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Title: Kwa and the Beast Men
Author: Perley Poore Sheehan
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: June 2006
Date most recently updated: June 2008

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KWA AND THE BEAST MEN
A Complete Novelet
By PAUL REGARD (Sheehan, Perley Poore)
Author of "Kwa of the Jungle," "Kwa, King of Ophir", etc.



CHAPTER I

Horn and Hoof

WHEN Kwa followed the leopard into the clearing and found the strange
monster standing there his first instinct was to turn and run. Here
was something that he didn't want to see, something that sent a chill
of horror through his veins.

Animals he could understand and men he could understand. But the thing
that stood before him now was neither. He recognized it at once. This
was a Beast Man. Every now and then the Beast Men made their way into
the Devil Bush- that great jungle that covered all this part of
Equatorial Africa. Arid, as for that, the Devil Bush had come by its
name honestly.

This was haunted jungle. It killed.

There were creatures in it that killed white men and black. Few had
ever penetrated to the heart of it and lived to tell about it
afterward.

That was why it was called the Devil Bush. It was fetish, greegree,
taboo.

Kwa felt a gust of anger, and this drove away his fear.

The leopard had lured him here by a lie. The leopard had come to him
with the story of a man lost in the woods.

This was no man.

The Beast Man stood about six feet tall, bulking huge. There was
nothing about him to suggest the big ape--the chimpanzee or the
gorilla. Head, neck and shoulders shining black--these suggested the
goat or the bull rather than the ape. On the top of the low-browed
head was a tangled thatch of wool through which emerged a pair of
knoblike horns.

The head was low and thrust forward. There were widest eyes, gray,
staring and wild. The arms and body were magnificent. They were like a
statue of Hercules in oily black marble.

But, with an inner shiver Kwa let his eyes flick down. There was
mud-caked wool on the thighs. The shanks were like those of an
uncurried horse. The feet were cleft, enormous, split and splayed like
those of a moose.

"Ho!" said Kwa. But he was ready to jump.

KWA himself stood there naked and white. He'd been disporting himself
with hippos and elephants in a clear green river far over on the other
side of the Devil Bush when the leopard had found he didn't even have
his knife with him. He'd left the knife where he'd dropped it
somewhere along the bank of the river. He hadn't even stopped to twist
about him the girdle of vines he usually wore.

Since his return to Africa from his grandfather's home in Florida he'd
let his hair grow. It hung now about his shoulders tawny and long. And
there was a down on his face, almost as if he'd been actually a member
of that Furry Tribe, the Not Yet Men, the Mu, who had reared him.

But his body gleamed smooth and white.

"Ho!" he said again. "I am Kwa, Kwa of the jungle!"

And now, for the first time, he was aware that others of his animal
friends had followed him here.

It was as if that declaration of his had been taken up by a thousand
voices. But all of them together made no more sound than a breeze.

"Yea, this is Kwa! Kwa the Golden One! Kwa of the jungle!"

THE stir of the breeze was like a vocal chorus, yet it would have been
unintelligible and all but inaudible to ordinary ears. Not to the ears
of Kwa. This was the sort of speech to which he'd listened ever since
he could remember.

Sun-time, the heat of the day, he'd lain in cool shadows and listened
to birds and beasts, all manner of things, talking as if in their
sleep. A radio that was never silent--elephant whispers running the
length and breadth of Africa, the twitter of birds and the minute
notes of squirrels and monkeys no bigger than a gorilla's thumb.

But--mostly silence. In what the White World called silence, you could
hear more voices and get more information than at any other time, It
was a silence, so Kwa had learned, like that of the ether through
which uncounted broadcasting stations send their unending programs.

At least some of the elephants must have followed him from the river.
Bush-deer and buffalo, troops of mboyo--the shy wolf-dogs of the deeper
jungles; leopards, of course.

He might have known that the leopard who had lured him here was
tricking him. The only interest that a leopard could have had in a
man--a real man--lost in the woods would be to kill him.

Leopards hated men--all men. And, often enough, Kwa had suspected that
leopards had extended this hatred to include himself-he who drew no
clear frontier between the peoples who were "men" and they that were
"animals."

Leopards, unlike the other jungle tribes, appeared to be jealous of
men. Leopards were brave. No animal was braver. But there was also
always something ghostly about them--running after strange gods.

"A Beast Man!" came the chorus from the jungle. "Kwa! Kwa! Be on your
guard! Kwa, Kwa, he will try to kill you!"

This was in the universal language of the jungle, which was almost a
manner of thought rather than any articulate speech. It was a means of
communication that all animals used, on and off, even when, as many of
them did, they possessed a tribal speech of their own. It was the
ancient speech, one that Kwa had used instinctively ever since his
earliest childhood. But, since then, he'd learned most of the jungle
calls as well.

Everywhere, to declare yourself, state, who you were and stand your
ground, was in the nature of a challenge.

From the Man Beast there came a long-sustained and rumbling breath. It
was something that at first Kwa couldn't understand except that this
was an answer to his challenge.

Kwa, with every nerve and sinew on the trigger, flicked a look about
him. He was amazed by the number of leopards he saw about him.
Leopards were glinting everywhere in the foreground, running, belly-
flat; pausing to stare; sliding and slinking. They gave an impression
that the jungle glade was surrounded by the coil of an enormous black
and yellow snake--never still--with a hundred heads.

RECOLLECTION and some further measure of understanding came to Kwa. Of
all the animals of the jungle the leopards were the only ones who'd
ever been reported to have been on terms of intimacy with the Beast
Men.

The Sapadi--meaning, "the Cloven Footed"--as all the Negroes of the
Guinea Coast call the Beast Men. Time was when the Negroes had talked
to the Utangani, the White Men, about the existence of Sapadi in
Africa's great Equatorial forests. But the White Men had laughed, and
so the Negroes no longer talked about the Sapadi except among
themselves.

The Utangani were like that. They laughed at everything they couldn't
see or understand--animals and men and trees that were aniemba,
possessed by a spirit; the nibuiri, the ghosts of animals or men who
roamed about in the dusk and dark; the power of the ougangas, the
witchdoctors--not all of them, but some--to trap the souls of things, of
men included, and keep them imprisoned in a box.

Kwa laughed at nothing he couldn't understand. The world was filled
with such things--both the Great White World, which was his by
inheritance through his parents; and the Great Black World, the world
of the Devil Bush to which he'd been born and in which he'd been
reared.

THERE came a momentary diversion.

A ncheri, a little bush-deer, no larger than a slight Italian
greyhound, had leaped a fallen, moss-covered tree, and stood there in
the clearing. Evidently it had been taken by panic and it stood there
quivering, its soft eyes bright with alarm. At sight of it that
revolving wheel of leopards had instantly stopped. But even quicker
than the pause and hover of the leopards was the action of the Beast
Men.

Maybe this was his final answer to that challenge of Kwa's--also a
warning to those other jungle tribesmen he saw assembling. One of his
great arms as if uncoiled and struck.

It was a movement faster, almost, than that of the jungle eyes that
followed him. On the instant, it seemed, he'd broken the ncheri's
neck. He'd brought its throat to his mouth. He stood there drawing at
the little creature's blood.

From where he stood Kwa sprang. "Hah!" he grunted.

And he'd struck the Cloven Footed with his fist.



CHAPTER II

Blood Call

IT WAS a blow that might have felled a man--a jab, something of an
uppercut--with all the Force of that plunging rush behind it. But the
Sapadi was merely shaken. It was surprise that had shaken him as much
as the blow. He was a Beast Man, hence something of a god--god of the
leopards. This white whelp of the Utangani had struck him. The Sapadi
was about to get another shock. He'd dropped the body of the dead and
bleeding deer to the ground between his splayed and cloven feet. The
smell of blood and the spectacle of the raw red wound was too much for
one of the leopards. In an instant, it had flashed in and seized the
prey, had started off with it. Without delay, two other leopards came
in. They were there with the flashing speed of hungry snakes.

There was a whine and the beginning of a fight.

Kwa was in the midst of the tangle at once, striking with his bare
hands right and left.

Now Kwa heard something that the Sapadi said--and understood it,
although it was in an inverted form of thought, like the secret
language of some murderous lodge.

"Strike him! Tear him!"

Kwa saw a quick change in the leopards.

One of the brutes he seized by the neck and flung aside. At another
that had dared face him with a yawning mouth he aimed a chopping blow
that quelled it on the instant.

These were murderous moments--a scent of blood in the air from the
slaughtered deer, a voice commanding the leopards to kill him. It was
as if, suddenly, here in the Devil Bush, the Devil himself had
appeared. There flashed through Kwa's mind even now old stories that
he'd heard--long night, in the great Fire Cave of the Mu, when the
people of the Furry Tribe sat about their sacred fire and the jungle
tribes, from mice to elephants, from birds to pythons, gathered in the
shadows to watch the mystery of fire and hear the stories of the
world.

In all of these stories, the Devil came and came again--as wolf, as
snake, as man.,

Kwa backed from the bloody wreck of the little deer. He'd kicked the
last leopard away. His eyes were on the Beast Man, ready for attack,
ready for flight. He'd have little enough chance, he knew, unarmed
against an enemy like this.

THERE were a hundred voices screaming warning. Then, from a corner of
his eye, he saw an elephant plunge into the clearing from the green
screen of the jungle. That was Golef, a young elephant bull, with whom
he'd struck up a close friendship.

"Golef!" Kwa called. "No killing!"

"He would kill you from behind," came Golef's whisper.

Just as the Beast Man rushed at him, head down, Kwa sprang aside. He
saw what had happened. He understood now those cries of warning. One
of the largest leopards--an old man-eater, as Kwa could tell at a
glance--had been creeping up on him from behind.

Golef, the elephant, had not only seen the danger in time. He'd acted
on it. With a sweep of his trunk, he'd tripped the leopard and brushed
it aside.

The leopard joined the others. They were bunched, but restless,
circling among themselves. The eyes of all of them were on the Beast
Man, then on Kwa. It was as if they were appraising two gods. One they
would elect, one they would kill.

"Ho," cried Kwa. "I'm a Man!"

This wasn't a beast. Like most jungle speech it was merely the
statement of a truth. But the truth conveyed the challenge.

From branch and ground-bush and from the green maze beyond the
clearing-8from all directions, from above and all around, it seemed--the
voices were telling Kwa to be careful, to save himself, that this was
a Sapadi who faced him, and that Sapadis were killers.

"Even as the Utangani!" came a rasping breath, and Kwa knew that he
was hearing again the voice of the Beast Man.

Once more Kwa had a glint of fear. But the fear was not for himself
precisely. It was fear that the situation would get out of hand. There
was that taint of blood in the air. There'd been that revolt of the
leopards. He knew that now should the situation escape from his hands
he would be doubly lost. His life would not only forfeit but his hope--
the hope that had become the purpose of his life--to restore the Great
Truce among animals and men.

The leopards were whining a chorus to that statement of the Sapadi.

"Even as the Utangani! The Utangani kill!"

The Sapadi rushed him.

The rush of the Sapadi was like nothing that Kwa had ever seen before-
swift, silent. It was like the charge of three animals in one. The
hands and arms were snakes. The open mouth had become the mouth of a
fighting leopard.

Kwa, jungle-trained, crouched and went far to one side.

As he did so, there was a roaring whisper that reached his brain.

"Kwa! Kwa! We'll fight for you!" These were the elephants and buffalo
who spoke.

There came another rush of speech, mingled with it, but as clear as
the voice of horns in an orchestra.

"Kwa! Kwa! We'll fight for you!"

NOW Kwa could scarcely believe the evidence of his brain. This last
offer had reached him in the voices of lions; and lions were almost as
rare in the Devil Bush as men themselves were.

Yet there were the lions--a dozen or more. Males, all of them. Kwa,
with a rush of gratitude, knew that now, at any rate, the leopards
would be held in check. Leopards were brave; they were cunning; they
possessed, perhaps, certain forms of evil magic which lions either
ignored or disdained. But in the presence of a lion no leopard dared
assert itself.

All this, like the breaking up of light in a prism--instantaneous.

The Sapadi had rushed. Kwa had dodged. The voices had reached him. Kwa
found time to stand straight and raise both arms.

"No, no!" he shouted. "I am Kwa! Kwa fights! Kwa will slay this
thing!"

He, could imagine the sort of slaughter that might begin should he
himself be slain, The jungle now surrounding this fated battleground
was packed with life. Grass-eaters and blood-drinkers were there
together, birds and squirrels and snakes. An old man gorilla stood
with his knuckles on the fallen tree and back of him were other
gorillas. They stared at the leopards, stared at the lions. But it was
at Kwa they stared the oftenest. On him the present truce depended.

There should be no killing in Kwa's presence. There should be no
killing within sound of his voice. But Kwa himself could kill. Kwa
came from the terrible race that killed even when it was without
hunger.

Kwa and the Sapadi were advancing again. There was a great silence.

The Sapadi snorted and breathed with a rasping sound.

"I am Bele," he said; "god of the blood-drinkers. I am thirsty again.
Tonight I and my brethren will drink the blood of this young white
goat."



CHAPTER III

Noose and Claw

THERE'D come a sort of chorus to that statement of the Sapadi's. It
came from the direction of the slinking, watchful leopards.

"Yo, yo! He is god of the blood-drinkers!"

But a lion coughed, and the sound struck silence even to the sort of
silent speech that was running about.

Kwa thought. He thought in English. To him English had always been, in
some sort, a sacred language. This, he never could forget, had been
the language that the unknown golden-haired woman had used, his
mother, she who had passed her life on to him.

Sometimes English sentences formed in his brain, even here in the
depths of the Devil Bush, and it would curiously seem as if it was his
mother--her "mbuiri," her soul, that whispered to him.

"Use your brain! Look up!"

He looked up. And now, just as the Beast Man of the cloven feet made
another lightning dash in his direction he jumped into the air instead
of to one side, and seized the loop of a swinging rubber vine. Almost
too late. The Sapadi had struck at him with clutching fingers and
scored such a scratch down one of Kwa's legs as a leopard might have
made.

"He runs away," the leopards whined.

And Bele, the so-called god of the blood-drinkers, braked his charge
and pivoted on his horned feet. With him, at any rate, there could be
no side-stepping. Nor could he climb. Both of which thoughts came to
Kwa in that swinging moment.

BUT he had no intention of running away, and those who knew him best
divined that this was so.

"Ho," roared Bele. "He joins the other umkago!"

The "umkago" were a tribe of small red-headed monkeys. They were there
in force, swarming overhead. The Beast Man had meant this as a taunt,
and the leopards were ready to take it up. Monkeys and apes had always
been a favorite food for leopards, perhaps because they were so much
like the children of men; then, dogs, because these were the friends
of man; then man himself.

But the lions also had taken to serpenting about, and in the sudden
silence caused by their movement the forest tribes heard Kwa shrill
out something in the very language of the umkago, the red-headed
monkey pilgrims.

Then: "Wah!" Kwa shouted in the universal speech. "Wah! I am brother
to them all!"

He stood in his loop of vine and started it to swing. For the first
time now since he'd first stood in the presence of the Beast Man he
began to feel an assurance of victory.

The feeling made him laugh aloud. It made him shout a song.

"Wah!" he laughed. "Come catch me, Bele. Come catch Kwa. Bele drinks
the blood of a little deer. Bele now talks of drinking the blood of a
Man!"

This was the turn of the tree-dwellers--birds and ribbon-snakes, monkeys
and squirrels. Some of the squirrels were so small that they might
have been taken for mice if it wasn't for their silken, never-quiet
tails.

"Wah!" they chorused. "Kwa is the brother of us all! Come catch us,
Bele! Come catch Kwa!"

Bele, at a momentary loss, charged over toward the leopards. They
cowered at his approach and looked their reverence. Bele charged back--
huge and black, shining--if not a god at least a devil to most of these
other animals. Half man. Perhaps with the mbuiri of a man at his
command to help him with his evil magic.

The buffalo showed signs of stampede. They rolled their eyes and
snorted at those cleft feet of his feet almost like their own. Golef,
the young elephant-bull, Kwa's particular friend, threw out his barns
door ears and extended his trunk in a rigid slant--it was a fighting
stance--but it took all his nerve and all his memory of his talks with
Kwa to maintain it.

ONLY the lions and the old gorilla stood firm and apparently at ease,
as if there was some ancient, settled wisdom back of them that
couldn't be shaken even by a devil.

"Ho," Kwa. suddenly shouted. "I am Kwa--Kwa the Golden--and my mother
came from the Golden West!"

The meaning of this was obscure to all who heard it--except to Golef,
perhaps; but none who heard Kwa could believe other than that the
battle was but now begun.

Down from the heights of the trees where the red-headed monkeys ran
there came a length of tie-tie vine, soft and supple, strong as copper
wire. There seemed to be no end of it. It was with vine like this that
the big-game hunters of the Gaboon used to weave their elephant and
buffalo-nets, back in the days before the White Man came to exchange
powder and rum for slaves.

"Ho! Tie-tie vine!" Kwa chanted. "With tie-tie vine my mother's people
conquered the Golden West!"

SUDDENLY, Bele, who'd again come to the side of the snaking leopards,
caught one of them up in his powerful hands. There was a squirming
spasm as the leopard let out a snarling scream of protest.

"Kill!" shrilled the Beast Man.

He'd turned and with one of those lightning-swift charges of his had
hurled the leopard to where Kwa had been standing out of reach.

It was as if he'd hurled a living buzz-saw. The leopard caught and
clung-cursing heaven and earth in the leopard tribal speech.

But Kwa was no longer there. Kwa had leaped. He'd landed on the
ground. He hadn't lost a moment. He was coiling his tie-tie vine. Then
there followed something that struck all those who saw it as a bit of
beautiful and terrible magic.

A treble breath--a shrill whine swept the jungle. .

While the lightning-footed but slower witted Sapadi, Bele the Beast
Man of the Cloven Feet, still gazed up to where he'd hurled his living
missile, Kwa dashed in close, and as if lashed him with his slender
vine.

It looked like suicide to those who watched him. But instantly their
keen eyes saw that a noose had fallen over Bele's head and shoulders.
Bele reacted to this as swiftly as if the vine had been red-hot iron.
He jerked around and plunged at Kwa. As he did so, Kwa stepped aside
and made another lashing movement at his feet.

Kwa gave a double-handed jerk and Bele fell.

Now, instead of retreating, as Kwa's friends hoped and expected, Kwa
flung himself flat on Bele and started to throw loop after loop about
his head and shoulders--four, five--while Bele in his confusion heaved
and struggled like a harpooned whale.

All would have gone well for Kwa just then if it hadn't been for the
leopard swinging on the vine just overhead.

Physically, the leopard could not have been more easy in the position
in which it now found itself than if it had been safe in its own home
den. But here was a chance to ease the ache in its pride--to rid itself
of a little of its stored-up venom. It didn't dare attack openly
either of these two fighting gods on the ground, but it could fall.
Fall it did or pretended to; swinging under, dropping, turning in the
air.

One of its hooked and scimitared paws caught in Kwa's bright mane and
held.



CHAPTER IV

Keepers of the Peace

KWA, struggling with all he had of both brain and muscle to bring his
battle to a close, felt that dragging rake of pointed talons across
his scalp, the swift suffocation of the leopard's fur as the big cat
let its full weight down upon him.

In spite of himself, or to save his life, Kwa flung up a hand to shake
himself free.

Swift as the reflex was, one of the lions had been swifter. It had
reached the group on the ground with a single spring, it had struck
with a massive paw. The leopard rolled.

It didn't rise again.

Almost as swift as the lion--he might have been as swift if it hadn't
been for some order Kwa had given--Golef, the elephant, planted one of
his feet on the leopard's head.

He held it there while the spotted fur quivered to a stillness. Then
Golef raised his trunk and screamed.

"Ho!" was what he said. "While Kwa is occupied, the lions and we shall
see that peace is kept!"

Swift moments, all of these. Things happening all at once. Life in the
jungle like a river, flowing slowly, day after day, night after night,
then taking some mighty jump into a cataract of action.

For Kwa, a brush with death, just now when the leopard clawed his
head. Bele gouging with his own mouth of a fighting leopard had got a
strand of the tie-tie in his mouth and snapped it. A hand and arms
came free.

WITH his free hand he clapped a blow at the side of Kwa's head that
staggered him--a curious blow, not with the fist, but with the hand
half-open and the fingers rigid, a leopard blow.

The Beast Man fought like a leopard and with the strength of a bull.

Kwa, wavering, caught the hot blast of Bele's breath--breath smelling
of blood and carrion. Kwa saw Bele's yellow fangs within an inch of
his face.

Kwa flung his strength and concentrated purpose on that free hand of
Bele's and forced it around. It was like trying to twist a live
branch, big as his thigh, from a mulmberry tree.

Bele heaved and was on top of him. But Kwa had brought the free arm of
Bele with him. Little by little, he was dragging the arm into the
position where he wanted it to go.

MEANTIME Bele had worked his other hand partly free, and his fingers
were merciless as they prodded and tore wherever they could reach
Kwa's body. Kwa felt as if bush-pigs were tearing him up alive.

But he wouldn't let go of Bele's arm. He had the arm now against
Bele's back and was pressing it up. The great hand of the Beast Man
was now almost between his shoulder blades, and there Kwa held it--held
it even when Bele once more surged and rolled.

Now Kwa came up and was no longer underneath. He gulped the air. He
filled his eyes with one wide glance of all that lay about him. After
all, he was Kwa, and Kwa had friends. For these friends he was
fighting now. The thought somehow nerved him for the final effort,
when he gave a sudden heave and knew that he had dislocated Bele's
shoulder.

He didn't pause to rest on that much of a triumph.

Bele, with a dislocated shoulder, could still be as dangerous and as
deadly as a gored rhino, as a wounded lion. That also was part of the
jungle law--never to stop simply because of pain, simply because you
thought you might be beaten. Pain that was merely the whip of the
invisible master, to each man and beast his own "mbuiri," forcing him
to go on until the mbuiri, the soul or the ghost, itself skips out.

In his own heart Kwa said, "God bless the umkago!" The little
red-headed monkeys had thrown down enough tie-tie vine to tether six
elephants.

Kwa noosed the dislocated arm and threw the same loop for a dozen
turns about Bele's throat.

He noosed the second hand, then cast a hitch about one of Bele's hocks
and drew the two together, This wasn't for the sake of torture. This
was all for the sake of absolute mastery, absolute security.

Kwa got to his feet. There was a tremor in his knees. He was streaming
with blood. He felt befouled. He raised his face and shook out his
name of tawny hair. He felt as if he'd been scalped. He felt as if he
had a nest of hot coals in his thighs--there where Bele had prodded and
torn at his flesh.

But all this would pass.

"Wah!" he cried. "You see me? I am Kwa."

THERE was a singing in the air. It was made up of a hundred--or a
hundred thousand--voices. For there has never been a census of the
jungle-world. There has never been even an attempt to chart the zones
and the countries of jungle thought and speech, of common
understandings.

The answer came:

"Wah! We see thee, brother! Thou art Kwa!"

That was the general run of the chorus, and there may have been even
the voices of insects in it as well as the voices of birds and
elephants, of lizards, snakes and pigs.

Kwa bent a knee and took a slow step, bringing his foot flat down to
the trampled earth.

"There lies Bele," Kwa said; "bound and mastered."

The warm breeze of a thousand or ten thousand breaths repeated the
affirmation.

Kwa took two steps, thinking deeply, inviting his mbuiri to express
itself.

"Shall I kill him?" Kwa asked; but those who heard him knew that the
question was not for them. There was a great silence. "Killing him
would do no good," said Kwa. "We shall doctor him and let him go."

BELE himself meditated this strangest part of his adventure when he
found himself free. It was early night. It was the night of a new
moon--always a night of some solemnity in Black Africa--for animals as
well as men.

The thing that impressed Bele most was that he'd been turned out free
and sound on a new-moon night. The new moon must have had something to
do with it. This moon liked him. It was his moon.

As a matter of fact, the strange white Thing he had fought had been
worse hurt than he himself had been hurt. The Kwa Thing. Kwa, who
spoke the speech of the Bush, This was no Utangani whelp. Nor yet was
it an "Ovengua"--one of those powerful spirits that roam the Devil
Bush. For an Ovengua would never have allowed itself to be taken in so
simply by a leopard.

He'd said it. Kwa was a white ghost who happened to have taken on the
shape of a man and who'd picked up something of Utangani--White man--
magic.

But, in any case, white. Moon color. His blood would make strong
medicine. He'd almost had it.

"O Moon!" said Bele in his thought.

And he didn't know it--it wouldn't have made any difference even if he
had--but when he said this he was joining his voice to a chorus that
went all up and down the coasts of West Africa this night-and far back
into forests and grasslands, up dim rivers, out across the Kalahari
desert where half-starved Bushmen also stared at the silver crescent
and said, "O Moon!"

"O Moon!" said Bele. "Help me make to thee this White Sacrifice!"



CHAPTER V

The GreeGree Cave

BELE, the Cloven Footed, traveled smoothly and swiftly through the
darkening jungle of the Devil Bush. A few leopards had caught up with
him shortly after Kwa and his friends had turned him loose. But these
Bele had driven away. He felt that a virtue had gone out of him by
having been beaten and bound.

It wasn't good for a Bush god to allow himself to be seen by his
followers when his virtue was departed.

Especially when these followers were leopards. Leopards were keen;
they, knew too much. Leopards had risen to a point where they were no
longer afraid of fire. Leopards even had ideas of fetish. For example,
leopards would often take the skull of a victim and put it up in a
tree. When you asked them why they did this, they'd simply grin.

In spite of those great horned feet of his, Bele traveled as silently
as any leopard could have traveled. As a matter of fact, he often ran
with leopards. All the Beast Men did. The Beast Men. The Sapadi.

And they let the leopards do their killing for them, which the
leopards were glad to do.

This reminded Bele of past banquets, and he began to take close notice
of the air. It wasn't long before he scented something that whetted
his already sharpened appetite.

Niaray!'

The niaray were a bush-buffalo almost as dainty as certain of the
deer.

And shortly, Bele, silent as a shadow, had the herd located. In less
than a minute he'd made his kill--a month-old calf that had been
sleeping close up against its mother's flank. Before the mother
herself had discovered what had happened, he was on his way again,
taking the calf along. He was getting his virtue back. Neither he nor
the calf had made a sound.

He sated himself as he traveled, then cast the drained body aside. The
blood of a calf was sweet. It was nourishing. But there was no
medicine in it.

There were many creatures in the Bush whose blood was medicine. Man
came first, of course; and of men the whiter they were the stronger
the medicine. But, after man, lions and the big apes--both troublesome
and hard to kill. But there were those who believed that leopards,
after all, were even better.

And, strangely enough, leopards were the standby of the Sapadi Lodge--a
secret that not even the shrewdest leopard had ever learned. For the
Sapadi were the gods of the leopards. And gods--so ran the old wisdom
of Black Africa--of men as well as beasts--always fed on those who
worshiped them.

Bele, in the dark, had pressed on through queer passages and ascending
trails to a place somewhere on the steamy flanks of Sango Lobango,
that huge and ragged, snow and jungle covered mountain of the Devil
Bush whose native name meant the Father of Lies.

It might have been called that for a number of reasons. Sometimes it
had been seen from some point, perhaps ninety or a hundred miles away--
the fingers of its snow-peaks pointing to the sky. Yet no explorer had
ever been able to find it. Or, if he had, he'd never, at any rate,
returned.

First the Devil Bush, that vast and haunted jungle into which no West
Coast native nor jungle Black could be bribed to go. Then, the broken
flanks of Sango Lobango himself a chaos of pits and flinty needles,
craters and caverns, hot streams and cold, all jungle clotted, as if
in a stupendous hothouse, almost on up to the point where the snows
began.

But all as simple as a village street to Bele.

He found a crooked corridor--jet dark to ordinary eyes--but where he saw
plainly enough everything he might have cared to see. The floor of the
corridor was a tepid stream that ran a smooth carpet of water over
tilted slate. The jungle closed this in with a solidity like that of
solid rock. There was, in fact, no telling, so far as appearances
went, where the jungle left off and the solid rock began. 

For the river flowed from a jungle-smothered cave in the face of a
cliff.

THIS was the entrance to the GreeGree Cave of the Beast Men. It was
known to them as such. Yet they'd come to it but recently. And none of
those who had now assembled there had ever seen it before. For the
Sapadi hadn't used this particular Lodge Room for nearly a thousand
years. They were like that. They appeared. They disappeared. They knew
in ways that they never sought to question things that they couldn't
understand.

Bele ran lightly in spite of his great weight. He came into a large
chamber where there was a natural fire-pit, perhaps twenty feet in
diameter and deep as a desert well.

This filled the place with a red glow which, once the eyes were
accustomed to it, served the purpose of sight as well as sunlight
might have done.

About the edge of the fire-pit were set a row of skulls--all sorts,
human and nearly human, the skulls of lions and elephants. The warm
air of the place had the small partly of an unclean butcher-shop.

Bele drew this air into his lungs a number of times as if gratefully,
and exhaled it with a snorting sound.

THERE were snorts and loud breathing in shadowy corners.. and then
soft clattering of hornshod feet as from here and there, the black
shapes of other Sapadi began, to appear. Some were young and some were
old.

There was one who was very old, and he spoke first.

"Two of the Spotted Believers came," he said, in the snorting, mooing,
tribal speech of the Sapadi Lodge. "They told us you were thrown and
bound."

"Where are they?" Bele asked. "We took their blood and threw them into
the fire-pit."

"You did well."

"They lied?"

"You see me here."

"But the white sacrifice I do not see."'

"He was surrounded by half the killers of Africa. He speaks their
speech."

"Yet white?"

"White as a fish."

"His medicine must be strong. I need it."

"I'll get it for you."

"You said that when you left."

"I'll get it."

"When?"

"Tonight. Now. I know where he sleeps. I hurt him badly. To bring him
to you unspoiled I'll now take others with me."

And Bele began to look about him at the other members of the Lodge.
They shifted about a little, their cloven feet scraping the stone of
the floor. None of these others were as large and powerful as Bele was
himself. Yet nearly so.

Even the old Sapadi, Bele's father, who'd frightened creatures of the
Bush now for upward of a century, had a look of twisted power about
him, like a gnarled tree.

The old Sapadi had two fresh leopard skins twisted about him which
yielded a scent of fur and blood, and these he sniffed from time to
time as medicine.

"Choose," the old man snorted. And Bele began to choose those who
would accompany him.



CHAPTER VI

"Ovengua"

THERE had always been, perhaps, more reason than white people might
concede, for some of those strange beliefs that lived and held and
proved themselves in this part of Black Africa. Take that belief in
the "Ovengua," for example--the one to which Bele, the Beast Man, had
referred in his own mind when thinking of Kwa.

The "Ovengua" were terrible, shadowy creatures--spirits, they were
believed to be--that roamed the jungle at night, killing men and eating
them, or sending them back to their villages at last crazy and
frightfully disfigured.

There were witnesses enough to tell of having seen such things and
escaped. They told these stories at night as they sat about the
village fires and smoked and drank.

Africa liked to talk all night, or drum and dance. Perhaps there was
some ancient wisdom in this, as well.

Bele and his Sapadi companions were like "Ovengua" now as they
threaded their way through the black and steaming lark of the Sango
Lobango bush. How could they see in the dark? How could any of the
night prowlers of the Devil Bush see in the dark? The dark wasn't dark
to them. It was just another sort of light. It was a light by which,
they could see many things better than by sunlight. There were many
things they could see in what the White Man calls the dark that would
have been invisible by daylight--things that floated, things that
crawled, other things that stood and peered.

The Night Side of Nature. Another world. A world that ordinary men
dimly remember, perhaps, such times they're in the brush at night,
when they look at the slim new moon, when they tell their ghost
stories.

Bele had selected only the toughest and boldest of the Sapadi for this
enterprise of his.

After the fight in the clearing where he'd been thrown and bound, one
of the elephants had picked him up--at Kwa's request--and carried him
off through the jungle to the southern slopes of Sango Lobango. While
half the beasts of Africa, it seemed, trailed along to see the finish
of the day. Kwa had ridden another elephant, where, for a time, an old
gorilla had ridden at his side.

THIS man's medicine must be very strong.

And there, at the same warm medicine pool, Kwa himself had reset the
dislocated shoulder. The pain of that was so great that Bele would
have bitten Kwa just then, but gorillas and elephants had held him.

The shoulder had been laved in the warm waters of the pool. The pain
had gone.

Kwa and a few--of his companions were to pass the night at this same
pool, where Kwa would soak his wounds. Bele had heard Kwa say that by
morning the wounds would be as good as healed.

Not even if they had been Ovengua, in fact as well as in the seeming,
could Bele and his Sapadi band have been more silent, more cunning in
the ways of darkness.

Wherever they passed they left, it seemed, a trail of silence and of
an even greater darkness about them. There would be a great chorus of
frogs and crickets--a surf of sound with regular waves; and across
these waves every now and then a whoop or a whistle, a whine or a
laugh, a bark or a clatter of beaks, that were like the traffic sounds
of some invisible harbor.

Then, a sudden silence at the passing of the Sapadi--a silence that
lingered--a silence that seemed, somehow, devoted to serious thinking.

Only the leopards kept the Sapadi company on their silent march. And
even the leopards kept their distance--ghosting far out on the flanks
like the Devil's own hunting dogs.

KWA slept without fire or cover. He lay at the side of the jungle pool
that came down warm and medicinal from one of the ten thousand live
craters of old Sango Lobango. Even Sango Lobango had its virtues, and
not the least of these was that few insects loved the breath of it.
The ants and the mosquitoes never came here, nor the gnats and buffalo
flies. Anyway, since his return to Africa, Kwa had recalled all the
things he'd ever learned while living with the Mu--there in the hidden
Valley of the Mu, which Sango Lobango surrounded with its castellated
cliffs. There was truce with many of the insects as there was with
many of the beasts.

Some day, Kwa dreamed, he might try to explain these things to those
who didn't understand. But, so far, there was too much that he didn't
understand himself.

While he slept, his animal friends came and went.

They all had their appointments. There was an unceasing business of
the jungle. And the difference between the business of the Utangani
and the business of the Bush was this:

If you neglected your business in the White World you stood to lose
some money. If you neglected your business in the World of the Bush
you stood to lose your life.

TALL Golef, the young elephant-bull, who'd rocked through half the
night, dreaming yet awake, not far from where Kwa lay, now led his
herd off into the night on elephant business and a company of
TingaTinga--the great black swamp buffalo almost as powerful as
elephants--as if casually drifted near.

But scarcely had this happened than a yearling of the buffalo herd set
up a help-cry and at the same time a leopard-cry. It seemed
impossible, but there it was--two leopards simultaneously had jumped to
the yearling's back practically there in the middle of the herd.

The buffalo-bulls closed round. The leopards were doomed.

Kwa was instantly awake to the alarm among the buffalo, but he had no
more idea of rousing himself on this account than a city dweller would
think of leaving his bed and running to help each time the firemen
pass. Even half asleep, moreover, he followed perfectly all that
passed--he was listening to that radio of the buffalos. He knew it when
the bulls closed in and were about to kill the leopards.

Out of the dark, like a velvet, suffocating cloud, something had
fallen upon him, checking his breath, checking all movement.

It was the scent that told him what had happened--the scent that came
with his last gasp of breath----a scent that was charnel, blood-tainted,
hot.

About throat and arms and legs and over his face there was a swift,
enclosing pressure like the coils of a gigantic snake.

But these coils, he knew, were of Sapadi hands.

All this swift, silent, with the noiseless speed of a dream.

He was far away when his breath came back. He'd been choked so nearly
dead that he'd had to keep his mbuiri and his body together by sheer
willpower--the sort of will power that won't desert some men even
when they're unconscious, standing beside them like a faithful dog.

Kwa never had been able to see in the dark as well as some of his
jungle friends, but he could see well enough, after a fashion.

Six, seven of the Beast Men, possibly more.

HE'D said that it wouldn't do any good to kill Bele--back there today
when he'd had Bele in his power. He'd made the declaration after the
thought-dance. He wondered. This was Bele's answer.

They swept him along--half-carrying him at times, forcing him to run.
But carried or afoot, he felt the clutch of one great hand in his hair
and he knew that this was Bele's hand.

They'd come through a rocky corridor into a dimly lighted cave--a cave
that smelled of slaughter-house and stable.

And here Bele shouted: "Lo, I bring you blood of the Moon Colored."



CHAPTER VII

The Fire

HE was king of the blood-drinkers--Kwa remembered Bele's vaunt. And
there came to Kwa a memory of the spectacle when Bele had broken the
little ncheri's neck, then stood there where all could see with that
leopard mouth of his clamped to the victim's throat.

The thought and the memory ran like an overtone to what he saw, heard,
scented.

He'd been brought--he didn't have to be told--to the secret place of the
Beast Men. Not in the knowledge of any living thing--not in all the age
old annals of the Mu--was there any record of one who'd ever entered
such a place as a captive and escaped alive. The secrets of the Sapadi
were as the secrets of Death itself.

There was a slippering clack of horny hoofs on stone. Dimly, then more
clearly, he saw the gathering of the Sapadi Clan. The Beast Men. No
young. No women, just men. No, neither animals nor men. Beast Men!
There were forms of an ancient black magic in the world to make a
carved idol shudder. So he'd been told--by the old men of the Furry
Tribe, by old gorillas and elephants, by the old chimpanzee woman
who'd cared for him once before when he'd lain wounded in the Devil
Bush.

He would have none of this black magic. He wouldn't contribute to it
even by his death. Not if he could help it.

An old Beast Man was peering into his face, fingering his throat.

At the same instant that Kwa felt an overwhelming spasm of reaction he
also felt a slight loosening of that grip in his hair.

He screamed. He struck right and left. The old Sapadi in front of him
he bowled over completely.

There was a power in the human voice--puny compared to a hundred other
voices of the Bush; yet powerful. So his jungle friends had told him.
Always something about a human voice to make the non-humans pause and
reflect. Always a possibility of magic in it.

At that sudden scream of Kwa's, a touch of panic must have caught the
Beast Men. Just for an instant they were weak as water. But in that
instant Kwa was out of their suffocating mob.

The walls of the cave took up his cry and magnified it. Kwa himself
may have been caught in a gust of panic.

He ran. He was like a dead leaf caught up by a hurricane. The Fire Pit
opened just in front of him. He flung himself into the air in a flying
leap.

HE almost shriveled and dropped. He'd seen that happen to birds when
they carelessly crossed some open vent in the Valley of the Mu.

But he was over.

He stumbled into a row of skulls. He came up armed. He didn't know
what with, but there was a bone cudgel in his hand. The swift thought
came to him that here was some earlier victim of the Beast Men now
offering him aid, ready to exact the toll of vengeance after many
years.

There was no time for consecutive thought. Just flashes--flashes of
sight, judgment, action.

The Sapadi were now adding to that clamor he'd set up by that scream
of his. For the moment it was as if the cavern had become a trap in
which a hundred maddened cattle milled--snorts and bellows, a drum of
cloven hoofs, the walls of the place sending all this back magnified.

A black shadow of a giant rushed toward Kwa and Kwa, with that jumping
perception of his, read his intent before the enemy closed in. This
hadn't been a direct attack. The Beast Man was trying to get between
him and the Fire Pit.

That was it.

They wanted to preserve him alive.


KWA feinted at a scurry to escape, then turned and nailed the black
monster with his bone club. The Beast Man lost his balance, turned and
clutched. For a moment his hand was scraping Kwa's arm--trying to save
himself, trying to take Kwa along.

Kwa struck again--twice--and twice again.

He saw the Beast Man stagger, bellow, topple--Even while this was
happening, there were others pressing in along the edge of the pit.
There was a screech from the other side, piercing the general tumult
with a broken shaft of sound. And that--Kwa somehow knew--was the voice
of the old man who had fingered his throat.

Again he heard that inverted form of speech, the meaning of which
rocked into his mind.

"Don't spill his blood! Fend him from the pit!"

He'd keep the pit at his back--Kwa resolved. Better a plunge into fire
than to have a Minotaur at your throat. His back was so close to the
great well of fire that he could feel the scorching waves of its heat
pulse up his back, lift his hair.

But he clubbed at a pair of hands that reached for him along the stone
at his feet. He shifted aside. Perhaps, if he could round the pit, he
might risk a dash for the corridor by which he'd entered this place.

Still with his bone club in his right hand, he reached for a buffalo
skull with his left and flung this backhanded at those who pressed
along the rim.

He saw one go, clutching--then a double scream. One Sapadi had dragged
another over the rim.

A lull, sometimes, is a warning as much as a shout. He crouched a
little and turned. He was just in time to see a black mass hurtle in
his direction. One of the Sapadi had attempted to duplicate that
initial leap of his.

He fell far short.

The gaping abyss of the Fire Pit was like the open mouth of some
prehistoric serpent.

How many Sapadi were there? Where was Bele?

Kwa stumbled on a skull and fell. He fell on the skull and rolled. For
a flaring second it seemed as if he were doomed to a plunge into that
bottomless pool of flame whether he wanted to or not. But feet, legs,
thighs--these writhed to save theme selves and save him, their master,
with them.

And he curled round, with the curl of a scorched snake, just as two
more enormous human paws slid toward his feet, along the floor. And
now, at least one of those questions in his brain was answered.

HERE was Bele. These were the hands of Bele reaching toward him. That
was Bele's face raised in the faint outer zone of light that shivered
up from the pit.

Bele's voice reached him.

"Kwa! Kwa! You saved my life! Now I save yours!"

But Kwa, trained to read the silence back of words, read Bele's
thought.

"Moon! Moon! Help me, Moon! I offer you this Moon Colored vow so soon
as we have drained his blood!"

Kwa pulled himself around to his knees and bashed his bone club into
Bele's temple. Bele, in a paroxysm, clutched Kwa's arm. The fingers
held, even as Kwa, with a gust of dread, felt that Bele's life was
gone, Kwa staggered to his feet. But as he rose, he dragged up the
weight of Bele's dying clutch. The clutch tightened. It held like
iron.

As he jerked backward, one of his feet slipped over the rim of the
pit. Now all that saved him was the grip of the dead Beast Man.

So Bele, dead, had been forced to keep that lying promise of his,
after all. Bele had saved his life. But for what?



CHAPTER VIII

New Moon Night

NEW MOON night in the outside world; and in a thousand villages up and
down the Guinea Coast of Africa the Black Men were daubing themselves
with sacred chalk--white, blue, pink, in designs their fathers had
taught them but which no one understood. From moon to moon the chalk
lay before the main idol in the greegree house, and thus absorbed the
qualities that made it powerful in the spirit world.

Not much drumming on a New Moon Night. A time for silence, fear,
meditation, magic dreams.

So in the Bush, among the animals.

Very close to each other, in some respects, were the animals and men
of untouched Black Africa. Secretive. Occult. With ways of their own
that simply were not "white man fashion."

Indifferent to death as few white men are. Cool in the fatal
emergency. Perpetually attentive to things unseen.

There'd never been anything in the nature of a truce between the
DingaDinga tribe--the swamp-buffalo--and the Leopard People. But just as
the Head Bull of the buffalo was about to rip the life from the second
leopard that had attacked the yearling herder it was as if a question
and answer had passed between them.

Leopard may have talked to Buffalo, Buffalo to Leopard--all in that
unclocked speed with which so much transpires in the Bush.

The Head Bull backed away with a snort. What he might have said was:
"You, a Leopard, follow a thing like Bele! When Bele and his sort have
been killing Leopards for a thousand years!"

You don't have to describe the sky to see it. In a glance of an eye
you see the thousand herds on the Nyasa plain. Jungle speech was
something like that--direct, far reaching, limpid, meant for truth.

NEW Moon Night, and ever since the first glimmer of the slim crescent
could be seen against the green of the sky, the leopards had been
assembling more or less, as they always did, in the vicinity of the
Fire Pit Lodge of the Beast Men.

No one will ever know how that breeze came up in the airless night. It
wasn't the sort of breeze that sways the tree tops. But all through
the Devil Bush--the hundreds of square miles of it--the jungle tribes,
the furred and the feathered, the scaled and the armor-plated--lifted
their heads and said: "The Leopards are talking!"

Old rhinos dozing as solid as rocks under the stars, hippos at pasture
in the strong grass fringing the rivers, the wide-awake sentinels of
monkey towns, lesser cats, lions, elephants. All these heard that
breeze of a Leopard broadcast.

How such things start, few ever know--another sort of Cosmic Ray,
perhaps; blowing down from somewhere out of interstellar space, giving
this fresh young world an old idea from a wiser place.

And suddenly the whole Devil Bush began to stir. It was a tradition
that the great things of the Bush always happened on a New Moon Night.
Sometimes it was one thing, sometimes another--sometimes the beginning
of a plague that would sweep the plains, sometimes a great fright out
of nowhere as if all around there was a great war raging that none
could see nor hear.

But the jungle radio had already broadcast the story of that battle
too day between Kwa and the Beast Man. Tonight there'd been a
broadcast that the Beast Men were in conclave at their ancient lodge
on the setting-sun side of Sango Lobango.

Then, this stupendous broadcast that the Leopards were on their way to
destroy their old gods, accept the new.

Too late?

Kwa was gone. The Beast Men had taken him. In their Lodge they were
about to work that oldest of all magic. The Beast Men would take to
themselves the virtues of Kwa--Kwa the Golden--by a sacrifice of
blood.

A great torment swept the Devil Bush. Rhinos plunged through the
jungle--thudding and tearing their way. Elephants shadowed along the
paths they knew. Leopards ran and paid no attention to the wild dogs,
the shy bush wolves, the pigs, the apes and the monkeys. High above
the bush there was a beating of wings--now and then the harsh cry of
raven and heron.

There were creatures afoot or awing that had never been known before
to have ventured out in the dark.

But the broadcast had proclaimed it. This would be a night of truce--
the night of a Great Truce, such as Kwa had set up once or twice back
in the Valley of the Mu. There would be a truce, this night for all
things except the Beast Men, except for the devils who'd passed
themselves off for gods.

The Bush for miles around the entrance to the Fire Pit Lodge was
swarming with all the beasts of this part of Africa--and no animal
afraid of another--as the leopards drove into the corridor of the
shallow river, then into the rock entrance of the forbidden Lodge
Room.

The leopards were like a river that flowed upstream--or more like some
enormous serpent, with a thousand heads, glittering as if with
greenfire stones, as the staring eyes of the wrapt and concentrated
cats went by.

Suddenly, there swept over the straining, silent Devil Bush another
broadcast; and what it said was:

It is over!

What was over and how? Not a frog sang, not a cricket chirped.

THEN, from far away in all this tremendous silence, there came the
chant of what the Black Men called a "cooba iga," meaning, literally,
a "wild chicken"--a jungle fowl, the crowing of a cock. And this meant
that the sun was coming up.

That, at least, was something. The sun was coming up.

As the leopards swarmed into the cave, all in an instant, it seemed,
they were everywhere. For, after all, the Leopards were the only wild
Bush people who'd lost their fear of fire. In a way, they themselves
were fetishes superior to the ordinary dreads of the jungle folk.

Three of them had swarmed over the old man who was head of the Lodge.
The Beast Men fell where they stood. Their power had gone out of them
entirely.

And then, at last, the Leopards came to Kwa.

HE'D got the broadcast in some moment of inner silence even here in
the cave. He'd known that the Leopards were coming. And, after that,
the hand on no dead man could hold him.

He'd swung his bone club.

From beyond the Fire Pit someone had flung a skull that knocked him
prostrate. He'd been fighting since.

"Ho," he managed to say, "into the pit with them!"

And the bodies of the Beast Men began to drop--by ones, by twos, by
fours--into the purifying flames. For, by this time, other animals were
crowding in.

They formed a great circle, and there, in the midst of them, around
the edge of the Fire Pit, Kwa danced--solemnly, knees up--calling for
some new message from his mbuiri--his heart, his soul.



THE END




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