by Charles Beadle Author of "A Whiteman's Burden"
Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company 1922
Printed in Great Britain by Butler & Tanner, Frome and London
LUCILLE CHARLTRAIN (Mrs. Gerald Birnier) A Photograph USAKUMA (The Incarnation of the Unmentionable One) An Idol GERALD BIRNIER A Professor ZU PFEIFFER (Hermann von Schnitzler und) German Kommandant ZALU ZAKO (son of Kawa Kendi) Heir Apparent BAKUMA (daughter of Bakala) in love with Zalu Zako MYALU (son of MBusa) a chief in love with Bakuma BAKAHENZIE (son of Maliko) Chief Witch-Doctor MARUFA (son of MTungo) another Witch-Doctor KAWA KENDI (son of MFunya MPopo) King-God and Rainmaker MFUNYA MPOPO (son of MKoffo) Predecessor of Kawa Kendi KINGATA MATA (son of Kabolo) Keeper of the Sacred Fires SAKAMATA deposed Witch-Doctor and spy YABOLO another Witch-Doctor MUNGONGO Birnier's servant SCHULTZ German sergeant LUDWIG German sergeant SCHNEIDER German sergeant
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Extra Pages Errata
In a bayou in the south-eastern corner of the Victoria Nyanza was the station of Ingonya, a brown scab on the face of the green earth. The round mud huts of the askaris were like two columns of khaki troops marching rigidly on each side of the parade ground. To the north, upon a slight rise of ground, were the white men's quarters; the non-commissioned officers had four bungalows to the south of the orderly room and Court House; and beyond a green plot flanked by a store house and an ordnance building, was a bigger bungalow, florid in the amplitude and colour of the red pillared verandah, the residence of the Kommandant, Herr Ober-Lieutenant Hermann von Schnitzler und zu Pfeiffer.
On the northern side, overlooking the swamp and the distant lake, was a flagpole, before which paced an ebon sentry in a uniform of white knickers, tunic and lancer cap, red faced. The glow of sunrise stained the green of the moon with crimson. A trumpet blared. From the rear of the Residence marched with stiff-legged precision a squad of askaris and the stocky figure of a non-commissioned officer in a white helmet. Simultaneously appeared on the verandah of the large bungalow the tall form of a white man in pink silk pyjamas. The sergeant barked. The squad presented arms. A coloured ball slid up the flagpole. The first rays of the sun splintered the bloodied waters beyond into silver spikes and caressed a fluttering black, white and red flag.
Then the squad ported arms, relieved the sentry, and retired, their black legs gleaming blue points as they rose and fell. The pink figure disappeared. Sergeant Schultz strutted back to his bungalow, in the verandah of which squatted a native girl clad in gay trade cloths. He emerged lighting a cigar, and sjambok in hand, returned to the orderly room. Another trumpet blared. From beyond the askaris' camp came a line of natives, young and old, their scrawny necks linked together by a light iron chain which clanked musically. Filing on to the parade ground they were divided into gangs by Sergeant Schneider to labour under guard at the interminable work of the camp.
The air above the swamp began to sizzle in the heat. The same slender figure clad in immaculate white reappeared upon the south verandah of the florid bungalow. Herr Ober-Lieutenant stood staring about the small square with a peevish glint in the fair eyes. A big negro in spotless white hurried around the house bearing a brass tray set with a cup, a liqueur glass and a decanter. Herr Lieutenant sprawled his legs on either arm of a Bombay chair. As he delicately mixed cognac with his coffee, his jewelled fingers sparkled in a shaft of sunlight which set afire the sapphires mounted in an ivory bracelet.
At a yard from the table stood the servant as rigid as the flagpole. With a lazy insolence which marked his movements, the lieutenant sipped the cafe-cognac and smoked a cheroot, as if he were seated on the terrace of the Cafe de la Paix. The brutality of the round skull, emphasized by the cropped blonde hair, seemed at variance with the boyish rotundity of the face and the small, but dominant, nose. Two separate moustaches bristled so fiercely that they suggested sentries on guard over the feminine softness of the lips. When he had finished zu Pfeiffer arose languidly, lighted a fresh cigar, adjusted his helmet with care, took a gold-mounted sjambok from his servant, and strode across the square. The lines of his torso were so perfect that they suggested artificial aid.
The orderly room was square and whitewashed; grass matting was upon the floor, and high screened doors opened on to the north verandah. Zu Pfeiffer sprawled in a swing chair before the office desk placed at an oblique angle to the wall, encumbered with books and papers. After tapping reflectively on a book cover with a polished nail zu Pfeiffer's hand sharply struck the bell. Instantly a corporal appeared at the farther door and stood as if petrified, black hand to black temple. Zu Pfeiffer snapped instructions in Kiswahili without removing his cigar. The man grunted, shot his hand away at right angles with as much energy as if he were trying to knock down an elephant, and vanished.
At the other door like another Jack-in-the-box appeared Sergeant Schultz in exactly the same attitude. At a nod the sergeant melted into the semblance of human movement: he drew aside a chair, selected a certain document from a pile of them, and handed it to the lieutenant. Zu Pfeiffer pushed a box of cigars across the table, lolled back with one foot on the table, and began to peruse lazily. The sergeant retired respectfully with the cigar to the outer office. A fly buzzed hopefully at the mosquito wire. The tap of a typewriter sounded like some other insect. On the hot air came the faint barks of a drill-sergeant on the parade ground. From behind the building rose fitfully the murmur of voices from a herd of natives squatted in the sun awaiting the opening of the Court House. Leaves rustled largely under the Lieutenant's fingers.…
At length he pitched the report on to the table, carefully placed the butt of his cigar in an ash-tray, lighted another, and disposed of the match with equal care.
Zu Pfeiffer indicated a chair by a thrust of the chin. The sergeant sat. Tapping the report with the highly polished and very long finger-nail of the left hand, the lieutenant demanded:
"Who is the man who gave you this report?"
"Ali Ben Hassan, an Arab trader, Excellence."
"Ja, Excellence. He has done much work for us."
"On the Tanganika district, sub-division B II, Excellence. He brought papers of first-class recommendation from the Kommandant."
"Ben Hassan speaks of one Sakamata, nicht wahr?"
"Of what tribe is he?"
"He is here? Let him come in."
The sergeant rose, saluted and departed. Gutturals sounded lazily. The sergeant reappeared and behind him shuffled a native. Clad only in a dirty loin-cloth, his brown skin was wrinkled in scaly folds upon his chest and belly; his face was like an ancient tortoise; the small lack-lustre eyes were bloodshot and furtive; the limbs were almost fleshless. He squatted upon the ground and with lowered lids appeared to be absorbed in the contemplation of a white man's table leg. Zu Pfeiffer regarded the man as one would a stray dog and nodded to the sergeant, who sat down.
"Does he speak Kiswahili?"
"Nein, Excellence. Only his monkey speech."
"Why do you suppose that he is trustworthy?"
"Because, Excellence, his interests are with ours. There is no competition. The Schweinhuende Englaender have no interest there—yet. They are too busy with the Uganda railroad."
"Ja, ja. Again what is the tribal system there, King-God or——" The lieutenant permitted a slight smile—"or Dis-established Church?"
"King-God, Excellence," replied Sergeant Schultz gravely.
"This fellow then is an apostate priest, nicht wahr?"
The sergeant noticed the movement of one of the sentry moustaches. A twitch of the lips recognized his superior's pleasantry.
Zu Pfeiffer stuck the cigar into the corner of his mouth and regarded idly the dumb figure on the floor against the wall.
"We must have the Wongolo country, c'est entendu. Now what's your opinion of the method, sergeant?"
"With due deference, Excellence," responded Sergeant Schultz, "I propose that we advance and bring them to subjection in the usual manner."
Zu Pfeiffer fingered a ring and stared out into the yellow glare.
"Nein," he said at length, meditatively, removed the cigar from his lips and delicately knocked off the ash. "Circumstances alter cases. That method is too expensive. Son Altesse cannot afford the blood of the Fatherland in return for such ignoble carcasses. We—the price paid in the Herrero campaign was insupportable."
"Pardon, Excellence, but Treitschke said——"
"I know, sergeant. But Treitschke did not live in Central Africa."
"Die Schweinhuende Englaender have had more experience than we have. Even a fool learns wisdom by experience—sometimes."
Again fell a silence save for the buzz of the persistent fly.
"Also psychological research is more valuable than artillery—sometimes—in spite of Napoleon and Treitschke." Zu Pfeiffer glanced at the sergeant who, beneath the mask of his features, appeared shocked. "Blasphemy, nicht wahr, sergeant?"
"If your Excellence thinks——"
"But remember if Napoleon invented the science of artillery, we invented psychology."
Zu Pfeiffer smiled complacently and stroked his moustaches.
"Now for this animal here. Who and what was he?"
"One of the principal witch-doctors, Excellence, wealthy and powerful. He attempted to overthrow the Chief Witch-doctor, one Bakahenzie, and was discredited."
"He attempted some form of magic, Excellence, which failed. Details are not given."
"Who gave the dossier?"
"Ali ben Hassan, Excellence."
"From whom did he get his information?"
"Name given as one Yabolo, another witch-doctor and relative."
"This Saka—Saka"—zu Pfeiffer glanced at the document—"Sakamata. Is he in communication with this Yabolo?"
Zu Pfeiffer smoked reflectively.
"When did the last agent come in?"
"But yesterday, Excellence."
"And no report of any other white men in the country? No British missionaries or traders?"
"Where is Saunders?"
"On Lake Kivu."
"Not since the last three months ago, Excellence."
"Umph!—Now, pay attention." Schultz leaned forward dutifully. Zu Pfeiffer unrolled a map on the wall beside him. "Here's Ingonya. The Wongolo country is twenty days' march from here, but across the lake it's twenty hours with the launch, and five days from there." The delicate finger-nail indicated a spot on the opposite side of the lake. "From here—what's the place? Ach—Timballa. To hell with the British boundary! We must not give them time to get the news. Always rush the seat of government. Surprise them and they're done."
"But, Excellence, Treitschke says regarding retreat——"
"There will be no retreat. At MFunya MPopo's is the idol, the fetish. We destroy it and they're done!" He brought down his fist with a crash on the table. "Faith unites a people; in unity is strength. Break the faith and you've broken the people."
"But, Excellence!" exclaimed the Lutheran sergeant, aghast.
Zu Pfeiffer's blue eyes hardened.
"Understand, you fool, these are savages. You have an abstract deity—which you cannot break in the concrete—obviously: they have a concrete god which we can and shall smash."
"Excellence, you are right," said the sergeant humbly.
Zu Pfeiffer flicked cigar ash from his sleeve and lolled back.
"Those are your orders. Commandeer the necessary canoes and notify Ludwig to have the men in readiness for the full moon. Work out the details and give them to me to-morrow."
"Ja, Excellence." Schultz stood to attention. "But, Excellence, this creature——"
Zu Pfeiffer glanced casually at Sakamata.
"Oh, that? Take it away!"
Schultz saluted smartly and wheeled about.
"Njoo!" he commanded sharply.
Sakamata rose up quietly and disappeared through the door without glancing to the right or the left.
"The Court awaits your Excellence," reminded the sergeant.
As zu Pfeiffer nodded languidly, a booted foot clopped on the verandah.
"Wa da?" queried Sergeant Schultz, startled at the intrusion of a stranger.
"Oh, only I," responded a soft voice in English.
Through the screen door a tall figure in a Tirai hat was silhouetted in sepia against the yellow glare. A brown hand pushed open the door.
"Mon nom est Birnier, Gerald Birnier—er—Does any one speak English?"
Zu Pfeiffer, in the act of rising, sank back into the chair, placing his left leg in a favourite position and selecting a cigar simultaneously.
"Yes," said he, almost without accent. "What do you want?"
"I wish to see the—the Herr Kommandant."
Zu Pfeiffer struck a match without looking up.
"I am he."
One hand upon the open door, Birnier stroked his shaven chin perplexedly with the other. He glanced from the sergeant, standing rigidly by the table, to the lieutenant engaged in stoking his cigar to a nicety.
"Well, it's usual to invite a white man to sit down, isn't it?" suggested Birnier, with a note of irritation.
Zu Pfeiffer looked across the table.
"Nein. This is the Orderly Room; not a general office."
"Oh, I see. I beg your pardon!" There was a note of laughter in the voice. "Will you kindly instruct me where I am to apply?"
Zu Pfeiffer continued to regard the stranger from head to foot, smoking slowly.
"Please to come in," he said at length, gesturing with his cigar, "and sit down."
"Thanks so much!"
The trace of irony seemed to escape zu Pfeiffer. He gave a guttural order to the sergeant, who saluted and disappeared. The stranger placed his Tirai hat on the table, revealing rumpled brown hair flecked with grey, a high white forehead, and long features; the slight stoop of the shoulders and general carriage rather suggested a professional type than a hunter or trader. He regarded the slim figure staring insolently at him with a hardening look of disapproval.
"What is it you wish?"
"Well, principally I require an elephant licence and the usual permit to trade."
"Where are you going?"
"To the Kivu country."
Zu Pfeiffer regarded his cigar tip interestedly.
"You are going to the Wongolo country," he stated.
Birnier's mouth tightened.
"You have been to the Wongolo country already?"
"Yes, I have been there, but what has that to do with it?"
"We know all about you," stated zu Pfeiffer coldly, twiddling his cigar between slender fingers. He glanced at a gold repeater. "Pardon, but I must request you to return later. The Court is already awaiting me." Birnier frowned slightly. "If you will be so good as to return at, let us say, five o'clock, I will be pleased to listen to your application."
Birnier rose, taking his hat.
"Certainly," he said curtly. "Good morning!"
Zu Pfeiffer watched him depart; then he struck the bell sharply. Sergeant Schultz appeared, a line of nervous expectancy upon his sallow face.
"Why have you not reported that man's arrival?" demanded zu Pfeiffer harshly.
"Excellence," returned Schultz, saluting, "he has but arrived within the hour in a launch, loaned to him by the Englaender."
"Ach! An English spy!"
"I do not know, Excellence."
"We ought to know. Why have you not a report of the man's movements? He admits that he has been in the Wongolo country."
"Excellence, it is already done." Schultz hurriedly searched a card index cabinet and handed a document to the lieutenant. "There is Saunders' report, Excellence; more than six months old."
Zu Pfeiffer glanced at the page indicated and began to read while the sergeant stood stiffly at attention.
"You may go, sergeant," announced zu Pfeiffer without looking up. Schultz saluted and departed. Zu Pfeiffer finished the report leisurely, put down the paper, and stared meditatively.
No, he decided, as he rose, all the English are spies.
Like a topaz set in a jade ring was the city of the Snake, the place of Kings, a village of some eight hundred huts huddled upon a slight rise above a sea of banana fronds, some two hundred miles to the west of Ingonya.
On the summit was a large conical hut like an enormous candle snuffer, the dwelling place of Usakuma, the spirit of the Snake, whose name was forbidden to all save the Priest-God and Rain Maker, King MFunya MPopo, who was so holy that after succeeding to the sacred office he was doomed to live within the compound, even as were the Kings of Eutopia, Sheba and China, a celibate for the remainder of his life: for, as the incarnation of the Idol, Usakuma, and therefore the controller of the Heavens and the Earth, his body must be kept from all danger of witchcraft lest the rains cease and the blue skies fall.
From the compound, looking towards the north-west where the snow-capped Gamballagalla rose violet against the horizon, another brown cone peeped above the green fronds, the late residence, and now the tomb of King MKoffo, predecessor of MFunya MPopo. For where a King-God dies there is he buried, he and his wives after him; the site becomes holy ground, a place of pilgrimage and sanctuary.
In each of the small huts to the rear of the temple of MFunya MPopo, but outside the sacred enclosure, lived his wives who, although forbidden to their husband, were permitted a royal promiscuity. Just within the precincts was a small replica of the temple where dwelt a young chief, also bound to celibacy, whose duties were to keep the royal fire burning as long as the king should reign. No one was allowed to converse with the king, save on matters of state, except this man; through him was spoken the royal will—what there was left of it—to the council which sat in a long rectangular building opposite to the temple entrance and open to the village, a body of witch-doctors and chiefs.
Solely the kingly office existed as a beneficent agent, a matter of self-preservation on the part of the tribe. The King-God's functions were divine; to make magic for the victory of his warriors and principally to make rain, on which, of course, the alimentary needs of his subjects depended—an incarnation of a god who was in reality the scapegoat of the god's omissions.
The office was hereditary. Perhaps no one else would willingly accept such an onerous post. The making of magic was performed before the god with the assistance of the chief witch-doctor, an exceedingly lucrative post won upon merit, occupied by one Bakahenzie, a tall muscular man in the prime of life, whose bearing was that of the native autocrat, fierce and remorseless. The King's personal wishes could be safely granted as long as he did not endanger the existence of the people by a desire to break any of the meshes of the tabus designed to ensure the safety of his sacred body, and therefore that of the tribe, on the assumption that if the incarnation were injured the god would be injured, and so would his creations be affected: any infringement of these laws entailed the penalty of death, a code which revealed the native logic in the confusion of cause and effect, the concrete and the abstract.
In the door of a hut on the outskirts of the village squatted a wizened man with a tuft of grey beard upon his chin. He was clad in a loin-cloth fairly clean, and about his neck was suspended by a twisted fibre an amulet wrapped in banana leaves containing the gall and toenail of an enemy slain by a virgin warrior, a specific against black magic whose powerful properties were proven by the undisputed influence and wealth of the owner.
A tall lithe savage, bearing upon his arms and ankles the ivory bracelets of the royal house and the elephant hair chaplet of the warrior, advanced leisurely towards him from the banana plantation. Marufa continued to gaze in rumination at the opposite hut. But as they had not met since the rising of the sun, he did not fail to make the orthodox greeting at the exact moment that the chief's shadow passed in front of him, which Zalu Zako returned punctiliously, thereby averting an evil omen. As soon as the young man had passed beyond the next hut appeared in the grove a girl, modelled like a bronze wood nymph. She wore the tiny girdle of the unmarried and walked furtively, carrying in her hand a parcel wrapped in banana leaves. In the shadow of a compound fence she halted, one slender brown arm set back in apprehension as her eyes followed the lithe figure of Zalu Zako.
Motionless sat Marufa staring in mystic contemplation. Bakuma glanced swiftly about her. Apparently satisfied that no one was observing her save a lean dog and two gollywog children, she continued on as if to pass the old man, her eyes still ranging like a fawn's. But when she was beside Marufa she subsided on her haunches beside him, clutching the bundle as she whispered:
"Greetings, O wise one!"
"Greeting, daughter," returned Marufa without lessening the fixity of his gaze.
"I would talk with thee."
Again she glanced around furtively.
"I would talk in thine ear, O my father."
"The knots of my hair are tied."
"I thank thee. There's a fluttering bird in my breast."
"And a snake around thy heart, O my daughter."
"The grandson of the snake hath tied thy girdle."
The girl clasped her breast in surprised terror.
"How dost thou know?"
"All things are known to the son of MTungo," declared Marufa solemnly, still regarding the opposite wall. "Thou desirest a love charm.… What hast thou?"
Tremulously Bakuma put down the green package on the ground, darting terrified glances to right and left. Slowly the skinny hand of the wizard gently tore open the leaves; very impressively the eyes slanted down to appraise the stock of blue and white beads.
"The spirit of Tarum hath a big belly," he announced tonelessly.
"O wise one, intercede for me," pleaded Bakuma, "for more have I none, I, Bakuma, daughter of Bakala, a girl of the hut thatch."
"The true love charm, infallible and powerful, is difficult to obtain, O Bakuma. The young huntress aims at big game."
"Ehh! But I have no more, great one!"
"The hair of a rutting leopardess, the liver of a forest rat, the tongue of a Baroto bird—these must I have to mix with thy blood to be drunk by thy man when the moon is full."
"Such is the magic that no young man can resist."
"But these things are difficult to obtain."
"Aie! Aie!" wailed Bakuma, clasping her hands in despair.
"Difficult to obtain."
"On the night of the half-moon will I take upon me the leopard form."
"I will talk with the spirits."
"But they must be propitiated with the blood of a fat goat."
"Aie! Aie! But I have no fat goat."
"If there be no fat goat then will the spirits be wroth with me."
Bakuma sat staring in dismal perplexity.
"No fat goat have I, a girl of the hut thatch! Aie! Aie!"
Marufa fumbled within the loin-cloth and thrust a tiny package along the ground.
"See and know the power of my magic." Bakuma greedily snatched up the amulet. "Begone!" he whispered, jerking the parcel of beads behind him. "MYalu approaches."
Bakuma rose and fled with the grace of a startled antelope as appeared a tall, strongly built man, having a low-browed face, across which was a deep scar. Behind MYalu came two young slaves bearing a small elephant tusk. Opposite to Marufa the slaves stopped. Their master, careful that his shadow fell well away from the figure of the magician—for the shadow is one of the souls, so woe unto him who shall leave his soul in the hands of an enemy!—squatted gravely.
"Greeting, son of MTungo!"
"Greeting, son of MBusa!" returned Marufa.
Gravely they spat into each other's palm, the sign of amity as they who exchange bonds of good behaviour inasmuch, as is well known, magic can be worked upon that which has been a part of the body as upon the body itself. Then solemnly they rubbed the spittle upon their respective chests.
"The spirit of the snake nourisheth not the life of the banana."
"Nay, for nigh unto two moons hath there been no blood of the snake," returned the old man perfunctorily, as he lifted his eyes from a swift appraisement of the tusk to his favourite mud wall.
"Nay, the crops sprout not. Maybe the Dweller in the Place of the Snake hath been visited by one from the forest."
"Aye, but old blood runs not as swiftly as young blood."
"Nay," replied MYalu, in answer to the reference to himself, "but the girdle is not yet tied by another."
"When the first twig of the nest is laid," remarked Marufa, indolently eyeing the tusk, "it is difficult to entice the hen to another tree."
"Here is a goodly twig with which to tempt spirits of the forest," and significantly, "Maybe there are others."
"A mighty potion shall be prepared for thee, O son of MBusa," declared Marufa, moving slightly to conceal the package of beads. "A mighty potion, infallible; made from the hair of a rutting leopardess, the liver of the forest rat and the tongue of the Baroto bird; these must she take that she shall speak thee softly, together with a portion of that which remains from the ceremony of the lobolo. Infallible is it; never known to fail."
Marufa stared interestedly at a wandering hen. MYalu watched him covertly. Like bronzes sat the two young slaves. From the distance came a faint chanting and the beat of a drum.…
"The tusk is here, Marufa," remarked MYalu casually.
"My eyes see it," observed Marufa, without altering his observation of the hen.
"Where then is the potion?"
Marufa glanced at the tusk, appraised it again, and fumbling within his loin-cloth, thrust another tiny package along the ground. MYalu greedily picked up the amulet and stared in awe, turning it over and about.
"The tusk," murmured Marufa.
MYalu gestured to his slaves. They rose and placed the tusk beside the old man, shuffled backwards and squatted again. After lifting one end to test the weight, Marufa examined the grain. Then sliding it behind him as if he wished to sit upon it, remarked:
"The potion must be eaten at the full moon."
MYalu glanced up from an absorbed examination of the amulet.
"And within the quarter shall the fruit be ripe for the plucking." The whites of MYalu's eyes gleamed. "Unless," continued the old man uninterestedly, "there be stronger magic made against thee."
The two hands holding the amulet came down.
"If," explained Marufa, "another hath tied the grasses of her father's roof, will there be required a stronger spirit to overcome such magic."
"But thou hast told me," expostulated MYalu, regarding the tusk regretfully, "that this is a mighty magic, powerful and infallible, never known to fail."
"Thus is it," asserted the old man imperturbably, "for all save a stronger magic."
MYalu's eyes wandered from the tusk to Marufa and back. He scowled.
"Why didst thou not tell me?" he demanded sourly, dropping the amulet on the ground.
"It is for thee to tell the wizard all that thou knowest. How else may he reckon with thine enemies?"
"Enemy!" exclaimed MYalu. He stared questioningly at Marufa. "Enemy! Dost thou know whom I seek?"
"Do not all the hens remark the strutting of the cock?" inquired Marufa unconcernedly, tapping his snuff box.
MYalu observed the taking of snuff as if he had never seen the operation before.
"Ehh!" he remarked again succinctly.
Marufa replaced the cork of twisted leaves, let fall the snuff box made of rhinoceros horn suspended from his neck by a copper wire, and contemplated a skinny goat scratching itself violently. MYalu stirred as if to rise, but subsided, cogitated and said slowly:
"In the house of MYalu are four more tusks."
"Four more tusks," repeated Marufa dreamily.
"Bigger than this one," said MYalu suggestively.
"Bigger than this one."
"Knowest thou by whom the girdle is tied?"
"By the grandson of the Snake."
MYalu squatted motionless. The old man appeared to doze. Women bearing gourds of water upon their heads passed in single file, their loins swaying rhythmically. The shadows dwindled. From close at hand began the rapid beat of a drum. A stir began through the village as each man herded his women and slaves to his own hut.
"O Marufa," said MYalu, speaking with a slight snarl, "hast thou such a powerful medicine that can surely trap the soul of Zalu Zako when perchance it wanders (in sleep)?"
"All things are possible to the son of MTungo," mumbled the old man.
Two chiefs appeared walking through the grove at a middle distance. MYalu glanced round apprehensively.
"Two tusks will I give thee," he whispered, "if thou wilt do this thing."
"Three tusks. No less, for the matter is dangerous."
The old man stirred to rise.
"Three be it," gasped MYalu. "But I must see the magic done."
They rose together.
"Bring me of his toe-nails one paring, of his hair one, and his spittle and a footprint. Then shalt thou come with me to the sacred grove where the magic shall be done."
"But the three tusks must be given to Yanoka, my first wife."
"Aye, thus shall it be done," he assented reluctantly.
"It is agreed?" inquired Marufa.
"May my cord be lost!" swore MYalu, and gesturing to the slaves, hurried away.
A slight grin flecked the old man's eyes as he turned into the hut.
"Already hath he drunken of her blood," he mumbled. "Ya, Inkombana! take the tusk!"
When Marufa emerged, a head-dress of the tail feathers of the green parrot, professional uniform and potent specific against evil spirits, fluffed gently as he slowly stalked towards the council house. From the other side of a hut walked MYalu as if he had come from a different direction. In the open gate of the royal enclosure sat a muscular young man upon his haunches, tending the royal fire, which fed hungrily upon small faggots. Beyond him across the yellow glare upon the cleared ground beneath a thatched awning, stood an idol of wood, whose lopsided mouth snarled beneath a bridgeless nose; narrow slits for eyes squinted; baby arms stuck down beside triangular breasts above a melon belly having a protuberant navel like a small cucumber—the incarnation of the Snake-god, Usakuma.
Without the palisade of the sacred ground was a taller one, barring the doings of the council of witch-doctors and chiefs from the lay public, who were confined to their own huts under the penalty of a hideous death, or an enormous fine, as the witch-doctors should decide.
To the rear of the idol, cross-legged against the wall of the entrance to the conical hut, were the musicians beating a monotonous rhythm upon big and small drums and twanging a primitive lyre of five strings. Just as Marufa and MYalu took their respective places without among the wizards and the chiefs, a young goat skipped into the open and stared inquisitively at the Keeper of the Fires. As the man waved the animal back from the sacred ground, the goat lowered its head and threatened to charge, suddenly recollected its mate lying in the shade a few feet away, and began to bleat absent-mindedly.
Gravely and silently sat the assembly: continuously throbbed the drums. The sun beat diagonally. As a lizard darted like a flash of a prism from the grass palisade, the band ceased. A man emerged from behind the idol. Although the grey woolly tufts upon his chin, the sacred snake skin around his waist above the cat skin loin-cloth, the jingle of the ivory bangles on arms and ankles, and his stature, imparted an air of barbaric royalty, King MFunya MPopo advanced with the manner of a pariah dog ordered to his master's side.
As the King approached, the Keeper of the Fires hastily threw on a handful of faggots and bowed his head. In the centre of the opening of the enclosure the King squatted down with his back to the fire which streamed blue smoke. Not a limb or a muscle moved among the group of wizards and chiefs in the council house. Attracted by the movement, the goat stopped bleating and stared at the King; then, putting down its head, charged him.
With a horrified click, the Keeper of the Fires sprang. But he was not swift enough to prevent the impact of the animal's horns with the royal arm thrust out in self-defence. Three young chiefs came running; one caught up the goat and carried it away bleating bellicosely; the others knelt, and while one carefully collected a gout of blood upon the King's forearm in a piece of banana leaf, his companion wiped the wound. When they were satisfied that the bleeding had ceased, the pieces were meticulously wrapped in another leaf and borne away by the Keeper of the Fires to be deposited in the temple: for as every man knows, the royal blood must not be spilt upon the ground lest the site be accursed for ever and like the tooth of the dragon of Colchis, arise from the spot ghostly warriors to annihilate the tribe.
Neither upon the face of any of the elders nor upon the features of MFunya MPopo, the King, had a muscle moved. Yet the incident was regarded as an evil omen.… Then suddenly did Bakahenzie, the chief witch-doctor, plumed with a tall scarlet feather in addition to the green ones and a necklace of finger bones upon his bronze chest, who sat in the centre with Kawa Kendi, the King's son upon his right, and Zalu Zako, the grandson, upon his left, begin to chant in a high wailing voice to the rapid rhythm of the drums:
"Is there not a shadow come over the land? The frown of the One-not-to-be-mentioned? I, Bakahenzie, have seen it! have seen it!"
And from the group within the council house, immobile, came the bass chorus of assent:
"Is there not a dry curse come over the land? Is it not the hot breath of the soul of the Snake? I, Bakahenzie, have seen it! have seen it!" "Ough! Ough!"
"Where is the false spirit that hath sinned in the act? He that hath sinned in the shade of the name? I, Bakahenzie, have seen him! have seen him!" "Ough! Ough!"
"Does not the keen sting of him scorch up the land? Hath not the young bread of our bellies been slain? I, Bakahenzie, have seen it! have seen it!" "Ough! Ough!"
The throb of the drums grew faster. Bakahenzie leaped from the crowd. Immediately in front of the King he began to dance and to scream:
"Is the Burden too great for the Guard of the Name? Aie! Aie! Hath the Bearer, too, fumbled the weight of the World? Aie! Aie! Is His spirit bewitched by the soul of a girl? Aie! Aie! Hath His magical power been slain by the sin? Aie! Aie! Hath a prophet made words in the act of a goat? Aie! Aie! Does a saviour in hairs thirst the blood of a King? Aie! Aie! Shall we hearken, O Chiefs, to the wish of the One? Aie! Aie! Or be shrivelled and die in the drought of His wrath? Aie! Aie!"
Kawa Kendi, a man in early middle age, powerful and lithe-limbed, sat as motionless as the King, his father, staring, as did all, with the fixed stare of the anagogic.
Abruptly the drums ceased. Again came a hot silence as Bakahenzie paused in front of MFunya MPopo. Then with a piercing yell, the witch-doctor spun on his toes. The drums broke into an hysterical rhythm. Bakahenzie leaped high in the air; whirled around and around screaming hoarsely; leaped and spun continually.
The chiefs and doctors began to grunt; continued in crescendo until the whole body throbbed and grunted to the rhythm of the drums. Yet immobile sat MFunya MPopo.
Suddenly Bakahenzie changed the erratic course of his wild dance. He whirled and screamed in front of the King and fell headlong, as if in a fit, with eyes injected and foam upon the black tufts of beard. Bakahenzie clutched his belly and began to howl like a hyena at the moon. The drums stopped. Howl and writhe did Bakahenzie as if a thousand fiends were tearing out his entrails.
He lay rigid. The air seemed to quiver. The lines of every man's limbs, except the King's, were drawn in tension. Then from the prostrate body of the witch-doctor, whose legs and arms were twisted as in agony, whose dribbling mouth was closed like a vise, came a ventriloquous falsetto:
"Aie-e! Aie-e! I am the spirit of Kintu! Aie-e! Aie-e! I am he who first was! Aie-e! Aie-e! I am the banana from whom I was made! Aie-e! Aie-e! The Keeper of the Name hath betrayed me! Aie-e! Aie-e! The Bride of me is defiled! Aie-e! Aie-e! Let him arise who is pure! Aie-e! Aie-e! Let him arise who is bidden! Aie-e! Aie-e! Let the fires be put out! Aie-e! Aie-e! Let a new fire arise from the ashes! Aie-e! Aie-e! I have spoken, I, the Father of men! Aie-e! Aie-e! I, Tarum, the soul of your ancestors!"
From the assembly came the belly grunt of acceptance. In silence rose Kawa Kendi, the heir-apparent. His face was as expressionless as his father's. He stepped around the body of Bakahenzie and across the open space followed by a young man, Kingata Mata. Ten feet away from the enclosure, Kingata Mata sank upon his haunches. Before MFunya MPopo squatted his son. They spat each in the other's hand and swallowed the spittle. Then the head of Kawa Kendi bent to the lips of MFunya MPopo to receive the sacred Name.
In unison with Kawa Kendi rose Kingata Mata, who to him handed a cord of twisted bark. Bending behind the King, who remained motionless with the closed eyes of one already dead, Kingata Mata swiftly adjusted the cord and handed it back to the son, Kawa Kendi.…
When the muscular young Keeper of the Fires had poured solemnly a gourd of water upon the royal fire of MFunya MPopo, he knelt submissively and was strangled beside his master.…
From the assembly went up a great shout:
"The fire is put out!"
And from the village, listening in awe to the mighty doings, came like an echo:
"The fire is put out! Aie! Aie-e!"
Then shouted the elders and wizards:
"Let there be a new fire!"
Again came the wailing repetition from the village:
"Let there be a new fire!"
As in the Place of Fires was kindled a new fire by Kingata Mata with two sacred sticks, one of which is male and the other female, the assembled chiefs and magicians groaned in allegiance to the new King-God of the unmentionable spirit of the Snake, Usakuma, the Idol.
At five-thirty zu Pfeiffer was stretched in the long Bombay chair in the coolest portion of the screened verandah. On the table beside him was a tall glass, a decanter of cognac and a box of cigars; and suspended from the roof swung a canvas bag of water with a syphon attachment. A gape fly, which somehow had gotten through the screen, hit the lieutenant's forehead, fell on to the book and whirred up against the wire.
"Ach, Gott verdammt!" exclaimed zu Pfeiffer irritably and shouted: "Ho, Bakunja—la." Instantly appeared the tall negro in white. "You son of a god! Look at that!"
Bakunjala looked, leaped, and caught the fly in his hand.
"Ow!" he exclaimed as the hornet stung him.
"Ach, you woman of shame, catch it instantly!"
Without hesitation Bakunjala made another grab, and clutching the fly tightly, made to open the screen door.
"Halt!" commanded the lieutenant.
Zu Pfeiffer regarded the man standing with the wasp sting buried in his palm with a slight smile of amusement.
"It hurts?" he inquired amiably.
"Indio, Bwana!" asserted Bakunjala.
"Good! Now stop there."
Motionless remained the negro. Zu Pfeiffer leisurely selected a fresh cigar, lighted it, stoked it, and inhaling smoke stroked his left moustache.
"It still hurts?"
"Indio, Bwana!" said Bakunjala with a high note in his voice.
"Splendid!" assured the lieutenant: and after a full minute added: "Now you may go. And remember if you are frightened of a fly's pain again I will give you twenty lashes."
"Indio, Bwana," answered Bakunjala humbly and departed swiftly with the hornet in his clenched fist. Zu Pfeiffer smiled, again stared reflectively at the violet shadows creeping lazily across the square, sipped some brandy and picking up his book, began to read.…
Zu Pfeiffer frowned and looked round. Outside the screen stood Sergeant Schultz at the salute. Zu Pfeiffer nodded.
"Excellence," said the sergeant at attention, "the Englishman is here."
"Ach, tell him to go——" The lieutenant drew out his gold chronometer. "It is my bath time. I cannot see him."
"Wait." Zu Pfeiffer withdrew his legs and rose. "Ach, tell the fool to come over here and wait till I have had my bath."
"Excellence!" agreed the sergeant and saluting, marched away. Zu Pfeiffer entered the bungalow. Across the square came Birnier with the sergeant who ushered him into the screened portion of the verandah.
"His Excellence gom bresently," said the sergeant and left him.
Birnier put his Tirai hat on the table, and seeing no other, sat in the Bombay chair; looked about him; idly examined the brand on the box of cigars and smiled. "Makes himself mighty comfortable," he remarked to himself. "Pity he appears such a boor." He glanced at the book on the armchair. Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie von Prof. Dr. Paul Deussen. "And a philosopher, eh!" Having little German he turned away and lighted his pipe. After a while he began to fidget, wondering how long he was to be kept waiting. "Damn the fellow!" he muttered and picked up one of the books on the table, Les Ba-Rongas, par A. Junod, opened it at random and began to read.
The shadows of one bungalow reached the verandah on the opposite side of the square. And still he read on, the dead pipe in his hand. Just as the twilight was snuffed out like a candle, a sharp step heralded the arrival of the lieutenant. Birnier rose, the book in his hand.
"Good evening, sir!"
"Good evening," responded zu Pfeiffer, who was in an undress uniform of white. "What is it that you require?"
"Well," said Birnier, "first of all I must apologise for using your chair and reading your book. Most interesting, by the way."
"That is nothing," said zu Pfeiffer as Bakunjala came in with a lamp and a chair. "Please to be seated."
Birnier took the small chair and the lieutenant the Bombay.
"I—er I—am sorry that I disturbed you this morning," began Birnier diffidently. "But I did not know——"
"That is nothing. It was the fault of the sentry. He should not have allowed you to pass."
"Regarding my application for the licence, Herr Lieutenant?"
"I regret," said zu Pfeiffer coldly, using a cigar cutter, "that I am unable to grant you the licence you ask."
"You cannot grant me a trading or shooting licence?"
"I regret, no."
"May I inquire why I am refused?"
"You may. We do not wish undesirables in the country."
"Undesirables!" Birnier's lips tightened. "I am afraid that I do not understand you." The lieutenant was engaged in carefully stoking his cigar. "Will you kindly afford me a reason for—for such an insulting remark?"
Zu Pfeiffer blew smoke luxuriously. Birnier stared for a moment, stuck his pipe in his mouth and bit the stem; removed it and snapped:
"You can have no adequate reason for such action.… If you intend to continue this ridiculous farce I shall be compelled to make a complaint through Washington."
"Washington?" Zu Pfeiffer removed one leg from the chair-rest and the cigar from his mouth. "You are an American?"
"So? We understood that you were an English agent. You have papers?"
"Certainly. If you wish——"
"We do not demand. No. My agent was wrong. He shall be punished." Then in an amiable voice: "I, too, have been a long time in America. Please to have a cigar, Mr. Birnier."
Birnier hesitated, puzzled.
"Thank you," he said diffidently, selected one, bit off the end and spat it into the corner. Zu Pfeiffer shuddered delicately; but as Birnier lighted his cigar he studied his face in the glow of the match; noted the breadth of the jaw, the width between the eyes and the slightly hard line at the corner of the mouth.
"And forgive me!" Zu Pfeiffer shouted to Bakunjala. "I presume that you have been in Africa a long time," he continued.
"Some ten years."
"You do find the Wongolo country interesting?"
"You were there long?"
"No, I had been two years in the Congo and passed through on my way to Uganda to refit."
"Ach. You permit me? You are mining?"
"No." Birnier smiled thinly. "I have a professorial job in the American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological department."
"Professor! Ach!" Zu Pfeiffer looked at him interestedly.
"Yes. That is why I was so absorbed in Les Ba-Rongas which I found here. You are interested in anthropology?"
"Ach, yes, I love to study the animals. I have a library—a small one, here. You must see it."
"You were studying the animals' ways and how d'you call it?—das Volkskuendliches—in Wongolo?"
"Yes. I do nothing else."
"So?" Bakunjala arrived with fresh glasses and vermouth. "Which do you prefer, French or Italian, Herr Professor?"
"You will dine with me, please?"
"That is very kind of you, Lieutenant." Birnier gazed quizzically, rather amused at the complete change of manner. Quite charming when he likes, he reflected.
"From what part do you come, Herr Professor?" inquired zu Pfeiffer as he set down his glass.
"Oh, I'm a Southerner. Louisiana. My name is French, you know."
"Ach so? Che les aimes, les Francais. Les femmes sont adorables!"
"Oui, je les trouve comme ca!" agreed Birnier, smiling. "Ma femme est francaise."
"So? … I, too, Professor, I am in love with a Francaise. She is wonderful! superbe! Ach, ent zueckend!" The lieutenant gazed into the warm darkness. "Always I see her—in the darkness, the—chaleur—parmis les animaux." In the glow of the lamp, the blue eyes were soft, the feminine lips curved in a tender smile as he murmured:
"Die Jahre kommen und gehen, Geschlechter steigen ins Grab, Doch nimmer vergeht die Liebe, Die ich im Herzen hab! Nur einmal noch moecht ich dich sehen, Und sinken vor dir aufs Knie Und sterbend zu dir sprechen: 'Madam, ich liebe Sie!' "
"Thank you," said Birnier quietly. "I, too, would say that."
"Ach, sprechen Sie Deutsch?" demanded zu Pfeiffer quickly.
"No, unfortunately I don't speak it, but I understand a little; and particularly Heine."
The note was of satisfaction. A gong sounded. Zu Pfeiffer turned sharply: "Come, Herr Professor, let us go to dinner. You would wish to wash?"
The bungalow, unusually lofty, was divided into three compartments. The ceiling, made of stout white calico, to shelter from snakes and the continual dust from the wood borers, was suspended from the rafters like the roof of a marquee tent. The centre room was furnished with cane lounge chairs like a smoking-room and decorated with skins, native musical instruments, spears and shields; drums served as small tables with elephant's toe-nails for ash trays.
In the bedroom was a brass bedstead and mosquito net. Behind was a bathroom having a corrugated cistern upon the cross beams which gave force for a shower. The towels and appointments were specklessly clean. When Birnier appeared he found zu Pfeiffer sprawled in the lounge. On a red lacquer tray upon a great war drum, covered with the striped skin of a zebra, was a crystal liqueur set and a large silver box of Egyptian cigarettes.
"Ach, Professor," said he, "it is good to speak to a white man again" (by which he meant an equal). "Please be seated, I beg you. A little liqueur is good for the aperitif and a cigarette; for there is no time for another cigar."
As Birnier sat he remarked the blonde head of the lieutenant in his meticulous uniform touched with gold and caught a glimpse of the jewelled bracelet of ivory and the Chinese finger-nail.
Another summons of the gong brought zu Pfeiffer to his feet. As he led his guest out through the side verandah along a screened porch to the mess room, built away from the main building to keep away the plague of flies, a native girl whose close-wrapped white robes revealed a lithe figure, flitted through a doorway. The table was set in immaculate linen, aglitter with glass and decorated with a profusion of wild orchids. Behind the chairs stood two negroes in spotless white, immobile. On each plate were hors d'oeuvres of anchovy and cheese upon a patterned piece of toast. Salted almonds, sweets, and olives were in green china; wine glasses of three kinds. Broiled fish followed the soup.
"So, Professor," remarked the lieutenant, "you will go back some day to Wongolo?"
"Yes, I—unless I discover some tribe who have a more interesting system of—er—theology."
"They are a powerful tribe, nicht wahr?"
"Oh yes, very. Their system ensures unity which provides for concerted action. Here I believe it is different."
"Yes, yes; they are poor here. Each village was at war with the other—before we came. Their superstitions are not—how would you say it?"
"Yes. They have neither any supreme chief nor god. There you see," he added, smiling, "that autocracy is the only form of government. Democracy—pah! … I apologise, Professor!"
"Please don't," replied Birnier, "although of course I cannot agree with you."
"But the Wongolo, they have a god and king?"
"Yes, the King-Priest system. One of the most interesting I have ever encountered or read of."
"You did see the King-God, MFunya MPopo?"
"Oh no. He is forbidden to be seen by a foreigner—a similar law to that of the Medes; only by the witch-doctors—and by the people once a year at a harvest festival. That is why I intend to go back. It is impossible to procure reliable statistics of their customs, practices and real beliefs without—without winning their confidence. That is my mission."
"I do not longer wonder, Herr Professor, that you were most justly annoyed. Ach, yes. But please do not worry about your ridiculous licence. It is not necessary in my jurisdiction, I assure you. You may come and go as you please, shoot what you wish. I will always be so glad to help so distinguished a professor."
"I thank you very much."
"It is nothing. And perhaps when you are there, you will be so kind as to write to me? To tell me things that are not known—so that I may, too, continue to study the animals—again what is it? das Volkskuendliches?"
"Folk-lore, isn't it?"
"Yes. Please to have some more wine, Herr Professor. Please, I insist. It is the real Mumm. That is a promise? I thank you. And if—— Were there any others—whites—when you were there?"
"Where was he, I wonder?"
"On the southern boundary."
"Near lake Kivu?"
"Saunders," muttered zu Pfeiffer.
"I beg your pardon?"
"It was nothing, but I do not like to have—aliens in my province. They are—missionaries and traders—spies."
"Yes, it is always so. Herr Professor, I ask you a favour. Will you be so kind as to write to me if some other white comes into the Wongolo country?"
"I shall be delighted," said Birnier.… "Do you intend to come there some day, Herr Lieutenant?"
"Ach, no, it is not—not our territory; although I should very much like to see it and to shoot. There is much elephant there?"
"Oh yes, quantities."
"Please to try some of this curried egg, Herr Professor. It is excellent, I assure you. I thank you.… And rubber, is there much rubber there?"
"Yes, I believe so."
"Now I wonder if you noticed whether it was tree or vine?"
"I really couldn't say." Birnier smiled thinly. "I am not interested in such things."
Zu Pfeiffer glanced at him keenly and changed the subject. When they had finished the best boned chicken that Birnier had ever tasted in Africa, zu Pfeiffer rose.
"Let us go to my study, Herr Professor, if you so permit, for some coffee and a little good port—and I will have the pleasure to show you my little library."
"I should be delighted," assented Birnier willingly.
Around the white walls of the cool room which was zu Pfeiffer's study, ran low bookshelves made of native wood, containing some hundreds of volumes which had been carried five hundred miles on the heads of porters. Grass mats and leopard skins were upon the floor. In the centre, upon a heavy table, was a green shaded lamp set in a silver-mounted elephant's foot. Upon the bookcases were various odd curios, and a coffee service in copper; and from opposite sides, marbles of Bismarck and Voltaire stared into each other's eyes. On the south wall was a large oil of Kaiser Wilhelm II; and in the centre of the other wall a photograph of a woman set in an ivory frame made from a section of a tusk.
Zu Pfeiffer strove to be more agreeable than ever. They talked mythology and folklore. With the port, zu Pfeiffer rose, an erect martial figure above the glow of the lamp.
"Herr Professor!" he remarked. "I beg you."
Slightly bewildered, Birnier rose, too, glass in hand. Wheeling with military precision zu Pfeiffer raised his glass to the great portrait on the wall.
Politely Birnier followed suit, his democratic ideas slightly astonished at the veneration of the kingly office; almost, he reflected, as curious as the native superstition of the King-God. Then zu Pfeiffer turned to the left and lifting his glass to the portrait in the ivory frame, drank silently.
"I was wondering, Professor," remarked he, as he resumed his seat without explanation, "from what college—you call it?—you come?"
"Harvard," said Birnier, rather amused and noticing that as a true connoisseur, zu Pfeiffer refrained from smoking while drinking his port.
"I have met many of the Harvard men—at Washington."
"Ah, you know Washington?"
"Yes, I was there nearly two years."
Zu Pfeiffer drained his port, selected a cigar, lighted it and gazed abstractedly towards the ivory frame. The lips softened and he smiled gently.
"Do you know many people there?"
"Oh, a few."
"Ach … I wonder.… You must know that I met her there, my divine Lucille!"
"Lucille! How strange! That is my wife's name too."
"Really?" Zu Pfeiffer still peered dreamily at the corner. He gathered up his legs and rose like an eager boy. "Permit me, Herr Professor, she is so—so——" He bent over the portrait and struck a match. Politely Birnier stooped to look. He saw a portrait of a French woman in an evening gown, a woman of charm with the vivacious eyes and tempting mouth of the coquette.
Birnier bent closer and stared intently. Across the corner of the photograph were written in ink in familiar characters the words: 'a toi, Lucille.'
"Lucille!" he gasped. "Lu—Good God!" He stood up abruptly. "I—What in God's name—who is this woman?"
The match fell to the floor. He was vaguely conscious of the tall white figure stiffening as a dog does.
"That lady is my fiancee."
"Fiancee! She—Good God, you're mad! She is my wife!"
"Wife!… Gott verdampf, der Teufel solls holen! Das ist der Schweinhuend!"
The gutturals exploded from zu Pfeiffer. The sleeve of his white jacket quivered, the arm came up to the gold braided chest and jerked out a silver whistle. He hesitated, glaring at the astonished figure of Birnier. Suddenly zu Pfeiffer sat down by the table. His blue eyes were as hard as malachite.
"Sit down!" he commanded harshly.
Birnier did not appear to notice him. He struck a match and bent over the photograph again.
"Good God!" he muttered. "I—I—don't understand—O God!"
"Sit down!" shouted zu Pfeiffer. Birnier merely blinked at him.
"Would you mind explaining?" demanded Birnier.
"Explain!… Is your wife Mademoiselle Lucille Charltrain?"
"Why, of course. That is her professional name. But how on earth has this mistake happened? I—I—that is her writing—but it can't be. I mean it's impossible.…" Birnier put his hand to his head. "I—God, it can't be! I or you must be mad! Which is——"
A prolonged whistle startled him. He saw the whistle at zu Pfeiffer's lips, but the act conveyed no meaning. He turned away, struck another match and peered again at the photograph.
"Lucille! Lucille!" he whispered. "What on earth——"
A powerful clutch closed upon his arm. He was whirled backwards into a chair. For a moment he was too dazed to grasp what had happened. He saw zu Pfeiffer's face. The sentries over his moustaches quivered like a row of fixed bayonets. The eyes seemed needle points. Then the fact of the assault penetrated beyond the unprecedented incident of finding his wife's photograph in another man's room. The ugly line about the mouth hardened. He rose slowly.
"Am I to understand that you have laid your hands upon your guest?" he began, stuttering over the choice of words. "I am—I am——"
The scuffle of many feet interrupted him. Into the room rushed Sergeant Schultz and several soldiers. Zu Pfeiffer stood up and pointed.
"Sergeant, arrest that man!" he barked.
The sergeant saluted and barked at the askaris. Birnier gazed stupidly at the uniforms around him as if unable to comprehend. He looked at zu Pfeiffer who stood erect, his face lost in shadow above the lamp, and back at the soldiers.
"Is this a joke, Lieutenant—or are you mad?" he demanded angrily.
"Sergeant, put that man in the guard-room," zu Pfeiffer commanded.
Zu Pfeiffer sat down with his back to Birnier and facing the photograph. Birnier's face twitched; he raised his arm. The sergeant barked and the line of bayonets lowered menacingly.
"You gom with me, Herr American," ordered the sergeant.
Birnier controlled himself.
"One moment, sergeant, please! Herr Lieutenant, on what charge do you arrest me?" The perfect lines of the white-clad back did not quiver. "Very good! I give you warning, Herr Lieutenant, that you have committed an assault upon an American citizen."
"Gom! Gom!" insisted the sergeant impatiently.
Birnier raised his head and walked as indicated by the sergeant. As the footsteps plodded across the square zu Pfeiffer turned to the table, examining his left hand.
"Ach!" he growled gutturally, "the dirty pig has broken my nail!"
Over the city of the Snake the sun sank red dry, leaving the Place of Kings hot in the electric air of magic and world happenings. The people were still confined to their huts, trembling in the knowledge that for three days love must be eschewed, no water drawn nor any food cooked with fire; nor might any man, woman or child leave the precincts of the compound.
All the night Bakuma crouched in her hut listening in awe to the swish of the ghosts through the air, to the moans, groans and howls of the wizards doing battle with them. Tightly did she hold the amulet as she strove to conceal curiosity regarding the welfare of Zalu Zako; for did her mother suspect the presence of this evil spirit would she cause Bakuma to take a decoction of the castor-oil plant in order that the demon might be expelled; and the more to aid her conquer this unlawful impulse to peep without did she most persistently recite to herself the fate of the daughter of MTasa, the foolish Tangulbala whose body had been discovered impaled upon a tree by the angry spirits of the dead, because she had rashly ventured forth the third day after the death of the grandfather of Zalu Zako. Bakuma dared not mention the name of one who had died, for, as everybody knows, such an impious person runs the risk of summoning the ghosts to their presence.
The "putting out of the fire" had changed Bakuma's prospects, had made Zalu Zako heir-apparent, implying half a hundred responsibilities, the chief of which was that now he was compelled to choose his official first wife, she who would be the mother of the "divine" Son of the Snake: an alteration that excited Bakuma to frantic clutching at the amulet. Would the charm work or would it not? How to insure that it would be efficacious? Marufa's greedy demands worried her. She feared even if she obtained the goat that he might require something else as well. Anybody knows how greedy doctors are and how wealthy. He would be sure to increase the fee, knowing the value of the prize. Bakuma only possessed one really valuable article, and that was a charm against sterility; but this was the last thing that she wished to part with as the only possible occurrence that could ever divorce her from the position of chief wife, once she had won Zalu Zako, would be failure to provide the male heir. She was impatient, too, at the delay caused by the three days' tabu. Time was important. Soon she would be under the ban of the unclean which entailed the curtailment of her liberty again, and she dreaded that possibly the charm might grow stale. The greatest need for speed was MYalu's suit. As her father was dead she belonged to his brother. Already MYalu had offered four tusks of ivory and three oxen for her. Her uncle was lazy, mean, and greedy. Fortunately he thought that by waiting he could get double that amount. Yet MYalu might decide to pay the price demanded. Once Zalu Zako had selected her as his bride, her uncle dared not accept any other man's offer, no matter how wealthy he might be; besides, the old man would not wish to refuse a relationship with the heir to the king-godhood.
Again her cousin was sick. The diagnosis of Yabolo, the wizard, was that her soul had wandered in sleep down to the river and had been swallowed by a fish. Yabolo had caught the fish and lured the soul into a tree, but now he demanded such a big price to restore the errant soul to the girl that her father, Bakuma's uncle, would not pay it, so she would surely die; then they would all have to be exorcised, which inferred a further loss of relative freedom for another four days. Indeed with all these actual and possible delays it seemed to Bakuma that some one had made much magic against her. Unless she knew who he or she was, how could she employ the same means to annul the terrible effects? And more, how could she obtain the wherewithal to pay the fees of the best doctors? Life was very complicated to the daughter of Bakala.
Up on the hill of MFunya MPopo had the magicians been busy all the afternoon after the "putting out of the fire." Zalu Zako and the chiefs also were barred from the sacred enclosure; for being mere laymen they could not hope to withstand the evil spirits of the dead. Even Bakahenzie and the inner circle of the cult were compelled to employ the most potent methods of protection to preserve them from being bewitched or slain outright.
After Bakahenzie, Marufa, Yabolo and two other master magicians had released the souls of the dead King by making incisions in the body with a sacred spear to the thrumming of the drums, the mighty groaning of the other wizards, and the persistent wailing of the dead man's wives, the corpse was borne by twelve doomed slaves to the temple and there interred with the gouts of blood shed by the prophetic goat, the nail parings and hair clippings of his lifetime, and his personal effects.
Upon the hill of MFunya MPopo, soon to be a temple and sanctuary, sat Kawa Kendi beside the New Fire tended by Kingata Mata, facing Zalu Zako, MYalu and the lay chiefs, while upon his own hill slaves were tearing down his old hut, erecting a temporary palisade around the quarters of his wives who were forever forbidden to him, and beginning the building of the new temple.
As the violet shadows were creeping from one hut to another did Bakahenzie and his satellites return from the ghoulish offices of the dead. Zalu Zako, the chiefs and magicians arose to the wild beating of the drums and the wailing chant of the hereditary troubadour with the five stringed lyre. With Kingata Mata carrying a brand of the newly lighted sacred fire, was Kawa Kendi led in procession through the deserted village to his sacred home.
Under the hard stars set in a dry sapphire, the fire cast yellow flickers upon the carven features of Kawa Kendi. In the still heat the distant wailing of the women from the opposite hill drifted into the continuous throb of the drums, the plaintive wail of the singer, and the hysterical groaning of the magicians, yelling ferociously ever and again to intimidate the baulked spirits around the magic circle.
Then was a white goat, previously selected from the flock of Kawa Kendi, slain by Zalu Zako, disembowelled by Bakahenzie, and the entrails rubbed upon the brow, the chest and the right arm of the slayer of man, a ceremony of purification designed to protect the royal executioner by appeasing the justly angry spirits of the dead; to Marufa were given other parts of the slain beast to smear likewise upon Zalu Zako, the son; and Yabolo ran screaming with portions to the quarters of the women of Kawa Kendi: for must every blood relative be so enchanted lest the vengeful ghost seek substitute victims.
As a pallid moon rose, as if fearfully, above the deep ultramarine of the banana fronds, was a magic potion brewed from certain herbs in enchanted water, with which the King, Zalu Zako, his son, and the King's wives were laved. Amid a tempest of screams and drums rose Kawa Kendi purified, to be driven by Bakahenzie and the wizards back to the hill of his father, leaving the assembled lay chiefs squatting humbly and in dread of the spirits abroad in the night. While the procession leaped and twirled, screamed and groaned to the frantic thrum of the drums through the blue darkness, the magicians ran and pranced through and around the village, seeking any blasphemer who dared to look upon sacred things; banging on hut doors and shaking thatches, the more to terrify the shrinking inhabitants.
Without the gate of the old enclosure all remained, except Bakahenzie and the four wizards who encircled Kawa Kendi and Kingata Mata and hustled them across the clearing. With his back to the dim form of the idol stood Kawa Kendi as behind it grouped the master magicians. From the base Bakahenzie took two large gourds and gave them into the keeping of Kingata Mata.
Came an abrupt cessation of the drums and cries. The wailing of the women behind the temple died. The tense air pulsed with electricity. A cock crowed feebly in the village. Then at a rippling splash of the drums and the sudden screaming of the wizards, they began to push the idol. The base had already been loosened in the earth by the slaves. The idol began to totter. Louder screeched the magicians; faster fled the drums. Slowly the idol leaned and subsided on to the shoulders of Kawa Kendi. Grasping the mass firmly upon his bent back, he bore the burden out of the enclosure and down the hill.
Behind his unsteady steps pranced and yelled the doctors with more prodigious a noise than ever before as they scourged the King's legs and arms with cords of fibre. Through the listening village panted the King. As he gasped slowly up the hill the thrashing was redoubled. But into the new enclosure the King staggered, let slide the heavy mass into a hole prepared for the sacred feet and, gleaming blue points of sweat in the faint moon, let out a hoarse yell, proving to the assembly of magicians and chiefs that he was powerful enough to bear the burden of the world and moreover that none could wrest his office from him.
No time was given for the incarnation of a god to recoup from his labours. The motive principle of the accusation and for the death of the king was the drought. That only concerned the soul of the tribe in the person of Bakahenzie. For him and his brothers of the inner cult, while certain pretensions of power over the supernatural were for the "good of the people," the truths of magic and divine functions were inviolable. The person of Kawa Kendi, heretofore merely one in whom was a potentiality, became after the purification and "coronation" the very incarnation of the god. Kawa Kendi had crossed from the comparative safe haven of the potential into divine activity.
Also there were, as ever, political reasons for the hastening of the offices of the god. Should the new King-God fail, as his father had done, to accomplish the duties of the rainmaker, then, as no precedent had ever been known for the failure of two kings in succession, an enemy might accuse Bakahenzie of having committed some sacrilege which had displeased the Unmentionable One. Politics and religion are often inseparable. Therefore, as soon as Zalu Zako had witnessed the ascent of his father into the dangerous zone of the gods, was he bidden as the victim apparent, to produce the sacred rain-making paraphernalia. From the Keeper of the Fire, Kingata Mata, Zalu Zako received one of the large gourds, which he deposited at the feet of his father squatting before the sacred fire, and retired to his allotted place among the other lay chiefs. Only Bakahenzie and the four of the inner cult were permitted within the enclosure.
Fumbling within the pot Kawa Kendi produced a bundle of twigs tied with banana fibre, which he unbound and cast into the fire. The herbs smouldered and sent up a pungent smoke forming a heavy cloud like some strange blue tree sheltering the form of the idol against the green sky. Save for the faint wailing of the distant women there was silence, in which an owl screeched harshly, a good omen. Little flames flickered. The smoke grew denser, obliterating the figure of the King. The drums began to mutter, Bakahenzie cried out in a loud voice:
"O great God, the Unmentionable One! let thy powers be made manifest!"
The Keeper of the Fires came forward upon his hands and thrust the other sacred gourd in front of the King, a deep one containing water, and a wand made from a sacred tree which had upon the end a crook. To the groaning of the magicians, the King took from the one gourd two stones of quartz and granite, the male and the female, and spat upon each one, thus placing part of his royal body upon them; then did he put them on the ground, and pouring water, chanted:
"Go forth, male spirit, with my ghost in thy hands! Go forth, female soul, with my ghost in thy breast! Make love together in the shade of great Tarum, Of him whom fear of me hath frozen the breath!" "Ough! Ough!"
grunted the priests and magicians.
"Go forth, male spirit, with my ghost in thy hand! Go forth, female soul, with my ghost in thy breast! Love one another that the crops of our land May marry as well and be as fruitful as thee!" "Ough! Ough!"
"Go forth, male spirit, with my ghost in thy hand! Go forth, female soul, with my ghost in thy breast! Rise high up to heaven and mount on the black back Of the bird of the wet wind: poke your hands in his eyes!" "Ough! Ough!"
Save for the distant wailing, there was the silence of those waiting for a miracle. In the sky, at the back of the idol, was the paling of dawn. Suddenly, as if exasperated by the non-obedience of the elements, Kawa Kendi sprang to his feet, with the magic wand in his right hand, turned and stared apparently into the face of the idol. For a full two minutes he stood as if carven, while the doctors and the chiefs moaned dismally. Around him like a pall still hovered the smoke of the magic fire. From the village a cock's challenge was answered from point to point. Then shooting out his right hand, Kawa Kendi made gestures as if hooking something invisible and began to scream furiously:
"Thus do I, the One-not-to-be-mentioned, Drag forth from the belly of heaven The disobedient One, the lazy One! The insolent One who sinneth in sleep! The black-snouted One whose udders are choked! The womanly One whose nipples are dry! The sluttish One who refuseth her milk! The gorbellied One whose voice is a wind! Come forth, lest I give thee sorrow and pain! And make thee to weep the bitterest tears! Come forth, lest I tear out thy black bosom! Tear out thy guts for a feast unto Tarum! Come forth, lest I throw off the yoke of the burden Of the Earth and the Sky upon thy sweating black belly!"
In a slight puff of wind, the smoke, lace-edged with the dawn light, swayed, seeming to twine about the figure of the King as he stood with the wand outheld, as if firmly hooked in the guts of the recalcitrant elements.
Against the rose of the dawn appeared a dark line which increased as the magicians and chiefs moaned and groaned in sympathy with the furious efforts of the rainmaker, who threatened and pulled with the magic crook, so that everybody could see that he was indeed dragging the reluctant clouds from over the end of the earth. As the dark mass swelled the more he wrestled and screamed abuse at the dilatory spirit of the rain.
And behold, within half an hour, great black spirits sailed across the scarlet sunrise and wept exceeding bitterly; while from the village went up a great shout of praise to the triumphant King still prancing and cursing to such good effect up on the hill.
The same vast balloons of sepia rolled over the lake, vomited a host of liquid ramrods and, after short intervals of brilliant glare, were succeeded by others. The gutters of the station were turned into burbling brooks and the grass plot into a morass.
Behind the screen on the south verandah sat zu Pfeiffer in his pink silk pyjamas, a scowl upon his brow. He sipped his cafe cognac distastefully and inhaled a cigarette so fiercely that the heat burned his tongue. He had not slept. Yet the broken nail on the left little finger had been cut and polished. Half the night he had sat before the photograph in the ivory frame, pondering upon, and rehearsing, the past; muttering aloud to Lucille, sometimes words of love and sometimes savage curses; wondering what she was doing and where she was; gritting his teeth at visions which aroused insane jealousy; calculating what the consequences of his action would be were he to obey the impulse that had leaped into his mind in the first flush of passion. If he were to release the prisoner the fellow would probably expect an explanation and an apology which was, of course, out of the question. No, he must carry out the thing thoroughly without leaving any chance for the man to make trouble at the coast, or through the Embassy at Washington; at all costs not through Washington. For him, Birnier merely existed as a person whose feelings mattered nothing.
With the greening of the moon zu Pfeiffer had retired. As he had lain sleeplessly watching the pallor of the dawn he had savagely corroborated the decision. Now the roar of the deluge appeared to him in the form of an abettor to his plan. He watched the grey wall of rain with satisfaction, stroking the left sentry moustache as if to tame the fierce bristles of an outraged dignity. When he had emerged from the bath, the pink of his face appeared to have spread to the whites of his eyes, a fact which Bakunjala had noted with sullen dread.
Between the storms the sun glared yellow upon the smoking earth. Across the square squelched zu Pfeiffer to the orderly room. He grunted at Sergeant Schultz's greeting and sprawled in the chair. When Schultz proffered him some official documents he waved them aside irritably.
"Bring the prisoner to the Court, sergeant. I will try him immediately."
"Excellence!" said the sergeant, saluting. "What charge am I to enter against him, Excellence?"
"Arms and liquor running," responded zu Pfeiffer quickly. "I hold papers which prove the case completely; moreover you will see that Ali ben Hassan and others are prepared to testify. But—the charge will be margined as political: not criminal. Understand, sergeant?"
"Perfectly, Excellence. Ali ben Hassan and the others have to testify before your Excellence now?"
"There will be no need."
"Very good, Excellence."
"And, sergeant, what is the personnel of the launch and the prisoner's party?"
"The launch returned immediately to Jinja, Excellence, as soon as the prisoner had landed."
"The prisoner has a considerable battery, equipment and provisions; a headman and personal servants. He intended to obtain porters here, Excellence."
Zu Pfeiffer meditated, tapping the desk with a gold pencil.
"What is the headman?"
"Good. And the servants?"
"One is a Wongolo youth, the others are mixed Walegga and Kavirondo."
"Arrest them all and see that none gets away."
Schultz saluted and departed. Zu Pfeiffer frowned at the glare which was suddenly extinguished by falling water. He lighted a cigar and waited. Presently the sergeant returned in a waterproof cape, dripping, and announced that the prisoner was ready. Zu Pfeiffer gathered up his long legs and marched stiffly into the Court House adjoining.
Upon a slight dais was a large desk and a cane armchair beneath the Imperial Eagles and a portrait of the Kaiser Wilhelm II. Pale, stubble bearded, and tense eyed with anger, sat Birnier upon a form against the wall; beside him stood Sergeant Schneider, for it is not usual etiquette to put a white prisoner in charge of a black guard. The grizzled sergeant stood stuffy to attention, which zu Pfeiffer acknowledged. Although he did not meet Birnier's gaze, he scowled as if he had expected him to salute the majesty of the judge as well.
But as zu Pfeiffer mounted the step to the chair of justice he looked up at the portrait of the Kaiser, stopped, and hesitated; then he wheeled abruptly, and barked:
"Sergeant, bring the prisoner to the orderly room!"
In the orderly room Birnier was placed between Sergeant Schultz at his table and Sergeant Schneider by the door. Birnier watched zu Pfeiffer intently, but zu Pfeiffer regarded him icily as if he were a piece of furniture. Without a word Birnier reached out and lifted a chair. Sergeant Schneider started forward, evidently fearing that the prisoner was about to attack his officer. Birnier said acidly: "I merely wish to sit down."
Zu Pfeiffer scowled again, but he made no objection. He took up some papers at random and began to peruse them. Said Birnier sharply:
"When you have finished with this farce I shall be obliged if you will kindly explain your insane actions!"
The tap-tap of a typewriter sounded from another room. A fly buzzed. Zu Pfeiffer's eyelids did not blink. The sergeants stared woodenly to the front. Birnier looked from one to the other, bit his lips, and then exclaimed in exasperation: "What in hell do you mean by this damned nonsense?"
The tap-tap continued; the fly buzzed irritatedly. Birnier clenched his fist. But he sat still. Another storm so darkened the room that zu Pfeiffer could scarcely have seen the print, but apparently he read on. The deluge roared, passed, and the glare came as suddenly. Zu Pfeiffer lifted his head and said in German:
"Sergeant, record the opening of the Court."
"Excellence!" assented Sergeant Schultz and poised his pen ready to write.
"The prisoner, a Swiss subject——"
"I am American, as I have told you," said Birnier in leashed anger.
"A pseudo trader and hunter, named Carl Bornstadt," continued zu Pfeiffer imperturbably, "is charged under sub-section 79 of section 8 with supplying guns and liquor to the native subjects of his Imperial Majesty."
"Good God!" began Birnier. But as he realised zu Pfeiffer's purpose and his own position, he closed his lips tightly.
Methodically the sergeant finished the entries and waited. Zu Pfeiffer stroked his favourite moustache and considered. He glanced at Birnier, but without a vestige of expression and continued:
"Make a special note, sergeant, that we have reason to suspect that the prisoner is in the political service of"—a slight smile flicked the lieutenant's face—"in the service of the Portuguese, and so under sub-section 109 of section 8, I am referring the case to Dar-es-salaam for investigation; witnesses, documentary and personal, to accompany the prisoner. Owing to unusual pressure of service we are unable to afford the prisoner, although apparently of European descent, a white guard; therefore, Sergeant Ludwig will detail a corporal and six men for the duty."
He paused. The sergeant's pen scratched on. Zu Pfeiffer lighted a cigar and added impersonally:
"The prisoner and escort will leave to-morrow morning. Sergeant Schneider, remove the prisoner!"
Birnier's face was a little paler, the eyes were slightly more bloodshot; but he did not attempt to speak. Zu Pfeiffer rose. The sergeants stood to attention and saluted. As he left the room towards the Court House, he smiled with slight satisfaction as the gruff voice of Sergeant Schneider barked: "Prisoner, shun! Right turn! Quick marrch!"
But zu Pfeiffer did not remain long in the Court House. After fidgeting about with papers on the table and reprimanding Sergeant Schultz because he had not arranged the next native case to his satisfaction, he rose abruptly and marched swiftly across the square in the brilliant glare without his helmet and into his study. There he straddled a chair and leaned on the back sucking a dead cigar absent-mindedly. As he stared at the portrait in the ivory frame, the blue eyes grew soft and the delicate lips quivered like a child about to weep. He sighed heavily and then rapping out an oath, rose violently, overturning the chair, poured out a half-glass of neat cognac, and drank it at a gulp. As he neared the Court House the sentry, turning at the end of his short beat, was so startled at the proximity of the Kommandant, or incompletely disciplined, that he became flurried. Zu Pfeiffer clicked his heels together and haughtily watched the fumbled efforts to salute. The bolt caught in the man's tunic. Gold flashed in the sun as the sjambok descended. Zu Pfeiffer walked on unconcernedly, leaving a grey weal on the terrified native's face. To Sergeant Schultz, rigid in the doorway, he snapped an order to have fifty lashes given to the "clumsy dog."
Sentences were harsher than usual that morning. All the native world about him knew that a demon had taken possession of the Eater-of-men; he was usually inhabited by an evil spirit, but this time the demon of Bakra who, as everybody knows, tears the vitals with hot claws, making the victim to have fits, to foam at the mouth, to be quite mad, had entered the white man. Bakunjala, coming to the Court House with vermouth and biscuits at eleven o'clock, distinctly saw the devil glaring through zu Pfeiffer's eyes, and was so scared that he let fall the tray, which was the reason that he also was doomed to have twenty-five lashes that evening. Even the stolid Sergeant Schultz remarked that the Herr Lieutenant had gotten a touch of the sun; but the grizzled Schneider, who came from Luthuania, opined that the Herr Kommandant had left his table knife edge uppermost.
When zu Pfeiffer went across to tiffin the hot sun had dried up the gutters and the plot of grass. He did not return to the Court House, much to the gratitude of many innocent and guilty. After drinking more wine than usual he lay down for the siesta and fell asleep. But at five he awoke with a mouth like a burnt cooking pot and the temper of the said devil. He yelled for Bakunjala, who came, so trembling with fright that he stuttered. Zu Pfeiffer threw a glass which missed him and broke a mirror.
"Another seven years' ill luck!" shouted zu Pfeiffer, sitting on the bed in his shirt. He glared at Bakunjala standing in the door, too terror-stricken to flee, convinced that he would be blamed for breaking the glass. "You—you superstitious nigger!" yelled zu Pfeiffer, and added more calmly in Kiswahili: "Fetch me a brandy-soda! Upesi, you son of a baboon!"
"Bwana!" exclaimed Bakunjala and fled gladly.
Zu Pfeiffer sat and scowled at the scattered pieces of mirror until Bakunjala arrived with the drink. An hour later he emerged in his immaculate undress uniform and sat on the north verandah, drank vermouth and smoked cigars, staring out across the flat swamp where the pewter of the lake was flecked with silver and blood of the sinking sun. From beyond the fort came the yaps of the drill-sergeant busy in the cool of the afternoon. At the bark of the relieving guard, zu Pfeiffer rose and walked around the house to watch, with tetchy eyes, the saluting of the flag.
As he stalked off to dinner in the messroom eyes glimmered in the darkness about him. Bakunjala, after receiving punishment, was indisposed, in fact incapable of attending to his duties in the spritely manner required. Another servant, who had taken his place, was nervous of the probable consequences, and had a keen eye for the appearance of the devil so realistically described by Bakunjala. But the demon apparently slept, for zu Pfeiffer took the dishes placed before him with an unaccustomed meekness, pushed them away absent-mindedly, and rising, retired to his study. Even when the deputy brought the wrong bottle he reprimanded him mildly without taking his eyes off the photograph in the ivory frame.
Yet, with the port, he did not omit to rise, and heels together, raise his glass to the "Ihre Hochheit." Then sprawling in the chair he began to drink and to smoke steadily.
As the notes of the last post stuttered out in the clammy stillness he summoned the "boy" and bade him fetch Sergeant Schultz. At the sound of the sergeant's steps on the verandah zu Pfeiffer stiffened up and patted his lips as if desiring to erase the lines that were graven thereon; and with one foot pushed the chair from the direct angle to the photograph.
"Take a cigar," said zu Pfeiffer, when the man had entered. The words were rather an order than an invitation. Sergeant Schultz obeyed. Zu Pfeiffer smoked reflectively, still regarding the photograph out of the corner of his eyes as if unable to resist the fascination.
"How long have you been in this benighted country, sergeant?"
"Nine years, Excellence."
"You wish to retire on the pension at the year's term?"
"I have not seen my wife and children for three years, Excellence."
"You shall have special leave as soon as the Wongolo affair is over."
"I thank you, Excellence."
"And I will recommend you for the special colonial service medal and pension."
"I thank you, Excellence."
"Take a drink, sergeant."
"I thank you, Excellence."
The sergeant obeyed with some semblance of initiative and he remarked that the lieutenant drank half a tumbler of neat brandy at a gulp. As if to drag himself away from the contemplation of the photograph zu Pfeiffer stood up and sat on the arm of the chair with his face in shadow above the lamp-shade. Gazing keenly at the sergeant, he said sharply:
"You are quite aware of the regulations regarding official secrets, sergeant?"
"Ach, yes, Excellence!"
As the sergeant paused to answer with the glass in his hand there was just a suspicion of astonishment in the tone.
"Good. Don't forget it!" A note of menace was in zu Pfeiffer's voice. He added more mildly, "Political reasons may cause stringent measures sometimes."
Zu Pfeiffer smoked, coldly regarding the sergeant.
"Who is Sergeant Schneider detailing for the prisoner's escort to-morrow?"
"Corporal Inyira, Excellence."
"A long service man?"
"Good. Go and fetch him here."
Not a shadow of surprise showed on Sergeant Schultz's face as he departed. Zu Pfeiffer smoked hard and drank another brandy thirstily with a slight unsteadiness as he lifted the glass to his mouth. The sergeant returned and stood at attention just within the door.
"The man is here, Excellence." Zu Pfeiffer nodded.
"Forward, quick marrch," commanded the sergeant in a muffled bark. "Halttt!"
"Very good, sergeant, you may wait."
Schultz saluted and retired without. The tall powerfully built native in uniform stood as if he had a bayonet beneath his chin. There was a slight nervousness about the blues of the eyes as he squinted in the attempt to look straight ahead and to watch the Kommandant at the same time. One nostril was slit, in the lobes of the ears were three can keys, and the temples were tattooed with tribal scars.
"Corporal Inyira!" said zu Pfeiffer sharply. The black body twitched at the voice. "You are to leave to-morrow for Dar-es-salaam and you will take as a prisoner a white man who has been taking your tribe as slaves and selling them to the Abyssinians. The Bwana Mkubwa protects you from these evil white men and Arabs. You know that?" sharply.
"Very good. You know what would happen to you if you were sold as a slave? You have had many brothers who have been sold to the Abyssinians?"
"Bwana! Many, Bwana!"
"Very good. Now listen! This white man is very bad. He leaves with you to-morrow morning for Dar-es-salaam, but—he is never to arrive there. I give him to you. You may do what you like with him, but never let me see him again. You have my protection. Understand?"
The rubber lips pouted in the emphatic utterance.
"These are your secret orders. But you are not to tell them to any man, woman, or child here; you may tell your men when you are gone. If you disobey I will cut out your tongue and give you three hundred lashes. Understand?"
"This man is the enemy of the Bwana Mkubwa. His enemies are your enemies. His goods are yours. Begone!"
The black hand came up jerkily to the black forehead, shot away out and down; the polished calves moved like the eccentrics of an engine, and Corporal Inyira melted into the shadows.
To smart heel taps on the verandah entered the sergeant.
"You will see that Corporal Inyira and the escort leave before daybreak; moreover, that he talks with no one before he leaves."
"Take a drink, sergeant."
With legs as stiff as his sjambok, Sergeant Schultz obeyed the order; lifted the glass and drank.
"You may go! Good night, sergeant."
"Excellence, good night!"
As zu Pfeiffer shifted from the chair-arm to the seat his movements were slightly erratic. He sat forward, staring at the photograph, as he drank more brandy. Outside, the paean of the frogs pulsed steadily. From a distance came the throb of a native drum. A cricket shrilled intermittently.
The ghostly figure of Bakunjala whispered from the doorway. Zu Pfeiffer started nervously.
"Zingala," began Bakunjala timorously.
"Gott verdamf—Emshi!" snapped zu Pfeiffer, his ring flashing in an irritable gesture.
Bakunjala melted. Came a mutter of voices and a subdued giggle.
Zu Pfeiffer sat and drank and stared. Above the insectile anthem of the night, rose a gurgling voice in a drinking song.… Later the crash of a breaking glass was accompanied by an oath. The glimmer of three pairs of eyes through the window screen vanished and reappeared.… Once more rose the voice singing:
"Scheiden tut weh, Scheiden, ja scheiden, scheiden tut weh!"
Just as the cricket began anew, after having politely ceased to hear the lieutenant's song, trickled out upon the clammy air the sound of weeping.