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Le Comte de Janzé
3 Henrietta Street, London
First Published 1928
Emily Davies Vanderbilt
- The Beginning and the End
- Settlers in Kenya
- Uganda and the Sudan
- In Memory of the 5th K.A.R.
The Beginning and the End
The land is cruel and our household gods thrive badly among the cries and sobs of this continent.
At first the whirl, the light, the newness of it all enchants one; especially youth throws itself on the earth, grasping, choking with the desire to live.
Then as months go by the plains seem duller, the mountains more dreary. In a daily routine moments fly; leisure from being an hour of dreams, ambitions, becomes too short a moment of vacuous rest.
The photograph you so gaily hung on the wall curls towards its fastening pin. You take it down and throw it into the drawer; more frequently you step to the sideboard, sundowners come at noon.
There is the parting of the ways, to go down, to go up; or to follow along a disciplined way. Then you'll need a friend, one who will sit silent, one who knows his mind, who shoots, who thinks, who wholely loves this land.
After that one parting, no return: your lares are dead, penates rot in some fogotten corner. Your faiths are shaken, your creeds broken!
Some may reconstruct a form of worship, a discipline of body and mind. They will follow a weary, thirsty trail.
One day emerging, their work done, in some Sussex village they will retire. Their windows will overlook a green, orderly graveyard strewn with yews; their minds will copy bits from their favourite newspaper; with souls replete, opening complacent eyes, they will slowly merge into a grave contentment—the day's work is done and they may die.
Some others may delve down, searching blindly, fumbling in a mass of fancies struggling against desire; fighting to keep their feet. If the body is brave and the mind fired by images, they may throw wide the door to this country's soil.
You will see them forgiving, tenderly rearing a giant belief; acquiring unto their souls the strange fancies, the weird mystery of Africa. Never returning, they will build, prosper; from the shores to the great lakes, across the desert, in huts and palaces you'll meet them. Ever striving for more nowledge, more comprehension, ever versatile, restless say some. Speaking “Bantu” with their followers, Arabic with the “Somal,” always alone.
Sometimes such meet and thoughtfully talk of places, men, things long dead.
Loved by the native, tolerated by the official who needs them to think in African terms—Interpreters who when they die leave a faith in the giant book.
At last the others, those who return too often to the sideboard, slowly soak, and soaking sink.
Soon in the house boys' huts native women will sit and smoke; one more enterprising will speak to the white man. He, with the convincing faith of the weak, will take an interest in her children, tell them to mend their ways . . . and one tropical night when the hungry stars tear his heart, a bodily desire takes shape . . . and soon “Manapalava.”
The weeds will choke the garden, the cactus grow up through the verandah floor, boards become disointed; he'll wear khaki: it shows less stains; the white ants one night in a carelessly opened tin box will eat his evening collars—and so he rots, soon to die.
Africa, yours is a cruel earth, you are unforgiving, you arouse our vilest senses, you break our wills, curb our ambitions. But when we have weathered the storm our souls grow like some great octoped; over the earth, far reaching all understanding, nearly immortal. At dawn we kiss the ground and rise appeased.
Forgiven white man with new gods older than the world. To think, to look, and then inwardly rejoicing, bring souls together in one whole. The power of Africa through the subtle Caucasian mind.
The mighty ocean breaks, rolls on, breaks again. Across the sand banks tiny ripplets finger the glazing sand.
The streamer slowly noses in, now to port, now to startboard, each foot a trap. Gently we pass the salt and weed encrusted cylinders of a tramp who broke her back on Mombasa's smiling shore.
As we creep in, one's heart stops. There are the Boababs, the Pawpaws, the wildly swinging flowers, the cocoanut palms, the glassy beaches, the white-skirted natives, and, through these gorves filters the dull beat of the tom-tom. Five thousand miles to hear. Five thousand miles to see; one's deserted hearth and slowly swinging door; just to smell this!
Half in awe, half sun-dazed, one's fingers grip the rail, blue sea going black before one's eyes. As one reels, joy and madness in one's brain, the tropical sun in one's blood, a silky voice calls, “Passports this way, gentlemen, all passengers must see the Immigration Officer.”
Visions of New York in the distance, the Hudson's floating ice, a preposterous puffing paddle-boat rocked by brass bands; Ellis Island, gloomy, unhealty, sinister; rude officials; brutal docks.
Here, the sun, a smile, you're through; Kenya greets you. “Diamond,” the porter, will take your bags straight to the hotel.
“Kahlifee, Kahlifee, by the Sea.” What a name, what a picture. I never believe what I'm told and am neve surprised at what I see, at least I say I'm not.
But Kahlifee, what a name, what a place!
I wonder if it will be spoiled by people coming there; I mean white people. I suppose they'll hang gaudy rags on trees in sunshine, and wear them on or around their persons for the morning and evening dip. I suppose even fish prices will rise when ringing Anglo-Saxon laughter coughs on the coral sand beaches.
On that party which was staged the other day were all kinds of people: some civilised, some not, and yet they led much the same lives they do in the Highlands; get up, bathe, at least, here it takes place in the sea and none need wait their turn; eat, then wander aimlessly around, then eat again and sleep, and so on, drinking through the day. The taking of photographs occupied some time. I wonder who got the five pounds for that atrocious print which came out in the Magazine the other day.
At least I've been spared, all I was made to do was talk and tell stories in moments of wakefulness.
Now I'm back in the Highlands I pine for that stark, impressionist portrait, Kahlifee.
Kahlifee by the Sea.
Straw thatched roof, mud walls, a cement floor; Ding! Dong! Doc! No door; a bead curtain waves and shivers in the breeze.
On my native bed I quiver and roll over: Dong! Doc! A pale radiance seems to creep into the room; form under the eaves slight rustles, as some mongoose trips along, or a giant tarantula carefully steps balanced on top of the wall: Ding! Dong! Dong! Ding! Doc!
How I curse that bird, the fever bird; I count his calls, never the same number; always trying to catch him out. I have counted all day. I thought he stopped at night, perhaps this is only imagination.
My mind clears; I see through the roof the spreading palms; the cocoanuts in golden clusters varnished by the moonbeams, a monster bat clinging to a stem, piercing the bark to suck its life blood.
I see through the wall the sandy paths bordered with twisty shells of many hues, the pepper bushes lined up along the walk waving their green and orange fruit; those black, long, crawling shapes like manilla ropes dipped in tar are the sea worms M'pishi will give us to-morrow, calling them sausages.
I see through the terrace the stone steps, cut out of the coral, down to the beach; the tamarisk and the mangrove shadowing them down to the sea. The moon filters through their million leaves; blue spots, green spots which shine and move, the backs of a hundred creepers, crawlers, come out of the sea on a moon night.
I see beyond the shimmering sand broken by a giant oyster, which gapes and snaps at some passing fancy. The rippleless water cut by a sail-like fin, and in this transparency I see a shark carrying out to sea the body of the Lascar who died of heat on the German boat to-day. The light seems dimmer in my room; some smell seems to pervate the air, musky and yet on the sea; like the rotting whale being boiled down on deck. It is dark in my room, suddenly something is at my throat; muscular, and yet slimy; as I strangle I have a fleeting sense of a giant octoped. With a shriek I suffocate.
Someone bathes my forehead and changes my bed; a candle flickers on the chair. “Here, drink this, my darling, the fever has broken, now you will sleep!”
As the evening sun falls behind the cocoanut hills, a tense silence quells the town. They wait. A crashing discharge as the old brass cannon belches fire and smoke. The Rhamdam is over.
Here they congregate at some café, all clamouring with joy and relief. The sweetmeat stores are crowded, a huge pile of “gazelles' horns” dwindles; as one looks, cups of coffee follow cups of coffee, hot tea and mint scents the air, and above, through and into everything the dull throb of the tom-tom grows.
The white-robed, stately sheik, a long pipe in hand, inhales and spits, his red and gold encrusted babouche bobs up and down below his crossed knees, while a shrieking native violin wails and laughs to break behind his disdainful back. The draped women veiled in black saunter past, casting languorous, moist glances at his heavy rings and bracelets.
A young bronze figure, naked but for a gaudy loincloth, rushes by, flecked by the shop lights, wildly ringing a bell in time with the tom-toms.
Following the general line of sound, we arrive in the great market square. Four huge squat boababs are hung with lanterns of every hue; two bonfires blaze, casting forth smoke and herby-scented swirls; two “N'gomas” are progressing, still decorous; they've only just begun. The figures clothed in cotton prints jiggle and turn, stamping the dust into the earth. As the rhythm quickens they throw off cloth after cloth, now whirling out of the circle of light for a drink, “tembo.” Soon they're naked, men and women face to face, eyes contorted, muscles twitching, passion shaking—near, nearer—the sweat running from their shiny backs.
The light-coloured Arabs stalk disdainfully by—picking their way through the crowd; their spotless turbans lofty and proud, disappear into the doors of the Mosque.
The savages dance and yell and love outside. . . . Outside the true heart of Mohammed yet true believers, the black children beget more sons to Islam. Wide is the power of the children of the Sword.
As we chug in from the sea the sand surges upwards; we see breaks in the reef where the rollers pass on, to die hissing on the burning sand.
We thread our way in; the hungry coral gaping on both sides, few feet to spare; carried in on the crest of the wave.
A small creek opens out; slowly twisting and turning we slip between the falling mangrove banks.
Under the highly stepping roots coloured wavy fish pause and glide. A thousand slimy things left clinging to the sea-dipped boughs by the receding tide. From time to time a flash of gold as a Sun-fish, frightened, dashes from the shadows to the deep waters of the creek.
A native diver, trident poised, peers over the gunwall; a downward thrust and a slashing silver body is drawn up transpierced, to be thrown with a thump to the bottom of the boat, its colours dying in the midday air.
Still we twist and turn, the slow throbbing of the engine scares unseen birds among the tangled mangroves, the canal widens, benches of sand thrust out underneath the surface from the banks; as a last turn swerves by, a burst of colour dazzles us, a lagoon opening before our eyes, heralded by two giant pillars of tangled vines, shot scarlet and gold—my lagoon, my find!
Instinctively the engine has stopped and we drift in; the mangrove swamps halted at the entry, a fitting gate.
White coral banks die into the flashing sandy beaches; on the banks wave feathery cocoanut palms with violently flowered bushes, orange and citron, at their feet.
On the furthest end a small landing stage; a short climb of steps and above, my dream realised, a white low-roofed bundalow, thatched with rushes, walls forehead high, white coral pillars symmetrical along the wide verandah.
My Neopara greets us by the steps; “We saw your smoke signal last night, Effendi. The rooms are ready. The food is cooked.”
We pass into the shade, our foreheads brushed by hanging columbines of violet hues.
In colour and peace my mind seeks repose.
As I bump down in the train towards Mombasa, I try and collect my bewildered mind. Just my luck. I'd come down for a few days' fun at Muthaiga and was enjoying the six o'clock bar when a silky voice murmurs at my elbow: “So glad you're down Bob, your aunt was asking about you this morning.”
My uncle-in-law is rather a dear, but kept well in hand by my Aunt Anna-Belle, only an aunt by self-adoption—hers! She decided years ago that she must keep an eye on me, as dear “Emily,” my mother, “is so weak with that boy.”
I went to dinner, sat through it thoroughly subdued, was told that I was a fool to consort with the bounders—why can't you be content with the workers? (Evidently she thinks her friends work.) “You're wasting your time, your dear mother would be deeply grieved.”
After dinner I drove home, having promised anything to get away, and to-day I am bumping down in a hot railway carriage to meet a niece of hers, “a daughter of that degenerate pleasure-chasing woman, my sister.”
Aunt Anna-Belle's niece. What a job! Meet a long-legged awkward schoolgirl, so thoroughly nice. To have to feed her ice creams and sweets in the sun, to get her innumerable parcels through the Customs, to have to chaperon her in Mombasa, see her comfortable and amused in the train. And all the crowd; my crowd are in Mombasa, presumably bathing, what a life!
Weak is the flesh! Cowardly the mind! . . . I was too stark frightened of Aunt Anna-Belle to say that I was busily engaged cutting the thorns from the cactus in Government House Garden, or counting sardine tins and dessicated apples in Safariland Ltd. So I was landed summarily without even need of net or gaff. Well, well, I hope the boat is a week late. Aunt Anna-Belle is paying expenses. I might be even welcome among my friends on that basis.
After ups and downs, some food, some drink, I sink into slumber disrupted by dreams of the aunt chasing me around a kitchen with a broom handle; I, trying to protect myself in the right quarters and conceal a pot of borrowed jam. Shades of our youth!
The sun rising glints in my eyes. I awake, and stretching, am caught, fascinated by that first view of Mombasa and Kilindini harbour, of light greens and pale blues, of bobbing cockle shells and bored, lazily-smoking liners.
A French boat is nosing into anchorage. My heart stops in dismay. My sweet young cousin is coming by the Messageries Maritimes, but it is only due to-morrow; it would be awful if she was already in.
I am grimy and sticky with the long journey down, and dash to the Manor Hotel as soon as we are in. It is her boat. D——, two million times D——. My boy throws my things around and in a few minutes I am careering madly down the shadowed avenue behind a cheerful Somali driving a chattering Ford taxi. I am down in time.
As I clamber up the side of the ship, I mop my forehead and think up suitable things to say to a girl of eighteen. To a steward I ask: “Will you tell Miss Mason her cousin has come to take her off?” His inquiring look apprising me slowly: “Mlle. Anna-Christine Mason?” “Yes.” Why do they all have to be called after Austrian Archduchesses in that family? The French are not apt to look with awe upon the benighted Anglo-Saxon, but I look well groomed. I've done my best.
“Si Monsieur veut bien attendre, Mademoiselle serait ravie qu'il déjeune avec elle à Soirée.” “Ye Gods! What's the matter with the child?” “Oh, Mademoiselle n'est pas souffrante, mais elle n'aime pas la chaleur de la journée.” “I'll wait.” “Bien Monsieur. Le bar est au bout du pont a tribord.” My French is rusty, been moulting since 1918, but I get what I want in the bar, and gather from shreds the impression that my sweet young cousin is quite a personage.
The awnings and the ropes stretch and creak around the bar, the tinkle of ice in the glasses; the soft warm atmosphere. My mind doses, a hand unconsciously rising from time to time for another drink; all subdued by the sing-song of half-heard Gallic voices.
I slowly become aware of some fragrance in the air, some Eastern scent, frangipane, or jasmine and amber, like at sundown from the clusters hanging low over the walls of Fez or Marrakech. Through the door opposite comes a lithe figure in pale mauve, sleeveless, with wide soft hat.
“Are you Cousin Bob?” in a low toneless voice. I leap up—this cannot be Anna-Christine. She turns, introducing her companion, Captain R., Commander of the ship. “He has been very kind to me on the trip.” She sits opposite me, the captain subsiding heavily in another chair; her arms are marvellous, from the orange-tinted nails to the shoulders, not a trace of colour; not marble, not white ivory; perhaps of some old ivory held for generations in long Chinese fingers. On one finger an opium smoker's ring of green jade, no other ornament. As the ordered cocktail comes, she takes off her hat, revealing deep green eyes set wide apart, long black lashes and eyebrows so minute and regular, they might have been painted on.
“Pale moon face” of the old Chinese ballads. The dark red lips nearly maroon, the wavy shingled hair—a marvellous work of nature, a more marvellous work of art; and that on board a ship after three weeks at sea!
I am stunned, and during luncheon can only mumble and be very British, while she talks vividly now in English, now in French.
Later in the evening I take her off, the whole ship's company seems to man decks to see her go; I'm getting back my footing and we talk in the Customs house, and we talk in the taxi, and we talk in the hotel, she sitting on the edge of a bed, while my boy unpacks her things.
I go away to change, my mind whirling with the charm of this child of eighteen. It does not seem possible. She knows everyone—about everything, she seems to have been everytwhere, and her voice, that flat voice, without tone or pitch, like voices heard in Islam's bazars, reciting verses of the Koran. It worms into your mind, fascinates your senses, envelops, numbs one! What is natural? What is art? What is training?
As we start out for Tudor House, across the island, for dinner, she insists, and we take bathing suits just in case.
The hybiscus, the jasmine, the bougainville trail overhead. Light fishes served on brown and grey dishes. Pawpaws and mangoes on the table.
Her stories of Indian bazars and Hill stations way up in the Himalayas, and . . . dinner is over.
Her amber fragrance goes to my head, all my British training and self repose has fled, I am throbbing in heart and mind.
Down to the beach and into the rippleless creek, the moon throwing flashes of blue fire into our wakes as we swim.
Suddenly I miss her, no longer at my side; and turning, startled, see her emerge, naked, silver on the shining beach. Madness! I rush in to be told in that cold flat voice that the night is for night hawks, and, as there is no one there to see, I should not have to worry.
She lies on the sand beautiful as some goddess, silver statue of some Athenian athlete, all length and suppleness, and yet as cold as white marble, frozen in some Nordic garden.
At last we go home; she tells me with a wandering smile to sleep well and have no dreams.
To-day there was a clash of wills, and I lost as I am now doomed to lose for ever; I was reserving seats on the train and she wouldn't “be put in with some maybe bathed but certainly not washed female.” She insisted in travelling in a big compartment with me. I battled my best, but was undone.
After the conflict, in soothing tones, one hand on my feverish hand: “Bob, it's no use; I always get my own way. I always take what I want and throw it away when I like; don't forget this ever, I hate repetition.”
We are now in the train. Dinner at the wayside station amused her; the lights are out, and through the panes of glass shadowy landscapes dwindle by.
There is a certain humour in it all; what a defeat Aunt Anna-Belle is in for. At that moment soft lips touch mine, but cold! Arms stretch above my head round my shoulders.
Those pure arms I saw in that first meeting, that silver body of the beach.
“I take what I want and throw it away.” When shall I be thrown? Thrown by a child!
- “Overland Ltd.”
- The Game Department.
- Muthaiga Club.
- As we Live.
- Temptation and a Fall.
- Safariland Ltd.
- Muthaiga's One Official Party.
- Six o'clock.
The bumping of the train awakens me as it roughly stops. Makindu! Breakfast awaits in the refreshment room. I try and straighten sundry clothing and fix the tangled hair; then leap to the platform and scald myself with tea and eggs.
Back in my compartment, martyrised but not replete, I finish the very summary toilette and settle down to a book—a book about Kenya, naturally. In the five days I have stepped its soil, I have gone through varieties of emotions; I don't know what to think. Last night, when the train climbed the hills out of Mombasa, I was homesick and weary, the banana leaves seemed too wide, too shiny, the cocoanuts unending, the train so uncomfortable without blankets, sheets or towels.
This morning I think I'm better and compose myself to study in Lord Cranworth's book, that tabloid monument.
My companion is still asleep in the upper berth. He is an old settler returning from a month's sea air in Mombasa; hei s so casual that one might call him untidy, but he has great charm, with a red nose and shock of white hair.
He told fairy stories far into the night, every now and then helping himself to a Scotch, neat, out of my flask! He was most solicitous, wanted to sell me his farm, in the maizeland, somewhere up near a place called N'joro. “Well developed, charming spot, part of the land improved for settlemend by Lord Delemere, every commodity, with furniture complete. So take it or leave it, my dear boy!” He was certainly full of charm—Irish, I presume.
It has been raining and the dust is laid, the famous red dust I've heard so much about as coating everything it touches with a layer of tan. Looking back the way we came I see a shaft of light emerging from the clouds; that must be Kilimanjaro on the border, beyond Tanganyika.
I am disappointed in this great rolling plain: I hoped to see game in hundreds. I've read “The Man Eaters of Tsavo” and thought that when we followed the boundary of the game reserve, I would see masses of wild animals.
Thump a thump! Thump a thump! go the wheels. My companion rolls over in his cot, yawns, sticks out one leg, then climbs down: “Looking for game, my boy? Don't you worry, after Sultan Hamud you'll see all you want. You'll probably see Blainey Percival's Giraffe, the one they had to raise the telegraph poles for. Not know that story? Wait till I get a drink and I'll tell it to you. Awfully stuffy in here, or have I got a head?”
We are now all completely dressed and he, refreshed, sits by my side telling me names of trees; the little valleys he calls Dongas.
Sultan Hamud, where the lions come to drink at night at the Station pump, “Quartier Général” of the Game Reserve. My companion stretches his legs a moment and we proceed, the line climbing, twisting up among the thorn trees and the red rocks slowly rising on that great plain that slopes from 1,000 feet above Mombasa to 6,000 feet at the foot of the highlands.
We now see game sparsely dotted across the country. “There's Percival's Giraffe!” and points; above a thorn tree, three hundred yards away, a thin neck bends with a small pennant at the mast-head in lieu of head. “And that's a water buck down in the shadows near that twisted tree, his spreading horns like the back of some French chair, brown and polished, white at the tips—what a magnificent beast!”
We emerge again on the plain after sundry twists and turns; my companion names the animals as they appear. “A tommy—all does there; look higher up on the skyline for the buck—they are shyer; there's a kongoni, you'll see lots of those as you go up to Naivasha.”
“Oh, and that clumsy, bearded, rumbling thing a ‘wildebeeste’”—It tries to race the train and goes careering over the bow of the rise madly galloping. More “tommies,” thousands, a flock, a herd of ostriches flapping along.
The Celt explains their haits and, yawning, commits himself to sleep again. Even to me, repetition tires and I return to Cranworth's “Profit and Sport.”
But here are houses. I arouse my companion. “Oh, here we are! Have you a place to go? Well, don't worry. I'll take you to the ‘Norfolk’ and introduce you to ‘Auntie,’ she's the manageress, a great woman, practically runs the country.”
The train puffs through a line of tin huts and comes to a rest in what looks really like a station. As we clamber out I sway struck, my eyes blinking at the vivid shirts displayed.
“That's nothing,” says my friend; “just you wait in town till race week. Then you'll see some lovely ones; we all wear them.” And I visualise that purple face and white hair framed by some amazing blazing mauve silk shirt, short-sleeved, corduroy slacks of a fawny violet to match!
My mentor gets me into a cab, my luggage piled in front, and he escorts me through the town, naming each shop as we pass, waving to friends. By the time we've followed Government Road to the “Norfolk,” I feel I know at least half the population. I mount the steps to be greeted by a white-haired smiling old lady. I am at home, I am taken into “Auntie's” charge and my worries are at an end.
My Irish friend waves a hand. “I'm staying at the club, Muthaiga,” and a parting counsel, “Don't let any of those sharks sell you any land, you can't be too careful when you don't know about it!”
This is too perfect. Now I, too, need a settling drink.
After a long trek down, and the motor ride from Meru, I reach Nairobi fagged out. Washed and bathed, I'm carried off to Muthaiga for a drink.
As we drive up we are passed by a low-bodied Buick, piled up with luggage and boys. “Ah—they are the Happy Valley crowd,” says the Colonel at my side. We stop and park the car behind theirs. “Salaam! mon colonel!” the boy cries, all dusty faced, orange shirt turned to brown. “Hello, Delicia!” the colonel calls, as the girl gets out, dark haired under a broad teraï, in grey slacks and green jumper, small and dainty with firm, pointed chin and wide spaced grey eyes, much personality. We all meet and sit on the verandah for a drink—“You don't know Samson!—Oh, Ned, please get Samson.” He drags his long supple form from the deepest chair with a sigh of ennui, goes to the car, bringing back a four months' old lion cub; “I never travel without him, but I've also got Roderigo and Bill Sikes, also Samson's pal, Gillie, the Airedale.” They are all brought for inspection, the two monkeys, tiny, and clinging like moths. Roderigo is sweet, but Delicia warns he is not very gentlemanly in his habits.
She talks and tells the Colonel all the gossip. Ned stalks off to the bar. He seems so nervous and jumpy, cannot stay still, wanders from group to group. Delicia tells of his accident with the elephant: “His nerves are terrible and he will go hunting in the forest with only one good arm.” She smiles, “He's difficult at times.”
“And, Delicia, do play to us to-night.” “Well, maybe, but not at the club, and we must have dinner, a wash and thousands of drinks. I'm feeling completely passed out now. I'm going to my room, do send Ned along soon, he'll only get cross if he stays too long in the bar.”
“A great pity,” murmurs the Colonel as she goes. “A great girl, Delicia, but she cares too much for her pets and he cares too much for her.”
Governor, hunter, colonist, tourist, trader, one day crosses A's bridge, and turning aside by the bright citron bush, trudges up the drive under the blue gums to halt in a dusty clearing.
The white shack, the corrugated iron roof, the verandah, L shaped and dusty, a few cars packed opposite, a vague odour of eucalyptus, an imagined taint of formaldehyde, an ominous calm, a prosperity due to many fines—The Game Department!
A smiling Babu waits upon you. “What is your desire, sir?” The Colonel for the fishes, the Captain for the jungle, at your desire to weigh the “Tembo's” teeth, or you seek some rhino horn for memory reviving of long departed youth?
While bending, his white clothes so tight the Babu puffs and weighs the ivory, you watch, smiling, nervous of the result; held by some force, you turn.
As silent as timid does or one of his great cats, the Captain has come in. All knowing behind his glasses, he knew you were not quite sure the weight was right—intuitive Celt, from Scotland to Africa; bringing lore unknown to natives, imagination alien to all hunters, he has made his department great, his laws obeyed. And many a restless eland herd grazes in peace; many a buffalo fights as dawn at the water hole, that the Game Department should reap where he has sown.
In those three rooms above the red dust, under the swinging eucalyptus, many hearts have broken, but Africa wonderingly has carried on.
Why do we all belong to Muthaiga Club?
Why do we go out five miles for a cocktail?
Why do we have to fight for a room during Race Week?
Why do we have to put up with our things being stolen and our laundries mixed?
Why do we drink champagne at 35 shillings a bottle?
Why are we told to go to bed at one, like naughty boys?
Why do we live in rooms without mosquito netting?
Why do we put up with our “boys” being ruined?
Why do we stand the Committee's smile?
Why does our money keep Muthaiga going?
That twice a year, swamping the “regular member” in our numbers, all together, once more delighted, hearts beating, throats drinking; from Moyale, from London, from Rhadjputna, from Queenstown, from New York and Tyrone. We can bang the bar, break the glasses and on the morrow in numberless “prairie oysters” repent——
Mile upon mile I drive since sun-up, down valleys, up escarpments, through the brown dust, the white dust and the red dust.
Sun has set these last three hours, and now I wind downwards through the coffee shambas.
The day is long, I'm near my goal. Hopes of a bath, a drink and a long night's rest at the club keeps me going; three hundred and fifty miles of bumps and jolts; blinded by dust and glare. What a headache!
Here are the club lights. “Damn!”—somebody's giving a party—as I hear the strains of music.
I stagger to the bar; everybody is there in full war paint.
As the cocktail does its work my mind clears; they ask me to dine. So off I go, wake my sleeping boy, and after a steaming bath, in a boiled shirt, cocktail in hand, I pledge the handsome bridegroom his last night of freedom. I had quite forgotten two friends are to be spliced, two friends of mine—What a show!—more worries in the offing!
We trail in, one big table, and in the outer hall the girls have their party laughing and gay.
Our table is rather serious, we look on the future married man with awe. Oh why, oh why should we still have friends to lose? I raise my cup, bubbles gleaming through the glass.
“Another and another cup to drown
Across the gunsmith's counter you argue, shake your fist and swear. “How do you expect me to hit a door with a fore-sight one inch high? Besides, that last ammunition was rotten. From now on, send me cartridges made for the gun and not this disused Army stuff.” You rant, you yell, you get “hot and bothered.”
Silent at first, a word now and then, a long explanation and now a query, “Would you like to see some of the new rifles? they're just in, the Major is coming in this afternoon to see them.”
The precious feminine 256, light as a feather, rubber pad and telescopic sights, will break a buffalo at 300 yards if your arm is still—the mighty 577 double-barrelled signed by a mightier name; here a barrel from America, a sporting 300, ammunition made by the factory.
All tempt you, but, your wrath still unappeased, you stamp and turn about, fingering as precious gems the guns from across the sea.
As you handle them, a purring thrill creeps towards your heart, your mind wanders from the point. You open and shut, sight along the barrel, unconsciously innoculating yourself with an unhealthy fever.
“Well, Mr. S——, all I can say is that more care should be taken, the lion might have charged and I can't, in calmness of mind, visualise myself dangling as a ripe plum from a swaying thorn tree. By the way, you might send that 256 up to the club with 100 rounds, I would like to try it.” . . . Fallen again.
Five steps or six of splintered wood, and through the open door a wide hall, tiers upon tiers of skins, skulls on the ground, horns entwined, the scent of sun-dried hides.
The lion's skin, the leopard's pelt, and shining dully, as if surprised, ivory leaning against the wall.
The tin roof may be new, the younger partner craves paint and coats all with grey. . . . The soul is the same, Tarleton, as when you took out a Safari across the plains, followed by that plain man who, mistaking his desire for a nation's need, wrote the book which brought you wealth. Roosevelt did know his press, you did know your job, and all are contented.
The Colonel, smiling, courteous, efficient, knows what one really ought to take, though he philosophically consents to one drinking Perrier all through the trip.
After the junior partner's Calcutta sweepstake win, who could ignore the dusty proverb, “Unlucky in love, lucky at cards”?
Through the country they have a name; across the sea, in dull skyscrapers, strong men's hands twitch and eyes grow dim when through the telephone they hear their friends say, “I'm leaving to-morrow, going on a hunt to Kenya. Safariland runs the show.”
Only the other day in an ill-lit London office, above the greatest taxidermists in the world, an irrate soldier told me that I didn't know what I was saying as Safariland had told him so!
The Governors are here!
The Governors are here!
This repeated cry hits Muthaiga's bar, rolls on.
Lord D. to-night has at his board His Majesty's representatives in these colonies. Afterwards a ball will conclude what the Muthaiga diner has left undone. Woe in the Home Office. Woe to colonial secretaries. When the governors dine at Muthaiga many youths look up promotion lists in the Whitehall.
One long table; silver, flowers; the native servants all a-fluster, even Ali loses his smile, while Yusuf shakes and shakes behind his bar.
We! the vile settlers relegated to the outer hall, are thrown some scraps, the fish before the soup, the pudding spread with mayonnaise. The only unforgotten item will be the monthly bill.
As our last champagne bottle is whisked away still half full, the big Table rises and dribbles out across the court. Small house, lower form, the miserable Third, mere fags, we follow our betters. “Naughty William” from Uganda drops us a smile.
'Tis a pity our wives are so needed to tease away the administrative worries, or we could have been eliminated. Fractious settlers, oh! so despised!
The miserable settler has a nasty way of outlasting any official party, so towards two o'clock we have the room to ourselves; and, with band well liquored up, “will hand ourselves a time” at least till dawn.
Then for another six months among trouble and pain, through dust and mud, will try and scrape a living from Africa's cruel earth.
Way up in the mountains, down in the gulleys, chasing sheep stealers, curing cattle, burnt by the sun, chilled by the rain, exhausted, beggarly, but free.
Happy for once in our lives.
Six o'clock! One light, two lights. Muthaiga Club wakes up from a somnolent, dreary day, the boys shake themselves and yawn, coming from dark recesses where they slept since noon.
From the tennis courts, from the golf, from town, through the swinging doors of the squash courts, by ones, by twos, they come; their women cluster around the court ordering gin fizzes and tea, after a short while gathering up their coats and sticks, depart home to the subdued purr of their American automobiles.
From seven till eight Muthaiga is the man's paradise, a few less athletic in the members' room consult a Wall Street advice or delve in bridge. The majority lounge round the bar, hanging themselves across the counter—no tall stools allowed—propped upagainst the walls, draped carelessly across the green leather settee. Now they talk, now they thrash out the day's work, tales fly round gathering listeners, in groups quickly forming and dissolving.
“I hear that Frenchman in the Wanjohi got tossed by an elephant the other day.” “What? Ned?” “Yes, I was down at Gilgil yesterday and Dr. Henderson was coming back form there; he told a wondrous tale. I wonder if it was his or the noble Count's——”
“It appears an old bull wandered up the valley from Lakipia and messed about in Hay's back garden; the manager sent over to Ned's for a big rifle, and after lunch they appeared.
“As far as Henderson made out, Ned and a few boys followed the beast till they got within a few hundred yards; it is very thick and bushy forest there; the elephant must have heard them as he turned down wind. Ned followed. From behind a nauseous pipe: ‘What an ass!’ The elephant ambushed them, charged, knocking him down with a side slash of his tusk. He squirmed among the brute's feet; naturally, the animal dug around with its trunk and Ned says he stuck his fingers in the nostrils and got kicked out backwards into a clump of thorns. After a thorough smelling over the elephant left him.”—“That is an elephant story!” “Well,” said the 3rd K.A.R., “Ned generally tells the truth except about his champagne.” “I don't know what happened,” says the Game Department, “but I'll send scouts up, as I know he hasn't an elephant licence.” And so they battered for and against, some taking sides, some not, the Hunters silently sucking at their pipes. One can never tell what my lord the elephant may take into his mind to do. “How is Ned?” says the 3rd K.A.R. “Oh, black and blue all over, three ribs broken and a dislocated shoulder. Henderson says that little American wife of his set the whole business, a plucky girl, can play, and knows a cocktail too——”
Nine o'clock! Mr. S—— rolls up in his sumptuous car. Auction Day in Gilgil, the corrals full with pawing, butting cattle, dust rising like smoke, Somali herders cursing like true believers, Masai herdsmen glowering, wishing Moran spears through their jostlers' guts.
Behind the stand a few cars are already parked. Some Abyssinian ponies have just come down, thin, weary, hoofsore, after a five hundred mile trek. A trial or two, much haggling and calling Allah to witness, then some notes pass hands, and a smiling Somali hopes you won't recognise him the next time you meet; or, at least, that when the horse comes down, your neck will be effectively broken. While all this is progressing cars have arrived. The bright-shirted settlers from the Valley, a buyer or two from town, the managers of the stock farms, a few Dutchmen after oxen, a troop of seers, seekers after cash, buyers of things given away.
Wives speckle the stand with youthful radiance and Egyptian cigarettes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to auction off to-day the most meritorious, healthy and valuable collection of cattle put on the market this day.” All this from Mr. S——, in one breath. The auction goes on. Ding! Dong! Back and forth, prices not high to-day; native stock do better than grades, there are some Masai buyers from the Reserve. A fat Mombasa merchant bids for cows in milk, the Rhamdam is over.
We sit and talk, watching now and then. Talk of wheat and polo, talk of damage to crops, of zebra shooting. As the heat rises the bidding falls; but Mr. S—— gets a laugh and things liven up.
The Somalis, with floating turbans and bright kekois, nudge, poke, drive the cattle about.
Shouts of laughter as one, keenly inspecting a young calf, is knocked flat by the irate mother.
An interlude; we troop out on the field behind the stand to bid for a “box-bodied Sedan, built for Safari or farm, can clear land better than a plough, never sticks in bottomless mud, only run a few months, complete with tools.” “Bunny,” for five pounds gets it: an old Ford with nailed-down curtains, smelling of the pigs it brought to market, broken silencer sweeping the earth, to clear it, no doubt; has been already in the Malewa on a wet night; a night wet for all, about four years ago; two spare nuts and an old tube go with it, the spares!
Intent lags, so we all go off to the club for a drink, and Mr. S—— joins us. This day waxing confident, he shows how to make “Nile water,” patent medicine for fever, cough, rheumatics, and any other disease.
Then we all sleep it of funder the flowing shadow of the “Syndicate” wall.
The Great Rift Valley—how often we've heard that name on school benches when explorers came to lecture; in our morning papers when the Uganda Railway needed more funds; at social functions when our host had collected the latest Lady Adventuress, who rolled her eyes, whose bosom heaved when describing the sunset; which, by the way, takes place behind a very large and volcanic mountain.
Many a time I've cursed it when my boiling Ford must stop and wait in the baking sun on that knobbly escarpment climb.
Looking back towards Naivasha I've never felt great enthusiasm, but I do remember coming down it nervously, wondering what kind of a mess that Central Europa count should have made when he went over the side. I had a drink with him at Gilgil the other day; all I can say is “Beginner's luck!”
One clear spot on that salt, dusty road, “Hot Springs.” How many thirsty cars have drunk there. . . . The sign post always fascinates me. On one side “Mongalla 918 miles.”—The Nile, sweltering grey and dull, slouching past its papyrus banks, the Lechewe and the Sititunga slipping quietly away, while a sweating, swearing, spluttering half-drowned sportsman tries to get a shot between the mosquitoes' stabs.—On the other side “Lake Nyassa 2,000” and I do not remember how many miles away! Shadows of thorn bush, stretches of scrub, great towering Kilimanjaro, the tobacco and neat German houses of Tanganyika, the deep black waters and puffing steamer on the end of a native woven rope.
“Sir, will you have a glass of wine with me?” The courtly stranger bows from the hips. From Jodhpoores neat to wide-brimmed, the brightly-handkerchiefed Teraï he is the typical Kenya. A flash of teeth, a quick move, a vision boylike in its youth by its side. A girl? A boy? who knows? its slacks, its grey shirt and short slick hair, who could tell?
But we split a bottle of Lanson 19, fresh churned from a journey up-country. They went away to the sweet purring of their straight 8 Hup sliding up the hill.
Would that my Ford would do such, but it has its advantages; the other day, after a party at Frank's, I tried the escarpment, only to get through by the skin of my teeth, the banging of the Ford having scared the buffaloes right off the road.
Then the Great Rift Valley opens out and you see this lake, Naivasha, its swampy eastern shores, its mountains to the west, and on towards Gilgil, the road winding in and out, playing hide and seek with the railway.
The trail of dust behind the flying car, the cloud of dust behind the sheep, the mud like pea soup after the cloud burst, the fumbling with unknowing hands to fix unyielding chains to slimy wheels.
Great Rift Valley, with your changing colours, your smell of peppery dust and salty sweat, backbone of the country say the sheep and cattle men; fissure in the great earth says the geologist; crevasse where men go down never to emerge, or leastwise, to travel the earth chained to the smells and dust of Africa.
After Nakuru the railway winds slowly through the foothills, brown dust, red dust; a few clumps of meagre eucalyptus, a patch or two of wattle and waving on their hardened stalks, millions upon millions of corn cobs, maize, Indian corn.
Capital of this golden crop, N'joro; a station, two Indian Dukhas, a blistered steel grey water tower; around, nothing but maize and dust, dust and maize.
From an adjacent field it rises in clouds, the N'joro Country Club is holding its winter polo competition.
A wooden shack, a grass “Banda,” native syces holding 13-hand Somalis, 16-hand country breds; a row of cars, splashes of light with short-sleeved brilliant shirts.
Between each chukker the dust cloud seems to die down for a second. It has settled in your eyes, between your teeth, up your hair, through your clothes.
At last polo is over and sun-caked, dust-burnt heroes dismount, cracking grey-red complexions when their first drink homeward goes; a half-moon grey-red left on the rim of the glass.
Up rocks, down dales. It seems to be an unending trail: I don't know the road and am following another car. The country changes so; the plain grassy and undulating, long-tailed birds sailing in long swoops; then forest land, precipitous gulleys where we nose down carefully and splash through the ford at the bottom; ascending stones roll down from beneath the wheels of the preceding car. Twisted wild olive trees jut out from red clay banks.
When we stop on the crest to refill our radiators, one of us newcomers whoops with joy; ecstatically we gather around the deep imprint of a lion's pad in the soft earth. On we travel north, always north, towards the Equator; the sky is greyed with a few fleecy clouds. As we top the last rise, far away, shining above a blanket of clouds, Mount Kenya rears its head, a tooth of rock part covered in snow.
We go rattling down through dust and stones to the plains, winding mile upon mile between the flat-topped thorn trees.
“Why does the trail wind so, Jack?” “Oh, because we're probably following a native track and they never walk straight.”
Mount Kenya grows, and the evening wind drags away the clouds by shreds till only a few specks remain like pods on a cotton plant bursting to the glory of the setting sun. The lights play on it like some kaleidoscope; this soft, wet atmosphere makes every detail clear; patches of light grass, the bamboos; the dark towering cedars; that rolling spur to the south with irregular clumps. All is so clear that we can imagine the frozen buffalo towering among the snows up there. The sun is set, we pass through a few lights to carry on, and just as all goes as black as should in Africa, we turn up a drive, flowers on each side glistening in the headlights.
The grating of the brakes, a sudden jarring stop, and a waving cocktail-shaking figure greets us by the dark wood floor.
Settlers in Kenya
Hand in hand, we stole out of camp; the moon high up in the skies silvers the winding path, then down a little slope, the woods thinning all the while; a murmur grows as we approach the shelf where the little brooklet takes a leap to a thousand feet below. Eternity!
Mist clouds the valley sides, the dark cedars pointing their heads through its fleeciness.
The lake shimmers in the moonlight rippleless, the papyrus nodding indignant heads as some rat climbs their stalks.
Above the world, out of the world, remote on a volcanic shelf; the live waters going down to some distant planet.
We have come out to talk, to discuss ourselves, others, our intermingled lives; to thrust and push over our tangled trails, to try and clear a road to peace and happiness.
We had left the fire, hearts full of wounds, of aches, of desires; our minds seething with unuttered thoughts, caught-up fancies, wild hallucinations and love. Perhaps!
We have run away, run away together. She has run away from him! No! from his life! from her friends! I have run away from myself. I have come to drown myself in her feelings, to lie my head between her cool rigid breasts.
We have run away to the top of the world, some instinct guiding us towards this hanging ledge above the Rift Valley.
Until to-day we have never spoken of what lies behind us; never acted but as young lovers running away.
During dinner I could see the episodes of the crisis coming and going in her clear eyes. Dancing with joy at the idea of having taken his car to do the bolt. Sombre at the recollections of that last scene in the library, with lights low, his revolver in hand, his rush of words, his idioms, his colossal conceit. Soft tones play in her eyes when she remembers our welcome on that first dreary, water-soaked evening when we knocked shyly on the door, wondering how we might be received, the erring couple in flight. We have come out to talk this over and, more, the future.
Sitting down on the ledge the swishing of the stream diverts our thoughts. I reach over the cigarette tin and two orange lights glow and die, to glow again.
I must speak, I must make things clear, but my mind wanders fascinated by the glacial ethereal beauty of the valley; each contour stiffens as the mist dissolves, sinking in dew between the cedars; on a far distant ridge a fire twinkles and the minute throbbing of some tom-tom miles away.
My cigarette drops some ashes light and clear on my dark coat. Why have we done this, why have we ruined our lives, perhaps others, too?
She has risen from my side, and, slipping off the cloak and dark kekoi, stands naked, knee-deep in the brooklet. Her golden, boyish head, lips parted, arms raised towards the vertical moon.
The water shines, the rock shines, she shines, the moon, hard, implacable, reveals us to ourselves.
The same passion rules us and the strong-breasted Kikuyu miles away across the chasm by the twinkling fire. We have not run away from difficulties and pain! We have not run away from people, from things! We have gone away to satiate passion! The one inexorable fate of this land, and to-morrow she may let us die.
Long years of heredity and training have blurred our minds with symbols and creeds, and yet! and yet!
That slight silver form quivers in the night air; with a quick plunge beneath the icy waters she is gone a second, to emerge draped in a thousand running diamonds and shimmers.
As we walk back to camp, our minds relieved, the moon drooping down sends long shadows across our path, the murmur of the brook dulls, the mist seems to creep out from unknown recesses; only the distant tom-tom cleaves the night breeze with a clearer sob; or have our veins, our hearts leant the lesson of the drums, of the red earth, of the vertical moon?
No ideals! No hope! No faith! but to feel, to bloom, to rot!
Happy Valley, Earls Court, the Wanjohi, as locally known—famous and infamous by turns—habitat of the wild and free.
As befits much-talked-of people or places, it is simpler, more harmonious than could ever be expected.
At the head of the valley—a mountain—Kippipieri, joined by a cedar-covered saddle to the Aberdare escarpment, which slowly, effortlessly dies in a lazy slope towards Thomson's falls.
The escarpment, wood covered and rugged green, leafy, mysterious, abruptly loses its feet in the grassy plain of great undulations slowly subdued.
In this décor live a restless crowd of humans, hardly colonists—wanderers perhaps, indefatigable amusement seekers weary or cast out from many climes, many countries. Misfits, neurasthenics, of great breeding and charm, who lacked the courage to grow old, the stamina to pull up and build anew in this land.
Wanjauhi, the river, flowing down from Kippipieri through their farms, was once said to flow cocktails, “Trinity's” no doubt.
Iceless, ceaseless, imitative, perhaps, when at the bend it also changes its name, Melewa then, through that effort of misdirected industry, a factory and once flax lands, through dust and mud, over rocks and stones to Naivasha, the lake thirty miles away.
It was midnight when I awoke, some noise or feeling. I turn over and listen!
No moon! the earth seems to hold its breath, a million stars overhead dancing between the branches.
The fires have gone low. I hear the rustle of parted grasses against some hide. Creeping out of the mosquito net, torch in hand, now erect, I can see the dull forms of the natives, naked, sleeping on the ground.
I step over them, between them, towards the fires. Waking a sleeping boy near by, he shuffles on the logs in a half-dream and slumps down to earth in slumber again.
My sleep has vanished, so I squat by the fire listening to the crackles of a dried log and the subdued murmur of the white ants at work on some tree near by.
Suddenly a splash awakens me from my trance, a grunt and then deep, low breathing.
The buffaloes have come sown to the pool below. I cautiously wind towards a great tree that juts out from the overhanging bank far over the pool. I cannot see a shadow though I hear them. I know they are less htan ahundred yards away; a swishing of water as one rolls, much breathing and puffing as they emerge to climb the bank.
A sudden touch by my side, a shady figure close to mine, a light fragrance in the air. She has left him in the tent to feel and kiss the night. Not a sound, not a word; There we stand thinking and listening. Far away across the valley a jackal yelps, a hyena calls from time to time. A loud purr on the veld as some lion tries to baffle his prey.
Insensibly her shoulders close to mine; nearer, nearer, comes the hyena's call, till I feel her throbbing through the silk pyjamas, beneath the golden skin.
The cough of the charging lion makes her shiver; as a late moon rises above the ridge one vagrant beam silvers her lips turned to mine.
I thought I'd be through before sundown, but the road was awful and the rain coming down in sheets. Towards nine o'clock I see a light; I've only been up this road once, and am about lost, so I turn off, and after a hundred yards stop in front of a low bungalow, heralded by a dozen dogs. A man comes out on the porch. After telling me where I am, he insists I should come in to supper and stay the night as he says the road is practically impassable further on, even in the daylight. Some boy takes my bag and I go in.
A huge room dimly lit, a fire of enormous logs at one end. As I warm myself, whisky and soda in hand, I look about—how different from the ordinary Kenya home. The walls, entirely built of great logs one upon another, climbing to a ceilingless roof. Not a piece of European furniture, not a picture, not a photograph. The fireplace of rough-hewn stone, a blackened beam, and above, the towering Kudu head. Nothing but skins on the floor. What a collection: from where I sit I can see lion, a tiger and bear skins.
My hosts sees my astonishment. “All the furniture has been made on the place. You see I'm rather a wanderer, and moving furniture is . . .” He shrugs his shoulders.
Supper is served. While I eat he sits in front of the fire, prodding the logs absently. I study him; somehow his personality is familiar; that sturdiness of figure, set determination of face, clean-shaven paleness contrasting with tanned hands. A man who has always worn a hat, who has worked by his strength in the open; a slightly rolling walk stepping high off the ground, calm grey eyes. I join him by the fireside.
What a personality this house asserts. A long the wall rifles glisten; out of the room emerge heads, skulls, antlers, an astounding collection: beside an eland, a black buck fom India, above, a puku, a markhor from Thibet, and facing each other from opposite ends of the room, a moose, an African buffalo.
The table I rest my glass on is a Buganda drum, while on the two posts holding up the fireplace beam are nailed witch doctor masks from West Africa.
In the red glow of the crumbling logs I realise my host must be older than I thought at first, the lines on his face and around his eyes, years of exposure and rough life.
We talk of Kenya, then of life through the world. I tell of places I've seen, hoping to hear what he is; slowly he thaws: “I was lonely to-night; I am glad the fates bade you stop. I have wandered so I have no home, this seems only a resting place,” and as he speaks pictures come to his lips: his youth way out in the west, a small town in Wyoming, stories of cattle wars, gold rushes, rodeos, of Saskatchewan and the Yukon; of shooting frays at the Golden Gate; of emeralds and rubies up the Yangtse Kiang, of training a troop of horse for an Indian hill rajah, of slowly drifting down through India; of the day in Madras during the riots, of men killed slowly swelling in the sun. Of the contract for work in East Africa, of Mombasa; of the building of the railway, of Tsavo, and the driving of the coolies, of the war, of German officers and African soldiers, and after all he stops. I question: “Have you never been home?”
“Well, I don't think I'd find much to go back to: my father rode for the H.F. Bar near Sheridan, and mother slung hash at the hotel, and that was fifty years ago.” He sits and stares. I pace the floor, visions dazzling me. “My boy, you're lucky you have people to go back to. Don't let them stray form you, go see them every few years.” “But have you no friends?” “Well, a few: some in Australia, some in China, some here, don't see them often though. Don't know that I want to now much; you see, I'm a ‘bum,’ run sheep fifty thousand head. I've no use for sheep, but cattle don't seem to run good here. Sometimes things seem finished. It does me good to see young fellows like you. I guess I'll go down to the Gilgil Club next Sunday; nature there is always new, though I feel I've seen the world.”
The candle gutters and spits, the logs are low. I see a lonely old man; through fifty or more years he has shot it out with life, and now shivers by his fire.
The sentry passes up and down the walk, his naked feet noiseless on the packed earth.
Government House sleeps. The night is warm; the jasmine and the hibiscus shower scent from the heaven, and low down, beyond, the great lake shimmers under the moon.
I cannot sleep, so throwing on a Somali shawl I slip out into the garden for a cigarette and a feel of the cool breeze on my burning skin.
A window creaks; I look up and a draped form pushes out a small shape, telling it to be a clever girl. As I watch, a small dog is clever, then wanders along the verandah and falls down to another, slightly below the first. Soon the draped form, rather a nice draped form, comes out and calls. Alas! the small clever one can't get back, though it struggles and whines.
What a fuss, what a pother then occurs in the upper room, but there's no way to it, she must be retrieved by way of the room below.
Now a knocking is heard, and a bashful colonel trembles to this day at the risk he ran when that daring draped form crossed his room and returned, carrying her darling. The romance missed fire; it needs more than a dog to make history in the land of the elephant!
I wander about, slowly descending to the lakeside where I sit a moment, soon to be chased away by flying pests. As I come back, I hear two voices; others parade under the moonbeams. Voices carry at night. An irate wife upbraids a penitent husband, “Hunting is all right in its way, but it's painfully ridiculous to chase three days with the best Government Shikaree only to wound an eland in the tail.”
To-night is humorous—Africa's form of humour is not apt to be light. I'll retire, or she might try and get me stabbed by the sentry.
So funny, don't you know!
Uganda and the Sudan
Earth's cracks seem to go down to some eternal fire; grass stems shiver and break; leaves corkscrew back on their branches; brown and desolate are the hills, grey and desolate are the plains. The end of the dry season.
The antelope travel each night miles to slake their thirst. The river has dried up. The elephant cannot dig to water; even the industrious rhino, after hours of spade work in the river bed, leaves a ten-foot well discontentedly, to trek twenty miles to the waterhole.
At these times the patient, sun-bearing, thorn-torn, mile-weary sporsman gets his recompense.
Around the waterhole, some truce declared, the animals come to quench their thirst and wearily tell tales of desolation and waste. The giant kudu from the hills, his twirling horns towering above him in great curves, stamps his foot with impatience and tells of a thirty mile trek through the scrub, of his waterfalls gone dry, of his favourite shades thin and uninviting. The gazelle from across the plain frets and fights his brother, his coat is mussed and dusty, his feet are sore, while his doe, with melancholy eyes, nuzzles her thin trembling lawn. Who can tell which of them will live when the rains come.
A lonely giraffe cow straddles her legs and bends her knees for a twenty minute drink. The elephant shuffle against each other with sounds of scraping bark. A red-eyed tiang bull eyes a lioness with panting cubs across the quiet pool.
A striped hyena looks hungrily at the gaunt, heaving sides of an old battle-scarred half-dead buffalo; the carrion crow and the vultures share his wonder, while two sapient old marabout storks, one leg down to the wet sand, boredly snap their beaks in contempt. They know. At this season the carrion feeders of the land wax fat and prosperous.
Last-comer, dealer in ill tidings, tongue hanging, coat unlicked, eyes glazed, limps down leading his herd, the eland, king of antelopes.
He has travelled far, bringing the news: the fires are lit on the plains fifty miles away. He has trekked day and night, migrating.
The vultures fly away pleasedly remembering past feasts at such times, even the marabout storks show interest, drink, to depart silently through the air with great swinging strokes of their giant wings.
Having drunk, all go; go down to the south, towards the land of the great rivers, migration from fire towards water.
The elephants sway on three legs, rubbing a still sore sole on a rugged leg, remembering the agony when the natives fired a circle around them some months back. The bones of half the herd rattle to the scraping of some straying jackal in that murderous dip where they were caught. . . .
Hunching their shoulders, they glide away on their three hundred mile trip, a swinging pace, ten miles to the hour, till, in the shadows of the great river, they will plunge and splash, squirting themselves in trumpeting, jocose delight.
Ten hours later, roaring up the valley, a wall of fire rushes, crackles, assaults the hills, crashes along ridges, the rocks crackling like gun shots, the smaller birds of prey above it, in front of it, picking the terrified scurrying rodents with one swoop.
The plain is now blackened, smooth as your hand; one or two tortured thorn trees rear their scarred branches to the blazing sun, while a root smoulders along the earth.
That once pleasant waterhole is now bleached; the spreading trees have lost their leaves, and soon the small remaining puddle will waft its way towards the distant range, a fleecy cloudling.
That night the wind comes up as some furnace blast, carrying sparks and stenches of roast flesh. High up on the hills lines of flickering lights waver and carry on over the crest their work of destruction and purification.
The tired hunter ceases his vigil, the danger is passed; he unfolds his tent, eats a smoked unpalatable meal and tries to rest. As he dreams and mumbles in his impatient sleep, the heat beats up from the burnt earth, every hour getting more unbearable.
And then a ping on his taut tent canvas, like the pinched cord of a violin; another, and again another. Awakened, he jumps up and lifts his face to the large squashy raindrops; then a deluge.
Sunrise is late, the earth steams, a haze of blue hides the hills, and still it pours. Just in time, those fires, to kill all the insect pests, their larvæ, their eggs, all awaiting the rains to burst forth in their biting, stinging millions.
Under his tent the white man reads, the rain-soaked canvas hums gently under the falling drops, a trench carries the skimming water away. The white man reads, awaiting the rebirth of the land. Patiently he turns the leaves of his book, unworried he sleeps, eats and reads, the roaring of the stream a dull accompaniment to his resting thoughts.
One morning the sun shines bright, the hills are turned to green; on every branch buds grow sticky and burst forth, from every nook and cranny undreamt of seeds swell, pushing up and out a million greens.
The cooing of the ring doves in the awakened trees by the rushing mud stream, the call of the parrots swinging from thorn bush to thorn bush; the sudden drop of the vulture way out across the valley; a swoop of white as the egrets come to drink.
The white man smiles and stretches, throwing the books into a tin case to wait till other rains.
The game is back. Another season has begun.
Christmas Eve. Seven thousand miles away the cranberries bubble in a pot; naked overstuffed poultry await their doom in the larder; crackers in their pink and blue kimonos closely pressed in boxes sleep till the morrow; stockings swing to and fro in the icy wind blowing down the chimney; flecks of snow frozen to the window-pane make weird lace designs.
Dinner, solitary, cold guinea fowl and beans from a tin, is over. Homesick for homesickness—you are so blue.
From time to time a patter of naked feet on the baked earth; now and then a voice raised in song; then as the moon rises dead white over the palms, the tom-tom murmurs, breaks out to murmur again. Some native dance, you think what a bore, another night of troubled rest.
As the drums warm up by the giant beacon fire, the murmur rises into a shout and voices wail and crash.
Uneasy, you shift your seat, cross your legs, light a cigarette. The thump, thump of naked feet drill into your brain. All your boys have deserted camp. You might as well go over and see what the blighters are doing.
In an immense oval space hundreds upon hundreds of naked bodies are milling around; on the outskirts the whitewashed huts reflect red tints from the bonfire.
A naked grey-bearded figure salaams, a necklace of crocodiles' teeth hanging to its knees. The decorous chief who received you in white flowing robes this noon. “Will the Effendi have a chair? No——” You prefer the earth and you sit cross-legged, your back against the wall of a hut.
The dance goes on, a shrieking native guitar gives the cue and a hundred voices chant and rise and fall. Thump, thump, ring, ring, as the professional dancers join the fray, wrapped to their thighs with jingling bells. On, on, up, up, till you feel your heart is going to break. . . . Crash . . . all dulls to the murmur of the tom-toms rubbed and smoothed.
Into your brain creeps some physical desire, some urge that numbs your senses, pumps your blood. Your hand bets time. As it swells, you swell, and as it rolls, you roll. A thousand maddened battles course in your veins.
Slaughter and human sacrifices of the times of your Druid ancestors call for more blood. Blood to feed the tom-toms, to blacken their sides and shine their throbbing skins.
It needs all your will power to stay silent on the ground. Around and around they go, the chant rising like the surge of the Atlantic when its mighty rollers break; and then, the hissing of the surf on a scorched coral beach.
Then smells, smells of rancid oil on human sweating flesh; smells of benjoin and myrrh rising from the braziers; smells of the peppery dust which shimmers in the moonbeams.
Your nostrils dilate, your mouth opens.
Desire battles with will.
Smells of sexual fury as women weave through the lines of men, smells as their whirling bodies sway against each other.
Your two arms outstretched, palms on the throbbing earth, your nails, your fingers imbedded.
Some irresistible desire breaks your back towards the ground. Down, down, till your lips touch the earth.
Kiss of an eternal Mother. Salt on your lips, a new dawn in your soul—appeased you rest.
Sunrise is near.
In your folding-chair, legs crossed, you think and dream; the sun dancing shadows through the gum leaves. Slowly the cigarette curls its way to your fingers, a shaft of pain stiffens you.
120 in the shade.
You are holding court on the banks of the Nile, while a hundred crocodiles draw down struggling buck and lowing cattle.
120 in the shade; a language you cannot speak.
Impassible, bored native police glance hopefully at the hippo whip . . . the chattering ceases and trembling, naked skins shiver and shrink.
Your temples beating, your mind wanders again. . . . Visions of ivory raiders. . . . the Havashi . . . a good haul, promotion, leave, home leave. The rustle underfoot of the ruddy beech's crumpled leaf, a shimmer of red on the silver maple branch. The crack of a gun in the nearby covert, the melodious song of the hounds. The fresh whip of an October dawn. The gentle touch of someone's red lips chilled by iced champagne.
The white man's hand drops—his head nods—Lo, the sahib is asleep. The court is done!
120 in the shade on the banks of the Nile.
Evening comes. Soon the sun will set behind the Imatong Hills, now purple-crowned with gold.
Sitting outside the rest-house, a wall of rock behind us and the ground sloping away at our feet far across the valley. It looks like some surging sea, mile upon mile of thorn bush and scrub, some tumultuous boiling cauldron. The only relief is a winding band of darker green, just a shadow sometimes, like a low wall at others emerging above the sagelike plain; the Kideppo river winds thus towards the sweltering north, down towards the Nile. It is only a ribbon of water these days; some places flowing deep down buried in the sand, from time to time to emerge in tranquil limpid pools bathing the roots of some giant tree.
As evening comes, life awakens from a torrid day. Since the sun capped the wall of rock behind, the earth has baked, the cracks opening larger every hour; even the ants have retired to rest, not a bird on the wing. Now at last cooler, the world seems to breath, turn over and stretch. A green pigeon circles the rest-house and alights on a wild-fig tree. A chorus of barks far up on the rock wall, a living simian chain across the chasm. The baboons move across; as the last one is over, the rope detaches itself and swings towards the opposite ledge; hand over fist, each living link climbs to the foothold and is gone.
Your heart catches. “Did you hear it?”
Your companion's face is tense and white. Then it was true, no illusion of a sun-touched mind.
No, there it is again. From far away over the miles of waving scrub it comes now distinct.
Peal upon peal. My lord the elephant has come to drink.
Silently you turn away. “Have a drink. We're in the land of the kings!”
Slowly we are poled along a canal cut through the swamp. Our tent is pitched on a rough platform thrown across two dug-out trees; the boys at the other end have built themselves a stove in which a fire burns, fed with green leaves.
The smoke trailing out behind us merges into the haze; a faint odour of benjoin and amber drifts around, breaking the monopoly of the swampy breaths.
Three naked bronze figures to a side toil up and down, at their shoulders a long bamboo, which bends under their weight as they pole us along.
In our tent under our mosquito nets we lie sweltering. The flap outstretched to catch any breath of air only seems to concentrate the heat waves, and through it all a purring sound as the waves clutch the dugouts and slip aside—now and then a hiss like some great snake at bay, and the tall papyrus bends down to let us by.
As I think of this week, now gone, spent in the marshes in the interest of His Majesty's Law, one sense, one feeling pervades all; one impression, one fact—Papyrus.
Mile upon mile of papyrus cut by these canals, mudfish feeding on papyrus parasites, kingfishers waved to and fro on papyrus stems watching for the fish, lechwe and sititunga awakened from their beds of dried papyrus to jump from clump to clump, invisible, the long stalks swinging back behind them as they go. A leaden sky overhead cut by a flight of Kavirondo cranes who circle and alight on these rushes, birds also topped by a crest of gold like the papyrus.
Ever the same for a week. The counsels taking place on the platform, with naked savages on floating trees bringing woven reed baskets filled with papyrus flower to wish away the Evil Eye.
A monotonous song rises and swings, the polers grow listless, and as it rolls and widens the sun dies far away across the swamp.
The gaunt figures in an immemorial gesture bury the pole, push, then pull, to time with the swinging chant.
Slaves of the swamp, for ten thousand years, they have poled the Pharaohs from the north, their destinies unchanged though a child from the papyrus led his legions across the Rubicon.
As you slowly climb the trail, the forest quietly as some sombre, forgotten faith, emerges, and on the crest rests a languid arm, falling, slipping inevitably down the watershed.
The tropical forest, pre-history of man, long forgotten flora, overgrown, undermined by millions of parasites.
You work your way pushing, cutting, slashing, the light closing about you—silence and gloom, slushy underfoot, crunching dead things, killing living ones. Vines and trailing orchids clutching at your clothes.
As the beads of sweat roll and drop, one's topee drooping in the great silence, miasmic scents sway visibly between the stalks of the giant fern.
Clutching a rifle, steely, deadly, a machine, but no solace to one's blind terror of the unknown. One's heart stops with the cracking of a branch, while a great limb with the tiredness of centuries slowly detaching itself, bends and crashing across the path breaks the back of the coal-black leopard waiting for you in the trail.
An elephant shrieks and shrieking passes by; a clamour of sound instantly stilled. You know not whose shadow moves in the gloom on your right; blind terror in your bulging eyes, dripping frozen sweat you push on mumbling incantations of your youth, or of some weird, soul-searching belief of some previous life. Behind you the jungle resumes its tread, living, dying, eternal to your so mortal mind. Till night changes sun patches into stars.
We creep through the sweating forest, carefully on the alert. The troopers of the Police Force trail behind us, silent as shadows, dark as velvet.
A flicker of light ahead, which grows; now we are just outside a clearing in the forest. We crouch, making ourselves comfortable, seeing yet unseen. District officer, policeman, and twenty native police; they fidget until a whispered order goes down the line.
The clearing is empty except for a native tending a fire. In the foreground, empty space, a half-moon. Then between two towering totems with stacks of wood at their feet, the fire; behind, an altar of some soft stone, stained red in patches, its table slanting downwards from back to front, two diagonal furrows crossing in the centre; at its back two steps of polished wood or black stone, upon them a carved, grotesque, grimacing figure, seated, arms outstretched, entirely plated with gold.
A rustle—and by the path come the faithful, naked all, their black skins oiled and glistening; in the women's hair shining flowers of gold and silver. None may come armed or clothed to the feast. In all about two hundred, the rich, the civilized, the powerful of the tribes. One or two we recognise, prosperous and hardworking tradesmen, devotees of the Mission Church.
The slave of the fire heaps the logs on, logs of scented wood, the flames leap higher. A blue haze of smoke dims the image behind.
The slave wears anklets, joined by a shining chain of steel.
The faithful are seated in orderly, serried ranks, a man, a woman, and so on, four feet apart, ranks four feet behind each other, facing the fire.
Suddenly a blinding flash of light from the fire. When our eyes are calm again. At the foot of the altar we can see a huddled figure in the same hierarchic pose as the image above, masked, a shock of ostrich feathers in lieu of hair. As it rises, the whole figure reveals itself; a long robe from shoulder to knees caught at the waist by a shining girdle of stones, from arms to finger tips, gauntled in gold, its legs the same. The worshippers bow down to the earth between their crossed legs, their shining backs glistening like tortoises in the flame light.
A slow murmur swells till it is like the dull thumping of the surf on a beach a mile away.
As the chorus grows, my companion shakes his head—the words are in the forgotten language of some long dead civilization.
The figure slips out smoothly before the fire. As it whirls and dances the chant rises and falls, all the congregation swaying to the time. The rhythm grows faster and from a corner a chorus of tom-toms breaks out.
Drops fall from the trees and the cold is good on one's face. The fascination of the scene is indescribable.
The golden figure twists and whirls. Above the wailing chant, above the crooning of the tom-toms we catch the clicking rhythm of the golden plates. Always faster and faster, till with a crash it stops.
We have been warned, and have come prepared. I make a sign. The policemen stiffen, green with fear; the gaunt old sergeant kneels, bringing his rifle to his side.
Now the golden figure weaves through the serried ranks of worshippers—all prostrate, their faces on the ground. The chant breaks out again, but with terror in its voice. The figure stoops, touches a back. A wild shriek and a young girl leaps from the ground beneath the figure only to be seized on either side by two men. The chant rises again, drowning her cries, and she is brought forward, her hands tied behind her back; the men return to their places. She is a huddled figure at the feet of the idol behind the fire.
Now the golden arms circle her, and she is drawn like a feather off the ground, carried and left writhing on the altar.
We are ready. As one of the golden arms rises above her the light catches on the curved knife. I whisper the word. Crack! The golden figure crumples—hell on earth breaks loose, the policemen catching and binding all they can.
My companion and I rush to the prostrate figure; wrenching off the mask we stagger. There, dead, lies one of our dearest friends, beautiful in the glory of her youth, her golden hair. African born and bred, what witchcraft has wrought this?
Thank God she's dead.
The flames hungrily lick towards her feet.
- A Middle Western Comedy.
- White Hunting.
- Moon and Water.
- Shooting on the Aberdares.
- An Ivory Trail.
We pass down Muthaiga slope, cross the bridge, then up a hill and down again, holding our noses as we pass Lord D.'s slaughter houses, then up Sixth Avenue, and around the K.A.R. Lines. Nairobi looks quite presentable at night, the dim lights hide its dullness, its dust remains unseen, the glaring shop windows are dark.
After a good dinner, a very good dinner, we are taking out a newly arrived American party to see the wild animals in the Game Reserve by night. In the sea behind Cyrus J. Houfton, of Piqua, Ohio, Mrs. W. K. Levysohn, his sister, widow of an enterprising sheeny who broke into Piqua and raised himself to eminence on the debris; between them George Black, the big game shot and white hunter—I'm driving with Miss Muriel Houfton by my side.
They arrived to-day to shoot big game. “I want a colelction to beat the one that puff-bellied Larchmont brought home last year,” said Cyrus J. during the presentation interview at Safariland this morning.
Black and I have been detailed off to deliver the goods. “And, young fellows, I've made my pile and am ready to spend it, but no hanging around clubs and introducing lounge lizards to Muriel while we're out here! I've had enough trouble making the simoleons not to know that buying off prospective son-in-laws is an expensive business, so go right ahead and get us out in the big, wide country and you'll find me a bear for punishment after I get my second wind.”
Black and I, after much discussion with Safariland and others, staged this party, which supposedly will inoculate them all with buck fever.
We bump along the track into the reserve, the dash-board lamp shows up the perfect profile of “Dear Muriel.” She is a “peach,” as her “home town beau's” would say. I wonder how they will stand Safari? How much fighting there will be? And everything else one asks oneself before a job.
An exclamation from Black as two huge spotted hyenas cross the headlight beams, and again some more, perhaps they're due for a “hyena ring”; it would be just my luck to bump that unique sight the day I had a sweet “clear cut” “jeune fille” aboard.
As the game comes up or away, Black names them: wildebeeste, jumping hare, then some “kongoni,” a gazelle. As we round a curve, I stop the car; a few feet away, crossing the track, a herd of “impala” turns and stares, hundreds of shining eyes; now and again they leap high into the air over each other's backs. Cyrus J. is “jittering” in excitement, and the noble Mrs. Levysohn throbs the atmosphere with “Muriel dears.”
The girl is quiet and silent, nodding as I explain in a low voice. She looks and looks, her hands clasped together, fingers locking and interlocking. As we turn back she glances up and smiles; green eyes below the white brow and massed piles of smoke-blue hair. In the front seat we're silent, lulled by the purr of the engine and the chatter of Mrs. Levysohn; an interjection or two from Cyrus J. in true “hardboiled” manner.
We drop them at the New Stanley Hotel, say good night; he calls after us: “We start bright and early day after to-morrow; I'll see you at Safariland in the morning at nine.” “Good night, Mr. Black, good night, Mr. Meighan. I've liked this evening, and now you must teach me to shoot. Don't let father do too much, his heart is weak; as for Aunt Zoë, she gets awfully hot and bothered; I count on you two to help me keep them well and contented, they're mighty difficult at times.” This Safari is taken out of our hands.
Up the hill towards the club we go—we'd often heard of the ways of young America! This is going to be “some experience.” . . .
I sit my feet towards the fire, my table over my legs; sun set an hour ago, bathed, changed, dinner finished. I sit, feet towards the fire, mind wandering, pipe in mouth.
I am detached from this world; on a bare space overlooking a ravine my camp clings to the mountain side; every rollable object washes by now in the creek far below.
What a sunset it was; the last rays of light gilding my tent, the peak above mauve and pink, a cloud or two hung like cotton wool to its side, above the tip of snow.
One last sunray strayed up somehow through the cedars in the ravine to light a patch of bamboo, a threshing of gold slivers.
I can just see the fire over the table, the logs are damp, and the smoke curls and twists according to the sighs of the unfelt breeze. I am tired, my eyes hypnotised, dully watch the logs turn red, then white, then red again, dissolving into embers. I grow numb, and the smoke comes nearer. It takes a shape, wraith-like at first, then slowly matter seems to form, a face, dark brooding eyes, pale green, a supple neck, small red-painted mouth, then the curling auburn hair, a dress fits itself, green like the bamboo shoots, blue-tinted in its folds like the curling stream far below.
My heart grows cold, my head goes round. That my loss is true. The Bwana sleeps.
The bush-buck barks by the river far below, and away up in the mountain an old rhino snorts, cursing the white man who, in his sorrow, taints the mountain air.
Our camp is set near the winding river, under a great clump of trees, beds lined up like a dormitory, ground sheets between, mosquito nets swinging up to the supple bamboo poles (our tents rolled up in their sacks, the climate making them obnoxious). The natives have built us a grass “banda,” rectangular, all sides open, the high pointed roof coming down to about four feet from the ground. In this by day we sleep, feed or read; it is sunproof and very airy, every breath of wind seems caught and trained through it, the temperature thirty degrees lower than outside.
After a long day's stalking in the sun we are relaxed in arm-chairs around the table, talking and smoking, words dropped, picked up and then passed on.
A motley crowd: an African soldier, an English diplomat, an American millionaire, two wives, a stepdaughter, youth, beauty and life; I don't count, just an obsever, a hired white-hunter, but they are pretty nice to me on the whole.
The women are very tired and half asleep in their chairs; drowsily they shiver as a fly lights on their bare arms.
Their words seem meaningless to me; somehow to-day I've felt their personalities. For the first time their true selves were revealed.
Just before dawn we came up to a herd of elephant about half a mile away and waited; as sunrise broke we closed in. A cow herd, only two shootable bulls, not big at that. We divided up—I took the American and his stepdaughter, the soldier took the four others. The diplomat got his at thirty yards. A clean brain shot.
Ours was fussing about, breaking branches, and would not stay still. The American tried for the heart; at the shot the animal whirled and came on like a steam engine; I didn't know exactly where he was hit, but he was coming, and coming fast. The girl was splendid, took one step to the right of her father, and shot both barrels at the oncoming head. He tripped in his stride, staggering forward on to his trunk with a lurch. He was dead two yards from where we had stood.
I quickly reloaded my 470, not wanting the girl to know I had shot.
We all gathered round the stricken monster; the other party, having seen the charge, joined us. As we stood there for the first time, I saw them as they really are.
The millionaire, well! Just a millionaire and a weak old man. The diplomat, excited, out of his poise, his slow circulation stirred, more alive and conscious than I'd seen him before. The soldier, thoughtfully rubbing his shoe on the animal's trunk; he'd been at it before and knows what an elephant can do; he's Irish, too, imaginative. His eyes stealing towards two women, become hard and steely.
One was leaning on her rifle, teeth clenched over the full lower lip, eyes grey with unconscious physical desire, cruelty and. . . . The other one, trembling with suppressed fear and excitement, was clinging to her gunbearer's arm, nerves all gone, verging on tears.
But the girl, a slight flush on her cheeks, quietly broke her gun, dropped the cartridges, reloaded: “Well, that's that, I feel damned hungry now.” I could see her hand trembling at her side. “Well, unkie, I'll race you back to camp for breakfast.” Calm and collected; self-control.
She is a thoroughbred right through; never permits a cloud to gather among the others, runs the Safari on smooth wheels, no easy job with so big a party.
As we sit, I watch her: our eyes meet, and she catches me at it; her smile seems to include all the gentle humour of our position. She glances meaningly towards the river, and I break the spell, and all of us troop down for the evening dip.
We're up to-night, having set a blind near the waterhole. After a heavy dinner we trundle over, the boys loaded with sandwiches, bottles, stools and guns, escort us to our lair; they depart swinging a Safari lantern through the night.
Fitz and I have two weeks' leave and have come down to the Masaï reserve to try and shoot lions; as we have a car, a box-bodied, battered offspring of Detroit, we have pushed on to the dry country and are spending a few days in the vicinity of a rather muddy waterhole.
By day, our chosen lair seemed perfect; cut out of a big thorn bush with a spreading tree overhead, slits shaped so as to afford a view and possibilities of shooting. At night we seem less comfortable, the thorns seem longer, the lair too small, our implements unending in their rattles. At last towards eight, we seem to settle down, and I take the watch, Fitz trying to dose in his chair.
However used my eyes get to these nights, the dark is such that, at ten feet, nothing is recognisable; by contrast, the stars seem to blaze. . . . Idly, between the branches, I try to locate those I ought to know.
Somehow something seemed changed, what could it be? Preconsciousness of danger, proximity of some beast? I could not say. Suddenly a shaft of light slips over the hill as the moon tops the ridge above the thorn trees on the other side of the pool. That consciousness of light just before sunrise or moonrise is absolutely physical, like a presence.
Step by step the moon crawls up its hill, unfolding a new panorama, unexpected, different entirely from what it looked by day. The pool shimmers, wavelets grow, and as phantoms emerging from the gloom, I am suddenly conscious of things, vague shapes, now an outline, at last the whole.
I wake up Fitz, it's a sight for the gods. A score or so of Thomson's gazelle are standing, drinking in the pool; their dainty feet break that silvery surface without a sound; one old buck, what a beautiful pair of horns, stands guard by the water side quickly clancing here and there. Behind them, statue-like against the dark trees, four water-buck; one male has spreading annulated horns at least thirty inches long; his hoofs shine in the moonlight and his dark coat glistens, in the pink of condition; the does, wide ears outstretched, listen by his side.
The gazlles “freeze”; what can they have heard? All there poised for flight, it is like some dead landscape of the German school.
Tap, tap, a slight rattle of stones and then, with a clatter down the opposite bank, come a herd of zebras; their stripes seem of silver and jet, an old stallion takes into his fancy to roll in the water, splashing, kicking he comes out covered with mud. They don't stay long, on some trek maybe.
Again towards the pool come the water-buck only to “freeze” again, this time a small troop of kongoni, high-shouldered and sloping quarters. They look dull brown instead of the red-gold natural tint. Soon they are joined by their near cousins, the topi, with patchy hides of grey and brown. They drink and splash, while their offspring romp with each other's shadows in and out among the trees.
Last, slinks down for a sly drink, a huge spotted hyena. At first we thought it was a lioness. In his wake scurry two jackals; his coming taints the breeze.
Suddenly a dull rumble in the distance, lives, grows, falls, the animals alert, by ones, by twos, in troops fade away; the King of Beasts is hunting.
From time to time we hear the roar and a cough. Nervous and excited we await his arrival—and waiting, lo! it is dawn. He has not come! We collect our chattels, wondering how we have spent five or six hours intently watching, our interest held, our senses on the alert; now tired and shivering we walk briskly back to camp.
We are camped on a green sward covering the crest of the bluff; one thousand feet below in the gorge, a waterfall growls and white mist rises like smoke between the giant cedars. From hill to vale, the dark gauntness of them overpowering all.
We arrived at noon, after a four hour climb, fifteen hundred feet above the plain, nine thousand above the sea, and above us towers three thousand feet of forest and rock. We are out after bush-buck, the beautiful elusive wanderer of forest glades, and, perhaps, we might meet forest-hog or bongo, that greatest prize of all.
Three o'clock, time to go. The boys collect the equipment and in Indian file we trek out. Very soon the trees close about us, the N'dorobo hunter takes the lead. I follow the two “guests” behind.
Two years have passed since I last hunted the bush-buck, the smell of the forest brings back memories, memories of things, of people, of days, of nights.
The winding trail on the side of a hill, so sombre it might already be night, the maiden-hair fern leaning out from the bank to brush your face with soft dew-speckled fingers, the moss underfoot cut by the hoofs of the bush-buck and the pig the tree moss hanging from the branches overhead, “old man's beard,” silvery among these shadows; the giant plantain with emerald leaves nibbled at the edges. Pervading everything the smells, smells of dead wood and rotting vegetation. Smells of rancid orchids, smells of trampled moss, smell of wet, still air.
The going is hard, the forest so thick that we must often crawl on hands and knees, up, always up, towards the bamboo forest.
At last I call a halt. My two companions are purple, puffing, and eyes swimming. We start again; the forest thins a little, moss underfoot changes to grass and nettles appear here and there, how they sting. The two sportsmen now carry their rifles—we leave the boys behind. Doubling all precautions we try to find a direction to the wind; there does not seem to be a breath of air. We creep around clumps growing at the feet of the giant cedars, every sense on the alert.
Suddenly a flash of red across the path, a crack of breaking dry wood, and immobility again. A good head. Bush-buck twenty yards away. The leading hunter hadn't time to shoot. I warned them it wouldn't be easy. On we twist and turn along the game trail, the forest clears like some ill-kept park flung up the mountain side, the rugged trunks, great columns, sun-patched and weary.
The guide “freezes”; looking down into a glade we creep up, heads just above the vegetation; down among the plantains are four forest-hog, immense backs grey with dried mud. There's one good boar, a hundred yards about, the hunters steady their guns, elbows on knees, crack, crack, a miss . . . No, the boar runs fifty yards and drops.
But we are actively employed, two for one tree, two for another. We wakened from her siesta an irate old forest rhino, and down the hill she comes, right in our backs; I just swing clear as thunderingly she goes by, bumping, slithering down the slope, nearly squashing the dead pig, to disappear in the thick bush; leaving a levelled path behind, she won't stop for half a mile. Gingerly we climb down, retrieve our implements, sending the guide back for the boys. We inspect the sacrifice, a good size boar, magnificent but unattractive sight.
It took thirteen boys to turn the boar over. After the usual rites, the caravan re-forms and we trudge home in the red sun to a whistled tune of some “Jim crow” melody.
We were up before dawn, shivering in our light clothes; in damp, and damp smoky fire beginning to glow as a shining boy blew and blew. A cup of scalding tea and we glided away in single file, two trackers ahead, a native between each of us to hold our faltering footsteps, to be our eyes, our ears, until the rising sun showed the over-civilised white man where to step and what to see.
After half an hour the caravan stopped; shadows began to show, a slight greening in the east, a shaft of light and it was dawn, sprung from heaven in a second to wake the restless birds and throw open in one great yawn the gates of light.
On the banks of a wide sandy river-bed: bushy trees interspaced with swinging dôm palms rigidly lean over the banks. A tiny rivulet of water wanders, twisting about the bed of the draw.
A faint low on our right and off we go; the wind is right, away at our very best pace, it begins to tell on some of us; Bettina comes up beside me, lips just apart, dewing about the forehead, “shall we see them soon.” On we go, the gunbearers have to be hastened, any moment we may be upon them. The sand dulls our footsteps, dragging us at each stride. Circuiting a bunch of thorn, cutting across from one bend of the river to another, at last around a corner our trackers freeze; dead still we wait. A beckoning and we crawl, about a hundred yards away up the opposite bank a last large form scrambles . . . have they seen us?
We follow down our side, across the yielding sandy bottom, across the slowly drifting film of water on the glowing crystal floor, scarcely wetting our shoes; up the bank with a dreadful scraping sound and then on at the double, and so, more rushing behind our guides until we are up to them, luckily, as here the bush thins and we see the massive forms wandering along.
Powerful shoulders, sloping rumps, slate grey in the rising sun. I make Bettina kneel, she pants, and her rifle wobbles, but she must shoot or it will be too late. A towering bull with great curved horns shiny and black; not yet old enough for them to be going back.
At the crack the whole herd stampedes, but he holds his ground hit through the shoulder, there seems a moment of indecision, he does not know where to look, then like a whirlwind he comes; less time than it takes to think this and he is on us. The dull boom of my 470, right barrel, then left, he staggers then on again, Bettina statue-like at my side. My hands seem all thumbs, the cartridges won't go in, then up and both barrels at it again; again the stagger, a step, a sudden crumple and with a throbbing shudder he hits the ground, his legs twitching still to propel him towards us. Game to the last, after he is dead his nerves still drive him on until his last ounce of blood was pumped through his heart, the heart of the African buffalo. Bettina's 275 solid had gone clean through the greater arteries above the heart, and he came on still, my four solid bullets from a 470 broke a shoulder and tore him through and through, heart, lungs, guts, and yet he came on until he was dead.
We walked away, Bettina and I. Back in camp we were still silent; the others went on after some antelope they saw further on, hoping but not saying that they might catch the herd that had stampeded.
The native brought in the skin and the head, great shining horns. Bettina's Somali gunbearer is wild with joy. As I write he capers around shouting on Allah to witness the prowess that is his to have been beside the memsahib when the buffalo charged.
Bettina in the shade, sitting on a rock; her helmet tilted over her eyes, her chin on her knees drawn up, one long hand playing, finger after finger, with a necklace of amber beads strung on scarlet silk.
Wondering of what . . . perhaps of the “Ambassadeurs” or of “Zellis” . . . as the fever bird wakes up across the plain: ding-dong, ding-dong, doc—and then on some. We are in a bad country, fifteen grains of quinine to-night. . . . Wondering what. . . .
We have been out on a hunting trip with a party of Americans who have come this far to get elephant. They have suffered a long journey with porters and then by dug-out canoe. No luck so far.
Bettina is pleased to see some of her erstwhile compatriots; they gossip of Broadway and the Great White lights far into the night.
Starting at dawn we marched for three hours until it became too hot even to think, camping at last by a little water hole hidden in a murderous clump of thorns and twining vegetation. We crossed tracks of the “Tembo” during the march, a day old I should think. We settle down for the night, trying to collect strength and patience for the morrow. Boys have been sent out in every direction scouting for news or fresh spoor; they ought to be here soon as the sun is going down across the plain in a glory of golden sparks.
The safari huddle about the fire, their heads in the twirling smoke, trying to protect themselves from the million flying pests come from evrey nook and cranny that conceals a particle of water. At the hour of the dying day they surge forth in the search of the warm blood necessary to their welfare. And the glory of the last sunray passes unnoticed amid much slapping of bare parts and curses to boys who will not hurry with the mosquito boots.
We started early before sunrise. The scouts brought news of a herd going westwards, we followed their trail all spread with half-chewed branches and still warm droppings. We could never get up within even dust-seeing distance, and soon we were deadbeat, so we stopped. They cannot have been more than two or three miles ahead of us, but always out of reach. We must have covered twenty miles at least, heading continually westwards towards the Congo. I expect they will soon turn south-east towards the Nile as there is no water further on for about two hundred miles, and they did not drink last night, or so swears my Somali tracker.
We are at the last water hole. I suppose we are in for a pretty disturbed night, being in a thickly rhino-populated region—they have no other place to drink. As the Safari only caught up at five-thirty this evening, the camp is a little rudimentary; no protection.
Against all rules of the game we had an undisturbed night's rest except for a jackal trying to steal one of m'pishi's saucepans. We set out again before dawn, and after an hour's trudging in Indian file were brought to a halt by an excited waving in front of us. Our theory had been right—they were coming back. At first cracking of branches and low, deep intestinal rumblings, then the unmistakable odour. We moved for position well to windward of the herd.
As the sun rose we were all in place. The first to get a shot was Bettina. Head on at about thirty yards, his mighty shoulders well above the scrub. He caught sight of her the moment before she fired, and had just started to raise his trunk when the double crash of the 470 brought him to his knees and Bettina flat on her back. Luckily he was knocked stone cold as there was a moment's confusion. Where was the herd? Not a sound. As we moved over to inspect the fallen hero a trumpet-call echoed off to our right, in a southerly direction.
We sped off towards it, leaving a boy to guard the carcass; the herd had stopped a mile or so off; not having winded or seen us, it was still unruffled. We dashed on to try to cut them of and very nearly stumbled right on top of them. A large herd this time, mostly cows and totos. In the van a very fair bull; in the rearguard three more shootable ones, but none anything like Bettina's.
We let them go by, and slinking from thorn patch to thorn patch, separated into two parties, one heading towards the vanguard of the herd, the other towards its rear. We were about a hundred yards away, a trifle far, perhaps, but safer, being as numerous as we were; the wind was right, the place ideal for this sort of ambush; thorn bush and no grass.
A shrill whistle echoed and the battle began. It was over in a second. A rumble and a cloud of dust on the horizon was all that was left. No! What is that grey patch behind that thorn tree? An elephant on his side kicking in agony of death; incautiously we join together and move up; at that instant a shrill trumpet peal breaks out, and from the side dashes one of the huge beasts with the rush of a mountain slide. I don't quite know what happened. There was banging off of guns and a great commotion. All I remember was being knocked over and seeing a snake-like trunk snatch one of the trackers and whirl him with a crunching sound against the trunk of a tree. Then everything went black. I woke up to find them all around me looking very concerned. I sat up, and the first thing that caught my eye was the twitching leg of the monster as he had fallen head over heels in his stride.
Nothing broken, I got up and went to the side of our poor tracker. He was a complete mess.
We set the boys to burying him and tried as best we could to protect his grave from straying jackals and hyenas. Then we took stock of the results; three bull elephants done to death. Two around fifty pounds and one big one, Bettina's. (It scaled larger, when weighed properly, 112 and 108 respectively, a real triumph for her.)
By the time we had set a guard over them and were ready to start home an army of natives had materialized apparently out of thin air. I believe these meat-hungry demons set a watch on the vultures; when they see them drop in any quantities they go out and investigate. Certainly less than two hours after the actual shots, over four hundred natives were hard at it, tearing, rending; all their female relations having a little Kilkenny argument over the dainty morsels thrown them by their lords and masters. The men hew and hack away, getting right into the carcass, while the women grab and shriek around the outside; thoroughly nauseated we departed, leaving a Somali gunbearer and two native ascaris to escort the ivory home.
The road had seemed short enough in the morning, especially after sighting the quarry. What a diference the return under the blazing sun. Each foot seemed of lead; my side ached like fury. The women, disregarding our advice, began to suck at the water-bottles, and in consequence were soon foundered. We helped them along as best we could, though as a part cripple myself I hindered more than I helped. Each step was a torture with that demoniacal sun beating us, burning right down to our boots, the “wait a bit” thorns clutching at every square inch of exposed flesh, tearing our clothes from our backs, rending cloth or leather. At length we reached camp to fall into chairs or on to the beds. Our boys undressed us and we lay in the shade of the bower-like trees, elated though entirely knocked out. The girls fared worse than we did, as for reasons of modesty they had to retire into the tent and attend to their own comforts.
We were a happy company around the table to-night. Bettina, her eyes shining, her black hair glistening in the moonbeams; the southern girl, all gold and pale ivory, her scarlet lips trembling with excitement at the idea that she had actually killed one of these prehistoric monsters. The sorrow at the death of the native was short-lived among his own kinsmen; a mountain of flesh was is just a happening of everyday life; I have seen them lay themselves to die after a curse from a witch doctor, dying effectively within a few days, and no human remedy can ever save them when in that state.on the veldt; what mattered life or death compared to glorious food in such quantities. The life of a man was a fly's kiss to the meat hunger which cropped up on this occasion. Anyway, death to the African
Well, we must all go some day soon; and so to bed.
In Memory of the 5th K.A.R.
A slight figure wobbles in the haze; as it shimmies through the heat waves, you wonder what matter it is.
Approaching, light of foot, silent of tread, knees bare, arms bare, mahogany colour, topee over the eyes, rifle at the slouch, with the easy stride of the desert wanderer.
In your chair, one hand on knee, the other waving a whisky and soda, a flash of teeth, the curly, jet hair, energy and youth, the border patrol of the 5th K.A.R.
His ascaris escorting the Safari trail in, his tent is pitched, fire going, dinner on the grill; while he talks and smiles. Busily, order reigns . . . even in your camp.
An invitation to dinner gracefully accepted, another smile, you are alone in front of your tent.
An hour later, as you stroll over to his camp, luscious smells and Somali laughter greet you. Such a dinner in the winds, spectre of Mayfair, nightmares of Harley Street; venison, pudding, champagne, just in case you have a touch of fever. . . . And then all is quiet, the moon rising, the candle flickering on the table, the red glow of the fire behind him, a wistful look in his eyes (an orderly, at attention, suddenly perceived).
The orderly bends towards the table, salutes, is gone, and between us, on the cloth, “The Green Hat” wonders if Michael Arlen really laughed.
Heaving, plunging, the camels are made to kneel at last, a case shaken loose on the trek falls with a resounding crash. Drip . . . drip . . . shrill yells from the “M'pishi” careering madly with a saucepan to catch the fast flowing drops of Dewar's Honeydew.
“Damn, why couldn't it have been a bottle of your vile gut-rotting lemonade?” says the commandant. “We've still a month to go, and only two bottles of whisky left.”
After a twenty-five mile trek across the lava rock, footsore, weary, blinded by the sand, we camp at dawn. Lake Rudolf in the distance shimmers of salt and soda, while the thinly-spread thorn trees filter the morning sunrise above the hills.
We march at night, every one hanging on to the former one's tail; then if it happens to be a gracious camel, all is well enough, though one is apt to get nipped by the next one in the string behind you. There is much talk of the hyena's jaw power, but for plain malevolent biting, the camel supersedes them all.
The camp fits itself out along the stony ridge, the machine gun at each end sweeping the plain beneath us; a “Boma” in the middle, the camels crunching contentedly for once.
Our tents are pitched with their backs to a one hundred feet drop; elimination of the unwary or sleep-walking to-night. We are here until midnight; when starting again, a short trek will take us up to Lake Rudolf Fort.
I have never been this way before. My last glimpse of civilisation was at Marsabit; Martin Johnson and his wife did us royally; the commandant is a friend of theirs. Great “Tembo” hunter and great “Tembo” photographer gossiped far on through the night, while Mrs. M. J. played the Victor to us youngsters.
Fitz is just going out to get some meat, his dog at his heels. I'll go too. This roaring heat gets us newcomers, we cannot keep still; the commandant, under his mosquito net, sleeps peacefully, while his faithful Daimano fusses with his things, and a tall, lithe “Nandi” orderly lovingly oils the famous “Tembo” guns.
In the plains below, though 9 a.m. the heat is appalling, the world seems to dance around me. Fitz's long thin form rocks and waves before my eyes, his dog is beat. In the middle distance among some thorn scrub, we sight some gazelles, “Waller's gazelle,” says Fitz who has been swotting up his “Rowland Ward.”
We try a stalk around some bumpy ground, to find them moving across the stark plain. A small “donga” stretches on our left, the wind towards us, we clamber down, our shirts sticking to our backs, and crawl and creep and run at times, till the ascaris with us being to show signs of interest.
Cautiously we peer over the edge, there they are thirty yards away; Fitz gets a buck. I miss, and little puffs of dust rise on the plain, flickering tails outstretched, fifteen feet at every bound; we'll see them no more to-day.
Fitz, already at the kill, tape in hand, measures twenty inches from tip to skull. “Quite near a record head,” says he importantly.
Oh, that walk home, barely two miles, what a torture; an ascari calmly stalks, the buck across his shoulders. At last the rise; clambering over the rocks, we thump down in our chairs, clamouring for water, by then the temperature of newly-made tea.
The commandant yawns, rolls over, looking our way. “Got a Grant's, did you, a young buck, good meat.” Fitz's glad smile dies, the record for Grant's gazelle in Rowland Ward is well over thirty inches. He won't own up, I won't tell, but a Waller's neck is about three feet long.
We lapse into fitful slumber, slowly oozing moisture wetting our lips, to feel it coming out through our eyes; and the day goes forward in the land of the Vertical Sun.
We trudge along, the quiet squashy tread of the camels' feet beating time to the rhythm of our brains; four miles an hour, and then again another hour; the trail winds across the plain, then up a ridge and down the other side or into a deep donga, then scrambles up again—miles of thornbush and scrub. The askaris march along, joking among themselves, it is all in the day's work.
It is less hot to-day, the sky is over-clouded, the light subdued. We crawl on, a snake winding across the plain.
In front, the commandant swings his rifle across his back, his head bent in thought or dreams of shikar among elephant grass and fly. Behind him a stalwart sergeant-major, veteran of a hundred campaigns, remembering long past fights and lost or damaged equipment, figuring how much this Safari will cost the company. Then the camels, an askari on each side. Perched on the last one, the company baboon reflectively scratching, scans the horizon from his exalted position. I close the file, the commandant's dog has elected to help me. Mixture of fox-terrier and pug, she patiently puts up with all this nonsense, wondering why these foolish humans should walk in the sun instead of staying in the lines at Meru, where there are rats to chase and shadow-bound nooks and crannies to sleep in on sweltering days, good water and cool nights. She trots off to join her master.
Another hour, and a runner from the forward detachment chases down with news; the column halts, the runner jabbers and gesticulates. A ringing order. The camels will wait; they compose themselves to rest, a sullen escort at either side. The baboon climbs down, scratches herself and goes to the cook's box in high hopes. The commandant explains that the scouts have sighted some Havashi raiders; we are going to head them off. The company lines up and briskly marches out.
The pace begins to tell; we mop our brows and little trickles run down our backs. Skirting a hill half-way up, having left the trail, we meet a guide left for us; following along, we dodge in and out among boulders and rocks in Indian file. Halting at last, just below the brow of a hill, I go forward with the commandant to find the scouts lying flat on a ledge overlooking a valley.
About ten miles away we see the Havashi coming fast on camels and horses. They're the lot we're out to catch; been burning villages and taking slaves around Lake Rudolf; shooting elephant too, they say. We'll ambush them as they come into the defile, half the company to the bottom, the other half split in two to the ridges on either side. The Somali askaris are delighted and fidget behind their rocks.
An hour later the raiders are in the valley. They see someone, loose a shot, and, leaping from their horses, they hide behind boulders and bits of shrub, in the river bed at the bottom, the animals careering madly off in all directions.
Down we come with a rush, cover to cover; they are nearly surrounded. Popping fom all sides . . . an askari at my side jumps and flops, shot through the brain. We stalk them from rock to rock, and with a last rush, all is done. The priosners are led off with much lurid sarcasm by the Somalis, the vultures are overhead, one swoops down already to perch unabashedly on a nearby tree.
We march off, our wounded swung in blankets between two rifles. A few mounds of piled stones no hyena could move, a few cartridge cases; we go out down the valley, leaving it to regain its pristine quiet.
The commandant starts some Somali song; the men step out, all joining in the chant.
The prisoners ask if we are recruiting any more; they know their jobs, have fought the Italians some moons ago. “Silence, dogs,” says a tall sergeant, “if you live through the desert where we're taking you, your bodies will swing from the trees in Meru, and carrion crows grow fat. Dogs, eaters of dug-up bodies; we'll have no unbelievers in our ranks.” The prisoners' spirits do not fall; they know they've probably a little carpet-weaving and stone-breaking to do, but nothing very heart-rending. The white man's law is lenient, the food is good, the work is light and their Ras is far away. The sergeant spits indignantly towards these renegades, forgetting his own slight lapse ten years ago when he lead a galloping rush against British horse, during his leave back in Somaliland. The commandant, smiling, remembers the look of horror on the sergeant's face when he was brought before him: “Effendi, is our regiment there?” “No, Mohammed, but it is well that I am here to see that thy neck should not be stretched. What have I taught thee? That troops in formation cannot be broken by a rabble charge.” “Oh, Effendi, these pigs would not wait though I have drilled them for the past week.” “Dismissed, thou shalt have two hours more drill each day when we get back.” “Inchallah, Effendi.”
Our Safari catches up and we tramp down to the thorn trees around the camp; the dog and the baboon standing guard over the cook's box.
- The King.
- “Just like a Gipsy.”
- Far Fly the Fireflies.
- Breath of the Sand.
- The Sun.
- The Course of True Love.
- Black Laughter.
- Just a Bold, Bad Man.
- They Two?.
- Business as Usual.
- The Ranker.
- A Bad Woman.
- The Lady from the North.
- Curry Day.
- The “Boy Friend.”
Why?—Why try to explain? Nothing matters enough to make much difference.
If someone thinks they recognise themselves or others, let them be lenient towards an author who has given only impressions—impressions lasting a second, then passed for ever.
In his dim mind surges at times some queer mood, and then he sees in the surrounding setting a personality take form. It may be through the influence of a personality present, more often it is a vague growth of his mind.
So to you who think you recognise yourself or another, I dedicate these sketches as you alone can give them life, a heart to feel, a mind to move, a body to break. They are the personalities I have felt in this great land, they are mysteirous like her; they are immutable in all their changes, like her.
Like her they have not lived, they have endured.
The Masai driver swerved in at the gate, the Packard crunching the pebbles on the drive.
The King stepped out. Neat feet quickly stepping across the verandah.
Flies rise in clouds and buzz against the wire netting. Cattle come shuffling past, dust swirling about their bellies. A Kavirondo crane comes flappily to rest on the rood by the rose-tinted smoke stack. The setting sun glides the lake, rays bounding off into the air to lose themselves in the leafy surges of the mountain range towering behind.
The presence is felt and he stands silver-headed between two swinging ferns in blue-painted pots.
The cattle step briskly by, going back towards the grassy gorges. Masai herders shout a salute. The crane chatters his beak, perched on one leg. The manager slams the door and curses, sheaves of paper held in a nervous hand.
The King sleeps this night on his cattle farm.
Wide eyes so calm, short slick hair, full red lips, a body to desire. The powerful hands clutch and wave along the mandolin and the crooning somnolent melody breaks; her throat trembles and her gleaming shoulders droop.
That weird soul of mixtures is at the door! her cruelty and lascivious thoughts clutch the thick lips on close white teeth.
She holds us with her song, and her body sways towards ours. No man will ouch her exclusive soul, shadowy with memories, unstable, suicidal.
She drops a hand, another hand reaches towards her a dull amber glass; the lion cub hisses and strikes. She shudders, and we smile, uncomfortably aware of our indecent stare.
With her back to the fire, gold hair aflame in red and gold kekoi. She stands!
The dark hall around, the sylph-like, immaterial face framed by the dull beam, topped by buffalo horns. Like a weird lily swaying on a Japanese screen, she alone is living in that room.
Sunk in chairs, legs crossed on the floor, propped up against the wall, all our eyes hang fascinated on that slight figure. Elsewhere have I seen her: a flash of lightning across some dance floor; drooping lily-like at some spa; laughing excitedly while the gold piles up at her side as she bancos once again. Everywhere so different, always the same power. Men leave their ploughs, their horses are laid to rest, and, wonderingly, they follow her never to forget.
The flames flicker; her half-closed eyes awaken to our mute appeal. As ever, desire and the long drawn tobacco smoke weave around her ankles, slowly entwining that slight frame; around her neck it curls; a shudder, eyes close. Contentment! Power!
The figure in the golden kekoi!
The sun sweeps down, the cattle are coming in.
On a corral rail, she sits dangling her long legs. In flaming kilts, brown riding boots, silk shirt and flapping soft terai.
Supple figure, breath of the sand; green eyes aslant, jewelled hand so white in the setting sun.
Languidly at her feet the cattle low, move on towards water. Among them the Masai herders jostle and a broad back pats; hand in hand, close-cut curly hair, sunburned and efficient, the manager enjoys his pleasure this day's work done.
As the sun slowly sinks behind that supple figure, naked in its transparency, the corral bars go black, and lower down by the shores of the lake the flamingoes turn red, waving the beath in their numbers.
The girl leaps down, her hand pulls off the hat, a startled hippo snorts and dives again; no twilight, it's nearly dark over Elementeita; the mountains on the horizon loose a shaft of light, which high up in the sky curls a pink-edged cloud and dies.
“Boy, come home and play,” she calls.
With thoughtful eyes, fingers entwined, he stares through you into space. His grave, calm head grey-thatched, his bronze bearded face might be of some great university in a haven of retorts and microscopes.
Thirty years of this land, thirty years of fever and chattering have deformed his mind, broken his will: but why?
Behind those eyes is a brain whirling with superstitions and beliefs. As once his body ran naked with the native hunters; now his soul runs naked to the bidding of the witch doctors. Why?
A paternal government keeps him in his hell, each day losing hope, losing caste, to administer white man's law.
His hand trembles as it holds the pen, and yet he does not drink. Why?
You take your permit written in a shaky hand; he rises, accompanying you, and you notice that he stands hatless by your side in the midday sun.
He does not feel the sun any more!
As the Safari crossed the Uaso Njiro she slipped and got wet, he may have laughed, he may not have been quick enough to her side.
As he stalked the buffalo, her foot caught in a twig, that buffalo still fights his equals among the scrub.
When sentimentally inclined she sought the moonlight to think and love, he, snoringly complacent, cared not that the stenches of his drying heads and skins smote her to the core.
They had left New York so happy to be alone, their hearts yearning for the great spaces of the earth; just they together. The danger and the glory of big game hunting had drawn them to my land; to do things together, to go where “men were men!”
The journey is long, hot and tedious; once out in the wilds they supped; they dined, they slept, they breakfasted together.
She got freckles, he grew a beard.
She went back by sea, craving the solitudes of Paris.
He charged overland towards his easy chair in the Racquet Club.
The course of true love is mysterious in my land.
Across the table we talk, just a Welshman and I. All through the courses, while the silent boys served and moved, I have watched him: Creature of moods, creature of instincts, untamed—untrained, a violent mind of desires, flashes of genius—no achievement!
Across the table I've talked hard reason, facts bleak and unashamed; he answered vaguely, “Maybe,” sliding through one's grip each time; at each trap hesitatingly he passed by, never to say “Yes,” never to deny without some restriction.
Across the table he talks of towns we have known, of people we have seen, of pictures he might have painted, of Augustus John, of Julian's—and I see him as he might have been: some knighted R.A. gleaming with orders, his Rolls waiting at the door.
In some back room a brown woman laughs, her bracelets jingle, my host's eyes wander.
Aross that dark table silent we will sit until I can bear it no more.
As he sits over port, his slanting green eyes light when he sees one shiver to his tales of goring buffalo or tossing rhino.
As he walks in the garden moonlight his sensuous mouth tightens when the girl at his side gasps at his tales of debauch and treason.
His body, an athlete's, surges around a weird and lurid mind; diseased things attract him in the abstract; rape and murder would be his profession.
When 'flu breaks out he believes in being scarce. He loves a noise; is spick and span, hair licked to perfection; he hunts by profession.
But all must think that:
“Nevil, Nevil, is such a little devil with the girls!”
There is an argument, one of those discussions about nothing which are good for digestions; keep one moving after dinner.
An argument? Well, it might be one if we last out, our firebrand has always said that true oratory consists of making oneself heard when others speak.
He waves his arms, thumps the table; when he stops for breath or another Three Star Hennessy, we get in a word and he breaks out anew.
She watches him, smiling, her Mongolian eyes curl upward at the corners, and a slight flush tinges her ivory-white face.
“You're drunk, my dear, come off to bed,” and she leads him, still discussing, backwards towards the door. Far into the night we hear the fight rally to and fro.
With that outward directness, who will ever know the twistings of her mind? With that facial lightness, who will discover her heart's desire, and give her contentment?
Beneath his shouting is there a mind? Does his business-like practicality hide his true love and generosity?
I would like to know?
She sits by my side laughing up at the boy. Amber liqueur; amber glass; pink nails; white skin; cream silk shirt and red kekoi.
Her warmth by my side tingles my skin.
In a throaty voice she asks for another. “Let's be jolly and think of Paris to-night.”
Her hand creeps around my waist but she smiles up at another.
Someone begins to hum the tune and we all throb to it. The melody of the corn brakes rises in the room. The buffalo horns shine and bow, the rhythm twisting about them. Smoke hands around the backs of the chairs. Her foot nods to the time. Her nails sere my flesh. A turn of her head, a breath of a word; “to-night!”
When you think you've lost him, he snoops around a corner; when you go out a second, coming in, you bump his head. He walks on your high-heeled shoes, he sweats devotion.
At first interested, you now are bored. His clothes are an indiscretion; his hats would make the “tembo” stop in his charge.
Just a rather dear little man, and it did amuse you to tease that flustered little wife.
We all know now why they can't play bridge. She believes that hearts are always trumps, he that spade work is necessary.
But he's better home, as the way she drives her car when he's away makes me wonder what she'd really like to do to you.
Smiling with twinkling eyes; the charming athlete is pleased to see you.
“Come on out to the golf club, I've got the new greens in. Will you play for our side against Kikuyu a month from next Sunday?” You try to speak of cattle land or water. “We'll go to the office later. Just come over to our new courts. I hope to get some good games up every Sunday in the evenings after polo.”
He stands you a drink, takes you back to his house, and a wonderful meal. “Old man, stay the night and we'll talk about that business to-morrow.” But you insist, and when he is in the office you state your case. He sighs and shakes his head. “I'm sorry, old man, I'll have to refer to the London office. I couldn't let you do that without. And you'd better hurry. You know land is going up with the railroad coming our way. It's worth five pounds an acre now. I can still let you have six thousand.”
“Don't forget a month from Sunday. I won't be here between times as I'm playing at Nairobi, at Mombasa, and the week after next at Eldoret.”
Nigel has had one too much, a big one, too!
He is suffering so to-night! We are all concerned.
He wipes his forehead, red and dewy.
He can't make up his mind! Which girl does he love? Which will be that soul completing comfortress, that insurance policy he really needs.
Living alone he has passed danger by, but now he can't cross Government Road without risking death; slim ankles, thick ankles, lofty or low. His eye behind his glass just dims with sentiment.
His head drops on the bar, great tears roll through his fingers; all consoling we pat him on the back. “Nigel, old man, can't we help?” The tears grow harsher, the sobs shake a bottle from the shelf, tinkling glasses crunch underfoot.
At last, truth will out.
His eyeglass hurts him so!
Our soldier has worked hard; years of toil, of unrest, of discomfort, of education.
Long hour fighting up the hill, moments of despair. But courage, physical courage, and much more so mental courage has pulled him through.
Not a trace of bitterness, not a trace of arrogance; not a thought of humility, not a word of self-praise. He is what he has made himself; he is proud he started in the ranks, he is glad he once sailed to London before the mast in a windjammer.
Efficient chief of real fighting troops, he is our soldier, a great soldier, a greater gentleman.
She is not dainty; she is not distinguished.
She does not haggle about money, she takes it. She is violent in her loves, choleric in her discussions.
She does not care who knows about her, she tries to know about others. What she does not know she invents.
She is a good soul at heart; brave about things at times. I suppose her life has made her bitter about others.
What will she do?
Every day on the wing, from here to there through mud and dust, fiercely driving a car.
What can we say better than “Much will be forgiven her, she has nice ankles.”
A swinging lantern goes fom door to door, a pat, a word, and she passes on. The chief saïce at her heels walks in dread, well knowing the outburst if some fault comes to light.
Barbara goes her rounds in grey slacks and an old mackintosh.
She is efficient, she craves fitness, fitness in horses, fitness in men. Her mind is fit, her body fitter, no hesitation comes to her brain, no slip causes her to move in the saddle as she goes over the jumps.
Young, eager, and yet restrained. Ploddingly she is making her way, making a name. She is a great friend to have. She knows by instinct what may help just as she completes her lack of experience by instinct.
She trains horses; horses of fire, to race and win.
From far away up north she comes down once in a while, to see the gay lights, she says. Or buy household goods or clothes.
She sits calm-eyed in the Muthaiga lounge, sipping a drink, a curling cigarette between her fingers. In her pale blonde youth and loveliness she sits and watches, watches men go by.
Now and then one comes up and takes her hand, speaks a word and passes on.
For a day or so she sits and watches; her pale blue eyes wandering, no place; her mind seems vacant, her body listless.
She is making up her mind! . . . One morning she departs, her interior seethings are appeased, her mind is fixed. That evening we notice that someone has gone, one of us has followed the pale gold figure, to return soon hollow-eyed and hard-mouthed, never to speak of the north again.
Wednesday—Thursday—Friday—Saturday—Sunday—four days more to wait.
On Sunday at twelve-thirty I will be coming through your door, after parking my car in the most inconvenient place!
I shall sit in the leather chair by the fireplace and finger absently the polished hoof of your late greatly regretted pony.
We will talk of light things, of horses and the latest Government House rumour, awaiting the other guests. As they come you shake another drink and I wander to the show case where your cups and whips are resting below the fox's mask.
As the fatal hour comes, reverently we troop into the dark room frosted with white skulls.
We sit in silence as the dishes pass around, the heap growing before each. Restrained, we eat thoughtfully, watching each other. Till the first bead of perspiration breaks out on the first forehead. Silence is the Ritual. And then, after a grab of grated cocoanut, we retire to rest. Sahib, the Sunday curry is over, humbled and grateful we will wait another week.
The “boy friend” holds her hand and argues in the dark.
Above, skimming clouds flash shadows in the wake of the moon. In the house, before a log fire, the gramophone chants “Banana Oil,” while the cat upsets a cocktail glass with a whisk of his tail.
The “boy friend,” his arm about her waist, speaks of love under the calling Hyrax, under the spreading trees. Way out across the veldt a car—just a sport of light—slowly crawls along the trail; now and then the vanishing pin-points break out again like awakened glow-worms. The neigh of a zebra; the stampeding of feet waft subdued and tenuous on the breath of the wind.
The “boy friend” bows his lips to hers, slipping his hand through the silk kekoi.
“Come on, we are starting another round, and you are two drinks down already.” The poker table is laid and the bodies tense press before it. They come in, blinking towards the light, their pulses afire. He rests his hand on the back of his wife's chair and she slips down at his wife's side.
The “boy friend” deals the cards, his foot close pressed between hers.