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Title: The Hyena
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607991.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2007

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The Hyena
Robert E. Howard



From the time when I first saw Senecoza, the fetish-man, I
distrusted him, and from vague distrust the idea eventually grew into
hatred.

I was but newly come to the East Coast, new to African ways,
somewhat inclined to follow my impulses, and possessed of a large
amount of curiosity.

Because I came from Virginia, race instinct and prejudice were
strong in me, and doubtless the feeling of inferiority which Senecoza
constantly inspired in me had a great deal to do with my antipathy for
him.

He was surprisingly tall, and leanly built. Six inches above six
feet he stood, and so muscular was his spare frame that he weighed a
good two hundred pounds. His weight seemed incredible when one looked
at his lanky build, but he was all muscle--a lean, black giant. His
features were not pure Negro. They more resembled Berber than Bantu,
with the high, bulging forehead, thin nose and thin, straight lips.
But his hair was as kinky as a Bushman's and his color was blacker
even than the Masai. In fact, his glossy hide had a different hue from
those of the native tribesmen, and I believe that he was of a
different tribe.

It was seldom that we of the ranch saw him. Then without warning
he would be among us, or we would see him striding through the
shoulder-high grass of the veldt, sometimes alone, sometimes followed
at a respectful distance by several of the wilder Masai, who bunched
up at a distance from the buildings, grasping their spears nervously
and eyeing everyone suspiciously. He would make his greetings with a
courtly grace; his manner was deferentially courteous, but somehow it
"rubbed me the wrong way," so to speak. I always had a vague feeling
that the black was mocking us. He would stand before us, a naked
bronze giant; make trade for a few simple articles, such as a copper
kettle, beads or a trade musket; repeat words of some chief, and take
his departure.

I did not like him. And being young and impetuous, I spoke my
opinion to Ludtvik Strolvaus, a very distant relative, tenth cousin or
suchlike, on whose trading-post ranch I was staying.

But Ludtvik chuckled in his blond beard and said that the fetish-
man was all right.

"A power he is among the natives, true. They all fear him. But a
friend he is to the whites. _Ja_."

Ludtvik was long a resident on the East Coast; he knew natives and
he knew the fat Australian cattle he raised, but he had little
imagination.

The ranch buildings were in the midst of a stockade, on a kind of
slope, overlooking countless miles on miles of the finest grazing land
in Africa. The stockade was large, well suited for defense. Most of
the thousand cattle could be driven inside in case of an uprising of
the Masai. Ludtvik was inordinately proud of his cattle.

"One thousand now," he would tell me, his round face beaming, "one
thousand now. But later, ah! Ten thousand and another ten thousand.
This is a good beginning, but only a beginning. _Ja_."

I must confess that I got little thrill out of the cattle. Natives
herded and corralled them; all Ludtvik and I had to do was to ride
about and give orders. That was the work he liked best, and I left it
mostly to him.

My chief sport was in riding away across the veldt, alone or
attended by a gun-bearer, with a rifle. Not that I ever bagged much
game. In the first place I was an execrable marksman; I could hardly
have hit an elephant at close range. In the second place, it seemed to
me a shame to shoot so many things. A bush-antelope would bound up in
front of me and race away, and I would sit watching him, admiring the
slim, lithe figure, thrilled with the graceful beauty of the creature,
my rifle lying idle across my saddle horn.

The native boy who served as my gun-bearer began to suspect that I
was deliberately refraining from shooting, and he began in a covert
way to throw sneering hints about my womanishness. I was young and
valued even the opinion of a native; which is very foolish. His
remarks stung my pride, and one day I hauled him off his horse and
pounded him until he yelled for mercy. Thereafter my doings were not
questioned.

But still I felt inferior when in the presence of the fetish-man.
I could not get the other natives to talk about him. All I could get
out of them was a scared rolling of the eyeballs, gesticulation
indicative of fear, and vague information that the fetish-man dwelt
among the tribes some distance in the interior. General opinion seemed
to be that Senecoza was a good man to let alone.

One incident made the mystery about the fetish-man take on, it
seemed, a rather sinister form.

In the mysterious way that news travels in Africa, and which white
men so seldom hear of, we learned that Senecoza and a minor chief had
had a falling out of some kind. It was vague and seemed to have no
especial basis of fact. But shortly afterward that chief was found
half-devoured by hyenas. That, in itself, was not unusual, but the
fright with which the natives heard the news was. The chief was
nothing to them; in fact he was something of a villain, but his
killing seemed to inspire them with a fright that was little short of
homicidal. When the black reaches a certain stage of fear, he is as
dangerous as a cornered panther. The next time Senecoza called, they
rose and fled en masse and did not return until he had taken his
departure.

Between the fear of the blacks, the tearing to pieces of the chief
by the hyenas, and the fetish-man, I seemed to sense vaguely a
connection of some kind. But I could not grasp the intangible thought.

Not long thereafter, that thought was intensified by another
incident. I had ridden far out on the veldt, accompanied by my
servant. As we paused to rest our horses close to a kopje, I saw, upon
the top, a hyena eyeing us. Rather surprised, for the beasts are not
in the habit of thus boldly approaching man in the daytime, I raised
my rifle and was taking a steady aim, for I always hated the things,
when my servant caught my arm.

"No shoot, _bwana_! No shoot!" he exclaimed hastily, jabbering a
great deal in his own language, with which I was not familiar.

"What's up?" I asked impatiently.

He kept on jabbering and pulling my arm, until I gathered that the
hyena was a fetish-beast of some kind.

"Oh, all right," I conceded, lowering my rifle just as the hyena
turned and sauntered out of sight.

Something about the lank, repulsive beast and his shambling yet
gracefully lithe walk struck my sense of humor with a ludicrous
comparison.

Laughing, I pointed toward the beast and said, "That fellow looks
like a hyena-imitation of Senecoza, the fetish-man." My simple
statement seemed to throw the native into a more abject fear than
ever.

He turned his pony and dashed off in the general direction of the
ranch, looking back at me with a scared face.

I followed, annoyed. And as I rode I pondered. Hyenas, a fetish-
man, a chief torn to pieces, a countryside of natives in fear; what
was the connection? I puzzled and puzzled, but I was new to Africa; I
was young and impatient, and presently with a shrug of annoyance I
discarded the whole problem.

The next time Senecoza came to the ranch, he managed to stop
directly in front of me. For a fleeting instant his glittering eyes
looked into mine. And in spite of myself, I shuddered and stepped
back, involuntarily, feeling much as a man feels who looks unaware
into the eyes of a serpent. There was nothing tangible, nothing on
which I could base a quarrel, but there was a distinct threat. Before
my Nordic pugnacity could reassert itself, he was gone. I said
nothing. But I knew that Senecoza hated me for some reason and that he
plotted my killing. Why, I did not know.

As for me, my distrust grew into bewildered rage, which in turn
became hate.

And then Ellen Farel came to the ranch. Why she should choose a
trading-ranch in East Africa for a place to rest from the society life
of New York, I do not know. Africa is no place for a woman. That is
what Ludtvik, also a cousin of hers, told her, but he was overjoyed to
see her. As for me, girls never interested me much; usually I felt
like a fool in their presence and was glad to be out. But there were
few whites in the vicinity and I tired of the company of Ludtvik.

Ellen was standing on the wide veranda when I first saw her, a
slim, pretty young thing, with rosy cheeks and hair like gold and
large gray eyes. She was surprisingly winsome in her costume of
riding-breeches, puttees, jacket and light helmet.

I felt extremely awkward, dusty and stupid as I sat on my wiry
African pony and stared at her.

She saw a stocky youth of medium height, with sandy hair, eyes in
which a kind of gray predominated; an ordinary, unhandsome youth, clad
in dusty riding-clothes and a cartridge belt on one side of which was
slung an ancient Colt of big caliber, and on the other a long, wicked
hunting-knife.

I dismounted, and she came forward, hand outstretched.

"I'm Ellen," she said, "and I know you're Steve. Cousin Ludtvik
has been telling me about you."

I shook hands, surprised at the thrill the mere touch of her hand
gave me.

She was enthusiastic about the ranch. She was enthusiastic about
everything. Seldom have I seen anyone who had more vigor and vim, more
enjoyment of everything done. She fairly scintillated with mirth and
gaiety.

Ludtvik gave her the best horse on the place, and we rode much
about the ranch and over the veldt.

The blacks interested her much. They were afraid of her, not being
used to white women. She would have been off her horse and playing
with the pickaninnies if I had let her. She couldn't understand why
she should treat the black people as dust beneath her feet. We had
long arguments about it. I could not convince her, so I told her
bluntly that she didn't know anything about it and she must do as I
told her.

She pouted her pretty lips and called me a tyrant, and then was
off over the veldt like an antelope, laughing at me over her shoulder,
her hair blowing free in the breeze.

Tyrant! I was her slave from the first. Somehow the idea of
becoming a lover never enter my mind. It was not the fact that she was
several years older than I, or that she had a sweetheart (several of
them, I think) back in New York. Simply, I worshipped her; her
presence intoxicated me, and I could think of no more enjoyable
existence than serving her as a devoted slave.

I was mending a saddle one day when she came running in.

"Oh, Steve!" she called; "there's the most romantic-looking
savage! Come quick and tell me what his name is."

She led me out of the veranda.

"There he is," she said, naively pointing. Arms folded, haughty
head thrown back, stood Senecoza.

Ludtvik who was talking to him, paid no attention to the girl
until he had completed his business with the fetish-man; and then,
turning, he took her arm and they went into the house together.

Again I was face to face with the savage; but this time he was not
looking at me. With a rage amounting almost to madness, I saw that he
was gazing after the girl. There was an expression in his serpentlike
eyes--

On the instant my gun was out and leveled. My hand shook like a
leaf with the intensity of my fury. Surely I must shoot Senecoza down
like the snake he was, shoot him down and riddle him, shoot him into a
shredded heap!

The fleeting expression left his eyes and they were fixed on me.
Detached they seemed, inhuman in their sardonic calm. And I could not
pull the trigger.

For a moment we stood, and then he turned and strode away, a
magnificent figure, while I glared after him and snarled with helpless
fury.

I sat down on the veranda. What a man of mystery was that savage!
What strange power did he possess? Was I right, I wondered, in
interpreting the fleeting expression as he gazed after the girl? It
seemed to me, in my youth and folly, incredible that a black man, no
matter what his rank, should look at a white woman as he did. Most
astonishing of all, why could I not shoot him down?

I started as a hand touched my arm.

"What are you thinking about, Steve?" asked Ellen, laughing. Then
before I could say anything, "Wasn't that chief, or whatever he was, a
fine specimen of a savage? He invited us to come to his kraal; is that
what you call it? It's away off in the veldt somewhere, and we're
going."

"No!" I exclaimed violently, springing up.

"Why, Steve," she gasped recoiling, "how rude! He's a perfect
gentleman, isn't he, Cousin Ludtvik?"

"_Ja_," nodded Ludtvik, placidly, "we go to his kraal sometime
soon, maybe. A strong chief, that savage. His chief has perhaps good
trade."

"No!" I repeated furiously. "_I'll_ go if somebody has to! Ellen's
not going near that beast!"

"Well, that's nice!" remarked Ellen, somewhat indignantly. "I
guess you're my boss, mister man?"

With all her sweetness, she had a mind of her own. In spite of all
I could do, they arranged to go to the fetish-man's village the next
day.

That night the girl came out to me, where I sat on the veranda in
the moonlight, and she sat down on the arm of my chair.

"You're not angry at me, are you, Steve?" she said, wistfully,
putting her arm around my shoulders. "Not mad, are you?"

Mad? Yes, maddened by the touch of her soft body--such mad
devotion as a slave feels. I wanted to grovel in the dust at her feet
and kiss her dainty shoes. Will women never learn the effect they have
on men?

I took her hand hesitantly and pressed it to my lips. I think she
must have sensed some of my devotion.

"Dear Steve," she murmured, and the words were like a caress,
"come, let's walk in the moonlight."

We walked outside the stockade. I should have known better, for I
had no weapon but the big Turkish dagger I carried and used for a
hunting-knife, but she wished to.

"Tell me about this Senecoza," she asked, and I welcomed the
opportunity. And then I thought: what could I tell her? That hyenas
had eaten a small chief of the Masai? That the natives feared the
fetish-man? That he had looked at her?

And then the girl screamed as out of the tall grass leaped a vague
shape, half-seen in the moonlight.

I felt a heavy, hairy form crash against my shoulders; keen fangs
ripped my upflung arm. I went to the earth, fighting with frenzied
horror. My jacket was slit to ribbons and the fangs were at my throat
before I found and drew my knife and stabbed, blindly and savagely. I
felt my blade rip into my foe, and then, like a shadow, it was gone. I
staggered to my feet, somewhat shaken. The girl caught and steadied
me.

"What was it?" she gasped, leading me toward the stockade.

"A hyena," I answered. "I could tell by the scent. But I never
heard of one attacking like that."

She shuddered. Later on, after my torn arm had been bandaged, she
came close to me and said in a wondrously subdued voice, "Steve, I've
decided not to go to the village, if you don't want me to."

After the wounds on my arm had become scars, Ellen and I resumed
our rides, as might be expected. One day we had wandered rather far
out on the veldt, and she challenged me to a race. Her horse easily
distanced mine, and she stopped and waited for me, laughing.

She had stopped on a sort of kopje, and she pointed to a clump of
trees some distance away.

"Trees!" she said gleefully. "Let's ride down there. There are so
few trees on the veldt."

And she dashed away. I followed some instinctive caution,
loosening my pistol in its holster, and, drawing my knife, I thrust it
down in my boot so that it was entirely concealed.

We were perhaps halfway to the trees when from the tall grass
about us leaped Senecoza and some twenty warriors.

One seized the girl's bridle and the others rushed me. The one who
caught at Ellen went down with a bullet between his eyes, and another
crumpled at my second shot. Then a thrown war-club hurled me from the
saddle, half-senseless, and as the blacks closed in on me I saw
Ellen's horse, driven frantic by the prick of a carelessly handled
spear, scream and rear, scattering the blacks who held her, and dash
away at headlong speed, the bit in her teeth.

I saw Senecoza leap on my horse and give chase, flinging a savage
command over his shoulder; and both vanished over the kopje.

The warriors bound me hand and foot and carried me into the trees.
A hut stood among them--a native hut of thatch and bark. Somehow the
sight of it set me shuddering. It seemed to lurk, repellent and
indescribably malevolent amongst the trees; to hint of horrid and
obscene rites; of voodoo.

I know not why it is, but the sight of a native hut, alone and
hidden, far from a village or tribe, always has to me a suggestion of
nameless horror. Perhaps that is because only a black who is crazed or
one who is so criminal that he has been exiled by his tribe will dwell
that way.

In front of the hut they threw me down.

"When Senecoza returns with the girl," said they, "you will
enter." And they laughed like fiends. Then, leaving one black to see
that I did not escape, they left.

The black who remained kicked me viciously; he was a bestial-
looking Negro, armed with a trade-musket.

"They go to kill white men, fool!" he mocked me. "They go to the
ranches and trading-posts, first to that fool of an Englishman."
Meaning Smith, the owner of a neighboring ranch.

And he went on giving details. Senecoza had made the plot, he
boasted. They would chase all the white men to the coast.

"Senecoza is more than a man," he boasted. "You shall see, white
man," lowering his voice and glancing about him, from beneath his low,
beetling brows; "you shall see the magic of Senecoza." And he grinned,
disclosing teeth filed to points.

"Cannibal!" I ejaculated, involuntarily. "A Masai?"

"No," he answered. "A man of Senecoza."

"Who will kill no white men," I jeered.

He scowled savagely. "I will kill you, white man."

"You dare not."

"That is true," he admitted, and added angrily, "Senecoza will
kill you himself."

And meantime Ellen was riding like mad, gaining on the fetish-man,
but unable to ride toward the ranch, for he had gotten between and was
forcing her steadily out upon the veldt.

The black unfastened my bonds. His line of reasoning was easy to
see; absurdly easy. He could not kill a prisoner of the fetish-man,
but he could kill him to prevent his escape. And he was maddened with
the blood-lust. Stepping back, he half-raised his trade-musket,
watching me as a snake watches a rabbit.

It must have been about that time, as she afterward told me, that
Ellen's horse stumbled and threw her. Before she could rise, the black
had leaped from his horse and seized her in his arms. She screamed and
fought, but he gripped her, held her helpless and laughed at her.
Tearing her jacket to pieces, he bound her arms and legs, remounted
and started back, carrying the half-fainting girl in front of him.

Back in front of the hut, I rose slowly. I rubbed my arms where the
ropes had been, moved a little closer to the black, stretched, stooped
and rubbed my legs; then with a catlike bound I was on him, my knife
flashing from my boot. The trade-musket crashed and the charge whizzed
above my head as I knocked up the barrel and closed with him. Hand to
hand, I would have been no match for the black giant; but I had the
knife. Clinched close together we were too close for him to use the
trade-musket for a club. He wasted time trying to do that, and with a
desperate effort I threw him off his balance and drove the dagger to
the hilt in his black chest.

I wrenched it out again; I had no other weapon, for I could find
no more ammunition for the trade-musket.

I had no idea which way Ellen had fled. I assumed she had gone
toward the ranch, and in that direction I took my way. Smith must be
warned. The warriors were far ahead of me. Even then they might be
creeping up about the unsuspecting ranch.

I had not covered a fourth of the distance, when a drumming of
hoofs behind me caused me to turn my head. Ellen's horse was
thundering toward me, riderless. I caught her as she raced past me,
and managed to stop her. The story was plain. The girl had either
reached a place of safety and had turned the horse loose, or what was
much more likely, had been captured, the horse escaping and fleeing
toward the ranch, as a horse will do. I gripped the saddle, torn with
indecision. Finally I leaped on the horse and sent her flying toward
Smith's ranch. It was not many miles; Smith must not be massacred by
those black devils, and I must find a gun if I hoped to rescue the
girl from Senecoza.

A half-mile from Smith's I overtook the raiders and went through
them like drifting smoke. The workers at Smith's place were startled
by a wild-riding horseman charging headlong into the stockade,
shouting, "Masai! Masai! A raid, you fools!" snatching a gun and
flying out again.

So when the savages arrived they found everybody ready for them,
and they got such a warm reception that after one attempt they turned
tail and fled back across the veldt.

And I was riding as I never rode before. The mare was almost
exhausted, but I pushed her mercilessly. On, on!

I aimed for the only place I knew likely. The hut among the trees.
I assumed that the fetish-man would return there.

And long before the hut came into sight, a horseman dashed from
the grass, going at right angles to my course, and our horses,
colliding, sent both tired animals to the ground.

"Steve!" It was a cry of joy mingled with fear. Ellen lay, tied
hand and foot, gazing up at me wildly as I regained my feet.

Senecoza came with a rush, his long knife flashing in the
sunlight. Back and forth we fought--slash, ward and parry, my ferocity
and agility matching his savagery and skill.

A terrific lunge which he aimed at me, I caught on my point,
laying his arm open, and then with a quick engage and wrench, disarmed
him. But before I could use my advantage, he sprang away into the
grass and vanished.

I caught up the girl, slashing her bonds, and she clung to me,
poor child, until I lifted her and carried her toward the horses. But
we were not yet through with Senecoza. He must have had a rifle cached
away somewhere in the bush, for the first I knew of him was when a
bullet spat within a foot above my head.

I caught at the bridles, and then I saw that the mare had done all
she could, temporarily. She was exhausted. I swung Ellen up on the
horse.

"Ride for our ranch," I ordered her. "The raiders are out, but you
can get through. Ride low and ride fast!"

"But you, Steve!"

"Go, go!" I ordered, swinging her horse around and starting it.
She dashed away, looking at me wistfully over her shoulder. Then I
snatched the rifle and a handful of cartridges I had gotten at
Smith's, and took to the bush. And through the hot African day,
Senecoza and I played a game of hide-and-seek. Crawling, slipping in
and out of the scanty veldt-bushes, crouching in the tall grass, we
traded shots back and forth. A movement of the grass, a snapping twig,
the rasp of grass-blades, and a bullet came questing, another
answering it.

I had but a few cartridges and I fired carefully, but presently I
pushed my one remaining cartridge into the rifle--a big, six-bore,
single-barrel breech-loader, for I had not had time to pick when I
snatched it up.

I crouched in my covert and watched for the black to betray
himself by a careless movement. Not a sound, not a whisper among the
grasses. Away off over the veldt a hyena sounded his fiendish laugh
and another answered, closer at hand. The cold sweat broke out on my
brow.

What was that? A drumming of many horses' hoofs! Raiders
returning? I ventured a look and could have shouted for joy. At least
twenty men were sweeping toward me, white men and ranch-boys, and
ahead of them all rode Ellen! They were still some distance away. I
darted behind a tall bush and rose, waving my hand to attract their
attention.

They shouted and pointed to something beyond me. I whirled and
saw, some thirty yards away, a huge hyena slinking toward me, rapidly.
I glanced carefully across the veldt. Somewhere out there, hidden by
the billowing grasses, lurked Senecoza. A shot would betray to him my
position--and I had but one cartridge. The rescue party was still out
of range.

I looked again at the hyena. He was still rushing toward me. There
was no doubt as to his intentions. His eyes glittered like a fiend's
from Hell, and a scar on his shoulder showed him to be the same beast
that had once before attacked me. Then a kind of horror took hold of
me, and resting the old elephant rifle over my elbow, I sent my last
bullet crashing through the bestial thing. With a scream that seemed
to have a horribly human note in it, the hyena turned and fled back
into the bush, reeling as it ran.

And the rescue party swept up around me.

A fusillade of bullets crashed through the bush from which
Senecoza had sent his last shot. There was no reply.

"Ve hunt ter snake down," quoth Cousin Ludtvik, his Boer accent
increasing with his excitement. And we scattered through the veldt in
a skirmish line, combing every inch of it warily.

Not a trace of the fetish-man did we find. A rifle we found,
empty, with empty shells scattered about, and (which was very strange)
_hyena tracks leading away from the rifle_.

I felt the short hairs of my neck bristle with intangible horror.
We looked at each other, and said not a word, as with a tacit
agreement we took up the trail of the hyena.

We followed it as it wound in and out in the shoulder-high grass,
showing how it had slipped up on me, stalking me as a tiger stalks its
victim. We struck the trail the thing had made, returning to the bush
after I had shot it. Splashes of blood marked the way it had taken. We
followed.

"It leads toward the fetish-hut," muttered an Englishman. "Here,
sirs, is a damnable mystery."

And Cousin Ludtvik ordered Ellen to stay back, leaving two men
with her.

We followed the trail over the kopje and into the clump of trees.
Straight to the door of the hut it led. We circled the hut cautiously,
but no tracks led away. It was inside the hut. Rifles ready, we forced
the rude door.

_No tracks led away from the hut and no tracks led to it except
the tracks of the hyena. Yet there was no hyena within that hut; and
on the dirt floor, a bullet through his black breast, lay Senecoza,
the fetish-man._



THE END




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