—did not disturb him. Yet, so strangely is the human mind organized, had during the night a soft whisper of padded feet, even the deep breathing of a beast, sounded within the precincts of the camp, he would instantly have been broad awake, the rifle that stood loaded nearby clasped in his hand. Thus he lay quietly through the noises of men working, but came awake at the sound of men marching. He arose on his elbow and drew aside the flap of his tent.
At the same instant Cazi Moto stopped outside. The usual formula ensued.
"Hodie!" called Cazi Moto.
"Karibu," replied Kingozi.
Thus Cazi Moto at once awakened and greeted his master, and Kingozi acknowledged.
Cazi Moto entered the tent and lighted the tiny lantern, for it was still an hour and a half until daylight.
"I hear men marching," said Kingozi.
Cazi Moto stopped.
"It is the safari of Bibi-ya-chui." Already Kingozi's nickname for her had been adopted.
Cazi Moto disappeared, and a moment later was heard outside pouring water into the canvas basin.
Instead of arising immediately, as was his ordinary custom, Kingozi lay still. The Leopard Woman was already travelling! What could that mean? She was certainly taking some chances hiking around thus in the dark. Perhaps some aged or weak lion had not been permitted a share of that rhinoceros. And again she was taking chances pushing out blindly with over a hundred men into the aridity of the desert. Kingozi contemplated this thought for some time. Then, making up his mind, he arose and began to dress.
As he was drying his face Simba came for the guns, and a half-dozen of the porters prepared to strike and furl the tent. Already the canvas washstand had disappeared.
"Simba," observed Kingozi in English, of which language Simba knew but three words, "she is no fool. She knows where there is water out yonder; but it is water at least forty miles away. She's got to push and push hard to make it, and that's why she's making so early a start. I had a notion this 'country of the great Unknown' wasn't quite so 'unknown' as it might be."
He finished this speech coincidentally with the drying of his hands. The impatient Cazi Moto snatched the towel deftly but respectfully and packed it away. Simba, who had listened with deference until his bwana should finish this jargon, grinned.
"Yes, suh!" he used two of his English words at a bang.
Kingozi ate his breakfast by firelight. With the exception of his camp chair and the eating service, the camp was by now all packed, and the men were squatting before their fires waiting.
But there was a hitch. Kingozi called up Simba and began to question him.
"You say the water is four hours' march?"
"Four hours for you, or four hours for laden men?"
"The safari can go in four hours, bwana."
"Is there game there?"
"No, bwana. It is a guarded water, and there is no game."
"Very well. I want six men. Before the march we must get meat."
Some time since the flames of the African sunrise had spread to the zenith, glowing and terrible as a furnace. Although the sky was thus brilliantly illuminated, the earth, strangely enough, was still gray with twilight. Objects fifty yards distant were indeterminate. Objects farther away were lost. The light was daylight, but it was inadequate, as though charged with mist.
And then suddenly the daylight was clear.
It was like the turning on by a switch. The dim shapes defined clearly, becoming trees, rocks, distant hills. And almost immediately the rim of the sun showed above the horizon.
Kingozi had already decided on the best direction in which to hunt. Neither the direction taken by the Leopard Woman's safari nor the immediate surroundings of the night's orgy over the rhino carcass was desirable. The fact that the big water-hole below camp had not only remained unvisited, but apparently even desired, led him to deduce the existence of another, alternative, drinking place. He had yesterday explored some distance downstream; therefore he now turned up.
Simba with the big rifle followed close at his heels. The six porters stole along fifty yards in the rear. They were quite as anxious for meat —promptly—as anybody, and were as unobtrusive as shadows.
For upward of a mile the hunters encountered nothing but a few dik-dik and steinbuck—tiny grass antelope, too small for the purpose. Then a shift of wind brought to them a medley of sound—a great persistent barking of zebras supplying the main volume. At the same time they saw, over a distant slight rise, a cloud of dust.
Simba's eyes were gleaming.
"Game! Much game there, bwana!" he cried.
"I see," replied Kingozi quietly.
The porters accompanied them to within a few rods of the top of the rise. There they squatted, and the other two crawled up alone.
Below them, probably three hundred yards away, was a larger replica of the other water-hole. At its edge and in its shallows stood a few beasts. But the sun was now well above the horizon, the drinking time was practically over.
Three long strings of game animals were walking leisurely away in three different directions. They were proceeding soberly, in single file, nose to tail. The ranks ran with scarcely a break, to disappear over the low swells of the plain. Alongside the plodders skipped and ran, rushed back and forth the younger, frivolous characters, kicking up their heels, biting at one another, or lowering their horns in short mimic charges— gay, animated flankers to the main army. There were several sorts, each in its little companies or bands, many times repeated, of from two or three to several score; although occasionally strange assortments and companionships were to be seen, as a black, shaggy-looking wildebeeste with a troop of kongoni. Kingozi saw, besides these two, also the bigger and smaller gazelles, many zebra, topi, the lordly eland; and, apart, a dozen giraffes, two rhinoceros, and some warthogs. There were probably two thousand wild animals in sight.
The hunters lay flat, watching. This multiplicity afforded them a wonderful spectacle, but that was about all. If they should crawl three yards farther they would indubitably be espied by some one. It was impossible to single out a beast as the object of a stalk: all the others must be considered, too. There was no cover.
Kingozi was too old at the business to hurry. He considered the elements of his problem soberly before coming back to his first and most obvious conclusion. Then he raised himself slowly to his favourite sitting position and threw off the safety.
The distance was a fair three hundred yards, which is a long shot—when it is three hundred yards. The fireside and sporting magazine hunters of big game are constantly hitting 'em through the heart at even greater distances—estimated. It is actually a fact, proven many times, that those estimates should be divided by two in order to get near the measured truth! The "four hundred yards if it's an inch!" becomes two hundred—and even two hundred yards at living game in natural surroundings is a long and creditable shot.
In taking his aim Kingozi modified his usual custom because of the distance. When one can get his beast broadside on, the most immediately fatal shot is one high in the shoulder, about three-quarters of the way up. That drops an animal dead in his tracks. The next best is a bullet low in the shoulder. Third is a really accurate heart shot. This latter is always fatal, of course; but ordinarily the quarry will run at racing speed for some little distance before falling dead. In certain types of country this means considerable tracking, may even mean the loss of the animal. Next comes anywhere in the barrel forward of the short ribs—a chancy proceeding, and one leading to long chases. After that the likelihood of a cripple is too great.
Now it is evident that one must aim at what he can be sure of hitting. The high shoulder shot is all right if the distance is so short that one can be absolutely certain of placing his bullet within a six-inch circle. Otherwise the chance of over-shooting—always great—becomes prohibitive. The low shoulder shot increases the circle to from eight to twelve inches, with the chance outside that of merely breaking a foreleg, grazing brisket, or missing entirely under the neck. The heart shot—or rather an attempt at it—is safer for a longer range, not because the mark is larger, but because even if one misses the heart, he is apt to land either the shoulder or the ribs well forward. The only miss is beneath, and that is clear, as the heart is low in the body. And at extreme ranges, the forward one-third of the barrel is the point of aim. It should only rarely be attempted. Unless a man is certain he can hit that mark, every time, he is not justified in taking the shot.
This principle applies to every one: as well to the beginner as to the expert. The only difference between the two is the range at which this certainty exists. The tyro's limit of absolute certainty for the heart shot may be—and probably is—a hundred yards; for the high shoulder it may be as near as thirty. This takes into consideration his inexperience in the presence of game as well as his inaccuracy with the rifle, and it keeps in mind that he must hit that mark not merely nine times out of ten, but every time. If he cannot get within the hundred yards by stalking, then he should refuse the chance. As expertness rises in the scale the distances increase. Provided there were no such things as nerves, luck, faulty judgment, and the estimate of distances one man should be as mercifully deadly as another. Naturally the man who had to stalk to within a hundred yards would not get as many shots as the one who could take his chance at two hundred. This conduct of venery is an ideal that is only approximated. Hence misses.
But even if a man lives rigorously up to his principles and knowledge, there are other elements that bring in uncertainty. For one thing, he must be able to estimate distance with some degree of accuracy. It avails little to know that you can hit a given mark at two hundred and fifty yards, if you do not know what two hundred and fifty yards is. And here enter a thousand deceits: direction of light, slope of ground, nature of cover, temperature, mirage, time of day, and the like. An apparent hundred yards over water or across a canon would—were, by some dissolving-view- change, bush-dotted plain to be substituted—become nearer three hundred in the latter circumstances. There is a limit to the best man's experience; a margin of error in the best man's judgment. Hence more misses.