To reach a particular page, look up the corresponding <span id="p..."> tag in the HTML source (where “...” is the page number).
If you have any comments about this e-text, or notice any remaining transcription errors, the transcriber would be interested to hear about them: firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Tarred With The
Le Comte de Janzé
3 Henrietta Street, London
First Published 1929
All Rights Reserved
- Book I. Around the Camp Fire
- Book II. Friends and Enemies
- They (a sequence to Vertical Land)
Another book about Kenya!
It is quite a mania for the moment. . . . When I went into my bookshop the other day to try and get through the majority of my Christmas shopping without financial disaster I was literally assailed with offers of books about Kenya. . . . Novels whose plots developed beneath the shadowy blue gums . . . essays grown in turgid swamps . . . adventures on the highest Kenya mountains . . . linguistic efforts of homesick missionaries . . . etc., etc. . . .
Every shelf had a few, every department had dozens . . . and now here am I in my presumptuous confidence trying to put over one more. But there is a reason for this book. Not that there were less good reasons for the hundred authors who have already proved their worth on the Kenya trail—(besides all reasons are both good and bad).—My reasons are really my friends, those who encouraged me when I launched out “Vertical Land,”—and who now say that the picture was incomplete, that “Vertical Land” may have given the atmosphere but it lacked those few furnishings necessary to our obvious minds. So I sat down again and tried to show how we live . . . whom we live with . . . not meaning humans as much as animals . . . animals, wild and domesticated, who always seemed to understand; so patient, to put up with all us exaggerated hurrying humans, who, only in despair, move aside when we clutch their plains with our ploughs and desecrate their forests with our axes and our saws . . . animals who give us our food, our clothing . . . who show us the roads up mountains and through the passes; animals who warn us of danger when the mountains slide and the volcanoes erupt; animals, who give us even our pleasure when we go out with our high-powered rifles to shoot them from a comfortable distance or from behind a rock or tree.
Animals who ought, my friends, to crush us out of existence and thus leave, at least, one land unashamed.
Yes, I am putting up a big bluff of loving you so, but I have shot you, tortured you, driven you to despair and killed you, when I had no reason but to let you live.—I get sentimental over you but I, also, am one of your executioners. Give a human a means of destruction and you make him a murderer.
Why should laws prevent you from going hunting another man with a gun when it lets you massacre the innocent?
Besides, it's five times more of a thrill to hunt the gent waiting for you behind a rock with a high-powered rifle than any big game hunting in the world.—I have tried both . . . most of us have; . . . but if I shoot the guy who takes my wife or cheats my children out of their own, I may swing for it—whereas if I shoot the right-sized head of so-called game, I shall be an honoured member of the “Shikar Club,” or a “Fellow of the Zoological Society.”
And thus have I tried to furnish the atmosphere which seemed too nude to those kind friends who encouraged me when “Vertical Land” was only a hesitant infant, greatly suffering from inhibitions and other Freudian complexes.
If some of the stories seem a bit “tall,” I beg those who may read this book to believe that truth is stranger than any fiction, especially in the land of the Vertical Sun. . . .
These stories have naught to do with any living humans . . . they are just “furnishings” to the crude air of the cruellest continent that ever endured above the raging seas. . . . The truth? . . . I would never dare even to murmur it behind closed shutters on a cold winter's night . . . as someone would be sure to say that I had been drinking . . . and that to me . . . a near abstainer! too cruel to bear . . . it might be. . . .
So go your way, untrue stories of mine. . . .
Around the Camp Fire
- Around the Camp Fire
- Tiny's Story
A Life of Toil
- Sarah-Jane Pollock's Story
A Broken Engagement
- Charlie Pollock's Story
The Romance of Tsing-Laô
- Rhodda Dane's Story
The Stalwart O'Pooles
- Scudder Dane's Story
The Death of Mirza Khan
- George White's Story
Law and the Western Man
Around the Camp Fire.
“There was a young lady from Nyeri! . . .”
“Please George . . . those are really too threadbare.”
We had been out on Safari, white hunting for an American party; two men about thirty-five and their wives . . . young . . . vivacious . . . typically American.
After a month of it we had about run out of Safari stories and were sitting around the camp fire, quite disconsolately wondering what to talk about when George started his limerick. . . . All the colony knows George White's limericks . . . but we only repeat them in the bar between 7 and 8 p.m. . . . after dark, anyway. In fact they are not good limericks either; so I had no remorse at quashing them at birth. . . .
We all lapsed into silence again until Rhodda Dane, the eldest of the girls, suggested:
“Let's each tell a story . . . we did that on a camping trip I was on in Wyoming a few years ago. . . .”
Scudder Dane, her husband, frowns . . . he is her third effort in matrimony and that particular trip was evidently not taken with him. Nevertheless, the suggestion was carried by a huge majority . . . unanimity I think it is called.
“Who is to begin?”—from Sarah-Jane, the newly wed . . . her husband, Charlie Pollock, beams adoringly behind his glasses. No one has an offer to make. “Well,” says Sarah-Jane—“considering you proposed it, Rhodda, you ought to begin.” We all wrangle back and forth until Charlie proposes a round of “cold hands” at poker; each to take their choice according to their score.
We get out the cards and breathless silence ensues until the first deal is on. . . . We then stand in the order: Rhodda, myself, Charlie, George, Scudder and Sarah-Jane. Around goes the deal, positions altering and excitement rising every moment . . . at last Scudder who holds the account announces the final score.
George, now first, is followed in the order by Scudder, Rhodda, Charlie, Sarah-Jane and last myself. They naturally choose the order in which they fall for their turn of story telling; losers first; thus I am condemned to be the beginner. I stare around. . . . “What is it to be about?”
“Anything you like except shooting”—pipes in Sarah-Jane before anyone can answer—“we know all your shooting stories, the good and the bad . . . mostly bad. . . .”
“Tell us some story of this country . . . we have seen so little of it . . . how the settlers live, what they have to face and all that”—drawls serious-minded Scudder.
At that moment I remember a story I heard in the Trocadero bar the other day. An old settler was telling it . . . a story of the early days of British East . . . when the railway was just finished and Muthaiga beginning its wickedly prosperous career. I know none of the people, now vanished from the country, not even their names, but the story had stuck in my mind as so typically a form of Africa's sense of humour applied to our poor little endeavours. . . . So I began:
A Life of Toil.
Once upon a time Kenya was not Kenya but British East Africa . . . in those days men were supermen and women were queens . . . so says every ‘oldest settler’ I have ever met. Across the breadth of this country they reigned . . . they loved . . . they played. . . . But in a short while the continent surged and all their human made constructions crumbled about their heads leaving them bewildered and ashamed. . . .
Africa smiled and smilingly went back to sleep again until other presumptuous humans dared to interrupt her repose, but this is the story of “their” buildings which crumbled, leaving only whole the nimble-witted one who unresistingly slithered out of every situation, hide so well oiled that no two crunching stones existed that could pinch him much.
The first act takes place somewhere near Londiani and the Mau Forest.
We see in the opening scene George Culwell, pipe in mouth, content, resting his arms on the top rung of the posts and rails; his grey-blue eyes roam from the red-brown hill, speckled regularly like an Indian print handkerchief with the coffee bushes, to the green leafy gorge below; a murmuring brook in the shadow of the slowly nodding banana leaves.
Evening comes and the lusty Kikuyus tramp up the hill towards him, their over-burdened women staggering, slipping, under woven sacks of fresh green mealies.
The last glint of a setting sun livens his still figure; his rounded, tanned face and silver hair seem to smile on life, a smile of contentment, a smile of achievement. . . . The bananas, the coffee beans, the grass, the water are his. The natives nearly so; they are squatters, happy on the tiny patches of ground he has allotted them on the shadowy side of the gorge. The smoke curls up from their conical roofs dimming the contours, stinging the eyes with a scent of eucalyptus and herbs.
He has peace and happiness alone on his land, in his bachelor establishment, and his mind looks back with indulgence on those hectic years of youth and maturity, years of restlessness. His mind wanders over land and sea: what is Nellie doing? Nellie, his wife, that quick scintillating beauty of twenty years ago. And yet he does not wish them back, those years of stress when heart torn he tried to keep her, keep her for his very own, and lost. “She must be forty-five now; ten years younger than I. I wonder where she is, how she lives. I cannot spare much to give her in her freedom as the farm must prosper, must grow, absorbing the neighbouring coffee shambas. Yes, she is alone, alone in London, an oldish trying-to-stay-young woman on a pittance; I wonder what she does with herself? If she has settled down?” His mind recoils from these idle speculations. They are separated, have been for years. He never got divorce . . . safer from others that way. . . . Perhaps?
The sun sets, his cigarette glows, and his steps crunch slowly up the sandy walk; three steps up, two strides across the verandah and settling himself for the evening Scotch and soda in front of a crackling fire in a deep leather chair he is peacefully content.
At the same hour, in the Northern frontier province, on the bank of the Uaso Njiro, the second scene takes place.
There the water flows well over the cool sands in the dry season. The banks, high and abrupt, are unvisited by dangerous game, three great trees entwine their trunks and branches making an enormous bower; the earth beneath is bare; no ticks by day, no mosquitoes by night. My favourite camping ground in the North. To-night a Safari has taken possession of this haven, a fire glints rising and falling; at one side a table is set, three chairs around. At the back of the clearing a tent unseen but for a white flap, folded back, catching the memories of the fire. “Bwana Choucoula Tiare.” From the side of the fire a figure rises previously invisible. Short but lithe and athletic, with crisp curly hair, shining eyes and dark sun-baked skin, V. J. Lloyd, the white hunter; hunter of elephants, hunter of Havashi. From the tent comes a woman, a girl in her prime. With lure and poise soignée even in the wilds. Out of the darkness another figure joins them, rather arrogant in its bearing: of good height and breadth but somehow young without youth, worn by tireless restlessness and lack of purpose. As they seat themselves, by candle light their faces show up. Each typical of its kind: soldier, wanderess, adventurer, bearer of ill-tidings and smutty stories. Arrow Davies has by far the finest chin of the three, her eyes are straight, her lips are cold and determined, remorseless at times.
Lloyd is a soldier by temperament; that temperament which bids him go forth, go forth after elephant or Havashi. He is uncivilized; dispossessed in cities, he is bewildered by the other two, fascinated by their manœuvres and counter manœuvres, but despising them.
Lord Raichecourt, Phil to his friends, has retained the old Norman title and the name of his ancestors who hewed and hacked at Hastings, also a certain Norman disregard for truth; a crafty boastfulness, which uses a small fact to build a big case, and over and above everything, a great acquisitiveness which knows only a law of arrogant shouting denial when found out.
Dinner served, the silent moving boys fade away through the blue shadows.
They talk of the day's work. Two curved ivory tusks lie in Arrow's tent under her bed. They fight it over again and once again, Phil laying down the law to the hero of a hundred elephant fights.
Then Lloyd goes off to bed leaving the two civilized ones alone with each other across the table.
“What are you going to do now, Phil? You can't very well go back after that row at home.”
“Oh I don't intend to, at least this year; besides everyone said I was in the right, at least everyone who counts. I am going into business with a fellow up in the Sissal district, help him with the financial end of it.”
“May the good Lord help the poor man; I suppose it's another of your ‘I bring the brains, you give the capital’ schemes.”
“Well, more or less. You know I tried to get in with George Culwell but he wanted me to sit on one of his coffee shambas and sweat in the sun for thirty quid a month; likely wasn't it!”
“I got a letter from Nellie Culwell by the last mail. Did you ever meet her, Phil? She is George Culwell's wife, at least they haven't been divorced.”
“Know her? why I have known her for years. Just before I left London I . . . we . . . I think she liked me a lot. . . .”
“Shut up! don't be more of a bounder than you are naturally; she's old enough to be your mother. . . .”
The talk went on back and forth, till they returned to the eternal subject—eternal between those two—“what was Arrow going to do when they got back?” Her money was nearly out and everything was gone. Then Phil showed his genius. He had waited long enough for her to get worried and desperate and now he unfolded his scheme.
As he turned the leaves of his mind, she lost her listlessness and tiredness; here was something her will could work on.
A selfish man, rich, and alone in this country, married but . . . well, Nellie was away and she had Lewisham to look after her anyway, had been doing so for five years.
Her eyes glistened and that firm chin grew firmer. The blood coursing through her brain tinted her cheeks; she was a young girl again.
“And,” he finished, “if you bring this off you will be able to give me a good job and a loan when I want it.”
Silently they sat for some moments, then she rose and walked down the steps towards the river. He followed; on the bottom step she stopped, and, turning, clasped her arms about him. . . .
“Phil, you're mine, you'll always be mine?”
“I'll always come to you when I want you, but there is only one way of holding me.”
Their lips are closed and a crashing cloudburst drove them back to the tents, the fire dying in a hissing spluttering cadence.
Simultaneously in London. As the rain drops fall in the gutter overhead, a little tinkle resounds through the dim room. By the fire, on the floor, face in arms resting on the seat of a chair, a figure is crumpled up.
The sobs have died, now and then the shoulders heave, the table lamp throwing a shaft of light to the darker roots of her discoloured hair. One hand, beautifully manicured, with a single emerald ring, hangs over the side of the chair in the full light. Worn hand of a woman who has never worked but who has lived too well.
Half an hour ago when he went out slamming the door she had sunk thus, bewildered; coursing thoughts, trembling distended lips.
She had lost him! And now? and now she will have to give up her flat, give up her friends, give up everything. She had better go back to Kenya, to George.
After all these years he is still her husband and will have to help her! She lifted her face. No powder would ever mend that face again. By will power, she has kept herself young . . . till now. . . . Now her last rich lover has gone, slamming the door behind him; Nellie Culwell, an old woman, lifts her face and prays for courage. Courage to give up, go to Kenya, mend George's socks, cook his food and earn the right to die. Besides it won't be so bad; Arrow, her playmate, her friend, is out there and will see her through . . . through the glare of the vertical sun.
Six weeks go by and the second act takes place.—Culwell is now in Nairobi.
As you know The Standard Bank of South Africa stands on the corner of VIth Avenue; solid in its loneliness, it takes the whole block.
That evening in one of the private offices after closing hours, two men sit across a table in the light of a lamp; a handful of raw coffee beans nuzzle each other on the green cloth.
“That's my last figure, I won't take a cent less.”
“All right,” said the buyer, ending this long haggling—“but you're a hard man to deal with, Culwell.”
“I have to be. As soon as my divorce is through and all correct, I shall marry again, and then I will get what I have waited for these years, power and enjoyment. I thought I was going on as I was three months ago for ever; to leave all to whom? to what? Well, now I know! I was vegetating, letting myself go, getting to be an old man. As Arrow says, I'm only fifty-five. Still got plenty of life and joy in me. All I needed was youth around me. Now I've got Arrow all seems bright, I'm eager to live again.”
The buyer watched him strut out towards his Indian summer.
Next day in Nairobi station, that draughty hall, the sea of faces, the vivid colours blend and dull in her throbbing eyes. In all that bustle and confusion; people seeing other people, people who are going to rest, people who are going home—in that sea of faces white, red, yellow, brown to black, two splodges have relief and form, two mouths, two pairs of eyes; George's, gross yearning of age losing its self-restraint; Phil's, cool white teeth, that mouth that makes her head reel, cold obstinate eyes which command her. And then the train moves out and slowly on. That throbbing in her eyes before the brain, is it hers, is it the train's life, or some outgrowth of Africa, of the tom toms?
Those tense words at the house, that look of command in the sea of faces. She must, she must! She wants it, her will has decided. . . . How can she tell Nellie, poor Nellie, her friend; the Nellie she wrote to in love and friendship for years; the Nellie she is going down to meet. Things were easier until she had to face this. The light dims in the coupé; far west a red sun is cut in half by a range of hills . . . why is it a red sunset, they are never red here, what's happening—are her eyes going, is it a touch of sun? She shivers and turns on to her cot, too feverish to eat, too feverish to sleep, only dreaming suffering, suffering dreaming for him.
That evening on the surging ship, Nellie is packing in her tiny congested cabin. She is a comely old woman, her silver hair and tweed skirt suit her. She is glad she has wired Arrow to meet her at Mombasa. All the way out she has been wondering what George will say when he sees her walk up those three steps to the verandah; she wonders if they're the same three steps she flew down ten years ago . . . with her lover ten years ago. . . . She packs, patting the neatly-pleated crêpe de Chine blouses, filling in corners with woollen stockings and of lisle thread. She had never worn them before this last month. And here in a flat box the last dozen of those 44-fin, cobwebs of silk, flesh-coloured, for Arrow who is still young. To-morrow she lands. What changes there must be to see and feel.
Phil Raichecourt is smoking in the most comfortable chair of the members' room at Muthaiga. A whisky at his elbow, legs crossed in thought, he caresses the flapping silky ear of a much-forbidden-to-enter dog.
His office on George Culwell's estate is cool all day; the chintzes are pleasing, Arrow has an agreeable taste; it was quite an inspiration to have an ice box put in between the windows—it looks important, a safe with managerial papers, perhaps some of those mysterious land titles of the mountains of the Moon Culwell is so close about. Comfort, rest, luxury. His car waiting in the evening to purr him lazily up to this, his favourite place, to complacently enjoy his triumph.
Why only this morning Charlie Ware, the bookie, called him up to ask if he'd like a flutter on Aintree—Charlie who always wanted cash on order in the past.—“Anything you say, me Lord, I've plenty of place in my book for you.”
Life is grand, drinks are good, achievement is better. There is a little ennui about Arrow. But they'll soon be married and George will keep a severe eye on her. A smile spreads, an idea. Government House would like him to stay and Government House does not receive divorcés.—Besides, who cares? Arrow! Golden Arrow! A fast train from Paris to London and back, commuting, that's all: the best way to get somewhere. . . .
There is one sacrosanct institution at Muthaiga: the “Squash Court ladder,”—you begin at the bottom and play your betters, climbing rung by rung till you find your place, to defend your rung or to be ousted or oust the rung just ahead of you.
At the top of the ladder seemingly inaccessible the champion has sat for two seasons. He is curiously unpopular though a great athlete. Why? I can't quite make out. Generally in Anglo-Saxon countries a good player is always popular and much received. I think it may come from being too good all round, rather the professional touch—too efficient and biting in business. Also South Africa is anathema to Kenya.
To-night the best beloved of white hunters has challenged the champion; twice before Lloyd has claimed the second place to be beaten away from the last rung; he will try to-night for the last time he says. His Safari with Arrow and Phil has made him fitter than ever before.
Half the Club is on the balcony, white clad boys pass from the bar up the stairs and then down, carrying full glasses and trays full of emptied bottles—corpses.
The Game Department, large and still, smiles behind his glasses—his low, deep voice calls: “Who'll win . . . who'll take my bet? . . . To-day is Doomsday.”
The ball rattles, the train rattles . . . the dinner bugle cries on shipboard . . . George's car purrs up the hill.
Phil is smilingly asleep in the arm-chair, his fallen glass spreads a frothy mess across the carpet, his cigarette burning a hole in the arm of his chair.
A year later the third act takes place. The first scene is set in a typical settler's house.
Before the fire, in a low dark room, this evening George Culwell lights his pipe from the embers of the fire. As his Boer wife stamps in he hoists himself up with difficulty from the hard stool he had been slumped down upon . . . he is an old man. When Arrow jilted him he entirely went to pieces and was easy game for Greta Japp when she singled him out as the richest unmarried man in the Colony. She is a buxom wench of five-and-thirty; she runs his coffee shambas, rules his house . . . a born bully.
“My darling, you come home late to-day?”
“Shut oop! . . . Can't you even keep de mout' still eef you must such a no goot man be! I haf work for you all day my handts to de bone. . . . All you do is smoke and enchoy yourself. . . . Shut oop I say, or I hit you again . . . remember last week and what I gave you for your bains. . . .”
He shudders and shakily sits down again on the hard stool. Gone are his good chairs . . . gone his comforts . . . he is just a low-white ready to be beaten up by the Boer wife with arms like other people's thighs . . . and all this because he lost his grip when Arrow jilted him to try and marry Phil. Where are they all now? He doesn't know . . . he doesn't care . . . all he wants is to die . . . die quickly. . . . Greta slams a door shut and he starts again, a hand thrown up to protect his head from the bangs or pushes he has learned to expect from this dragon.
Scene the second takes place in Southern Sudan—Mongala Province.
Just as the sun rises behind the Nagashot hills, the small Safari comes to a halt beneath some thorn trees; a giant spreading “Rhino tree” affording better cover, they move over and crouch beneath its protecting foliage. . . . A year has gone by and V. J. Lloyd in much the same place is much the same sun-baked, curly-haired alert hunter of previous days. He has been following three old bull elephants all the way from the Kinetti River; eighty miles without the chance of a shot; four days and nights of the hardest marching alternating with soul harrowing waits beneath the scantiest foliage and the hottest sun this earth has ever seen.
A day more and he will give it up. If nothing materialises within the next twelve hours, he'll turn back. Forty miles north is Abyssinia, and his Safari is not big enough to fight its way out if embroiled with a Havash raid.
As the sun tops the range behind Nagashot, Lloyd steps out again in the branch-strewn path left by the three retreating monsters. The wind is right, so he hurries on with his gunbearer and a porter. . . . After about half an hour he comes upon much fresher signs of the animals and soon he catches sight of three great grey backs ponderously striding towards the hills. The vegetation is thickening so he throws caution to the winds . . . makes a dash across an open space and runs to cut them off by the edge of the forest some five hundred yards away. Getting there in time he posts himself in the thick underbrush twenty paces from the elephants' trail. The wind luckily still drives from them towards him. . . . He has not long to wait. The 470 double-barrelled express is across his knee, a second loaded by his side in the gunbearer's hand.
The monsters unwittingly slow up as they approach the forest. Crash! Bang!—Down falls the first like a stricken tree; the other two wheel this way and that not knowing where the enemy lurks; crash! bang! again and the second one sags to his knees;—the other crashes off towards the plain, trees falling like rotten sticks before his charge.
Lloyd crawls out of his underbrush heaving a sigh of relief—“Thank God that is over,”—eighty pounders both or he is much mistaken, 320 pounds of ivory,—much needed in cash just now. As he bends to cut off the first tail, a howl from the porter, a cry from the gunbearer make him wheel unarmed within ten paces of a maddened cow elephant. He has a vision of the snake-like trunk which catches him by the neck; there is a crack, and a lifeless thing is thrown head first over a thorn tree, the body coming down with a sickening thud. The gunbearer fires and fires; at last the cow wheels off to join her herd . . . the herd those three sage old bulls had travelled so far to meet. . . . The cow herd of the Kideppo country.
A little later the Safari comes up . . . the gunbearer takes charge . . . his master is buried under a loose pile of stones. They then divide up the Safari kit . . . all but the rifles, ammunition and ivory.
Next morning the gunbearer sets off with ten men for the long trip to the rail head to report . . . another “Musungu” killed by a “tembo” . . . and, here is the ivory and the guns—to show that he was a good gunbearer and much deserving of great baksheesh. In different huts and villages a score or so of natives make merry on the untold wealth which has become theirs at the Bwana's death. A little talk in Muthaiga bar, then nothing . . . not even a heap of loose stones; the hyenas and the jackals have disposed of that long ago. . . . Just nothing . . . or rather everything . . . the African soil. . . .
The last scene of this little tale is set about the same epoch in London town.
There falls the ordinary miserable rain which the natives of the country call Scotch mist. Shining umbrellas like dark toadstools hurry about, glistening, brownish, greyish, through the toneless streets. Citywards the bustle grows and the dripping toadstools catch and rip. . . . Mumbled excuses or curses fuse and flow.
In the dark Court House the faces alone give a little light to the dull surroundings. . . . Very tall, very slim, very well brushed, the young man answers counsel's questions with precise over-bored voice . . . he is defendant in a most notorious case . . . most unsavoury will say the press. . . .
Arrow is suing Phil for breach of promise and for getting money under false pretences. She has brought dozens of witnesses. While she was taking the stand Phil unhearingly stared at the ceiling . . . in fact he had been trying to make up his mind if he would order a new Bentley six . . . or rather hang on to the Rolls until after his return from the South. While the judge is summing up he talks with Mr. Gregory Jones, K.C., who is conducting the case for him.
At last the verdict . . . against him—a thousand and costs. . . .
“But, My Lord . . . I beg to remark that my client is entirely without means . . . destitute . . . on the verge of bankruptcy. . . .”
“Jail is where he ought to be”—answers the judge. The advocate bends to whisper in Phil's ear; then a solicitor's clerk hastily leaves the Court . . . in a minute he is back. . . .
“My Lord . . . an anonymous friend will deposit the sum necessary for my client's responsibilities.”
“All right . . . next case. . . .”
Phil yawns and lounges out of Court . . . on the steps he turns to shake hands with the lawyer. . . . A Rolls skims up to the door . . . to come to a rest its motor idling . . . not a sound . . . his Rolls . . . I mean Nellie's Rolls. Lewisham died while she was returning to Kenya; he had clean forgotten to change his will so she is now colossally wealthy. Phil steps in and Nellie's hand creeps into his under the cover. . . .
“Did they worry you, my darling?”
“Oh, a damned nuisance and the judge's wig would not stay on straight.”
“And what would my darling like to make him happy again?” The auburn curls glint metallically in the light from a street lamp; Shluggars in Bond Street rather overdid the henna dope this morning . . . she leans closer to him . . . holding her boy lover pressed to her worn heart.
“I think I shall order that green Bentley I saw yesterday . . . and I want a transfer to my bank to-morrow as now they cannot put an opposition to it.”
She squeezes his hand and the car slides along Piccadilly to turn into Bolton Street, then up Curzon Street to stop at last at one of those grim stone mansions that make Mayfair the dreariest town in the world on the outside and the cosiest on the inside.
Nellie hesitates at the foot of the stairs. . . .
“His Lordship and I will leave to-morrow for France. Will you call up Imperial Airways and order a plane for 2 p.m.”
Phil upstairs in the room slicks his hair before he sits down at a desk, opens a drawer, taking out his stockbroker's book. . . . General motors, American Tel. and Tel.—St. Gobain—Suez—Wagon-lits. . . . Deutsche Algemeine Elektrische Gesellschaft—Siemmens . . . and nearer home . . . B.S.A.; Shell Trans.; Daily Sketch Deb.; Guinness . . . and others. . . . Well, anyway Nellie knows something about stock, and once all these are safe in his bank and he himself safe on the other side . . . there will be less difficulty answering questions about marriage and such. . . . Nothing doing; it would spoil his market.
“I'll be down in a second”—he yawns behind her back . . . fixing his tie he follows . . . should he worry . . . I should say not . . . his feet are still good and he's so constructed that it is the only way he falls. . . .
And so finishes my story . . . by the survival of the one. . . .
· · · · · ·
“Well, he sure is a giddy little worker, your friend the Lord. . . . What has happened to him now?”—said Rhodda.
“Funnily enough he is the only one I ever have heard of and met in the whole crowd. The last time I was home, I went to Deauville for a weekend and every one was talking about Lord Raichecourt's new yacht, the ‘Flame’; he had just arrived on her with his newly-wed American wife. Had crossed to Europe aboard her; 1,800 tons propelled by the ultra-expensive, ultra-complicated Diesel Motors. . . . Yes, the largest motor yacht in the world . . . his yacht . . . his money . . . some quick work that.”
Then Sarah-Jane. . . .
“Don't you remember them? we saw them at the Plaza roof, six months ago, Rhodda. She was Anna-Calinda Brassey, the girl with google eyes and large ankles.”
“Well, I bet Phil got real money,” said George. . . .
“He certainly did . . . her father is the guy who was behind the Teapot Dome business and his name has never even been mentioned so he must be The Eldorado.”
“Long live Lady Raichecourt,” calls Sarah-Jane—“that the bold bad gold-digger may never be loose on our poor world again.”
And so to bed.
A Broken Engagement.
Sarah-Jane settled and unsettled herself in the deep chair, the embers of the fire throwing red glints on to our faces all intent around . . . her reputation for sprightliness and changes of mood made us over-anxious about our nightly diet. The stars overhead climbed the arch . . . the moon unfelt as yet was only a glowing in the east. . . . Somewhere, miles away behind the leagues of thorn trees a jackal yelped . . . very distant hyenas moaned, sounding tenuous echoes from mountain range to mountain range.
“You remember Jerry? Rhodda! the tall Harvard graduate who came out to Kenya to live after a row with his father and a general dislike for business. . . . Well, just before we left Paris for Marseilles, I met him in the Ritz bar and he was so mournful that I took charge of him. . . . Charlie was with you all in London, I was lonely, and poor Jerry just plain pitiful so we went the rounds together at night. . . .
Poor Jerry had a most mournful story, his heart quite broken. He had come out toward the end of 1923, and after six months' change, which consisted of doing about what we have been doing ourselves, decided that Kenya was good enough for him and that the old man back home could go to hell with his office, his rules and his grouch.
Jerry had a certain amount of capital and an unbending American energy, very similar to his father's (that's why they didn't pull together). He was a born business man, the boy Jerry, and the beginning of the year 1925 found him in Mombasa, a bungalow built on the Mainland, a trim boat rowed by stalwart blacks and a cool shady office, perhaps the only one in Mombasa town.
Now back home Jerry had left a girl . . . it had been more or less of a boy and girl affair . . . he was at college, she was at finishing school. They loved and vowed devotion eternal, had even exchanged nonentities; she had his fraternity ring and he a college pin of hers. . . .
All the time since he had been far away, she had written with mournful regularity. . . . He had answered by fits and starts, keeping sentimental memories awake when nothing else was on his mind. . . .
Her letters spoke of life back home . . . a cheery life made up of everyday little ironies and mishaps; of dancing sometimes, but only when heavily chaperoned. . . . She was well brought up in the Victorian sense of the word and her mind had been moulded into the desired shape as much by her mother's straight-laced ideas as by the environment and heredity of an unrelieved line and group of New England homes. She had been sent to school quite late when her very soul was already hardened and tested by the prejudices of that caste to which she and her family belonged.
Now once again at home, she fretted but she obeyed and in her letters (her only indiscretion) she managed to put some of that hunger for the unknown and that waywardness which is so fatal to male hearts. Bit by bit their letters from being a fresh boy and girl affair had let pass through their stumbling worlds a certain hint of passion, a certain promise of fulfilment. Most unconventional . . . most scandalous . . . she suffered from her own exuberance in the written word and yet write she did. . . .
Jerry, now very nearly opulent, anyway independent of father back home and with more leisure on his hands, began to write oftener than before. And one night, after suffering from repression for entirely too many months, let go with true New England deliberateness and Yankee organising powers, asking her to come out and marry him at the beginning of the winter. In the same mail travelled a long and careful letter to her mother in which he painted Kenya as a land to be conquered for the Whites; spoke of the hardships and back-breaking toil of their common ancestors conquering the western plains behind their covered wagons. First the horseman, then the wagon, at last the plough.
Certainly the stars were very eloquent that night and Jerry had seen about enough of the wild young set of the Colony to want his wife to be quite different.
Days passed, so did other letters. . . . His family was of the same stock as hers, his banker sent back glowing reports; so that at the end of months, in New York harbour the girl and her mother stepped on board the “Asia” of the Fabre Line; destined direct to Marseilles and from there on toward Mombasa by the Messageries Maritimes. . . . At identically the same second as the girl and her mother passed the statue of Liberty in the harbour of New York, Raymond the magnificent was piloting his big motor boat out of Mombasa harbour. In the bows Norma Hethelwhaith, the actress, smiled at him from under her parasol, her bare legs and feet stretched invitingly towards him from the mist of a flowered chiffon dress and most fluffy and belaced undies, just perceived. . . . She was and still is a marvel of beauty, dear Norma, but her morals are of the volcanic kind. . . . She had collected Raymond at the Club the night before and had made him take her out for a picnic in his motor launch at an hour that would assure their return by moonlight.
Jerry in his bungalow sat before the neatly spread table, tired after a long hot day, thinking with complacency of his well-directed manœuvres that had launched his future in this way. . . . In two months' time he would be married and, that side of life attended to, would be able to devote a peaceful dreamless mind to the great art of making a shilling grow where a cent did just as well before.
In his visions were more concrete things than dreams, there was no inkling of doom or tragedy by sea venture, and yet at that very second were happening on the salty brine the very actions which were to turn him from a self-complacent, head-strong, narrow-minded, not grown up enough New Englander into the suffering, charming, delightful human being I took about with me in Paris. You needn't scowl, Charles; if you have been half as faithful as I have—I am the lucky one.
Two months went by. Norma went back to her motherland to stagger the play-goers by her acting on the stage and the morning papers by her acting in her home.—Raymond, Raymond the Magnificent, with a rather sour taste in his mouth and a curious clutch around his heart, that seems to dwell with all those who have met Norma in a generous mood, went off to the Lado Enclave to shoot elephant. Jerry, with an eye to first impressions, borrowed Raymond's launch and drove it around and about Kilindini harbour so as to acquire the necessary touch to bring it up with just the right swagger to the quay side. On this morning he has left his office in charge of his head Goanese clerk and fretfully paces the verandah cursing the pilot who is taking such a time to bring the Messageries boat into port. At the foot of the steps cut out of the coral at the bottom of his garden is a miniature wharf, and dangling idly at the end of a brand-new, snow-white painter is his launch, or rather Raymond's launch. . . . The brasses have been shined until at least fifty shillings' worth of brass must have been scoured off the fittings.
In white duck shorts and orange shirt piped with white, his boatman is sitting on the bow, or rather on his heels which connect him to the bow; the jet-black Swahili boatman, very contemptuous of his newfangled boat. . . . Wasn't the Bwana quite contented with the row boat and in that he, Mustapha Ali, had six stalwart underlings to slash and vituperate with sibilant tongue? . . . In this fiendish contraption he, Mustapha Ali, must bend over stinking oil and hot iron; he, Mustapha Ali, head boatman to the great Bwana “Meredadi.”
So quite evidently no one had much peace of mind on that morning, even the pilot high above the sea on the liner's bridge cursed in fluid Gaelic at the stupidity of the quarter-master at the wheel; they neither understood each other's mother-tongue and the interpreter was more than hesitant.
The girl, “Rosemary,”—we can name her now—was trying to soothe a raging mother covered with prickly heat. . . . A most unsuccessful arrival, a most terribly shy and nervous fiancée . . . a cross boatman, a furious mother and a nerve-racked young man who waits to make a good impression. . . . All the elements of a tragedy.
But all turned out satisfactorily except for Mustapha Ali who got his big toe pinched trying to save his boat's paint when the Bwana brought her up to the gangway of the liner in what he thought was true navy “style.”
Then ensued days of bliss . . . days of repose under the slowly nodding banana leaves, a careful attendant chaperone sighing dreamlessly asleep in a deep deck-chair. . . . Mornings of long swims among the eddies of the creek. . . . Light fishes on brown earthenware dishes, pawpaws trimmed with limes . . . all the discoveries of the tropics.
Dust, bazaar dust, framing darker faces; turbans, vivid orange to darkest sable.
To Rosemary every discovery was a step on the road of her love, her shyness lending a greater intenseness to her otherwise very middle-class passions. While her mother, comfortably aware of perfect servants and luscious meals, unbent to the extent of nearly beaming on her future son-in-law.
Days passed, nights flew . . . the “young people” as she termed them were getting to know each other, the wedding was set-for in a month's time, friends were being invited.
All these pre-nuptial festivities were to culminate in an all-day picnic party along the shores around and about the creeks and islands. Rosemary, her mother, two of his married friends, the commissioner and himself. . . . Just a little party of eight Europeans and two black servants.
On this day of doom they met just after sunrise at the embarkment pier of Kilindini harbour; the launch in her now usual garb of brilliantly shiny brass and smart flapping ensign.
Rosemary, flushed with the joy and excitement of it all, her mother beaming though rather disapproving; her New England spirit revolting at these expressions of joy not sufficiently tempered by prayer. The other young matrons all smiles and laughter at the idea of getting away, if only for a single day, from the too easy that it becomes enervating job of keeping house in Africa. The commissioner lent just that little official touch that gave the party the seriousness and dignity compatible with Rosemary's mother's enjoyment.
The boat passes out of harbour, round the reef, the sun already climbing steadily out of an eastern sea . . . the rippleless surface giving a sense of the immense depth down to the beds where myriads of coral creatures worked ceaselessly to obstruct the man-made channel. A charge of dynamite wrecking a hundred years of toil to be immediately replaced by a thousand years' work of spikes and branches sliding into the vacated lot.
A shadow, way down in the depths, with spots of gold; the ladies shivered as the eight-foot tiger shark lazily rolled and surged on . . . a trace of bubbles accompanying him out to sea leaving the launch far in his wake. Then the turbulence of the open water hid the flowery bottom, and all ensconced themselves in deep comfort, protecting smarting eyes and sun-kissed skin from the already mounting radiancy of the morning light.
Heading south they passed out of view of houses, walls and European life . . . here and there a half-seen hut huddles at the foot of a nodding coco-nut stem, or a palm bent under the weight of a climbing native. . . . Here they hug the shore, now they shoot up a creek between an island and the mainland, then steer out to sea to avoid a hungry shoal, surf-coated and angry amid the breaking waves. . . .
Soon, even the uninitiated tired of the vivid hues and forceful scapes; noddingly they dozed each in their dreams while the young couple exchanged sweet pleasantnesses in true Victorian style. . . .
The freshness of all this endeavour thrilled Jerry to his very heart; to that cold New England heart which thought of marriage as only a good outlet for restless vitality, too easily turning to nervosity if not somehow physically appeased.
The cold heart opened, he thought he really loved this girl. . . . She looked down into his eyes with trust and a deep feeling of admiration. . . . How far away was cold Sharon and colder Pomfret, how farther still the Sunday-school class and the village choir . . . the communal prayers, the village sewing parties. . . . Here was her man, her lover to be, her God to-day.
Soon they crept up a last inlet, yard by yard, the overhanging banks leaned nearer to each other . . . the hibiscus, the tamaris, the mangrove; vines, creepers, hanging flowers and passionate leaves trailing overhead from branch to stem, from earth to heaven and back again. . . .
The party was awed by the brooding calm. Overhead a vertical sun beat through the leaves and branches, sending dire shafts of light to the very depths of their brains. . . .
Sun paralysed, heat languid, they slowly got out of the boat and lay about under the thick shade of some giant tree; some food, some drink, few words—the hours slipped by like an unfelt breeze. A day of sublime happiness and content; the two fiancés, lovers in mind already, clung to each other. Rosemary's mother basked in this atmosphere of completeness and the young couples smiled up into each other's eyes seeking undiscovered corners and nooks in which to brood.
Soon it was late and they moved regretfully to return, feeling that never again there would be such a day of happiness.
As they nosed out to sea the launch heaved and showers of diamonds flew into the air, the wind had freshened and all were seeking shelter. . . . Jerry drew a light coat from a locker and wrapped it carefully about his queen . . . the boat pitched and tossed, gone was the content and comfort . . . not bad enough to make any disaster but uncomfortable enough to chase away all the clinging love and sensuousness of the everglades.
Rosemary's mother drew herself up primly on her deck chair; the girl moved a little away from Jerry's side holding the coat to her shoulders; the young couples took to talking golf and home-leave. . . . Jerry steered the boat.
“Darling, what is this?”—A dangling female garment of pink silk fluttered in her hand.—“It was in your pocket.”
Norma Hethelwhaith had well calculated her hour; the night had been sultry and Raymond left his coat in the locker.
“What is the meaning of this?” The irate mother snatched the gossamer silk that had once clad Norma's silver skin.
Jerry was blinded with horror . . . all his New England prejudices coming to the fore. Rosemary wept—her mother ranted and prayed—it was useless trying to explain . . . he was condemned . . . circumstantial evidence . . . but evidence all the same.
What a return after such a day!
They sailed about a week later, and now, home in the United States, in the Claboard house, Rosemary knits and sews while her mother reads the Bible—a chapter to every day. The girl steels her heart until it needs no steeling any more, while her mother unconsciously realises that she has been sent the uncalculable gift of an unpaid servant who must be worthy of her ideal until she also departs to the land where morals are no more.
Jerry, desperate, left everything and tried to follow, but at each step he found an obstacle, at each corner a defence, many of which were as much made by his own guilty mind. Guilty of the misdoings of his friend, Raymond the Magnificent.
What happened then? . . . He came to Paris and I met him soon after . . . an absolute wreck, not amusing at that. . . . Nevertheless, I got him pulled together and all was well in the land after a few days.
Life's ironies. . . . Norma Hethelwhaith came to lunch with me and I told her the sad story and of her great responsibility. . . .
“Bring him around to tea. . . .”
He wouldn't go. . . . I left a few days afterwards sending her his address. . . . There was no news until the last mail when this card arrived—
To Mrs. Charles Pollock.
On Safari, c/o Safariland, Ltd.
Nairobi, Kenya Colony.
Married to-day. Wish us luck,
Norma and Jerry.
Sarah-Jane leant back in her chair while we passed the green pasteboard from hand to hand. . . .
“Most fitting,” said Rhodda. George smiled, Scudder frowned. . . .
Most fitting for them to do that too.
The Romance of Tsing-Laô.
Charlie has little of the handsome savoir faire credited to diplomats as a race . . . he is of the new school, which believes in the hearty handshake and gruff straightforwardness, more looked for in the men from the wide open spaces of God's Own Country than in the diplomatic pawns moved about the world by the orders of the great trusts which rule the U.S.A. “Men behind the throne . . .” more often plain upstarts, tyrannical, brutal, like the “Maires du Palais” in “Capetian” days.
So Charlie lit straight into his subject with a ruthlessness that made us dread dire things for any hopes we had fostered of sentimental stories, or love and beauty.
A few years ago, I was coming back from the Court of Teheran where I had been attached to the financial mission sent by the States to clear up the excruciating disorder of that kingdom's exchequer.
Instead of the usual route to Europe, I decided to work my way to the Persian Gulf and thence home by means of one of the mail boats which call at Aden every week. The route is good as far as the gulf through Persia and Irak, but once there, no mode of transport was available for several weeks ahead. After ten days of pottering about, the heat became so unbearable that I welcomed even the smells and discomfort of an Arab dhow as a relief and a possible though slow means of transportation to Aden. After sundry bickerings and such, in which my Baluchi servant played a prominent part, we embarked, myself, personnel (servant and cook) on the evil smelling, badly caulked sea-cockle, which was owned and run by an old pirate by the name of Ibrahim-ben-Cassim. He was helped or hindered by about a dozen fellow bandits of mingled parentage and no heritage but sundry ills and diseases not on the books of ordinary pharmacopœia. One other passenger shared the poop with us . . . he was already installed when we came aboard and did not appear during the first day. . . . Only when the sun was setting . . . sinking with a flash in the west did the other cabin door swing open. With a slow rustle of heavy silks, a great towering figure emerged into the light. We could hardly believe our eyes;—yet the long black pigtail, the gold-rimmed glasses, the mandarin's button, the gold-cases on the enormous nails. . . . A figure out of the past, out of the China of the days of the Empress dowager. Catching our eyes upon him, he bowed and greeted us in a stilted English. Uncomfortably the Anglo-Saxon words cracked and jammed in the ceremonious phrases of the courteous flow of epithets which is a privilege of the great dignitaries of the Middle Kingdom.
The space on a dhow is more than limited so we were much thrown together; more so even by the storm which wracked us on the fifth day of our wanderings. At times, through the courteous phrases, crept a hollow longing, a heart strain towards desire unsatisfied. . . . Never daring to question, we kept our lips occupied with the flowing phrases that coat the vulgar passions of the human soul.
Bit by bit he felt me less the foreign devil, the barbarian from the West, and spoke of his palace by the Yellow River; of the lotus flowers floating dreamless among the reflections of the overhanging trees; of the rustles of silk and long-drawn incantations in his court house, until with one quick twirk of a broad-bladed sword the executioner severed any further communication of the supplicant's mouth from its bowed knees. . . .
One night when thunder was across the sea and a lead-like calm held each salty atom immobile against its brother, he spoke of his quest. The quest which had taken him from his home ten years ago. When in a silver coffin, well spiced, the body of his eldest son was returned from the lands of the setting sun. The heir who was to carry on the traditional worship of the ancestors when he should fall on his way to untroubled knowledge.
In a Chicago university his son had lived . . . he had prospered, the foreigners had liked his long dreamy eyes and golden face. . . . One of their daughters had looked on him with friendship, with love his son had said, and one night when he sought some jade ornament with her in Chinatown, two quick shots had split the night, two darts of flame. A reek of burnt hair and his son had been found dying in the alley-way . . . the girl kidnapped, gone from his side. . . . “And tell the Earnest-Follower-of-Great-Learning that I depart, my work stillborn, that our honour is at stake until we return the woman to her hearth. . . .”
The fruitless search of the police had spoiled the trails; she had vanished. . . . The stricken family had dully lost all hope. . . . His son had been returned, embalmed, to the temple of his ancestors and he, Tsing-Laô, Mandarin of the great Court, had bowed his head on the steps of his Emperor, had broken his mind to learn the speech of the barbarians; and had then departed on the quest, on the trail of his honour. . . . From San Francisco it had led back to the “Middle Kingdom” through the many fluttering-flag-bedecked-gates of Canton.
The white girl of pale gold and paler eyes had been the slave of a great Prince in revolt against his Emperor. . . . He carried her in a litter of lacquer with curtains of gold. . . .
In his war against the Son of Heaven he had fared now well, now ill, gradually gathering into his hand the lands of Genghis-Khan in the Gobi desert. . . . After years spent following the young conqueror about those steppes, Tsing-Laô rejoiced when at last they rested and in the palace of straw. He, Tsing-Laô, Mandarin of the first degree, prostrated himself at the usurper's feet. . . . He, servant of the throne, had offered to betray his Emperor to this upstart for the price of the blonde child from the West. . . . And . . . through the polite phrases and great compliments there flowed into his mind the greater certainty that his goal was not yet attained. . . . His wandering body again took the trail behind the God of Lust who had made the captain of the Prince's bodyguard forsake his trust, hurrying on his sturdy steppe pony, fleeing towards his Turkoman home; before him on the saddle travelled the cold frigid girl whose trail was blood.
Through Thibet into Nepal, then turning back, away from the white faces of India . . . through the icy spaces of the roof of the world he had followed; and always there was a trail of blood. . . . Blood of those who would ravish her, blood of those who would defend her possession. . . . Changing hands from time to time her beauty unsullied, so told the tales, though her heart had become black with handling, roughness, and coarse mouths of the hillmen . . . still years and years he followed.
Revolution in the Middle Kingdom burned his home . . . his Emperor was now a shivering child among alien protectors. . . .
While the white nations fought for a stranglehold on each other's necks, Tsing-Laô followed, now in Russian camps, now in British outposts, serving each in turn, selling to the Turks, buying from the Arabs, to follow on the trail.
Then he heard that the great horde had gathered and thrown the white men from the shores of the Empire; and now also his quest was at an end. Twelve years of hunger for his home and the temple of his ancestors.
I dared not question . . . how was the trail at an end. I respectfully listened, and once, tapping a thoughtful finger on the great chest which supported his shrine, he mused, and half-spoken words fell:
“I would that thou seest, my son, the woman whom I return to her ancestors.” He lifted the fringed carpet and he lifted the heavy lid—“Look, my son, and go away with lust in thy heart.” In folds and folds of silk was wrapped the body of a woman fair as the fairest Norsemen. Parting aside the heavy silks he showed me the jewelled knife in her side just below the blond, red-tipped breast. By some miracle the mummy lived and the flesh quivered unattainably beautiful.
“I came to the last door three moons ago; having followed her down the Tigris on one of the flat boats your soldiers use to bring the grain for the horses. . . . I knew that my journey's end was near and I burned incense to the Gods, to the ancestors who carry back into the halls of the universe our most respected race.
“At nightfall the boat drew to the bank and I walked down a plank to the shore, then towards the twinkling lights of a Nomad encampment. As I walked the shadows became distinct and the strumming of an Arab guitar rose and fell. . . . In an open space, her silver bangles jingling; around and around to a crescendo; the woman, the quest. . . . ‘My honour.’ . . . I sat beside the evil smelling men of the plains. . . . The camel dung smouldered and spit, a chibouk gurgled, the guitars hooted and shuddered, every instant the savages getting more mesmerized—their lust showing in their taut fingers around the hilts of the curved knives. . . . Slowly I rose and, turning out of camp, walked into the night. . . . A few moments later there was a flash of light from the shroud of darkness and she sank to her feet. A knife shivering buried to the hilt in her golden skin.
“I bartered for the body and after the due rites and tolls were paid now travel to the land of the setting sun to deliver from bondage my honour that the soul of my child may rest in peace doing ceremonial duty to the ancestors.”
Once again he lifted the lid of the dark chest . . . once again I gazed on that beautiful mute face and with a slam he let the dark wood fall, drawing the cover of blazoned silk across the brooding surface.
In a silence of heavy suspense seconds ticked monotonously on; at last with due consideration for the Task concluded, I bade him good rest and went to contemplate in the bow of the ship the pictures that formed . . . pictures of this lonely old man from an alien land, pursuing through ten years and more of hardships the means to his honour's establishment.
The stars overhead glow the brighter for the great endeavour, and my mind conjures up the pealing senses of that beautiful body ravished in every hovel, yet more beautiful for it . . . conjures up visions and scenes in the near future, those of a family of hundred per cent. Americans from Chicago who must greet the yellow man bringing home a probably now long-forgotten spectre.
A late moon crescent flippantly gilds the eddies as a slight breeze rises, pushing us through the dark, thick sea. . . .
A far-away throb cuts in on the night stillness. . . . Our navigation lights twinkle feebly and suddenly a shaft of light glows, fingering across the night. . . . At last it catches us in its beam, there is a quicker throb through the night and a thirty-knot destroyer slides up out of the darkness. An order to heave to, and we veer around into the wind, our canvases lazily flapping to the sighs of the night.
A boat lowered, shoulders up to our quarter and a smart naval voice demands our papers and our presence for personal inspection by H.M. Navy.
We line up . . . Arab, Asiatic, European, side by side. . . . A quick glance, a question, and then pass on. At last my turn.
“What are you doing on a dhow? . . .” I explain and he passes on. . . . Tsing-Laô he scrutinises intently, then suddenly demands to search his cabin.
A knife-like gesture across his mouth and Tsing-Lao shudders, dropping to the floor. As he hits the rough boards of the deck, his skull cap rolls off carrying with it his magnificent pigtail.
The blue uniformed officer bends and twists off the hanging moustache. . . .
“I thought so. . . . Mr. Pierre!!”
The poison had done its work and he was stretched out for the final departure . . . the officer telling of his so-called store at Muscat, the prosperous French trader who disappeared at times; of the official suspicions and so on. . . .
“Come along and see your mummy now,”—after I had told the tale. . . . The head of wax nodded from side to side on the slightly heaving deck beside the gleaming breast of wax . . . the knife still glistening to the hilt . . . and underneath the pounds and pounds of silver powder held in small sealed packets.
“For five years we have tried to catch the cocaine smuggler, but never got the leader, though we all suspected the most proper, over-prosperous Mr. Pierre, general trader in Muscat. Yes; the romance of Tsing-Laô who killed beautiful women to save his honour while he poisoned the poor demented natives who carried him through their starvation to his fortune.
“The smuggler of hell, Chinaman from the banks of the Seine who built a great fortune, invested in rentes for his children to live in comfort and respectability.”
All night long I dream dreams of poison, of flaming swords pursuing me in the hands of naked Chinese arms . . . a most disturbed night, but Sarah-Jane swears it is only indigestion from the Kongoni liver which, she swears, would creep away if we would only leave it loose. . . . Well, it can't be helped and I feel awful to-day.
The Stalwart O'Pooles.
Rhodda settled herself in the most comfortable of the Safari chairs, the privilege of the raconteur of the evening, hitched her mosquito boots, took out and filled her long amber cigarette-holder;—a match flared and the cigarette glowed, then dwindled . . . full two minutes passed before she started. . . .
“I have led an eventful life”;—Scudder looked gloomily into the fire,—“I have had a successful life.”—She smiled into Scudder's eyes.—“But the story of the rise of Rhodda Scudder would be better told by one of her admirers, and more picturesquely so by one of her enemies; so I think I'll tell you a little nonsense story already many moons old”:—
It was at the time when prohibition was just beginning to make itself felt . . . prices going up, qualities going down. . . . I had left New York in the fall after a particularly hectic time, and mother who wanted a little quietness after the season's rush, my sister's coming out year, suggested that I take her (my sister Jane) with me to recuperate. Off we went, speeded by sighs of relief from the whole family and many objurgations not to get into trouble again. After a few weeks at Palm Beach we got very bored with the social stunts and moved down to a little inn outside Miami; ten miles further down Biscayne Bay,—beyond James Deering's estate and William Jennings Brian's pious abode . . . beyond that, nothing . . . nothing but a huge fruit farm, even the road petered out within a few miles of the bungalow lent us by the Fruit Company. I had shipped my car south; one of those old friendly Cunningham roadsters. . . . You Europeans don't appreciate the joy of having custom built cars instead of the made-by-the-thousand, painted-by-the-million feeling one gets out of the ordinary American brand. Anyway, I loved the old Cunningham and it kept us linked up with Miami whenever we felt the urge. Soon we settled down to a serious life of fishing. . . . Neither Janie nor I had ever tried it before; so we were very dubious . . . but that dear and gallant gentleman, the late Mr. James Deering, insisted we should try it at least once and sent us down for a week in his yacht.
His captain and his stewardess bossed us around . . . made us get up . . . made us don weird costumes and weirder hats . . . shoved us off in tiny cockleshells for hours in the blazing sun. What with luck and their kind care we caught fish that looked to us enormous and also we got nicely tanned, but not burnt uncomfortably. By the time we returned to Miami, we both had caught fish fever . . . we told stories of our catches until our friends of the Fruit Company had to bring out their own books of records to temper our enthusiasms.
But it only spurred us on and we hied down to Miami and, refusing all poor Mr. Deering's offers of another trip on the yacht, captured or rather bought for his weight in gold—(also I think the weight of his yacht was thrown in as a good balance; rather like the fellow with his sword in the scales ransoming Rome or Carthage or one of those places where things happened before the English thought of spoon, knives and etiquette) Russian John.
Anyway we nailed the great fisherman of the coast. His boat was a distinct antipode of the elegant highly polished yacht. Twenty tons instead of a hundred-and-fifty—rather smelly—one had to step over the engine to get to the cabin Janie and I shared; the kitchen was two by four and everyone was expected to take their turn at washing up. We stayed out of harbour two weeks at a time and except for the periods of a few days used for replenishing stores and mending broken tackle, we spent three months on board that little boat! What we didn't learn about sea and fishes is not in the book of words, I can tell you.
At last time came to get back North . . . we were feeling so grand that we decided to motor all the way back to New York. Needless to say that during the whole trip we were supplied with the best liquor in the world. Florida with its thousand miles of coastline, its millions of tiny islands and twisty creeks was the thriving home of the newly-founded bootleg trade. A few days before we were due to leave Janie had the idea which was to lead us to our Waterloo. She thought it would be a grand idea to load the car with liquor and thus replenish our stock in New York without having to pay the exorbitant prices they were asking there.
We consulted John . . . who offered to bring it in his boat around to a little cove near the bungalow; but then there was the trouble of getting it off the boat, up about three hundred yards of trail, and packed into the car. While John and I were discussing this . . . who to get to help . . . who was to be trusted . . . who not . . . Janie went to town in the car and an hour later arrived back jubilant.
“I've found a grand way. . . . I missed a turning on Flaggler Street and nearly ran down the cop, who took me up in front of the judge who fined me $10; only letting me off when I told him I had to get back at once to pick you up as we were leaving north to-night. As I left the Court House, such a nice young detective came up and asked me if he could help any with the car . . . anyway we got talking and he asked if I was taking any liquor north with me in the car; I indignantly said ‘certainly not.’—‘Well Miss,’ said he, ‘I could fix it for you if you did . . . they are very strict now and examine all the cars going through Jacksonville; but if ye wanted anything done, my brother is sergeant in the prohibition force there and I'd give ye a letter to him that'd get ye through; I'd also phone the posts along the way up and ye'd not have a mint of trouble getting tons through if ye wanted it.’—Isn't it wonderful darling? . . . So he is coming this evening with two of his boys to help pack the car.”—Janie preened herself like a successful hen ostrich who has stolen all her neighbour's eggs, and hatched them successfully.
I was aghast at all this. . . . John looked very glum. . . .
“Well lady, I'll leave the cases on the beach and beat it . . . maybe them cops are mean.” And off he trudged.
I didn't know what to do and went to lie down and think things over. Janie sulked because I was dubious about her nice police boy. Anyway, it was cast, and sure enough at nightfall up comes Janie's policeman, and two of his friends on motor-cycles. They were very nice and polite. Janie greets them with wreaths of smiles and takes them off to where the cases are hidden in the little cove below the bungalow. Back she comes in a minute or so and drives the car down as near as possible; soon it comes back, all the cases packed away unseen; and with a smile on his face the young man hands me a letter with the Police stamp on the envelope.
“All ye need do, Madam, if ye meet any cops on the road is to show them the letter and they'll let ye by;—when ye get in Jacksonville ye'll be stopped by the police cordon a few miles out and ye just show the letter and ask to have spache with Sergeant O'Poole . . . he be me own brother and will let ye by and fix it for ye farther north . . . the charge is $200 just for drinks for meself and the boys.”—I paid the toll and bade them good-night while they wished us a happy journey, banging off in the night on their motor-cycles.
Janie went to bed triumphant. . . . I was reassured but not entirely at ease. Nevertheless, we started off next day and as the miles went by my spirits rose . . . so did those in the back of the car until one of the bottles blew up, and what with the heat and jolts the car stank like a beer house from at least a mile away. Quaking when we were stopped by some policeman . . . the letter proved a successful passport; as soon as they saw it they saluted and wished us a prosperous journey. At last on the third day as we were nearing Jacksonville towards evening, a cop stepped out in front of the car and demanded to examine it;—Janie brandished the letter asking for Sergeant O'Poole.
“All right young lady,” says the cop, “if ye want the sergeant, to the sergeant ye will go,” and he stood on the step directing us to a small house on the outskirts of the town. It was evidently the headquarters of the prohibition agents as there were quantities of cops and detectives in uniform and out of it hanging around. Janie marched proudly in brandishing the letter while I was left outside under guard, at least I felt I was with all the cops about. Just as the strain was beginning to tell, Janie came down with what was obviously her cop's brother; he smiled beamingly at us and told the man who had held us up that it was all right: We were some friends of Jerry's and he could go back to his beat.
“So ye're friends of the kid . . . and how is he doing . . . well . . . well . . . glad to be of any assistance to any lady friends of the brother. What hotel will ye be stopping at? . . . All right, I'll send up an officer with a letter that will help you farther north. . . .” I tried to put a bill into his hand. . . .
“No lady, I couldn't take it from a friend of Jerry's.”
All was marvellous, all was divine. We slept like logs after our long drive and were only awakened next morning by a loud knocking on the door. . . .
“Who is it?”
We slipped on our wraps and unlocked the door; in trooped Jerry's brother and two plain clothes detectives.
“Ladies, I arrest you for smuggling liquor and shall have to take you up to the judge as soon as you've dressed. Your car has been taken to the police station and you will be expected to deposit bond to the extent of five times the value of the smuggled merchandise.”
Janie's jaw dropped, my eyes goggled . . . we were entirely sunk . . . caught with the goods. Janie started to cry and I very nearly did too—at last a smile spread on Sergeant O'Poole's face. . . .
“Now . . . now . . . ladies, don't take it so to heart. We can perhaps arrange this little business like gentlemen and ladies.” To his subordinates:
“You two roughnecks go and wait in the hall! . . . Now, ladies, after a quick inspection of y'r car I value the liquor smuggled at $3,000 present rates New York. If ye think it worth your while to ask me to have that liquor removed as I might say ‘sub rosa,’ no fuss, no questions, it would be an act of charity if you gave me $500; 250 for self and 250 for Jerry, that's the brains of the family as ye can see for yeselves. Naturally, ladies, I am asking you to trust me, but it is the only way out—otherwise you'll have to put up a huge bond, pay a big fine, and forfeit your car.” That last finished me and I got to counting travellers' cheques until I had the right amount.
With the cheques in his fist the good honest brother to Jerry O'Poole smiled and said:—
“Y'r car will be outside the hotel in an hour, just as soon as I get these cheques to the bank—and if ye take my advice, ladies, get out of town ‘pronto,’—no need to hang around and meet the bunch of crooks that live in these parts; two nice young ladies like y'rselves are too easy killin' ”—he smiled again and shut the door behind him. . . . Jerry O'Poole hadn't got the corner in brains in the O'Poole family, I don't think. Within two hours the dust of the northern suburbs of Jacksonville was rising behind the good old Cunningham—now riding lighter by about $3,000 worth of alcohol and glass, and $500 worth of American Express paper. And that's that.
We all broke in—
“But didn't you do anything about it?”
“What was there to do?”
“What happened to the O'Pooles?”
“Oh, a guy tougher than the others had the same trick palmed off on him and he went back and shot them up. The sergeant stayed shot but Jerry got all right and is now an Inspector of Customs in New York. On our return I expect to wangle the ivory in under the real weight thanks to his help.”
Laughing we picked up our things and all went to rest. Some in their tents . . . the old white hunters such as George and I on our camp beds with a tent of stars overhead and a smile on our lips at thoughts of the bonny Corsairs from out of Erin, the stalwart O'Pooles.
The Death of Mirza Khan.
When Scudder's turn came he hitched himself up in his chair; a double Scotch and soda in hand, and a glowing pipe in mouth, he awed us into silence.
“You remember, Rhodda, when I met you I was exchange lecturer at Oxford from Yale. I lived the comfortable life of the old English university until I merged into the British atmosphere to such an extent that I was nearly adopted as one of their own. Nevertheless, foreign pupils seemed to cluster around me to a greater extent than any others, especially Indian students; among them was a brilliant young Mohammedan Prince, Subital Khan, from the borders of Afghanistan; he became my friend and one day when I asked him why he did not mingle with the Europeans to a greater extent, he took on a strained look. I glossed over the ensuing silence . . . but late that night before the glowing coal fire he said:—
“ ‘This is why I don't live among the English; I will tell you the story of my brother “Mirza Khan.” . . .
Mirza Khan straightened his tie in the tall glass at the bottom of the stairs; his glossy hair, immaculately parted, shone like polished ebony, not one thread out of place, not a crinkle or curve apparent, thanks to an unending supply of “Staycomb.” The red-faced butler, who can always give you the latest tips on “the 'orses, me Lord, and me brother as knows the trainer's 'ousemaid quite intimately I might say, thinks as there's an 'onest chance for Marybird in the Doncaster, me Lord.” The red-faced butler, who used to drink my port and now thrives on Lady Dundeen's, marches up the stairs and, throwing open the doors, portily mumbles—“ 'Is 'Ighness, Mirza Khan.”
Mirza Khan bows over this hand and that. The men are carefully jolly and forcefully friendly. “Old Mirza Khan is a good sort,” and he really can mount you for the International Tournament. Look what he did for Coucou Culbert's team last year. Yes, a good fellow, Mirza Khan, but you can't help it, neither can he. . . . Prince Mirza Khan . . . five-score generations of fighting Khans from the North; can't help it, he's a native.
Dora Dundeen smiles benignly on her latest catch while her shrimp of a brother whispers inaudibly to his neighbour about it being a bit hot having these fellows in one's home. . . . $15,000 a year each and a few brains have made a successful senior subaltern out of Johnny and a more successful hostess out of his sister. . . . At the pace he is going he'll be G.O.C. in India before he is fifty.
Mirza Khan shivers and turns towards the fire. “You must feel the cold of our autumns after your delicious climate,” warbles some sweet young thing, quite oblivious of the fact that Mirza Khan's home is perched on a jutting spur of the Himalayas, where his young eyes were taught to pick out the eagle's nest, just a patch of grey on the unending snow.
Yes, he is a great success . . . the most perfect gentleman Eton and Balliol could have turned out. Even his host, old Sir Jones Dundeen, has taken a liking to him. . . . The girls simply rave about him and he has an unending supply of onyx cigarette holders and enamelled cigarette boxes, much inlaid with stones in the shape of monograms for the ladies who charm him to their parties.
During dinner the chatter goes about the place, the ordinary patter of a Mayfair dinner. . . . What Edwina, darling Edwina, had on the other day; what a marvellous bit of luck for dearest Diana to get that part in the new photo-play at Wembley; and didn't Mirza Khan think that poor P. G. was in for a dull winter at Malta this year. Prince Mirza Khan talked chattily in exactly the right pitch of exactly the right people. He even suggested that they all go with him to Tallulah's opening night next week. . . .
When the men were alone around the dark mahogany table, they all gathered near him. Johnny wanted the latest tip as to the possibilities for the St. Leger of Mirza Khan's “English Prince,” the king of his racing stable; another wanted something else; and still another would like to be asked to Deauville on the yacht. Besides, Mirza Khan is a jolly good fellow and one of the pillars of British rule in India. With a smile he passes the port. . . . He has drunk water all evening. . . . “Had to take a long cure at Vichy last year don't you know . . . had a bad liver, beastly bore. . . .” Yes, a bad liver; the kind of one a true believer, who has never touched alcohol all his life, might acquire; the liver of one who does his ecclesiastical calisthenics thrice a day and fasts the Ramadan duly through. But better a lie for policy's sake, and the Vichy excuse is a heaven-sent one among these people who, when they live past the days when they can get killed out hunting, terminate their useless careers with a stroke after too good a luncheon or in some home for arterial over-pressures.
Soon after they join the ladies the party breaks up and the couples go to their further delights; one pair to the Café Anglais to hear the new French singer—somebody said they were very bawdy songs—others to join a party at the Embassy. Mirza Khan smiles on little Miss Yates and suggests taking her on to to-night's ball. . . . Lady Dundeen says she'll come too, but seeing Miss Yates' grimace, she laughs and orders her own car.
It is only a step from Chesterfield Street to Grosvenor Square and yet they take three quarters of an hour getting there. Little Miss Yates likes necking, and necking with a Prince would have been a supreme joy; so, she suggested going around the Park. Around and around the Park the silent car slipped on the dark road surface. Each in their corner—Miss Yates shaking with ecstasy at the thought of next second's struggling embrace, of Mirza Khan's clipped moustache on her soft lips and perhaps—perhaps—she might be asked to give up what she hasn't got. . . . Oh yes, Miss Yates enjoys herself and only raises her voice in lament when her honour is once again beyond recall. But Mirza Khan sits firmly in his corner and talks about worldly things, keeping even his hands on the move to such an extent that poor little Miss Yates' tremblingly searching hand must needs clutch itself tightly around her other one to prevent her screaming with exasperation.
At last, the best things must end and they turn off and stop by the plush-coloured carpeted steps leading up to the ball. Mirza Khan has behaved like a perfect gentleman of old fashioned days but little Miss Yates confides to her friends that she doesn't like him much. . . . “However well polished they are . . . you know, they are not quite what one's used to. . . .”—Probably not. . . . Her usual programme is, first night, dinner . . . second night, the rest; and at least five taxis in London town head straight for Hampstead Heath when she picks them up after midnight. . . . Yes, she has been most often ravished in taxi-cabs—quite an art she thinks. And Mirza Khan? Prince Mirza Khan? No! she doesn't think he is quite a gentleman. . . . She is disappointed in him—yes, definitely so. And, meanwhile, to know that that cat of a Chatto Weems says he is the best lover in town and that just because she is married to a mental defective and spent the week-end at the same house party with Mirza Khan. . . . Why? . . . oh why? . . .
Why nothing! . . . By now Mirza Khan is passing through the portals of his rented house in Richmond Park.
Next morning he is awakened by the first rays of dawn filtering through the drawn blinds, and yawns. . . . A prostrate menial kneels by his bed with a golden bowl of fresh water held to his reach. Mirza Khan makes the sacramental gestures and climbs out of bed. Face to the East, he recites the Litanies—“ ‘God only is God and Mohamet is His Prophet.’ ” The blind Mullah of his suite moans behind him and in the growing light bowed figures, previously unseen, take shape—the courtiers, the parasites of Mirza Khan, fawn on His most celestial Highness, raising him God-like above other men. He, descendant of The Prophet who made everyone equal under the spoken rule, basks in the sunshine of their flattery.
After a more than luxurious bath, he emerges to be greeted by a series of bows and genuflexions from his host of courtiers.
He deigns to unbend and, leaning wearily on the shoulder of his chief counsellor, tells of his success, and of the night before . . . of how the noble lady cast covetous glances over her immaculate tablecloth; of Miss Yates' fresh young charms, of her long supple limbs powdered and perfumed to delight his senses. . . . In the midst of the most rapturous tirade of his monologue, a jeweller is announced.—Mr. Solomon Brahms is a crafty seller, well versed in the ways of oriental potentates. . . . As he spreads his wares before the most exalted Highness, his sibilant chatter covers preliminary ground. . . . How His Highness of Khware has just purchased a ruby without equal to dangle on State occasions on his most illustrious brow, though it will be more lazily admired when shining with sensuous lights from between the rounded breasts of the new Circassian dancer His Highness has purchased from the Kurdish Sultan.
Mirza Khan writhes with spite. . . . What can a prig like Khware know of beauty? . . . Let them bring “The Delight of his Nights,” that one may see beauty and love. The young Jew smiles behind his glasses and with a quick jerk straightens his frock coat.—“And does His Highness Mirza Khan know of Rooma Sahib's quest after pearls? to make his rope three inches longer he has spent $50,000. . . .” Mirza Khan grunts and tells his treasurer to show the necklace of emeralds which advances one step every year; gambling at Deauville and Cannes does not make the treasurer weep.
The curtains part and “The Delight of his Nights” swings herself into the room. . . .
“Look what hips! Look at the breasts that hold my head between their roundness on turgid nights. . . . What has Khware to compare? . . . Look! Look man, at the silkiness of the skin. . . .” Verily the Padisha soaked him good and true, but isn't it worth all the lakhs of rupees ever coined in Hind? . . . Never even his ancestor Kublai Khan laid a languid body on such beauty and, as for art, Scheherazade would longingly plagiarise her tales and Shada the Rose learn from her of further delights of love. . . .
Then Solomon Brahms felt about himself until between his palms he unfolded a scrap of paper. . . . Softness of the sea murmuring on a coral sand beach, sighs of the night air among the palm fronds. . . . On his hand was The pearl. . . . “The Delight of his Nights' ” eyes glistened. . . . Mirza Khan looked steadily away from his treasurer. . . .
“And, Highness, this is verily the pearl Maaki Sahib Bahadur covets for the hilt of his sword to wear at the next Durbar.”
“Give the money” . . . and half a year's taxes pass from hand to hand. The courtiers gasp and exclaim at his largesse. “The Delight of his Nights” strokes the pale luscience on the dark blue velvet. . . .
“Let it be mounted on a pin. I will wear it in my scarf for the next Council.”—They bow and fall away. . . . “The Delight of his Nights” will not be so delightful to-night; maybe will bite and scratch until he will wish that he had bowed to little Miss Yates' seduction. . . .
At last Mirza Khan is dressed, and, silent as night, his deep brown Rolls with the gilded innumerable lamps and whatnots that go to make this car the most expensive on the market, parades through the park, three supple councillors praising his forbearance and his marvellous arts and graces, while he recounts his plans for future campaigns and amorous activities among the élite of Mayfair, not forgetting to mention each highborn lady of his choice by her own fair name. . . .
At one, he stops at the Ritz, sends the parasites home in the Rolls and steps into the hall to meet Johnny whom he is taking to polo this afternoon.
The party is already assembled and Mirza Khan bows and shakes the hands in true Oxford style, deprecatingly defending himself from the women's compliments and the men's too jolly jollity.
The sun has gone down behind the hills a full five hours and Peshawar sleeps but for a few dampened glows sentry; posts tramp here and there. . . . The great doors have been slammed together; bars cross each other in solid weight.
A few dark shapes flit here and there, a lantern lighting their shuffling feet through the rising dust. . . . A small door is fixed half open into a court, leading from the street into a backyard near the outer wall. A thin blur of light seems to come from a corner . . . a smouldering stack of camel dung smokes the air; the beasts of burden lie contented for once, munching, their humps balanced from side to side.
A figure—just a shadow—lanternless, against all rules and laws of the town, slips noiseless through the door and across the court . . . careful not to disturb the cud-chewing animals . . . careful not to displace the lingering dust. The groan of a wood mortar being pulled across a wood floor hushes any other possible sound made by the veiled figure. . . . Soon another shape darts through the door . . . and again another and another.
Then nothing more catches the human eye but the blurred shapes of the dozing camels and the arches around the court. Even the dungfire has died and the slight blur from the corner disappeared. . . .
In a high room above the court, behind the door to which the wooden mortar is attached, to make a camouflage of sound, thirty men sit crosslegged on the mats spread about the floor. In the centre of the room a low brasero glows and from time to time a pinch of incense thrown rises in the hot air.
They await, these thirty head-men. . . . Sheiks from the plains . . . clan-leaders from the hills . . . prosperous Mohammedan traders from the city; all responsible leaders in the army of the Faithful. . . . Here a Madrassi in well-rolled turban chews and spits betel nut against the laws of the Prophet. . . . There a spare wiry chieftain from the Lower Indus sharpens his curved wavy blade on the horn of the sole of his foot, while next him, a towering Inspector of Police thoughtfully scratches his left breast under the tunic, below the three lines of medal ribbons.
The heads . . . the elected heads of the faith throughout the Hind, await the coming of the anointed; the nominee of the Khalif of all true believers. . . . From North, East and South they have come; from across the border and further still; from the Afghan court as witness the high fur bonnet of the envoy of its King.
They all start as the door moans anew when the wood mortar trails across the landing outside. . . . And then it is closed again. . . . On the threshold in the subdued light the figure casts an immense shadow on the wall behind. . . . A dark green turban above the staring black eyes. . . . The dark green burnous closed over the mouth. . . . It is well the Khalif has sent a Sheriff, a descendant of the Prophet.
With a swift move he throws his burnous from him and stands shrouded in white below the dark green turban.
Mirza Khan, faithful servant of the Raj, holds out the “Firman” cast in hieratic scrolls across the tough parchment. . . . He is now well indeed the “Anointed of the Lord”—“Khalif for the East”—“Commander of the Faithful.” . . . He smiles at the looks of consternation amongst the chiefs of the Religion. . . . He has waited years for this moment . . . ten years of rebuffs from the English . . . ten years of insults from the Faithful, as one who had forsaken his kind. Now, the chief spy of the Lieutenant-of-God-upon-Earth is rewarded.
He unfolds the Firman. . . . It is the command to arms . . . the Jeddah . . . the Holy War. . . . War upon Christians . . . war upon Hindus . . . the war where all will die who do not join in the worship of the true believers. The guttural Arabic words roll out and on . . . to each is designated a part . . . to each a command . . . to each a city to conquer, a country to lay waste. He of the city will be treasurer of the army . . . he of the hills will be king of the scouts, of those who undermine the moral of garrisons, who set fire to the bridges in front of the fleeing foe . . . He who knows the ways of the Kristiani will control the wires over which they talk and messages flow, and so on and on, until each has his task and duty.
Then Mirza Khan sweeps the assembly with glance of sublime command.
“Have any aught to say?” . . . Silence . . . silence broken only by the deep-drawn breaths of excitement. At last the Ambassador of the Afghan throne rises.—“Khalifa!”—at the much coveted title Mirza Khan straightens an already straight back.
“Khalifa! we are here to obey. As is said in the Firman, in a month we will return to give thee our reports and take thy orders. May Allah swing the sword of Gabriel on our side on the great day of thy commanding”—and he bows to the floor.
In the scarf about Mirza Khan's neck the pearl pin glistens. . . . “The Delight of his Nights” never managed to get it. . . .
He picks the green burnous from the floor and, swinging it about him, fades through the door. . . . One by one the assembly departs. . . . Doubt may be in their hearts about the commander they had thought to despise these years, but it is the law and the Khalif of the Faithful has commanded.
Mirza Khan steps through the courtyard, carefully avoiding the slumbering animals. . . . He slips out into the alleyway and, hugging the protecting wall, goes off to the house on the other side of the city. In his heart joy throws itself heavenwards and he has visions of himself a second Kublai Khan, leading the hordes of the Faithful across the heart of the Hind. . . . Visions of trucks full of gems, mountains of gold . . . of his fellow rulers humbled and ashamed on the steps of his throne. . . . He goes through the dark, unconscious of all except his triumph. The organization of ten years is going to set in motion a revolution which will rock the world, and he, Mirza Khan, will lord it over the millions of the Hind.
A slight check to his mind as he remembers the furor of “The Delight of his Nights” at his departure this evening; the malignity of her accusations of illicit love in some other house. . . . She has never been quite the same since he refused her the great pearl . . . but it is his talisman which he will wear hanging lily-like on his brow on the day of his first Durbar.
At that very same second a blinding pain hits his face and a striped karait flung with deadly certainty strikes again between his uncovered eyes.
“So thou comest back from thy gallantries . . . Knight of my Soul . . . look how thou diest, look, again the pearl is mine.”
“The Delight of his Nights” stoops and, with a last push at the twisted body, glides away, the great pearl in her hand.
How is it that by some trivial jealousy or accident the British Empire is always saved on the day of its doom? And Mirza Khan, the great organiser, the master man of the rising of Islam, is now only remembered by a handful in the Hind as a boastful young man and by a score in Mayfair as little Miss Yates' lover. . . . She tells the story of her broken heart so prettily behind drooping eyelids in the shadow of some capriciously shaped yew.
Law and the Western Man.
When it at last came to George's turn of story telling, five previous days of romance each evening had made us hungry for our nightly constitutional.
Knowing George as I do, I had intimated that we were not to expect much of a yarn; he is eloquent enough at times, especially when someone of a party he is white hunting for wounds an animal and he (George) has to chase it all over the landscape; but as a general rule, George is much happier a listener, briar pipe in mouth and whisky and soda in hand, than as a raconteur.
So we settled down in our chairs after dinner quite contentedly full of food and drink.
George shuffled about and around the fire before settling down—his pipe glowed for a minute, then he spoke:
“My story is a very human one . . . one which is very near my personal feelings so you must be indulgent if I make a mess of it. It happened two or three years ago in the Great Lakes Province, in the sugar swamps”:—
That day was like many others, in fact like three hundred and sixty-five days out of nearly every year.
The earth steamed, the sun beat, the great lake lay flat, rippleless like some monster cauldron of molten lead.
In the sugar factory on the brow of the hill, John, a pale white man, sat, teeth clenched—eyes staring—the slow-moving punkah above his head fanning his greying baldness where little beads glistened until with a run they collected in the fringe of hair to trickle finally down his neck.
The murmur and hum of machinery throbbed through his office . . . his brain, working in lightning quick darts, began to throb to the same syncopation. Somewhere up in the hills a tom-tom rumbles and calls. His mind is clear, working out every detail, probing every incident . . . foreseeing every accident. He is entirely responsible for all this great endeavour; he guides and pulls and pushes this new industry until it is now blossoming forth into the regions of immense dividends, as witness the London board's letter of congratulations. Work is so entirely absorbing that he has given up his afternoon siesta, doesn't even go home for luncheon with his wife in the white bungalow, vine covered, sleepy and cool, built on the rocky peninsula overgrown with shadowy trees. No . . . he doesn't even want to . . . his wife takes his mind from his work. . . . Why did he marry? On his last home leave, he suddenly felt the loneliness of the cane-brakes. . . . Magnified by distance his feelings became unbearable. . . . Winifred was so lovely, swooping across the green lawn after some flashing ball.—He was rich, comparatively so anyway; the parents approved. . . . Win was fascinated by the romantic side of his life out in the wilds, fighting nature and humans, building something colossal where nothing was before. That was three years ago . . . the romance has faded and now he feels her only a drag on his vitality.
These days he never returns until evening shadows creep from the blue gums across the tiny patch of grass Win has cultivated with the help of thousands of gallons of water, hand pulled, bucket by bucket, from the lake . . . waste of labour . . . but it amuses her, keeps her occupied while he is working.
With a shrug of his wide shoulders, he sets these visions behind him . . . waste of time . . . yes, that is what she is . . . a waste of time . . . time . . . minutes . . . hours . . . when every second is as precious as a cup of water to the shipwrecked mariner adrift on a raft. And his resentment grows until hatred throbs in his heart to the same syncopated time as the whirling crunching machinery in the sheds about the courtyard.
Reaching for his topee he throws off this obsession and goes the rounds. His thoroughness takes him farther than the yards to the storing sheds; the unending flow of little cars loaded with cane doesn't seem fast enough, so he follows the rails winding down the hill to arrive at last at the plantation where they are cutting this month. He curses the foremen and jokes with the workmen until they laugh, bursting forth into some wild sensuous Kavirondo chant. Now the little stream of cars quickens its pace up the hill.
He turns from the track along a game trail which leads towards the peninsula. . . . As he is so near, he had better say a word to Win and also by his presence remind the lazy house boys that the Bwana watches even if he is not at home. . . . His crêpe rubber soles are as noiseless as felt on the dust of the trail. The world at rest sleeps in the noon-day sun.
Win slowly turns over on the bed, pressing her body closer to her lover's. . . . Her lover, the beautiful Owen, the blond boy from across the lake. His supple, sunburnt body thrills her, until she feels her veins swell and her temples beat. He is as chivalrous as he is beautiful . . . only a dilettante at his work. . . . Why work when you have fifteen thousand a year . . . and yet conscientiously he fills his duties as A.D.C. to the Governor with a solemn faith which delights her soul. They have been lovers for six months . . . since she went up for the Government House party during race week. Under some excuse or another he has managed to be with her quite often and now on a month's shooting leave his camp is pitched on her peninsula.
John, her husband, told him to go up and see her as often as he could:
“Do her good not to be always alone with the natives.”
So Owen loves Win, and Win loves Owen with an even mightier passion. Owen's hands close on her cold white breasts and his mouth searches hers; their passion is whole, the crickets chirp under the floor, their hearts close-pressed throb until she shudders and lies lifeless on the hard cord bed, high on thick legs of carved ebony. The “moucharabieh” shivers in the doorway. Owen leaps to the door. . . . Not a breath of air moves on the verandah . . . and yet the moucharabieh shuddered as if someone had brushed it with a hesitant finger. Not a sound . . . yes . . . a hissing buzzing sound: the swarm of bees in the roof. The first time he had lain on this bed the buzzing of those same bees had made him shudder, but Win had explained them away and he had forgotten his premonition in the passion of her arms and the searching caresses of her mouth; now again premonition of death hovers around. He dresses noiselessly and with a light kiss on her sleeping brow slips away like a shadow. He cannot stand very much more of this. . . . Why can't she just quit and run with him? It's ghastly all this furtiveness . . . all this passion and suspense. It must end soon.
Back in camp he lies beneath his mosquito net weaving dreams in which Win and he leap banks and dikes together, galloping in the driving mist; to be greeted later in front of the log fire by his yawning, stretching setters. She will have the green room . . . it has not been opened since his mother's death . . . and soon he is asleep while the baffled mosquitoes buzz around the net.
He wakes with a start to find John by his side. . . .
“Get up you lazy hound. . . . I have had another boy taken by the ‘crocks’1 this morning near the irrigation ditches. We must clear them out; bring your 470; even if you wound them with that they are bound to die.”
1 Crocks = crocodiles
Owen scrambles into his clothes, straps on his belt full of the long murderous 470 ammunition and shoulders the heavy rifle. . . . In the excitement of this new hunt he forgets his fears and premonitions.
“Don't bring your gunbearer. . . . I have mine, and the less we are the less noise there'll be and greater the chance of catching the crocks.”—They turn and twist along the game trail, the ground slushy under foot. . . . At a fork in the path John says:—
“Take to the left. . . . I'll take to the right. . . . you keep the gunbearer and be careful, not a sound.”
The buffalo grass and the reeds wave feathered fronds high over their heads. . . . Little rattles mingle with squelches of disturbed slime and mud. He must be quiet. . . . Carefully picking his way from dry tuft to dry tuft, Owen makes slow progress. Up goes his rifle . . . a shadow through the reeds on his right . . . no . . . nothing.
And then suddenly a shriek, another shriek. . . .
“Owen help . . . help . . . the crocks. . . .” He crashes through the papyrus on his right, coming to the brim of an irrigation ditch thirty yards wide; on the other bank behind a tiny sand hill he catches sight of a waving arm. . . .
“He's got me by a leg . . . quick . . . shoot!” Owen jumps into the ditch . . . there is a swish, a swirl, a smothered shriek . . . and John gets up from behind the sand hill dusting himself. He picks up the cowering gunbearer at the fork in the trail and walks home. . . .
On the porch Win is shaking and trembling. . . .
“What's happened? . . . I heard you cry! . . . ?"
“Not I! your lover . . . he's crocks' meat now!”
It takes a second to penetrate her mind, then she throws herself at him, claws outstretched—biting, kicking, tearing.
“You murderer! You murderer!” He holds her off until the spasm is finished, then carries her to the couch in their room. . . . Now only tremulous murmurs come through her lips. . . . “My boy. . . . My beautiful boy.”
That night they ate dinner in silence and afterwards he sat in a low wicker chair watching her undress. . . . At last she is in bed and he composes himself with a pipe in the deep chair—soon his head nods and the pipe falls to the floor.—She waits seconds . . . minutes that seem hours. . . . At last—stealthily she creeps out of bed and taking off her nightgown slips through the moucharabieh, out on to the porch and then down the path towards the lake. . . . John follows step by step, a shadow among other shadows in the trees by the path.
She stands on the end of the little landing stage—silver figure in the moonlight etched in staring lines against the dark water beyond. . . .
“Owen my darling.”
She dives, slipping into the water with scarcely a ripple; coming up she swims steadily out. John on the jetty leans against a pole awaiting the end. Twenty yards . . . thirty yards . . . fifty yards . . . will it never come . . . his hands clench. There! A swish, a swirl, a smothered shriek.
John turns round and strides up the walk; bathed in the light from a burnished moon, he stoops in their room to pick up and throw her nightgown into the sandal-wood chest, then goes through the door, the hanging beads brushing his face. . . . In his office he lights a lamp and opens his files . . . adding, subtracting, multiplying . . . dividing, until a last figure shows this month's return, three thousand pounds increase. He locks the papers away and, back in their room, quickly undresses, to be soon in dreamless sleep, a smile on his lips . . . a free man again . . . to work. . . .
Beads of sweat stand out on George's forehead and his hands shake as he tries to light a cigarette. . . . I look around the circle of peering eyes . . . there is a tense silence in the gloom, broken at last by Sarah-Jane in her lilting voice.
“You aren't half a liar, are you, George? What an imagination . . . fit for the Grand Guignol.”
“Quite” says George—“didn't know what I could do until I tried. . . .”
The tenseness is broken and we each go off to our tents . . . to-morrow we break up, starting back to civilisation. . . .
The story haunts me. I had always wondered what had happened . . . how Win had died. . . . Before my eyes grow out of the shadows her long suppleness, her laughing eyes, her cool, white skin . . . all her sensual attraction for us, mere men, vulgar beasts.
I can quite imagine George's emotion and the wherefore of the vividness of the story; he had been on the promontory too, had known those arms, those cool white breasts, in the days before she met the real Owen of the story. . . .
My God, it makes one shiver! . . . another highball before bed! . . . I wish he hadn't told that story, and yet I always wondered how she died . . . dear Win!
Friends and Enemies
Samson. The Coming of Samson
I was stationed, once upon a time, near Athi-river—Stony Athi. It was a desolate spot, dust blown, cracked by the sun, inhospitable in the extreme.
By day, the corrugated iron roof of my bungalow creaked and moaned; by night, the hyenas howled around the compound—accompanied by the trebled harmonies of the slinking jackals. Life was not much fun down there. . . . Little work, not even enough to keep one's mind occupied.
Bit by bit, as I got more familiar with the monotonous landscape, I roamed farther afield exploring the nooks and crannies in the kopjes along the river. The gazelles, the kongonis, the zebra, got to know my dun-coloured Somali pony and the herds used to open a few hundred yards, letting me pass with scarcely a look; they knew I didn't shoot around there. Once or twice I sighted a troop of lions, but never was able to come within camera distance of them. My one ambition was to find out something of their home life.
One day, leaving the hillocks along the river, I branched off across the plains towards a tumbled pile of rocks and twisted trees, which jutted up from that flat expanse like a man-made landmark. My wanderings had never taken me so far, as it was over ten miles from home across a bare uninteresting space of pebbles, stones and dust. Coming up to windward of the shambles I was within a hundred paces when my pony stopped with a snort, and, whirling around, left for different parts as if all the evils of “Shaïtan” were on his trail. Why I followed the saddle is one of those mysteries best left unsolved. Much engaged in the arduous task of keeping on, I had only a fleeting impression of a yellow streak darting out towards us from behind a rock.
About a mile away the pony, or I, stopped and we collected ourselves; he was still trembling and shaking; his instinct had probably saved us both from a lion's charge—no doubt a lioness with cubs.
From a position of safety, I spied through field glasses and located her den. Then, with infinite precaution and guile, made a covered approach from another side. At a distance of about three hundred yards the pony balked, and we halted. Tying him to an exceptionally large stone, I composed myself to watch. I was soon discovered, but was considered harmless at that distance, though a wary eye was kept on me.
From that day on I was a frequent visitor and, except for sundry growls, was allowed to approach to within about fifty yards. The cubs were still unseen—too young to come out into the light. Then I was called away on some duty at the other end of the district for a week.
When I returned I found my compound invaded by cars and multitudes of boys and bustle, . . . an Indian Maharajah's shooting safari had descended upon my peaceful home and everywhere reigned signs of activity and luxury. My neopara had made the visitors at home and I introduced myself, to be charmingly greeted by three smiling gentlemen from India: two young princes and an older A.D.C., Minister, Vizir, or whatever he might call himself.
After a glorious meal, oh, so different from my ordinary fare, I was carried out to view the trophies. Gazelles, kongonis, even a great kudu, and two lions' skins pegged out in the sun. I inquired anxiously at once as to what part of the district they had been killed in.
“Oh, quite near, among some kopjes about ten miles east of the river.”
“But didn't you see the cubs?”
“Oh no, they were all alone; the lioness charged from some rock piles after letting us get within about fifty yards.”
I waited to hear no more but saddled and galloped out to the shambles. . . . I found the poor little brutes in a small cave . . . they had starved for three days, one was already dead. . . . I brought in the three others.
There was consternation in the safari when I arrived with the cubs; everyone was ready to do all they could—but another died that night. Next day the party left. The atmosphere was rather strained, though I suppose it was not entirely their fault. It is an unpardonable crime to shoot females of any species, even lionesses, unless they have been attacking the herds or the natives.
Thus Samson and Judah came into my house—became my children. They were two round, fat balls of fluff, ravenous for milk and raw meat. After a day or so of restlessness they became quite happy, sleeping together in a basket by night, rolling off the verandah porch in the sunlight by day. They were a hungry pair and kept my commissariat hard at work providing tinned milk in sufficient quantities.
The dogs at first growled at their scent, but soon adopted them as part of the family; even the monkeys got to be friends, especially Valentino, the baboon, who elected himself dry nurse, head keeper in charge, until they became too much of a handful even for his hearty cuffs and pinches. Bit by bit, they grew and prospered, but that is another story much more serious.
“Bwana Nyama ya Simba imequisha.”—(Master, the lions' meat is finished.)—Oh damn! I collect my things, take two boys and go trudging out along the bottom of the draw. . . . Five hundred yards, I peek over the top—not far enough yet—another quarter mile, another look, there they are . . . about sixty zebra all in a bunch, feeding down wind towards me, three hundred yards away. I send the boys farther up to emerge on the flank of the herd, attracting their attention, while I creep flat on my tummie from bush to boulder, from rock to anthill. At last, near enough, I draw my precious 256 to the fore. Crack! an old stallion rears up and shakes his head, runs twenty yards to collapse kicking . . . his companions are a dust cloud on the horizon. I turn back leaving the boys to skin the fallen.
I will send out the Scotch cart to bring in the meat. As I come up the draw towards the bungalow I hear Samson calling me. . . .“Sāām-Sn” . . . just like his name;—he is wandering through the irises by the river bed; lonely since Judah left, he clings to me more than before.
He is growing steadily and gaining strength every day. . . . When he got too active to spend his hours lying about the garden, I tried taking him out with me, but, after a very short while, his poor four-months-old legs got tired and he simply sat down and cried, until we picked him up and carried him home—quite a weight!
I call him, and when he sees me he crouches flat behind a clump of flowers. We are going to have our afternoon game. I sit down on a bare ant hill, the only vegetation being a low hedge of carnations planted along the edge of an irrigation ditch, some four inches deep; this leads across my front about five yards away; the carnations are between me and the ditch. Samson, to win the game, must get as far as a point opposite my stance without being seen, or stalk me across the open from somewhere in my rear without being found out.
I call “Sāām-Sn” . . . he doesn't answer . . . it means the game has begun in earnest. I watch every inch of the ground, the light is in his favour, slightly behind him, so that every shiny leaf is a kaleidoscope dazzling my eyes. He is on the move . . . that I'm sure of. Look at those wagtails chattering—hopping about, looking up my way—he can't be as near as that, as there is an open place in the hedge of carnations where I can see the ditch to the bottom. I have watched it incessantly and have not even seen a shadow cross it. And yet the mongoose is darting in and out around the branch of that overhanging fig tree; peering this way, then that, but mostly down at a point very near where Samson will break to win our game.
I suddenly feel a little, cold, hard hand on my neck—and the baboon sits by my side; his long hairy arm creeps around my shoulders; I point at the hedge and whisper “Sāām-Sn” under my breath. He understands, watches a second, and with a bound leaps to quite a different spot from the one I have been watching; Samson rises—trying to beat him down with his front paws—embraced like a furry ball they roll down the slope to be brought up with an awful squeak by a cactus bush. Poor Samson has a long thorn in his side; Valentino, now all care and worry, stretches him on the ground and with nimble fingers unthorns him with a quick twirk. The game is finished, and after meat we all go solemnly to sleep in the porch. Valentino balanced against a pillar, one arm outstretched—Samson lying by my side on the divan, his head in my lap.
A lazy boy pulls a moth-eaten punkah to and fro, until Morpheus protects him from my shouts and Valentino's pinches. Then he departs to tell rambling tales to his friends all about mad m'zungus and “nyane kale sana.” 1
1 Very bad-tempered monkeys.
The Garden Home
Samson is growing every day, his energy and vitality seem only dampened by the noonday sun. Most of the other twenty hours he prowls around intent on mischief and exercise. He has two favourite sports—one consists of stalking Fairyfeet (the greyhound) while she is standing dreamily gazing across the plains, that being her principal occupation, an utterly vacant attitude—apathetic and immobile. Samson creeps up behind her, as close as he can, crouching flat to the ground, the end of his tail showing his excitement as it restlessly twirks to and fro. Nearer and nearer, he creeps, until, just behind her, he rises and slaps her with his paw, all claws sheathed. Though twice his size and weight she goes over like a ninepin and flees with a frightened yelp. Samson then sits on his haunches and literally shakes with delight. His other occupation is keeping the front garden void of chickens. Soon after he came into the family he discovered chickens—and the possibilities thereof.
We had to be very severe, and Samson was well beaten once or twice until he learned that at the back of the cookhouse the chickens reign supreme, not to be chased, not to be bothered. Also, after an especially exciting morning for all, necessitating the extraction of Samson from a cave-like retreat in an extremely, to me, aggressive prickly-ear, he learned that chickens were not to be killed, even if they roamed from their own domain. He carried that chicken tied lovingly around his neck for two days, being banished, the while, to the wood shed. He howled the place down, no one got a wink of sleep—but he learned. Now he has devised a new sport—harmless, indeed even useful.
He goes off for his siesta in some thick bush in the garden to the front of the house. It rolls from the verandah steps with sundry undulations, patchy with flowers, shrubs, beds and clumps, until a last grassy slope drowns itself in the brook two hundred yards away.
The chickens—troublesome creatures, stupid usefulness—love to wander on forbidden grounds, picking here and there—to the fury of my Kikuyu gardeners—at some priceless bulb emerging in tender green. Before Samson came many stones were thrown; now he stalks them, never giving them a moment of peace until they cross the theoretical line which separates the garden from the rest. Often they leave feather mementos but none have been hurt as yet, so Samson is encouraged. He gauges distance and time, and, just as some proud rooster finds a chosen tit-bit, seems to materialise out of the ground, right under its beak. There is a terrified squawk and Samson galumphs after it, towards the cookhouse. He knows he is no match for them in speed, but brains and patience give him plenty of excitement.
I have seen him lying, in a patch of speckled sunlight, so absolutely immobile that he faded into the background and the chickens would walk up to him unseeing, or a gambolling dog trip over him in its stride.
He has already chased home three of the volatiles this afternoon and is now sitting, on the top of a polished black rock, licking his paws, looking for trouble. The duiker buck coming up from a drink in a shady pool keeps a wary eye on him and gives himself plenty of space to get a good start if Samson should start to get fresh.
The little antelope, his neat feet dripping from hoof to knee, trips daintily up the stony path looking this way and that, mostly keeping a sharp eye on Samson. These duikers, never entirely tame and always very timid, have an unpleasant habit of running their sharp little horns into anything soft that is within reach when they get nerves; one's shins and calves are just about the right height to be good receivers. The duiker stamps his hoof at some noise, Samson yawns ostensibly on his rock, I whistle, the duiker turns his head, and then back, Samson is gone in that fraction of a second; all know that means more pranks, so the little antelope trots home quickly to his man-made straw-strewn cave, among the rocks at the top of the garden. Later, a disappointed Samson butts open the door with his forehead and comes rubbing against my chair—“Sāām-Sn”—he calls. I get up and take him for the evening inspection, around the high, wire fence, netted to the height of eight feet to sturdy posts which keep our pets from wandering, and intruders without. It is not much of a defence against heavier game, so we visit it mornings and evenings to make all safe and sure. Samson loves this walk—he strolls on ahead, whisking his tail. . . . Only where we cross the brook on a felled log he lags behind, until he collects courage enough to scramble across it—hissing at the gurgling eddies that float past. We come back by way of the ford with wide stepping stones; he hasn't quite got the trick of this yet and I carry him across, not wanting to have a surly evil-tempered Samson to dry before the fire, as happens when he tries to rush the stones by himself or to jump the brook which is still about a foot too wide for him. On the other side we are greeted by the dogs who have disappeared all the afternoon, probably been digging up a rock rabbit by the looks of them;—they gambol up the hill, Samson trundling, puppy-legged, with rather a sailor's lurch in the rear.
We are all feeling pretty tired and washed out to-day as we have just had our annual party;—it was very hectic. About twenty people staying in or about the house, the courtyard at the back littered with cars; tents before the verandah steps. It is a Dutch-treat party so the drinks were rather mixed with fatal results—but we certainly did bathe in champagne and stout, “black velvet.” It was a good party; all but Samson enjoyed it. Though he was much petted and spoiled, he got into disgrace early in the evening being up to more than his usual mischievous pranks: upsetting people's glasses; stalking in on unsuspecting females in scant attire; and, if my head boy hadn't been quick enough, he might have ruined the dinner completely.
The table had been laid in state, and, for once, we had spread a magnificent tablecloth, all necessary adjuncts upon it, when up strolls Samson, sees a dangling bit of white, takes a bat . . . the thing flies from him . . . another bat, but only thin air resists him; intrigued, he sidles up and gets a good purchase on a corner of the cloth, and then proceeds to back away.
I was in my bath when I heard the first crash . . . a towel, a leap, and I was rescuing the table fittings. Ali hanging on like grim death to the opposite side, while Samson tugged determinedly, a sparkle of fun in his eyes; a broken plate and sundry glasses on the floor;—he was thoroughly enjoying himself.
I chased him out and from the verandah into the night—a very reluctant Samson. I left a boy on guard and, after a quick dressing, followed by sundry rounds of cocktails, we sat down to food. Samson invisible was forgotten and dinner proceeded happily—all the seating possibilities of the house had been put into use: chairs, benches, easy chairs, everything in fact.
As dinner was getting along, things livened up and a certain amount of noise was produced. Whether this was a cause to an effect—Lord knows—but results were forthcoming. One of the boys let out a screech and dropped a bowl full of rather faded mayonnaise down the back of a charming but mature lady; she screamed too, and leaping up tripped over Samson's outstretched paw,—being caught just in time to prevent a heavy fall. Samson had been hiding under her chair and had stretched out a wily paw to try and trip the boy as he passed around. He was thrust out ignominiously with a good kick in the pants. The good lady took a lot of pacifying, but it was accomplished and dinner came to an end without further interruption.
Being the dry season we had coffee on the verandah, playing the gramophone and plying the bottles far into the night. Each did their stunts of entertainment until no one cared whether they were good or bad, even if they existed or were just illusions. Samson youdeled a bit around the house and by the time coffee was over had disappeared. We went to bed just before dawn, so no one appeared until after ten a.m. We were then dragged, pretty ill and bedraggled, from our chambers by a frantic shout. The house awoke, and, draping itself, went to inquire. The eldest souse of us all was sitting up in bed wildly gesticulating and asking us to hold him down as he was seeing things—that a lion was in bed with him and that the last time it had only been lizards and biting fishes, but this time it was lions and he could feel it too, and would we shoot him quick. After a struggle and quite a few scratches we extracted Samson who had quietly gone to sleep in the old man's bed. Being drunk the night before, he had noticed nothing, but in the morning Samson, deciding it was time to get up, had proceeded to crawl out, awaking the old fellow who, naturally, thought he “had them” again.
The shouting for help surprised Samson who stayed to find out about things, and by now was very reluctant to be kicked out of a warm bed. It took all of an hour to fortify our “jittering” guest, and everybody's nerves were rather on edge; we didn't like each other's looks much, definitely all quite soured in mind.
After a cold lunch of brome-seltzer, salad and “prairie oysters,” the party broke up, each driving off in their own personal particular cloud of dust.
We have been clearing up and tidying all afternoon; now the sun is going down across the plain in a glorious haze of sparks shooting heavenwards like an aurora-borealis, everything gilt by the light.
Samson, sitting on an anthill, is playing with an empty bottle of champagne. He lets it go; rolling off, it starts down the hill with him in hot pursuit. With all care and precaution he eases it by slow careful pushes until he gets it to a situation of great altitude again, only to let it go and begin anew from the bottom of the draw.
With a last shout of light the sun sets . . . lonely in the sky a cloud catches the last rays of light . . . shadows darken the gully and creep foot by foot up the hill . . . climb the verandah steps one at a time, then, winding around the pillars, shroud us to the roof in darkness.
Samson now all dignity stalks into the room and standing before the fire, his tail twitching like some horizontal pendulum or clockwork mechanism, in loud and understandable tones he firmly voices his demand for sardines on toast—he is a Sahib . . . and needs his Sundowner too.
Here! Samson Sahib! without heeltaps . . . to our good hunting on this earth, and better on another. . . . To drinks without headaches and women without a sting . . . standing! . . . Samson . . . to each other—good fellows both . . . we hope. . . .
The Parting of the Ways
Ordered home. . . . Failing in health—miserable in mind.
Much as I would greet a home leave of even a long period, just as much do I resent this ordering out of the colony. My heart is out here—with my house—my boys—my zoo. . . . Not as much zoo as pets . . . friends, who stand by one and help in the bad moments of one's life.
But there is no appeal; in two weeks I shall have to go and go definitely for ever.—I would much rather die out here as they say I will unless I return to temperate climes.
A bout of fever that developed into “black water”; some kind of inside trouble and one's life is ruined, one's work unavailing. The buck and antelope will be easy to house. Many have asked me for them and they will be happy as long as they are not teased, and sufficiently fed. But Samson—now a full-grown lion with flowing mane, weighing over three hundred pounds—Samson who needs at least one zebra a week to satisfy those internal gnawings—Samson my best friend of all—no one would care to take him. A dog is allowed one bite, but a lion—a lion who could fell an ox with a stroke of his paw? Even if someone would take him, they wouldn't know him; he wouldn't know them. They don't even allow me to take him to Nairobi when I go, though he is as obedient as the most faithful hound.
He has never left the shamba—is lord and master over all this domain.
All the time I was sick he sat around moping and insisted on sleeping in my room. For hours I could hear him stalking up and down the verandah, disconsolate and troubled over his master's continued immobility. He stood guard over me—was perfectly amiable and polite about it all; let the doctor and nurse do their deeds—though very suspicious and to them alarmingly inquisitive at times. He is so grown up and dignified—so entirely out of his puppy days; nearly two years old, and full size, with superb black mane . . . he knows his hours and stalks off to the cookhouse for his dinner as accurately to the minute as a ship's chronometer; treats the boys with a tall disdain, considering them a boring necessity for the carrying on of life, but quite negligible—to be growled sternly at when they transgress their rights or forget their duties.
One Saïce is his friend, a curious fellow, a Wakaamba—as wide as he is tall, a great hunter. Samson sometimes goes off with him to help tree the monkeys, while the boy shoots them off some high branch with a small bow and long winged arrows.
But what Samson prefers is going out in the plains with me, especially since we moved up into the highlands. They probably remind him of his first home, the hot, dusty, pebble-strewn wastes where he was born; the little oasis along the stream where he grew up. Two of my ponies do not mind him, so, before I was ill, we used to go for long rides in the early mornings; I in the lead on the pony at a shuffle, half amble, half trot (I have heard it called wolf step in North Western America)—Samson at a loose-jointed trot. We go along the trail until the last bridge over the torrent is crossed and then strike out, straight ahead, through the long grass. There, on some hillock, we stop and survey our lands; the grazing antelopes move aside to let us pass, the zebras snort and gallop away through the shimmering gold staves, like ripe wheat on the Kansas plain. The grasses grow shorter and, further on, we come to open patches where gazelles graze, heads lowered, still unsuspecting; one catches a whiff of scent, a sound or sight, and off they go, leaping high and far—their tiny hoofs raising little puffs of dust as they take off at each bound, fluffing tails, black and white. Some old buck shepherds his family with skilful thrusts of sharp polished horns. Then we come back by way of the downs; the pony scrambling up a buffalo trail that leads to the forest, far above on the peaks. Samson panting, scratching up impossible ascents.
I might turn Samson loose. There are no other lions on the plain to kill him as wild animals do those that have been tainted by the hand of man;—but he has not learnt to hunt and would probably starve before he found the right way to kill, or would take to pillaging the cattle, precipitating for himself an unseemly end.
My successor arrived two days ago and seems rather nice—knows animals. Samson quite took to him, even went to the point of showing him over the garden. I wonder if he would take care of him and adopt him as a brother; it would be the ideal solution.
Well; as I can't take Samson home with me, with beef at God knows what a pound, neither can I turn him loose for fear of his dying of hunger, I have left him on the shamba with the new “Muzungu.” I said good-bye to him, and I think he understood. When the car drove across the bridge at the end of the garden, he climbed up on top of a rock which overlooks the plain on one side, the house on the other. He was there, statue-like, watching . . . the car perhaps. . . . I looked back, ever so often, at last taking the field glasses. Samson was a glistening point of gold on a black rock; behind, from the hollow where the house stands invisible, smoke rose, a grey pillar, to spread like a parasol into the clear sky. Then we travelled some more and when we stopped again I could only see a pillar of smoke above the dark forest range; cleaving the sky into two definite parts—the sky above the forest—the sky above the plain, and then . . . nothing. The road only . . . the grey dust road that led me to Nairobi and the train to Mombasa.
Mombasa. Here, I will sit waiting for the boat which will take me home in a few days. And I will rest in the shade of the Club verandah sipping pink gin—thinking, remembering . . . mostly Samson, his baby roundness; his affection which helped us through some hectic months of puppyhood until he grew to be a real man, fearless, quiet, understanding, a better friend than any you could find in most men's lives.
Poor old Samson, I hope you understand—and forgive—I, small solace . . . will never forget.
Two years later.
I went to the zoo in Paris some weeks ago. I have a girl friend I am trying to teach a few things about animals. She is very eager and excited about it all, is beginning to classify and arrange them in her mind. We go there often, to the Jardin d'Acclimatation; but were surprised that day to see big flaming posters on the gates, depicting a husky lady in pink tights hung all over with lots of shiny things, facing a roaring lion. There are no cats at the “Jardin,” so we inquired, to be told that a circus had been allowed to put up a tent to show their lion-tamer's act within the precincts of the garden.
I hate trained or performing animals; it has always made me feel sick and ashamed that this spectacle should ever be allowed in our, so-called, civilized countries.
The girl friend insisted and we went. It was too early; the show only began at three, so we managed to bribe the doorkeeper and got into the back where the animals were kept. I must admit that they were well kept; big airy cages, well cleaned out, plenty of water; but that is only preventing high-priced material from losing its value. There were tigers and leopards, cheetahs and panthers; also, two cages of lions;—in one, two lions, in the other a lion and a lioness. The lioness was a magnificent beast, very sleek and supple, but by far the finest of the lot was one of the pair of lions, a magnificent black-maned Masaï lion, all shiny and well brushed. He was half asleep lying with his head on his paws—at last he got up and my heart stood still with horror—down his right hind quarter ran a jagged scar Z-shaped. It couldn't be Samson, but no two lions could have that same scar! Samson got his through falling off the cooking house on to a jagged petrol tin one day he had been trying to steal some meat.
I inquired of the attendants; it seemed he had been bought at Marseilles a few months previously from a German. I went back to him and called “Sāām-Sn”—as in old days—then again. . . . I must have lost the right pitch . . . at last he cocked an ear and stalked over very suspicious, and ready to leap back any second;—then he sniffed and looked at me most puzzled. It was two years since I had seen him; two years in a lion's life (about twelve years in all) is a long time. He thought I was something familiar, but couldn't make out how and why. Then I put my hand through the bars, to hear an agonized shout from an attendant—“Vous êtes fou, monsieur, il est três dangereux.” The man gave in to a tip and I pushed my hand towards Samson. Again he came up and put his head down, sniffed again;—I could hear the attendant's teeth chattering six feet away;—then quite suddenly Samson rolled over on his side, his back against the bars, rubbing his head back and forth. I scratched him on the forehead and he put out an immense red tongue and tried to lick my hand. To be licked by a lion is like being caressed with a sharp-toothed file. And so we got to know each other again, he purring gently under his breath, stretching his paws, all claws out in delight at being scratched in the old way;—then, suddenly, he was back on his feet crouching, growling like thunder; at his start I had retrieved my hand and looked for the cause of interruption . . . the woman in the pink tights. Samson became a raving wild beast, his eyes glazed, and he crouched and roared, cowering back in the cage, while she searched him out with a whip and, when that didn't move him, with an iron bar—armed with a sharp point;—I rose in defence but had to stop or be ejected.
Every one of those animals hated and feared the woman;—she, turning to a breathless audience, explained her courage in going in amongst these wild, ferocious animals. The gaping idiots applauded her bravery and talent.
I stayed for the performance;—it was ghastly. The animals were made to do all kinds of acrobatic feats, entirely against their natures. Cowed by fear, insane with rage, they were returned to their cages;—with the help of money I was able to see Samson again; he was mad, still quivering, his coat slashed by whip lashes, a drop of blood here and there, where the iron point had touched him. He was utterly unamenable, even to me.
I came to see him every day for a week—trying to buy him; but the price was impossible—and I was entirely stumped. On my last day, I came earlier and, unexpectedly, the fiend in pink tights arrived while Samson and I were having our little morning party. She jeered and laughed and ordered Samson into the cage alone for a new trick she had invented. I implored, but of no avail. In they went, and I stood at the door watching the poor old boy, my friend, being driven to insane madness by human cruelty. After agonising minutes of cracking whips and jabbing irons, the woman rested. I was watching Samson, panting, crouching in a corner. Before I could even shout a warning he sprang;—the woman had turned her head a second; there was a crunching sound as one of his paws landed on the side of her skull, a revolver shot rang out—then another. Somehow I found myself in the cage, my hand on Samson's shoulder while they dragged out the remains.
I felt him shudder and he collapsed on my feet, knocking me over; I got up from under him and took his great head on my lap;—a trickle of blood flowed from the side of his jaw on to me, then down on to the floor; he tried one or two manful licks and snuggled his great shaggy head into my lap; he died in my arms—content, I hope, on the heart of a friend.
My friends . . . if I have any . . . if you read this, as I write it, in all honesty, remember always when you go to a trained animal show or if you are in a position of authority and do not forbid or help forbid these shows, you are encouraging a much worse cruelty than the beating of women, or of children who, one day, may grow up and hit back.
The animals you torture are in their prime and rarely will they be able to get their own innings.
Thank God, that day Samson got his kill, or I might now lie in some grave, my head severed from my body. . . . Samson saved me as true friends rarely do.
The earth shook and terrified scurrying creatures crashed into trees, down ravines. Long pines rocked and with one last roll shot off into space and down, down, until they catapulted from rock to rock, joining the softer more crushed, more tortured remains of the once warm blooded lives of the mountain range.
The earth shook and M'Bogo, king of the Kenya buffaloes, raised his head and sniffed loudly at this interference of God. His tribe, wild-eyed, clustered around him; he sniffed again and shaking the twisty vines, trailing garland-like from about his horns, led the way up the mountain. Here and there impatiently raising a contemptuous hoof, he stepped over a fallen tree, his herd leaving a shining trail on the trunk where on identically the same spot their hundred hoofs rubbed the bark from the stem. With another resigned shrug M'Bogo resistlessly lowered his head and pushed on through the clattering bamboos; on . . . on . . . up . . . up. . . .
The forest cleared and wildly clinging moorlands climbed towards the eternal snow. Still he led on relentlessly, unheeding the lowing and blowing of his much taxed herd. At last under the shadow of a giant heather fifty feet high with four feet stem, he stopped and lowered his head to smell the earth.
The earth shook and M'Bogo led on; now crinkling snow-patches crunched under his wide splay hoofs; the blinding glare seared his eyes . . . unwinking he led on . . . now amidst the eternal snow methodically he plods, his herd strung out like an irregular chaplet across half a mile in his rear. Instinct leads him away from the earth that moves to the solid rock which from this height goes far down to the bosom of these fires which shake the land. As the snow gets deeper his herd drop off one by one; theirs is safety, no need to follow any more, but still he leads on, blinded by snow, nostrils frozen to insensibility—until, in a snowdrift, he pulls up, and slowly freezes to death.
He has saved the herd and is thus awarded immortality. Death came peacefully, the cold so intense that it numbed any suffering.
He froze so hard that the old vultures of the peaks broke their talons and nicked their beaks on his granite effigy.
The frozen buffalo of Mount Kenya now snow-covered, watches, across the plains, his heirs climb up and down his old slopes, every year pushed further in and up the forest flanks of the range; more relentlessly pushed by the encroaching plough than ever by fire . . . lava or earthquake.
M'Bogo, Emperor of the Kenya range, watches his domain dwindle and his offspring die, a tireless impotence and fury in his frozen heart.
Slowly a dust cloud rises in the east and flows down the hill through the thorn bush, a rustle of wind as through dead leaves comes wafting smells of steaming wool and sultry spices . . . sheep smells . . . hundreds upon hundreds of sheep.
They check a moment, unwilling to leave even the scant shade of the thorn trees before facing the glare of the plain; behind them a voice calls and the Masaï herder waves a folded green umbrella clasped close with the Moran fighting spear. His tall figure, oiled, shines in the searching light; the sun already bows towards the distant range of hills, while shadows creep from under the spreading trees by the waterhole, like frightened humans driven to caves and huts by the noonday glare to emerge with the drooping light.
Slowly they cross the plain towards the thick clumps of foliage, the dark shadows, the cooing ringdoves which cluster around the waterhole. The grass stems trampled under foot by the sharp hooves break off short, leaving a wide bare earth where the dried stalks rattled an hour ago. It is the dry season. They are bringing down the herds to the Aberdare foothills where the thick dew will keep the rams combative and the ewes prolific. So peaceful scene of the Laikipia plain.
A steinbuck rises under the very feet of the herd, flying in low-backed, neck-outstretched defeat; a kongoni sentinel on a broken-down anthill watches every move on the plain, while his fellows wander away out of reach of the tainted air.
Two small groups of zebra join together behind the sheep herd and in unison clatter off and up the slopes of the stony kloof. An old ostrich industriously dusting himself, shoots up a snake-like neck to eye his surroundings; he is off the trail of the herd; living without water he is getting himself de-loused before his nightly sitting on the conjugal nest.
The vanguard of the sheep halts . . . then widens at the fringe of green near the waterhole; some nibble at the grasses, others, with foot poised on bark of a trunk, stretch towards a leaning branch, leaf-covered and tempting; then the following hundreds push behind and all move in.
Just as suddenly the scene changes and pandemonium breaks loose, the sheep tread upon each other, climb each other's backs; the rearguard scatters charged by the bulk of the herd issuing from the shades. The herder runs and cries trying to turn them; his “toto” till now unseen, scarce higher than the backs of the sheep, flies like a black imp to head off some bunch of scattering woollies. . . .
A snort . . . another snort . . . and from the shadows with a crash comes an old rhino; he hesitates a second in the glaring sun, then with head lowered charges the nearest clump of compact sheep . . . and whirls to charge again; the herder yells and throws his umbrella away. . . . The old rhino catches a glimpse of the flapping thing and with a swoop in his charge impales it on a long curved horn.
As suddenly he gets the taint. . . . Man! Stopping in his stride he pulls up in a cloud of dust and small stones . . . he sniffs and as suddenly sees the herder. . . . Then another charge . . . swiftly the man jumps aside . . . but this Faro means business and whirls, charging again and again. . . . The man must run and twist out of reach of the swinging horn. Then battle is joined . . . the man with a spear, the beast with a horn, in and out, back and around; both are fit, neither tire. . . . The spear fails to pierce the hide, glancing off; the horn is not quick enough; then a stumble and the man is on his back, the horn transfixing him through the guts, his bones crushed; but his spear sticks out from the rhino's side, a foot of steel in between two ribs.
The Faro steps on the man and then goes to drink; the spear handle breaks off, caught in the trees. The blood drips along the steel grooves—drop by drop into the pool it dissolves from sight.
The Faro, hard hit, wanders off head down towards the hills; at sundry thorn trees, he rubs, trying to pull out the steel, but it only wedges deeper between the cartilages and soon he disappears into the hills.
The “toto” pierced with thorns sits shivering in a tree and at last slips down a branch and from there to the ground. Many white shapes are still . . . woolly shapes crushed into the soft earth, flecked with red where the horn touched their hides.
Out in the open, flat on his back, glass-eyed, belly torn to breast-bone, the dead herder, arms outstretched, stares at the setting sun.
From across the plain, shadows glide over the ground towards the carnage, growing bigger and darker until they hover above the killed. A swoop and some big scavenger buries his talons in a woolly coat, bends, and on a cruel hooked beak for a second dangles a torn out eye.
The hyena call to each other—and jackals creep in to hamstring some lost lamb. All across the plain crushed corpses lie while live sheep flee in blind terror—to the hills—to the forest, where Chui the Leopard sharpens ready claws on the bark of a favourite tree. Great “n'goma” for the meat-eaters.
This and more we see in the terrified eyes and stuttering words of the “toto” who fell across our doorstep as the sun rose this morning. Thirty miles through the tropical forest . . . the human who got through . . . the child who now sleeps, dead to this world on a rug before our smoking fire.
Pass on . . . another day is born . . . we also must carry on.
When Fairyfeet came to us she was the sorriest looking thoroughbred greyhound I have ever seen—even Delecia seemed to despair of any possible spark.
She was utterly apathetic and stupid, didn't even know enough to come in out of the rain, was so deaf that the creaking ox-wagon nearly ran over her one day. When she followed us over the plain there didn't seem to be a tick she missed picking up or a thorn she didn't manage to tread on.
Delecia's patience with animals is something supernatural, appertaining to the realm of all-knowing deities. Day long stupidities and filth don't seem to daunt her.
She washed Fairyfeet with her own hands, picked the ticks one by one, fed her piece by piece. The only result was a somewhat smartened up Fairyfeet; her coat got shiny but she seemed as listless as ever. We tried to interest her in hunting, taking her out with the Airedale pack after zebra; she galloped away with long supple leaps, one to every three of the stockier dogs, like an arrow of cream across the green plain, but as soon as she got in the lead she seemed to get bored and turned back towards home. On the way back we used to find her moping along languidly indolent. We even tried to bring her up to the kill in the car, as we are able to sometimes on the plains . . . she just sniffed the kicking zebra on the ground and turned away.
Fairyfeet had not even good manners, snarling and snapping at food time, though each hound has its own dish—wolfing her food until she made herself sick. We quite despaired of her and were going to take her back to her owner as a hopeless case the next time we went to Nairobi.
One day Delecia went out on one of the Somali ponies, waving a gay farewell, whistled Fairy and rode up the trail towards the hogsback at the top of the valley.
I was busy about the zoo when a madly careering boy came tearing down the path—the memsahib “piga” (hit) by a rhino. Dashing for my big rifle and stopping only to throw a blanket over a pony, I galloped towards the crest. . . . About a mile away I came upon a big rhino and half-grown calf; they were tossing about, while a white shape flashed in and about their legs. My heart thumping fit to break, I sent a heavy bullet crashing above the rhino's back; she departed with a last snort, the calf trotting by her side, accompanied to the thicker bush by a madly barking, biting demon of a greyhound. I found Delecia safe in the fork of a tree out of reach of the longest horn.
She had climbed off the pony to fix a too tight girth; the rhino had come round a clump of bushes, the horse bolted and the rhino charged straight up wind towards Delecia. In that instant Fairyfeet was reborn and with a dash that probably saved Delecia's life swooped like a swallow just under the rhino's already lowered nose, diverting her just enough for Delecia to make a dash out of the way and up the nearest tree.
Apparently Fairy kept the poor rhino in a fever of excitement and exertion until the shot scared her back to the reserve where she belongs.
We caught the pony and wandered home accompanied by a delirious Fairy—capering like a goat, leaping ahead, dashing back, barking at swinging monkeys, chasing imagined rats through the bamboos.
A new dog was born when love made her face what must have looked to her like a mountain slide. Love for Delecia . . . the only love of her life. We now have bought Fairy and she never leaves Delecia's side day or night.
Out of the window, on a shadowed bit of lawn rolling into the creek I can see them having a game of tag with the lion cub. Fairy seems to be in every place at once, while Delecia is trying to stalk the lion on hands and knees behind a flower-bed . . . the tip of the lion's tail twitching with excitement.
One swoop from the rear and Fairy knocks him head over heels down the slope only to be saved from a cold bath in the creek by Delecia's quick steadying hand.
From somewhere above in the shadow the creepers trail earthwards; orchids blossom pale, anæmic in the gloom, giant ferns hesitant with scarce believable languor move in the miasmic air. Under foot the humid earth deadens every sound; a smell of putrifying vegetation and stagnant waters pervades the air.
Somewhere near, felt but never seen, the gigantic river flows its way through the tropical forest towards the blazing sands of its Delta. In and out amongst the huge trees a trail winds in its unending monotony.
The Safari has been marching all day one behind the other in complete listlessness and truly African patience, the loads growing heavier as the day lengthens; morning heat, noonday languor and now evening haze . . . always the same breathlessness, the same stagnant clinging of the very air to already non-resilient humans—clogging even the mind, blankly erasing all desire. Just in another footstep other footsteps tread, until each tree passed by the first porter is passed by the last. From time to time a patch of relieving light awakens the sleeping caravan marching the Congo trail.
Great branches cross overhead; no eyes rise towards their worm-bored, fern-incrusted bark; feathery billows of maiden-hair fern brush unturned faces wet with the unhealthy sweat of the lowland swamps.
Great branches, abandoned even by the ape and monkey tribes to the hordes of microbes, insects, creepy crawlers who eat their way to heaven in this giant “culture land.”
Great branches, from which unseen smaller branches must grow, ultimately to support that impenetrable canopy which shrouds the Congo trail. Listlessly the Safari wanders on, each man with the same unthought gesture bows his load to pass beneath some Great branches.
A shadow . . . a dull thud . . . a rustling through the damp undergrowth . . . a shadow of wind; and a porter is dead on the path, his head crushed; untwitching limbs already covered by the minute scavengers of the forest. The murderer is away seeking other sport; his claws scrape up the stem of a tree . . . soon, outstretched on another Great branch overhanging a trail, the coal-black leopard, with moiré silk coat, licks a paw, awaiting somnolently alert some further vent to his morbid craving of death.
Swift . . . silent . . . a killer . . . a machine.
Yesterday I was much taken with my usual occupation; i.e., strolling up and down Government Road and Sixth Avenue, with sundry visits to gossip with Mr. Shaw, then across the road to Mr. Heyer's, then back again to worry Mr. Sands—window shopping with a view to possible free drinks or interesting bits of gossip—“dirt about one's friends.”
The weather was hot and sultry; Mr. Shaw was not his amiable self and pointedly hinted that if I didn't need any cartridges this morning I had better leave him to finish his accounts;—Mr. Heyer was cruel enough to say that he thought it was about time I made up my mind about the purchase of the new 8 m/m Mauser I have been fingering for a week or so; as for Mr. Sands, he asked me point blank if I didn't happen to have my cheque book handy as he would very much like to see the commission I owe him on the last Gilgil auction sale. This is a cruel world, so I recrossed the road with every intention of annoying the manager of the Standard Bank of South Africa, until it was time to get to luncheon at Muthaiga.
I walked through the portals of this noble institution; backbone of the country, I might say; as, if it went bust, half the country would accompany it skywards, what with mortgages and unsecured loans. . . . And so I walked through into coolness and poise.
Just as I had isolated one of the “bankboys” (ushers) and was going to crave an interview—a strong hand fell on my shoulder:
“Say, boy! what are you doing here? How's the farm going?” The laughing eyes and bronzed face of Silas D. McNaughton from Rome, Tennessee, U.S.A., beamed up through thick-lensed glasses.
Silas D. is not an old friend of mine—but we “got together,” as he puts it, a few months ago when I found him roaming down Government Road in search of what he calls a “quick lunch store.” I took him to the Trocadero and we were firm friends by the time the clock struck “half after two.”
Later I introduced him to “Dicker”, the white hunter, and no news had come through until this meeting. We went off for the usual constitutional at Muthaiga, my old Buick flapping its side curtains and taking on a new optimism at the thought of all the good parties we intend to “make” out of Silas D.
He was full of his Safari and bubbled over about it . . . how big his heads . . . how long his horns . . . how large his feet. . . . At last I got him into a quiet corner and after half a gin-fizz and some cut up pieces of tales about Impala by the dozen, Gnû by the thousand, I asked him how he liked his white hunter.
“Gee whizz! he's a humdinger.” Apparently Dicker has lived up to his reputation, and Silas D. brought forth a story that will make his hometown reporters weep at not having thought of it by themselves.
The Safari, after sundry shooting in the Masaï reserve, had pushed on towards the waterless country. There they had met lions; lions by the dozen . . . by the score . . . by the hundreds. . . . So many in fact that old Silas D., who is far from being a murderer, gave up the rifle to devote himself to kodak art. After a while this even palled, so Dicker suggested that he should catch a lion alive, to kind of liven things up. Silas D., like every true gent from U.S.A., deeply loves a bet, so he bet Dicker fifty pounds that he (Dicker) wouldn't catch one. Next morning they set out in the car just before sun up and were in the famous “lion plain” by the time it was light enough to see clearly. As soon as they sighted a group of lions Dicker drove towards them and after sundry manœuvres separated a cub about eight months old from his friends. . . . His mother seemed a bit peeved, but Dicker blew the horn and she thought better of it, the cub retreating across the bare tableland.
They chased him just fast enough to get a good mile or so between him and his family—then put on speed and had the cub about beat in less than three hundred yards. Dicker stopped the car short and yelling to Silas D. to bring the camera, leapt out. After a few yards' chase and a brief wrestle, Dicker planted the cub firmly between his knees, hanging on for all he was worth by the tufted ears. The brute writhed and snarled while Silas D. snapped and snapped; the torn out shields of the film pack littering the landscape.
At last Dicker let go and, with a good push, forwarded the frightened cub beyond claw's reach.
“And every photo a cinch, my boy. . . . I'm glad I lost that bet. . . . That Dicker boy of yours is the greatest sport I've ever met.”
After he had cooled down, we went to lunch and Dicker joined us. I may as well admit that we were partners, Dicker and I, in a little Shauri up in the Sudan; we survived all perils but were very nearly sunk by the wiles of women folk;—it's a great bond in common.
You can be assured that this is not purely publicity (communicated). . . . Anyway, the least Dicker can do is to give this book to every Safari he takes out; illustrating the fact that there is one shooting story that didn't end in gore and is strictly true.
Chu-Chu has been to Nairobi with us, having never left the Shamba before. Chu-Chu is a dog—a nondescript hound much mixed in pedigree.
One day about a year ago he turned up and sat on the verandah looking at us so solemnly, so unblinkingly;—we asked whom he belonged to;—one of the herders owned him; he and his brother were orphans; a leopard killed their mother and they were brought up by hand. Chu-Chu was returned to his master—but every following day found him on the same spot at coffee time, so at last his owner hinted that we had better buy him as he would not stay near his hut.
Thus we bought Chu-Chu or Chui—“Leopard”—as we called him after his mother's last resting place. Chu-Chu was bathed, combed and brushed . . . becoming another tortured cleansed member of the family.
A most astonishing sight; he must have Airedale, woolly sheep dog, Bedlington, and any other ancestor you would care to name.
Go out hunting, you cannot lose him, neither can you keep him at home; no collar or chain will hold him—there's no door or window he cannot get through. But always such dignity; he might be an archbishop at his Mass or a Hebrew money-lender in his counting house.
Chu-Chu was a good family man and every day after lunch he trotted up the trail winding through the cedar forest to his old home—he was visiting his brother; after a short while he would drift away;—it would need the stealth and genius of an Indian tracker to trail him, he was about his personal business; but just before sundown he would reappear—sitting statue-like on the verandah, looking far away across the plain at the sun dipping behind the mountain range. As the lights are lit, he comes into the house and goes to sleep so near the fire that his coat always smells of wood smoke.
We decided to take Chu-Chu to Nairobi to show him the “great white lights”—he was quite polite about it all but very bored and insisted on sleeping in the car. He never showed any surprise even at the railway station where we met some European arrivals—he simply sat and looked on in perfect dignity.
Chu-Chu came back from Nairobi with us last week; as soon as the car stopped, he stepped down and trotted off to his family duties. We were very surprised to see him back a few minutes later, sitting on the verandah, looking up anxiously into our faces. He whined and stalked out towards the mountain trail, waited, whined again, looking back. Just then the house boy came in and said Chu-Chu's brother had been killed the day before by a leopard.
I took a rifle and followed Chu-Chu up the trail as far as the herder's hut, then winding every step steeper along a bushbuck trail until he stopped in a little glade all overgrown with giant nettles; in a corner we found the remains of his brother piled near some thorny cactus.
Leopards come back to their kills; so I built a small boma with a single opening, fixing the rifle so as to make a gun trap;—when it was finished Chu-Chu wagged his tail and trotted home before me.
During the night there was a crash of a shot and this morning Chu-Chu was waiting for me by the verandah steps.
We climbed the hill and found the leopard shot through the neck, dead in the clearing. Chu-Chu sat stolidly while the great cat was skinned.
The spotted hide is now drying slowly in the midday heat; Chu-Chu is lying on the porch, his eyes closed to the glaring sun. He has never been to the herder's hut since the morning we brought his leopard skin home.
When it is dry I will put it on his bench by the fire that he may lie on it in deep content.
Chu-Chu is my friend and we understand each other.
Raymond the Magnificent
This is another George story. . . . George. . . . George White—the white hunter who blossoms forth in most of my tales—is such a fascinating personality, to me at least, that he seems always to crop up when I think, write or say anything about Kenya. . . .
Well; once upon a time, George was plain Mr. White, very callow, very pink and white, very well groomed; with not an idea in his head, not an action in his past except sundry canings, dealt by irate prefects for the ordinary offences. . . . George of those days is the antithesis of the famous George White “Hunter”—of the years of plenty. . . . Riches without counting say the income tax receivers and the game department; riches gleaned off many hundred elephants poached or ivory bought—“toasted” (he would term it) out of the natives. . . . He is the hunter loved by Indian Princes and superfluously rich millionaires, and yet he has kept, more than any other of the successful colonists, that pristine youth that allows him to tell a tale against himself—such as this one:—
This is Mr. White's tale; callow, shallow, Mr. White just arrived out from England with a very limited letter of credit and orders to make it last until the scandal of the policeman's helmet had blown over at home.
Mr. White, very serious and dignified, steps off the boat and into the train at Mombasa to be whisked Nairobi-wards at a leisurely rate of miles. . . . In those days our trains had not caught the undignified precipitancy of the younger age. . . . George pondered, or rather dear Mr. White pondered, as far as it was possible for him to ponder, as to the possibilities of Nairobi for a rag and where he'd go and so on and so forth. . . .
Several letters reposed in the bottom of his attaché case . . . letters to the influential of the land, to the Governor and Commissioners, but at Mr. White's age Governors and such are definitely wearisome and to be avoided, so he stepped on to Nairobi platform with open mind and thinly-coated wallet.
Hardly had he used a few halting, broken words of Swahili than a hearty hand-clap shook him to the roots of his polished hair and manicured nails. (You see how different George was then—he has not met a manicure for the last ten years.)
“Hello, old fellow, never thought we'd see you out here.”—The towering shoulders, curly, black hair and quick eyes of a hunter. . . .
“Oh sir!” . . .
“Now! now! No sirs out here! We don't do it! Call me Raymond! What's your Christian name? George! Well, George, you come up to my bungalow, I won't hear of you staying at the hotel—certainly not!” And our Raymond, Raymond the Magnificent as we like to think of him, carried the now baptized George off to a low-verandahed bungalow, covered with the most magnificent Bougainvillea anyone has ever seen.
George had met Raymond at one of his (George's) father's shoots just after the war. . . . All this makes George very young as he was then proudly carrying Raymond's second gun, but even this does not make Raymond sufficiently old to recede into the “Oldest settler” class. Already in those days Raymond had been baptized “the Magnificent”—and not without due cause—he was at the same time, the most hated and most loved man in Kenya, he had the genius of doing things well . . . magnificently; but one could not get away from certain such small facts as his great lack of enthusiasm for the sound of gun fire . . . his distinct ability with foolish young married women and his easy high-handed way with natives which had earned him the name of “Bwana Kiboko Sana” . . . and yet why he keeps his boys, God only knows! no one else could or can find a reason. Nevertheless, Raymond is certainly “Raymond the Magnificent”—and lives up to it. . . . Women that come his way fall, husbands rage, but somehow or other nothing has broken badly for him since the beginning of his career;—he suffers from an incomprehensible immunity that is unique of its kind. . . .
So you see Raymond strutting out magnificently through the dust, under the pouring sun, with little, callow, simple-minded George tagging along behind.
Once in the bungalow, and after a drink which rather went to his head, being unused to all this excitement, George was installed in a splendid room looking straight out of the balcony across the plains down towards the game reserve. . . . Obviously this was Raymond's own room! George expostulated, to be shut up with a large and generous gesture.
“Come, my dear fellow, am I not allowed to give hospitality in my own home? . . .” The squashed George gave up and ensconced himself in due happiness.
For two weeks Raymond took him about, introducing him to everyone, pushing the art of being a perfect host to the extent of calling him himself every morning to inquire if he had slept well and had all he needed.
One evening Raymond came in first, and when George returned he found all his things packed and piled up on the balcony in neat order . . . his boy sitting on the top of it all. Raymond greeted him airily. . . .
“Had all your things ready and took a room for you at the Club.”
Aghast, poor young Mr. White gazed at the heap. . . .
“But Raymond, I thought you wanted me to stay.”
“You poor young fool . . . you don't think I had you here for the pleasure of hearing your sweet burbling tones, do you? . . . Harrison Kay was in town and he's already missed me twice at a hundred yards.—He has sworn to get me next time, so I thought you'd be good bait. . . . He'd never think of looking for me in the back room. . . . Now, now . . . no ill feelings meant, youngster. . . . You clear out, and learn from me that when a man is gunning for the fellow that has looked upon his wife with untimid knowledge, the best thing is to find a goat.”
George left then and there. Shortly after the episode he took up big game hunting as a profession; much safer he says. But he likes to tell this, the tale of the first great thrill Africa ever gave him.
Le Boco! Le Boco!—I call, as a Chrysler tears down Government Road.—An arm waves . . . grindings of brakes, bits torn from the King's highway and then . . . a halt.
The lanky figure climbs out, six foot and some of sunburn . . . twenty-six years of vitality . . . close-cut, curly, black hair, twinkling eyes and flashing white teeth. . . . Le Boco. . . . White hunter . . . elephant poacher . . . wanted in every African Colony for his quick selective shooting of wise old “Bull-a-phants.”—Here alone is he safe as there are few shootable elephants left in Kenya . . . not worth poaching anyway . . . besides, he has a hankering for a game ranger's job.
“Well, Le Boco—what about a drink?”
“Goot. . . . We make de club and a ‘bottle’ wit orange juice.”
I climb into the battered, weather-baked car and we clatter up to Muthaiga. Now, in the bar, on our old friend the green settee, we are happily ensconced.
“Where have you been all this time?”
“In de Congo wit a dam-fool camera-man, who want to take de nature in all its glory,”—says he.
“Well, got any good pictures . . . was the fellow pleasant?”
“Not so mooch . . . de fellow and I, very quick ve have a big argument and then ve're not quite such goot friends.”
“Why Le Boco? Did you frighten him with any of your crazy stunts or what . . . ?”
“Oh, just a leetle argument vun morning and den ve disagree.”
I have to drag it from him . . . like most of his kind he doesn't talk about himself; besides, he knows he is quite advertised enough by his perfectly marvellous good looks.
Here is the story:
Vun morning de camera-man and I, ve set out very early to catch de old “buff” before he makes to his bed in de forest. After some walk ve findt goot place, and de camera-man, he climb a torn tree, hoist de moving-picture-machine to de branch; den ve use de “panga” and make a clean vindow along towards de trail de buff make to de water.
I send de boy along and sit down wit my back to de tree to vait and look. By and by de buff he coome bye, but not so near; so de man oop de tree curse and grind de camera on de long focus lens, so de pictures dey will probably all be moved.
Den all at last I hear a squeak above and he waves de arms . . . and so on de path straight for de tree he comes an old buff . . . de king of de buffs—wit horns at least two meetres on each side . . . de camera-man he grinds and grinds. . . . Aboot twenty meetres away de old buff he catches de eye on me at de foot of de tree . . . he stops and looks . . . looks some more . . . den shakes de head and scratches de ground wit de foot, getting his-self dam cross . . . I put de rifle towards de front, and de man in de tree says:
“Vait, don't shoot, dis is Real picture.” . . .
De old buff he gets his-self more cross . . . blows through de nose on de ground, making de dust fly; den he tink he has quite 'nough and coomes very fast for me.
De man above yells—
“Don't shoot.” . . .
I shoot! . . . De buffalo he die quite quick and de man toombles out of de tree wit de camera on toop of him.
Ven de man he gets his-self from de torns and de dust, he curses me saying I ruin de picture.
“So.” . . . I say—“ yes, maybe perhaps it make mooch better picture if de buff he make me go oop in de air—but what you tink you get for hundrett twenty quidt a montt? Not only de Safari but nice picture of me going oop in de air!”
So ve have great fight . . . but de buff he is dead; also it is very hot, and de camera-man he have his picture-machine hit him already in de back so he get tired before I do and ve all stoop.
But dat Safari he is de failure and ve coome home; de camera-man he had a bad sower in de stomach at not seeing me go oop in de air with de long buff horn through de pants; most disappoint I say . . . so dere!!—let's take anodder bottle wit orange juice, boot make less orange juice dis time as Ali he has made him drowndt last vun.
And so . . . “Bruderschaft” . . . also to all de friends wit de long horns and sharp teeth.
Tony, Son of Man
October is generally a dead month in Nairobi. When I came down, suddenly on an urgent business command, I boredly resigned myself to a very dull time. Nevertheless, at cocktail hour I wandered into Muthaiga bar and lapsed into the Field all slumped down on the green settee—someone was sure to turn up. Just as I was getting down to the meat of the journal, accounts of cubbing and such on a well-known Down, a painfully hearty thump shook me to the core.
“Well, Tiny, old man, it's years since we saw you.”
“Tony! I thought you had gone home.”
“Had to put it off as the Legislative Council needs my presence until the new year.”
“Rotten luck; I'm all sympathy.”
And then on all and about the things we talk about: what Samson, the lion cub, has been doing: of how the Valley crowd have just staged a new elopement, and Kipipiri, oh greatest wonder, have made their saw-mill saw and their wagons deliver somewhere near the promised date.
Minutes strolled peacefully by, after finishing our drinks we wandered out on to the porch as we always do; to get the feel of the air before dressing for dinner. It had been raining all day and the earth steamed; in the dark we could see hovering wraiths where the light from an electric bulb stabbed the night, shadows where it stole up towards the unwinking light of an already lowering planet . . . Venus, I suppose. . . . So white and bloodless in this country of dark men and darker passions.
We stood and breathed deep down in our chests the water-soaked air. . . . A smell of cut, wet grass and lawns made us silent with longings, and each in our own way and kind had visions of our far-away homes, even more vivid images forming to the drip-drip of a coagulating mist falling liquid from the long leaves of a eucalyptus tree.
The low hum of a car crept across the silence—two head lamps fingered their way along the road from town. Down and up the hills they went; we could nearly hear the groan of the bridge above the muddy river as the car banged and bounced in the eternal potholes that desecrate that spot. Listless we watched the lights finger up the curves where the road continues towards Thika. Was it some settler going back to his coffee shamba? was it some hunter on his way to Archer's Post or Moyale? was it one of the Engelbrecht's mail cars carrying home-news to the Northern district? . . . a mail boat got in yesterday. Just as the suspense was becoming unbearable, the light slewed around, shone for a second straight in our eyes from the bottom of the golf course and then slid up the road in a wide circle towards the Club house.
We had been alone all evening and rather welcomed additions to our tête-à-tête, so we waited on the porch. Tony stepping out towards the car as it slowed. . . . A woman and two men. . . .
There was a shock in the night, some telepathic crackle that made me at once alert. . . . Tony half halted, half turned, then stood stock still. . . . It couldn't be . . . it mustn't be . . . “Joan”! . . . His love of the last years; Joan who had gone home six months before, after most heartrending adieus . . . who had gone home to take up a new life. . . . Joan who had told him to forget her and all that.
“Hello Tony, still hanging around the bar I see . . . and dear old Tiny.”
She came with outstretched hands towards us. Tony was stunned. . . . At last he pulled himself together and we turned towards the men. One, an old friend from the K.A.R.; the other a captain, Bobby Smith, just arrived to join the old regiment; had travelled out with Joan from England.
So we sat on the porch having round after round of drinks until the atmosphere cleared, all tenseness dissolving in alcohol and laughter. At last we rose, arranging to join up again for dinner.
Soon we were seated, four men framing Joan's pale loveliness like chessmen well disposed on a chequered board. Joan at the head of the table marshalling the display, then the K.A.R.'s on one side and Tony and I opposite;—the end of the table was taken up with a huge jug of “Nile Water” dark, opalescent, fire for one's veins, madness for one's heart.
Ali hovered around, arranging, placing, running to our earliest bidding; well demonstrating the fact that we were in the dead season and no higher and mightier tippers were within reach. Yusuf poured the wine with his own hand and even the Goanese chef took an interest in the proceedings.—When coffee followed, we took it to the club-fender before the fire. Joan faced us, laughing across a low table . . . eyes sparkling and rapid words that teased and cajoled until we were each of us fascinated, swinging to her every mood, more than half in love with her. . . .
Bobby Smith, diminutive, jockey-like being, with carroty hair, writhing with ecstasy and desire. . . . Tony, with dark, gold eyes shining like a leopard's . . . absolutely immobile . . . hands clenched together across his knees, knuckles showing white with tenseness . . . his long, lithe body bent forward like a bowed sapling leaning against the wind. . . . What passed behind those cat's eyes? . . . Visions of days . . . visions of nights . . . of moonbeams playing through the gold shrouds of her hair . . . of passionate languorous nights when they clenched and clasped while a mad thunder storm broke across Lake Naivasha. . . . Nights when their senses were so acutely tuned that they heard the hippo's breath-taking amongst the reeds . . . heard the chirp of the field animals in the garden below. . . . Days when they had watched the paddles of their canoe-boys dip and rise, chaplets of drops running down to the black hands. . . . All those months of life intense, love viable. . . . She looked into his eyes and laughed; not a flicker, not a cloud passed across their agate surface.
Why had they separated? . . . Why had she left him to forget, and then come back?—I saw visions too . . . but Joan had never been part of my life . . . and I moved about the room trying to break the spell. . . . At last they all got up and went out on to the porch.
“Joan, I am taking you home,” said Tony, producing a grimacing scowl from Bobby Smith, whose hair stood up on his head. . . .
“No! Joan said I was to take her home.”—Slightly tipsy Bobby Smith.
Tony just looked round and his hand twitched by his side . . . a bit drunk, Tony. I put my hand on Smith's arm and whispered. . . .
“Don't be a fool. . . . Tony will kill you in a second . . . haven't you heard about him yet? . . . keep quiet, you fool, keep quiet.” I felt Smith trembling with rage. . . . Another look around the circle and Tony smiled . . . plenty of teeth in that smile, especially shiny and white, the two long “bicuspids” more like fangs.
“I am going to start my car; will you get your coat, Joan?”—Tony never staggers in drink . . . he never does anything except fight sometimes when he gets that way—and then the other man or men go to hospital,—unless someone can knock him out before he gets into his stride.
Joan smiles around at us. . . .
“Don't worry, you know I can manage him.” . . .
Bobby put out a hand towards her.
“No Bobby, not to-night. . . . This is my duty as I alone can get Tony home without a smash. You . . . have to-morrow's seven thousand years.”
So that's how it stands, is it. I shrugged my shoulders and looked at my friend from the K.A.R.
“A night cap?”
“Come on Bobby,”—we went off into the bar and sat down to drink it over . . . and forget. . . . Subconsciously we heard the car purr into the distance and until then did not realise that Smith had left us. Well, it couldn't be helped and anyway, he was a new arrival and couldn't possibly find Tony's house; besides, what did it all matter anyway? we didn't care an iota with that much Nile water inside us. So after a few minutes' chat, I packed the K.A.R. off in my car and fell into bed and dreamless slumber. . . .
It had been six months at least since I had made such a night of it . . . so when I awoke next morning to the furious pounding of my boy, I was not so fit and in a vile temper.
“What in hell's the matter, you little swine?”—In the middle of the abuse and the boy's trials at explaining, Yusuf came in.
“I sent the boy; Memsahib Joan asks you come to Norfolk very quick as there is a ‘shauri mbaya sana.’ ”
I could scarcely move, much less dress. . . . So Yusuf brought me cupfuls of prairie oysters, and after a shave and dressing, punctuated with groans of agony and awful dizziness, I got to my car and drove off, feeling too ill to wonder what was the matter. But Joan had called and it was an imperial command.
The morning air was sweet and cold . . . no other cars or gharris lifted the dust. . . . The eucalyptus and the wattles laid scented trails across the road. . . . When the five miles were behind, my mind was clearing and the steps up to the Norfolk's verandah did not seem too steep. . . . “Aunty” was in the office so I bowed her way and she sent me a smile across the wide ledger. . . .
“Which room has Joan got?”
“Number five. She's not up yet.”
“But she telephoned me.”
“Oh that's all right. . . . She sent the boy with a note and the manager phoned.” I hauled myself up the steps and at last got to door number five. . . .
“Is that you, Tiny? . . . Come in!” Joan was sitting up in bed, looking very tired and sleepless, dark rings circled her eyes—eager hands greeted me.
“Tiny dear, you don't know what I've been through with those two maniacs.”
“Well dear, weren't you just asking for it? going off with Tony last night, leaving the other fellow high and dry—especially with both of them more than half drunk.”
“Oh, but you don't know what it was like. . . . I've never been through such a night in my life—I'm just a ruin—a shadow of my former self. . . .”
“What happened anyway? . . . When I came by just now, I saw Tony's car parked in front of his bungalow . . . and no one has been phoning around, looking for Bobby Smith, so he must be all right. . . .”
“Oh, it's fine now, but there was near-murder and ‘I don't mean maybe’—just you wait until I give you the whole show, just all simple and unadulterated. . . .”
“Half-way back from Muthaiga, Tony, who had driven along, face front, a stern expression on his brow, stopped the car with a jerk and started his usual line, throwing himself into the job with a whole-heartedness which was quite convincing—what with the months of separation and all that, he did himself proud . . . going far into reminiscences, word pictures of past days and nights. I was quite flattered but not at all in a yielding spirit; nevertheless, it was most inspiring and what with moonbeams and clinging scents I suppose I got reminiscent too; before I knew it, he had started the car and was tearing up the alleyway towards his house. . . . At the bottom of the steps another scene took place—but then I'd collected what sense I have and was coldly determined to get back to the Norfolk and to my own bed in lonely solitude . . . besides, I had still pleasant thoughts of Bobby Smith and the trip out. Tony pleaded and threatened for hours it seemed, then suddenly losing all patience tried to drag me in. . . . At that very instant and moment there was the most colossal sneeze from the back of the car;—Tony stopped as if he had been shot and just as he moved to investigate, out popped Bobby . . . sneezing and coughing—choking nearly, covered with.dust, red all over, even his carroty hair had changed hue. . . .
“ ‘My God, my God,’—says Tony—‘where in hell have you come from?’—A thousand sneezes more and when at last Bobby took an uninterrupted breath, a rush of words came dashing forth. . . .
“ ‘You hound . . . how dare you . . . don't you know she's mine? . . . and I've heard every word you've said, you something, something son of “Belial”—I was sitting on the luggage grid; not a word you're not going to pay for, you hound!’
“Tony took one leap up the verandah steps, while I tried to hold Bobby, thinking that Tony had quit. Before another thought could form—crash goes a chair, bang goes a door, and he bursts out again, hair standing on end, wildly waving a revolver. . . .
“ ‘Where is that sneaking little swine?—I'm going to kill him. . . .’ It was just awful. . . . Bobby dodged around a pillar, then behind the car and around and around they went. It was terrifying. . . . I didn't know what to do or think—but suddenly I was struck by the glory of it all. . . .
“Tony and his passionate love, not by any means inaudible, and the while, the swallowed-dust-coated-curses of Bobby hanging drunkenly to the luggage grid behind . . . hysterical laughter shook me and that at least stopped them, and we all came back to the steps; I, still half crying, half laughing. Then we argued and argued, but at last I managed to get them calmed down and made Tony take us back to the Norfolk; there he left me at my door swearing murder and arson would be wrought, if he ever heard of Bobby playing around me again.
“Tiny dear, you can imagine the state I was in by then. . . . Nevertheless, I went to bed hoping that morning would clear the atmosphere; after what seemed hours of tossings and turnings, I quieted down, but just as I was dozing off, some slight noise startled me and I suddenly remembered that my room gave on the balcony that goes all around the house. Climbing out of bed I went to close the shutters. To my horror, there was Tony just below my window, sitting on the roof of his car, revolver in hand, pointing straight at my window—and, three windows down was a glimpse of white; Bobby . . . crouched behind the half-drawn shutters of his room . . . his light pyjamas showing him up a perfect target. . . . Thank God Tony's eyes were glued to my window. . . . How long I stayed there, I couldn't say, but I was stiff and frozen, not daring to move for fear Bobby might try and come along, or Tony catch sight of him where he was.”
“How did it all finish?”
“Well, Tony fell asleep and tumbled off the roof of his car. I leapt downstairs in slippers and a kimono and stole the gun from him before he was quite awake. He drove off, swearing murder and rape for to-day. . . . Here's the gun, do take it away and never let me see it again. . . . I feel so ghastly ill, I think I am dying. . . .”
She burst into tears and as the sobs slowly died I smoothed her forehead and soon she slept. Then, closing the blinds, I put the mosquito netting about her and tip-toed out of the room. . . . At her door I found the boy and told him that the Memsahib was not to be disturbed; that her sleep must stay like the tick bird to the Rhino or the Egret to M'Bogo, king of buffaloes. Then downstairs in my car I sat for a while, to drive home ultimately, to a cold bath. . . .
Truly a Kenya night, thought I as I dressed again. . . . And what if Tony had fired? Just another black blotch on this fair country's already-sullied name, another bar sinister to her coat of arms; and I held the heavy-barrelled gun in my palm. Well, I hope those two ruffians are awake with the very worst heads and a thirst the seas of the Nile may not quench.
Breaking open the gun . . . one of these subconscious gestures one has with firearms, the black steel killer slid from my hand to crash to the floor, missing my toe by an inch. . . . Slightly startled I was;—there were no cartridges in that gun.
Truly an African night, don't you think? . . .
A Sequence to “Vertical Land”
- Time Exposures
- Cyril—or, The Two Shots
- The Stinging Truth
- The Flying Fool
- A Pimp at Large
- The Fox
- Old Rubber Legs
- Vierge Folle
- “Blank” Cheque
- Heart's Desire (A Portrait of George White—“Hunter”)
The other day I came across some negatives of Kenya days; I sent them to be printed on a contrast paper as they were too dark and patchy to make out.
To-day the man of science returned them and I laid them side by side like a hand of “stills.”
All over-exposed . . . due perhaps to the fact that they have been maturing these many years . . . old brandy matures in the cask and the simple snap-shots have matured too . . . too old?
They date . . . they date terribly . . . but before throwing the packet into the fire, I want to put away these proofs which remind me cruelly of old times and open wounds. . . .
Cyril—or the Two Shots
Crack! . . . thud! . . . the Grant's Gazelle lurches five steps . . . hesitates . . . collapses, shot through the heart.
Cyril rises from his knees and together we step from the bushes into the light. . . . Two-hundred-and-seventy-two paces.
A wondrous shot!
Cyril strokes his moustache and with chin lifted smiles across the plains.
A crescendo of light sears the eyes from the centre of the darkened studio . . . suspense . . . tension . . . nerves on the verge of hysteria.
Clickety-clack . . . clickety-clack. . . . The handles turn . . . the director swears and entreats. . . . On the sofa borne down by his vibrant hands the heroine tortured, fevered, registers passion supreme. Cyril rises from his knees, fumbling for his cigarette case, his hands tremble, the lighter shaking with suppressed desire. The girl stares glassily up at him.
Cyril turns his back to the lens—one shoulder quivering scarce noticeable.
What a shot!
When did you act, Cyril, my friend?
The Stinging Truth
Three girls, four cocktails and a man. . . . A round, marble-topped table in the Berkeley Grill. . . . A cast shadow passing by and a darker shadow which crosses Nevil's eyes; the girls watch Ned disappear.
“Pretty average swine, Ned! put me in his book after all we did for him in Kenya. . . . But I suppose it's what one might expect from a damned foreigner”—the girls nod understandingly—“Only a foreigner” . . . they all three smile up at Nevil most hopefully but his vulturine eyes are dulled—a film across their surface.
In his mind rises a picture so vivid still that he is powerless to keep it back. . . .
The rainy night . . . the slippery mud road from Nanuki back to his farm . . . the girl at his side warm and fragrant . . . then the sudden halt, the struggle, his brutal strength, his curses in defeat. . . . And then home to the farm where her husband was waiting, suffering through a bout of fever. Ned's wife! At his, Nevil's hospitality!
Yes, definitely, all foreigners are swine. . . . Ned's a rotter to have put him in his book.
The film recedes . . . the girls smile . . . and Nevil stoops again. . . . More fields to conquer. . . .
“The bold, brave gentleman from Kenya.”
The Flying Fool.
Across the table he leans . . . answering you. The blue eyes afire with thoughts, the mind a jumble of desires and impressions . . . for ever restless—unappeased—a hybrid through whose fingers even time flies. . . .
When, far up above the clouds, the roar of the engine drives . . . down and up the raging plane slips and shivers; only then comparative peace envelops his surging, discontented heart.
No land, no country, no race—the pariah of the wide open spaces, the conqueror of a vacuum world flies through life, while behind him unfelt but dimly perceived, he leaves trouble, pain and despair. . . .
No repose, even for the wicked . . . no repose; again on the wing his thoughts surge away leaving you with a vague feeling of discontent and anger—the anger that suits a constructive spirit partially disturbed.
Useless in a useless world. . . .
Nothing! nothing left in his wake. . . .
He may die!
A Pimp at Large
On the wide terrace high above the lake a table is set—three people seated round. The sinking light is shot into space mirrored from her metallic hair and she smiles up at the boy, so blond, so pink, so crystal hard. . . .
“Darling, here's my purse, please pay and we'll go up.”
Her son stretches lazily and flicks the cigarette butt far into the air to fall ultimately at the foot of the cliff a thousand feet below.
“Mother, better leave us the money as Tony and I are throwing a party to-night.”
Her teeth catch on the carmined lips, her hand stretches towards the boy's . . . an angered look creeps behind the dilated pupils.
The boy! . . . her boy! . . . the boy friend! . . . So unfaithful, so loved; he, still stares across the wide expanse . . . bored . . . but it's the job . . . and he reaches for the purse, kisses the henna-tipped finger nails and pauseless drifts away, her son in his wake.
Her hands clench; a sigh? a curse? and she also fades into the shadows near the hotel. In the hall, aimlessly, she fingers the registration book. . . . What had he put down last night when they arrived? . . .
Her heart stops . . . her eyes blur . . . words of fire on a field of blood. The hall porter just in time catches her as she falls. . . . For ever . . . for ever . . . she will see them. . . .
“Mrs. Montollier-Jones & Sons.”
A green pool spreads its quiet sleepiness, rock bound and lazy . . . wild irises, yellow to black, like spears struck before some sullen hunter's tent, waft scented, clinging breezes across the cool expanse. A world of minute beings prey upon each other with shouts and screams inaudible to human ears . . . the silence is pregnant with suspense. . . . Then a pattering on the pebbles, a slight splash and the pool surges to an awaited vitality. . . .
“The Fox” swims about, turning, twisting this way and that, like some water nymph. . . .
Her burnished hair glistening redder than a harvest moon, redder than Kikuyu clay; white polished shoulders alternately cleaving the greeny surface, gleaming, fairer for the burning hair.
The Fox steps out on to the beach again, her twinkling golden eyes show the glory of physical content and superb mental repose. . . . A laugh behind her, she turns with catlike swiftness, to relax; waiting until the boy is at her side.
Why did they call her The Fox when every gesture is feline in its inconsistency? . . .
Old Rubber Legs
As he flicks over the pages of that last chapter in Vertical Land—his eyes wrinkle behind his glasses and suppressed chuckles gurgle forth. . . .
No! he is not in it though search he does. . . . Can't be helped . . . can it? . . .
“Sorry, old man, but can't put real people in a book; they might think they could make a bit . . . and on a cold morning the postman would make me sign for a registered letter . . . Lewis & Lewis. . . . ‘In the interest of our clients’ . . . etc. . . . and so on. . . .”
“Tennis”—someone calls; he uncurls his supple length and soon across the green lawn he makes a girl friend run.—An hour later, still content, alone before the wood fire poring into a Freudian phantasy, while “Mary” the Macaw licks the polish off his shoes and nips the backs of his calves. . . .
Versatile among the versatile. . . . Even the highbrows do not call him superficial. . . .
Rubber-Legs enjoys life as much as we enjoy him. . . .
I start with a lie, I will conclude with a blasphemy. . . .
But Vierge she must have been once upon a time. . . . To-day, life consists of a series of “affairs,” one more serious than another; yet—wide-eyed and virginal-looking, she wanders through the world, pale-blue eyes sentimental and soft hands clinging for support to the merest male.
Such is her power that behind her she has left on this “road to heaven” a trail blazed with regrets unfulfilled and desires unsatiated . . . not hers . . . those of others . . . of the men who frightened fled her hungry mind, of women whose maddened sex she awoke . . . to pass on. . . .
Sometimes of evening between the port and the “Shall we join the ladies?” we cads speak of her and each has a new shiver to repress and a new tale to tell though she passed through our lives many moons ago.
We quite agree to think of her as:
“The Raging Angel.”
Scene: the Ritz bar on an early Sunday of the year at one-fifteen. Few people about . . . most are playing golf at St. Cloud or sleeping off the effects of last night's Press dinner.
“Come into the other side; I've got a girl friend there from Kenya sipping pink gin and cursing her luck because all the shops are closed; thank God! . . .”
I sat with them for a cocktail or two, and when I left Nigel drew me carefully aside:
“Couldn't lend me a couple of fivers, old man, could you? quite forgot to pass at the bank yesterday . . . and you know . . . Sunday in a foreign country . . . and no club . . . what?”
I stiffened . . . knowing his gang too well . . . it's rather an old wheeze.
“Awfully sorry, but broke high and wide for the time being.” . . . I slipped out with undue haste. . . .
Three weeks later I returned ; scarce past the portals, Frank rushes to my side. . . .
“Good morning, Sar! . . . Glad to see you so well! . . . You know your friend the gentleman with the eyeglass; he said you said I must cash a cheque for him . . . twenty pound . . . that all right?”
“My God, no, Frank.” . . .
“But Sar, I see you two were good friends . . . what must I do?”
“Wait and see.” . . . Inexorably ten days later the cheque returned. . . . Blank cheque, yes . . . a flowing hand in red ink had written across the dull expanse—“No account.” . . .
Well so it was! and Frank and I had it out on a little square of green baize at stud poker. . . .
Frank now has the twenty pounds and I the cheque, which hangs in my study beneath a pair of bushbuck horns reminding me whenever I sit, pen in hand, of the last time I was had.
Heart's Desire: A Portrait of
Yes, George dear, a portrait of yourself; you know, it is not impertinent of me . . . besides, I don't care if you do think so. And those who will refuse to believe these few lines, who maybe will scoff and shout at the idea of your being sentimental or even thoughtful in a genuinely tender way, are wrong, and more so, blind.
Yes, George dear . . . quite blind. . . .
The other day when we went to the station to meet the girl whom you have been writing to for years . . . your palms were very moist, weren't they? . . . Words, phrases, sheets of expressions were trembling upon your lips ready to dash bodily forth . . . like an all-embracing flood to surround her . . . draw her to your arms and help you carry her away to cherish for ever . . . this girl you have loved and been faithful to in mind if not in body since the day you two parted ten years ago. . . .
And what happened?
The train pulled in . . . she stepped out . . . you walked up. . . .
“Well, Nan darling, had a good trip . . . ? rotten dust at this time of the year . . . isn't it?”
“Yes dear . . . do I give the luggage blank to the black fellow? All right! Nice up here! bit hot down at the coast.”
“Got cocktails waiting! . . . let's push along . . . ‘Njugana! Tia Sanduku ya Memsahib motor-car ini yangu.’ ”
“Sounds pretty hot! . . . What, all about my box? . . . nice car you've got. . . . Buick sports chassis? Good pullers, aren't they? . . .”
And you drove away, hearts so exalting that you never realized that you ran straight over the postmaster's dog, yes! “Piga Sana,” which we have all been trying to assassinate for theft the last two years.
Oh you two damned self-restrained fish!
You two bloody Anglo-Saxons!
You . . . you . . .
But you know I love you all the same.
Since the writing of the tale where Aunty is mentioned the dear Lady has departed to, we hope, a better world.
I would like here to bring my humble tribute to join that of the whole colony who will mourn while memory lives.
Truly Aunty, fairy god-mother, to all of us discarded Europeans; she helped, she understood, she forgave; what more have any accomplished, who now through heavenly spaces rejoice in the great clan of sainthood?
Printed in Great Britain
at the Burleigh Press, Lewin's Mead, Bristol.