DRUMS IN THE NIGHT
The hollow, awesome boom of a big native drum; then the sharp staccato of a smaller drum, answering it. It was the mysterious telegraph of Africa working out its sinister purpose. And the woman, hearing it, never dreamed that it was her life that was being woven anew with each fateful stroke that sounded in the night air.
SHE found herself suddenly alert, though with no idea what had awakened her. The African night was black and sultry. Tanged with wood-smoke, the heavy odors of a thousand blossoms drifted through the unglazed window. Strangely, the night-things chorus now was hushed. But for the foolish yap, yap, yap, of distant jackals, quiet was utter.
Then she leaped convulsively, springing breathless to her elbow at the impact of the sound which split the silence horribly. Boom. Thunderous, menacing, it throbbed away across the veldt like some stupendous, reverberating voice. Her heart pounded. Cold sweat was on her.
Boom. Again it bellowed. Before she was aware, she was out of bed and had snatched open the door. But there she stopped, more than a little ashamed of her panic. She hoped her brother had been aroused, though she was not willing to expose her discomfiture by calling him. Blindly fumbling, she found her kimono and put it on, listening tensely for sounds of his movements. Boom.. On the instant, high in the inky dark of the living room, into which her bedroom opened, there flashed a fiery sparkle as from some great jewel, to disappear and leave the blackness more profound. She gasped, and her flesh crawled. Boom, and with it again that eyelik’e glitter in the gloom. Her composure shattered now, she dashed wildly for her brother’s room, but her first step fell on something warm which yelled and wriggled, tripping her. Her scream of genuine terror was echoed by Julian’s shout of “coming!” and the crash of his door. Then his torch’s white beam found her where she sprawled by Mary, her Wagogo woman, who had been sleeping across her threshold. With a quick pad pad of naked feet along the stone verandah, a third white figure loomed. ‘ What’s up?” came the Commissioner’s voice. “That damn drum scare you?” A match scratched. Its glow illumined his tall figure reaching to the hanging lamp. Julian sprang to her aid, but she was up, if somewhat shakily, before he reached her. Suddenly she felt foolish. “It’s all right,” she said, with some defiance, “I stepped on Mary. That’s what made me yell.” Conscious of his night attire, the Commissioner disappeared, to return at once in gown and slippers. “That dam’ drum,” said he. “I’ll see about that in the morning.” “W—was that a drum?” she asked incredulously. “Yes. Signal drum. Sort of prehistoric telegraph. They call up on the
big ones, and then they carry on a converation on those little fellers they’re always playing.” Boom. Once more shattering the stillness terrifyingly.
As the stroke reeled hoarsely into nothingness, he raised his hand. “Listen. There’ll be an answer soon.” Faint, but distinct, at last, far, far away sounded a tiny “Thud.” “Hear that? Now they’ll talk.” Almost at once from very near broke forth the staccato rattle of the little drum. “Interesting, eh?” “Very,” she answered. “But it wasn’t only the noise. There was a
sort of light. It came when the drum beat.” Her eyes pursued her thought to where that living fire had quivered, and found high-perched in a wall-niche a grotesque black image.
The men’s eyes followed hers. At once Martin exclaimed, “Oh, Gad! Of course! You must have been startled.” “What do you mean?” “Why, old Mulungu, there. He’s the offender.” Then, aside. “Let’s have a drink now we’re up. Bo-o ooy!” he yelled. Obtaining no response, he beat a gong lustily. As they dropped into chairs, a sleepy house boy shambled in. Ordering drinks, the Commissioner turned to his guests. “Don’t wonder you were scared.” He pointed to the image leering blindly down. It was a fantastic distortion of a negroid countenance, but it had no eyes. Instead, a single empty socket gaped in the centre of its forehead. “Someone darn clever made that chap. The light comes from the eye. There’s a tricky little arrangement of mirrors hung on wires, which gather the faintest beam. Any vibration makes them quiver, and then the rays focus on a central prism to make the sparkle. When they’re still there’s no light ’cos the rays don’t meet. Uncanny effect, isn’t it?” Suddenly his laugh died. A sadness seemed to settle over him, and his eyes sought the velvet outer gloom where the little drum still chattered. When at length he turned to them, his face was sober. “You’ve heard about Scaife, of course?” he said, very quietly. They looked their ignorance. Then Julian’s face lighted. “Now you mention it, wasn’t that the chap they called the Rhodes of East Africa?” Martin nodded. “That’s Scaife. He was all of that . . . and my friend. This is his house. He’d been here from the early days, hunting ivory. He knew the tribes, and they knew him. He had the gift. At that time they were united under old King Wango, but when he died they split between his two sons, Wango and Dinhili. War broke out at once. Mulungu was the trouble. He was their god of war. The government was new then, and powerless. The people got madden and madder, and the butchery was sickening. From the first Scaife worked for peace—I swear he loved ’em
bronze, and who fled swiftly at a word of command1.
“Please rest. There will be food in a moment . . . you must be famished . . . then sleep. We can start back at daybreak.”
He turned to go, but she held up her hand.
“Please, Mr ...”
“Robinson,” he supplied.
“Mr. Robinson. Don’t go. And won’t you explain. . . ”
A white-clad boy set soup on the table, and spoke in the vernacular. Robinson indicated the steaming plate. “Your meal is ready. Afterwards ...”
“But won’t you stay? I don’t want to appropriate your camp. This is your dinner, isn’t it? Won’t you . . . join me?”
He hesitated a long moment, biting his lip, then looked up, with a smile that strangely warmed his horse-like face.
“I am honored. It is very long since I dined with a lady.”
He spoke to the boy, who laid another place.
A curious silence hung over them; he troubled and diffident, she so unutterably relieved at the denouement of her extraordinary adventure that everything else, even her curiosity, had only secondary significance. She was still only half convinced that she was not dreaming that she had been abducted at midnight by savages, carried three days through the bush in a litter and was now dressed in the clothes of a strange man nearly seven feet high with a face like a horse, and dining with him in his camp outside a savage city.
But the dinner was appetising enough to almost convince her. As a dish of grilled venison cutlets was placed before him, she held his eye and voiced her query.
He served her in silence, and her plate was almost empty before he spoke.
“I . . . can hardly find words,” he began. “You are Lady Helen Bray.”
At this she sat up quickly. How did he know?
“I get the news from outside pretty in explanation.
Now he seemed to brace himself to get through with it, facing her almost defiantly.
“I have lived alone in this country for a long time. These people are my friends; almost, I might say, my only friends. The chief who escorted you here is Wango, son of King Wango of the Masai, of which people I am sure you have heard.
“The King has been for years much worried because . . . I . . . I . . . am unmarried. You must know that to the native mind such a situation is distressing. He has at different times offered me most of the royal ladies, and has taken my refusal of them to mean that I did not find them sufficiently desirable. Y ou see, the idea that I might prefer to be alone is to them ridiculous ” Now he became diffident once more, and the mahogany of his face grew almost purple. He crossed and uncrossed his bony legs and wrestled with his table napkin. At last, with obvious effort, he went on. “To shorten a most embarrassing story, Lady Helen, Wango heard that there was a—a—very lovely white woman in the country, and sent his son to steal her for me, hoping in that way to serve me. It has been a most distressing occurrence. I cannot find words to express my concern. I trust you will believe that I had not the remotest idea of it till the litter was put down outside my tent.”
At first, as she listened to the incredible story, so lamely told, she had been conscious only of her interest in it. But as he concluded she conceived a swift anger at his impartial manner. She was a much pampered and adulated person. Suddenly this long, lean stranger, who told her solemnly she had been delivered in her night clothes as a gift to him, filled her with feminine fury. Her face grew fiery red, but her voice was cold.
“A most extraordinary story, Mr. Robinson! I trust you will take steps to punish these savages severely.”
At this he looked up sharply. “Er . . . well, no, Lady Helen. That’s hardly fair. You see they are savages, and acted in all good faith. They have given no trouble to the government for many years, though a most savage and war-loving people. This was their atto serve me. But for that they would molest no
woman. I shall, of course, explain the enormity of their transgression, but there can be no question of punishment.”
His tone was that of one explaining to a child; but there was in it also a note of defiance, of justification of his savage friends.
At his cool reprimand, her eyes blazed. “How dare you speak to me like that! You allow your savages to kidnap me, and then have the effrontery to tell me you will take no action. No doubt the next white woman passing Jinja will be dragged here for your approval!”
Robinson was most distressed. Under his tan, he paled. “Lady Helen, I beg of you ... I had no intention . . . I felt sure you would understand my explanation.”
The inference against her comprehension goaded her further. She became really angry. “I’m sorry I cannot appreciate your unusual values. Obviously you cherish the feelings of your savages more than you respect those of your own people. I shall see that Sir Godfrey Mallinson attends to this matter.”
Robinson’s face was changing now. His diffidence had gone. His sunken eyes met hers steadily, with a lurking hint of anger. But before he could speak, from the town below came a great burst of that wild song the warriors marched to on the journey in, and they saw a column of them, three abreast, debouch from the town and march singing toward the hill. Straight for the tent the leader came, swinging splendidly along to the sonorous chant, till the head of the column deployed on the open space at the hill’s foot.
“Are they coming here?” she asked coldly.
“Send them away. I hate them!”
He regarded her gravely. “Please . . . they come to do you honor.”
“To insult me! Send them away, I say.”
He made no answer, watching silently as more and more warriors came from the kraals till the hillside was black with them. She recognized Wango, her statuesque abductor, at their head.
Continued on page 36
Continued from page 5
Now, as at a signal, the singing stopped abruptly.
Robinson leaned toward her. His face was set, his blue eyes steely now.
“Since you are disposed to despise them, Lady Helen,” he said, “I would inform you that I have had more cause to admire and trust these—savages—than has been the case with many of my own people.”
Such was the dignity and sense of innate power about him, the rebuke went surely home. To her disgust, she found no words to save her countenance, and felt her hot blush rise. But before she could marshal her resources, the whole barbaric concourse led by Wango, charged up the hill toward them.
It was a magnificent, terrifying spectacle. On they came, with a soft drum of feet that seemed to shake the earth, till they were within ten yards of the tent. Helen was on the point of ignominious
flight when they stopped as one man, to stand, a panting mass of huge, brown savages, tossing ostrich plumes, horsetail tassels and oval shields of black and white, bristling with assegais.
A few paces to their front was Wango more regally barbaric than before, in huge ostrich feather headdress and leopard skin kaross. He raised his hand with its sheaf of spears and kerries, and a mighty shout broke from the crowded warriors, ringing out like a thunder-clap.
It rolled away magnificently to the distant purple hills.
As Helen sat intent and rigid, caught by the glamor of the scene and awed by the savage homage paid to Robinson, it came to her, that somewhere, sometime, she had seen or heard of such a spectacle before, and her mind ran swiftly through her memories, seeking to this conviction. For some moments she had no success, till she remembered the words of the commissioner at Jinja when he described the placing on its pedestal of the idol whose evil-glittering eye had so discomfited her.
. . .“the whole mob stood up and gave him the royal salute, Room! It sounded like the Last Trump ...”
With the thought, her heart turned over. She wheeled involuntarily to face her host, at the same time shrinking back and eyeing him with new and fascinated interest.
He had pulled one of his incredible shanks across his other knee, holding it with clasped hands, his chin upon his chest, as he gravely regarded the rippling throng of warriors.
Wango now stepped close to him, dropped on one knee and offered the hilt of his broad-bladed stabbing assegai. He touched it, smiling, and rose. Wango rose too, and for an instant they faced each other, the white man and the brown, each in his own way splendid, replete with dignity. Then Wango turned and his eyes sought Helen.
Alternating between anger at her impotence and terror at the conviction that fast grew upon her, she eyed him coldly.
Then Robinson laid his hand restrainingly on Wango’s shoulder, and in that instant she knew who he must be. With the knowledge, her position whirled into a grim new aspect, and in momentary panic she bolted ignominiously into the tent.
Robinson stood and watched them go. Tender, warm, yet infinitely wistful, a little smile was on his lips. Then, catching the mutter of thunder to the eastward, he wheeled sharply and walked to where the tent would not obstruct his rearward view, to stand anxiously searching the sky.
HELEN lay in the chair where she had flung herself, and heard the chorus die. Till then she had not really doubted the honesty of his story. Her anger had been all for his impartial defence of her abductors, and his cool assumption of her acceptance of his point of view. But with her sinister new knowledge came a thousand terrors.
binding action unbearable, she went out to the awning again. There was no one there. The sun was down. Nothing but a few pale golden streaks hung low in the westward sky. The earth was bathed in that soft violet afterglow that casts no shadows, and which, for its brief reign, imparts an eerie sense of unreality. Then from behind her came a long, slow, roll of thunder. Turning, she saw Robinson, huge and ungainly, like the gaunt corpse of a blasted tree, etched black against the lurid purple of the sky.
He turned and came toward her. There was a curious impartiality in his regard, which was nevertheless so searching as to intrude upon her mental privacy. She found her anger ebbing swiftly from her, giving place to apprehension as to the verities of this man’s nature.
Then he said slowly, “Lady Helen, I have most unwelcome news. There are heavy rains to the eastward. In four hours the river will be up, and the ford will be impassable till it subsides.” He faltered a little and stood with downcast eyes, twisting his hands in his diffident way.
A rush of cold fear swept her, followed by blind resentment mixed with fury. Her eyes blazed as her chin went up. “I had no doubt you would find some means of prolonging your entertainment at my expense,” she said icily. “That is no more than one might expect from a murderer!”
His twisting hands fell to his sides. He seemed to sway a moment as his figure drooped, but then with one stride towered above her. She glared up.
“So you heard?” he said, very quietly. “Yes, I am Bryan Scaife. For all that, you are as safe with me as with your brother. I repeat I had no part in what has happened. I am at your service till it is rectified. It must be some days before we can cross the river. Meanwhile, I will leave my camp for your use and live with my—savages—in the kraals.” That cold rebuke she’d sensed before was in his voice as he continued: “But before I go, as you have called me ‘murderer,’ I would have you know the truth. You should have held your tongue; but since you could not, you shall endure my presence for a little time and listen.”
He thrust his lean face into hers. “Sit down!”
She felt her anger ebb again, and sank down on her chair with involuntary obedience. He sat, too, and leaned across the little table till in the violet light she marked the ripe mahogany of his cheeks.
“Murder is a nasty word, Madam,” he said grimly. “But there are men without whom the world is better . . . Law is not always just . . . Did they tell you the whole story?”
A little breathlessly, feeling more like a child than ever, she nodded, the while striving against a growing sense of unreality. It seemed again she dreamed; she sat with a murderer alone in the heart of Africa and discussed his crime with him.
But his voice was very real as he went on. “I loved her, all I knew. Retief and I were old enemies. He, her father and I were partners once, but I left them when they wanted to run guns and whisky.
“The day she came from England with Retief I went for my explanation. At first she went on her dignity, cried her independence, but I bore her down.” Helen thought he’d have little difficulty in bearing anybody down. The subtle force of him was all about her.
“She told me that Retief held documents that would convict her father of gun running without incriminating herself, and that he would make use of them if she did not marry him. Gun running, under British law, is punishable by life imprisonment. Barstow was old and failing then. Worse than this—for me—she said she did not love me. She’d met a boy on shipboard—And wanted to marry him . . .
“So I suggest to you that Jan Retief was better dead. Barstow lives in peace . . . Vera—she married whom she loved; and I ■—I live in this land with these people— whom I love.”
His eyes found hers and held them. Then he rose, bowed, with a distant dignity and strode off into the new dark. Awestruck and breathless she watched his tall white figure fade.
For a long time she sat on. She had no anger now, nor fear. A curious sense of peace and of detachment was about her, through which she saw his face; grave, wistful and deadly earnest, and heard his voice.
While he had talked, the thunder’s mutter had been growing ever louder. Now the boy brought lights, and just as his black heels disappeared, a flash of lightning split the sky. A mighty crack of thunder broke above her, sending her heart into her mouth at its intensity. Then there was silence, utter and profound, till the slow patter of heavy raindrops sounded on the canvas, growing ever quicker till with a roar of rain and wind the eastward storm broke full upon the camp.
The lamp went out, and she sprang up, groping her way frightened into the tent and calling, “Mary! Mary!”
It was a mighty storm. The wind shrieked and howled, and the rain beat like bullets on the canvas of the writhing tent. Crash after rending crash of thunder burst close above her, followed by lightning gleams that threw the tiniest details into momentary sharpness. Between the flashes, she stood tense and terrified in the roaring dark, her hands tight clenched and feeling appallingly along. Then one side of the tent blew in, flogging furiously till she feared the whole thing would be whipped from over her and swept away.
Just when her last reserve of will began to waver, a flash revealed Scaife’s towering figure, as with wet ducks plastered to him, he wrestled with the wildly
flapping canvas of the door. In the inky dark that followed she gazed at where she had seen him, then shrieked involuntarily as a firm clasp found her arm. Yet the shriek was but the outbreak of her overtension, not of her fear of him, for with his touch again that strange calm soothed her.
The uproar prevented any conversation, but the warm grip on her arm remained until, after the manner of tropic storms, all in a breath the tumult died.
As the rain-drum dwindled and the drooping canvas of the battered tent flapped wearily, he struck a match, and, shielding it with his hand went to the writing desk and lit the lamp. Then he said,
“Í thought you might be afraid, so I came back; I’ll see that they fix the tent.”
He turned to go. But as he stooped to raise the flap she called, in a strange, dry whisper,
He straightened and turned.
“I’m sorry I . . . I . . . for . . .” she rushed her fence in desperation, “If we’ve got to wait till the river goes down, let’s be as if I’d never known.” . .
He stiffened into new attention, peering at her. She looked forlorn and very small by the yellow lamplight, in his grotesque great shirt contrived to fit her, and the sheet swathed round her waist. Then he inclined his head.
“I should be very happy ...” and his eyes fell.
It was late. She held out her hand. “I think I’ll go to bed now. I’m awfully tired. Good night.”
He gave her a long, long look, then smiled brilliantly and nodded. But he did not take her hand.
“Good night,” he said. “To-morrow we’ll know how high the river’s going.”
He turned on his heel and left her.
Mary crouched tremblingly at the bedfoot, terrified by the storm. Helen undressed slowly, but, once in bed, tired out, she slept.
SHE awoke to the rhythmic thunder of drums and deep-throated singing from the town, lying and listening to it drowsily. She had now no fear, not since that hand had laid upon her in the darkness. Her arm burned as she remembered.
Becoming very wide awake, she rose and went to the tent door, stepping over Mary as she sprawled at the bedfoot. Down in the kraals a great fire blazed, and implike figures of dancing savages writhed against its redness. Serene in the starlit vault the moon sailed overhead, and a sharp, clean smell of rain-scoured earth refreshed her nostrils. Filling her lungs a few times she was about to drop the flap and retire when on the hilltop to her side she caught a gleam of white and, turning, saw Scaife.
His chin was sunk on his chest, and with hands clasped behind him he paced steadily to and fro, to and fro, in the night.
As she watched, there grew upon her a realization of the grandeur, the regal loneliness of him, and she wondered what might be passing in the heart of this murderer who was so gentle to her fears, and yet could rebuke her coldly when she condemned the savage king who paid him homage.
Pondering so vague a question, she made her way within and slept again.
Next morning Mary awoke her, bringing a dish of fruit, beside which lay a note. She read, “I have gone to inspect the lower ford. The runner with your note crossed before the river rose.”
Outside, the fierce sun long had parched the rainwashed freshness of the night before, and even the punkah above the breakfast table did little more than move the sultry air. LWith a calm that recurrently struck her as surprising, she contemplated the wait of days before her.
After breakfast she busied herself with improvising the makeshift by which she was able to wear his shirt, and in fashioning a rude skirt and undergarments from a sheet, using a distressingly masculine housewife of rolled canvas which Mary brought with the intimation that the Bwana had instructed her so to do. Thus the morning passed till she was conscious of the plunging arrival of a horse outside the tent.
She went out, to see him drop from his mount. He lowered his eyes and waited. “Please come in,” she said.
“I trust you had a good night?” Continued on page 40
Continued front page 38 “Thank you, I slept splendidly.”
“The flood is not large. In three days at the most the ford will be passable. I shall be in the kraals—at your service,” he bowed and swung away.
But she held up her hand. “Please. I don’t want you to go.”
He found her eyes and held them, then smiled his grave smile.
Thereafter he showed no signs of wishing to efface himself, spending the entire afternoon and evening with her. He had the listener’s gift, and drew her skilfully to talk of England and herself until she was conscious of a vague rebellion at being thus handled like a child. But she could not voice nor manifest to him her choler.
THE days passed in this manner, and she found herself actually settling down to the preposterous situation. Scaife’s calm seemed inviolable. In a hundred ways through orders to her woman he showed his thought for her. Sometimes he talked for hours about the country and the people, revealing a vast store of knowledge and an abiding affection for them both.
After dinner on the third evening, as they sat under the awning with their coffee, a native loped up and spoke.
Scaife turned to her. “The river is down,” he said. “To-morrow we may cross.”
His face was inscrutable, but at his words she knew an unexpected tumult of emotions she strove in vain to still or diagnose.
They sat silent a long time. He seemed intently to be thinking, almost to be unconscious of her presence. Suddenly he spread his hand to the wide sweep of earth before them with a swift strong gesture strangely foreign to the calm she’d learned to know him by. Veldt and jungle, river, marsh and lake, the country stretched as far as eye could reach, merging at last in purple haze of distant hills.
“Masai country,” he said. “Reserved to them by the treaty of 1900. There are those who would steal it.” An almost sinister determination crept into his tone. “While I live it shall never be . . . May I ask if you heard anythihg outside of legislation to annex part of the Masai reservation?”
She shook her head. “Nothing.”
He turned with sudden passion, “Lady Helen,” his voice was deep and strong, “if you believe in justice, take this message with you; not from me, but from Wango, the king. Say that the Masai are loyal; that Wango has kept his promise given fifteen years ago to Bryan Scaife, but that if one acre of his land is annexed an old god will arise and the Masai will fight for their owm to the last man ...”
N ow he addressed himself with vehemence to her directly.
“These Masai are soldiers, bloodthirsty, fighting men. War and pillage are the breath of life to them, yet for fifteen years they have kept the King’s peace because of a promise given and taken. For the sake of their trust bear witness, as the voice of one who may not speak, that the old spirit of the Masai is not dead. Only by keeping faith with them can peace continue.”
Now his eyes blazed, and for the first time her heart perceived, beyond all question, the pure spirit that burned in him. ,
He went on fiercely: “There is that in Jinja which could fan the Masai, yes, and the Kikuyu, the Waheli, the Kavirondo and even the Galla, into war within the week.”
“I know,” she said. “Mulungu.”
His eyebrows climbed. “ Y ou know that story, too.”
“Then you will understand how much this means to me.”
Now an awkward silence fell. He seemed embarrassed at his own outburst, and stared distrait at the far distance.
To try and ease the moment she began to tell him of her midnight adventure with Mulungu’s glittering eye, laughing at the memory of her fears. As she described them, he, too, laughed, till the tension was passed.
“I’ll always remember that little drum,” she concluded. “After I went back to bed it seemed to be pleading with me, trying to tell me something, as though it was beaten for me alone.” Continued on page 44
Continued, from page 40 “That’s strange,” he said, “Because you know, the drums were Wango’s, sent by him to signal if you should leave Jinja before he could carry out his plan. He has told me how he arranged it all . . . ” Now he fell silent again for a while. Then he began to speak in a different tone, distantly, as if to himself:
“It’s strange how things come back. Have you ever noticed? Little, inconsequential things? It’s long since I thought of Mulungu’s eye, but you bring it back . . . back. That night, the night Retief was killed, the shot made it glitter . . . twice. God!” he whispered, hoarsely. “I see it all again. Long ago, in my bungalow in Jinja. I was happy there. Long ago . . . long ago. How long?”
Now his eyes were on her, but unseeingly.
Wide-eyed, aghast, she watched him, seeing a fugitive who lived his crime in horror once again.
Then he looked at her steadily, aware of her once more; catching his breath to see the loathing in her face. For an instant he hung so, with horror, despair and agony most plain to see upon his haggard features. Then with a great groan he rose, overturning his chair in his precipitancy, and stumbled into the gathering gloom.
In a little time she heard the rush of hoofs, and turned to see him ride like a madman over the hill.
NEXT morning Mary woke her, shortly after dawn. “Bwana say soon go,” the woman said.
She rose and dressed.
When she emerged from the tent there was no sign of Scaife. She was glad, she thought, for the horror of last night’s closing scene was strong upon her. Yet, while she breakfasted, she found herself listening for the tread of booted feet outside. At last it came, and she went out.
With four sleek giants to bear it, a litter stood. Another native held the white man’s horse.
“I hope it’s not too early,” he said. “It’s better to travel in the cool, and camp at noon.”
But it was clear he spoke so, merely to pass on the moment. Now he motioned to the litter.
Quite lost for words, she got in. Scaife spoke curtly, and the bearers took their load, heading down the hill where they were joined by a string of porters carrying camp equipment.
Reclining comfortably in the swaying litter, through its opening she could see his horse’s flank and his bcoted and spurred foot, as he rode beside her.
She strove vainly to define her state of mind. She was tired, distraught, still under the grim shadow that had touched her the previous night, yet for all that there seemed a curious sense of fitness in the moment.
It seemed entirely natural and desirable that she should lie in this safari litter swaying to the naked shoulders while he rode by her on a raw black Waler. She felt that she had done it all before, and would do it often again. So she drowsed for several hours, till his voice intruded.
“We’re at the ford,” it said. He was bending down from his saddle to talk to her. “It looks pretty wild, but don’t be afraid. The boys know the passage and the foothold is excellent.”
The face at the horse’s withers disappeared, and she turned to look from the other side of the litter.
The muddy Ghuja swept along in swirls of yellow foam wherein she could discern no sign of shallows. But his assurance was sufficient, and she lay back again.
Then a voice said: “Mr. Scaife. In the King’s name!” and her heart turned sickeningly. By some strange alchemy she knew what it must be, and sprang from her couch.
A yellow haired officer of the Nyasaland Mounted Rifles was covering Scaife with a revolver, while four mounted Hausa constables waited stolidly behind him.
Scaife sat quite still, and a lump grew in her throat to see his eyes. Now he smiled, ever so faintly. “Too bad, Monty.”
The other colored under his tan. They evidently knew each other. “The news got out. They thought it must be you ... I’d have given my right hand . . ” “All right, old man. All right . . .” He waved aside the policeman’s protests.
“You’ll give your parole, sir, of course?” The pistol sagged.
“No, Monty., You’ll have to hold me.” The weapon kicked and steadied. “Please, sir?”
“I’m sorry, then. Corporal Samba.” She sickened to see Scaife hold out his hands as the handcuffs jingled. The officer sheathed his gun and hung his head, and soon the dreary file wound down the bank and stepped into the muddy stream.
IT WAS a week since her return. Her strange tale had been told and told again. In the settling dark she and her brother sat and waited for the Commissioner.
Julian had recovered from his anxiety and his relief. Somehow, for both of them, the whole romantic happening had been dwarfed by the consciousness of Scaife, who waited in the jail for orders to move him to the capital. To all their advances he made no plain reply, receiving them with perfect courtesy, and persistently refusing his parole.
His dignity, his silence, his monumental loneliness, dominated them day and night, and the shadow of approaching tragedy brooded ever closer.
Helen, herself, was troubled beyond belief. Though she told herself interminably that she had no concern with the matter, she was obsessed by two most vivid memories. One of a mighty figure that spread its hands like some warrior king and spoke, with passion, of freedom and justice; and one of a haggard mask that mouthed and whispered . . .“Back You bring it back!”
Life seemed distasteful to her now. She wondered where might be the plenteous joys she’d known before.
With dragging step that spoke his weariness, Martin now came up the steps and entered, throwing down his topi and dropping into a chair.
“It’s no use,” he said. “He won’t talk. I’ve begged and pleaded with him. All he does is smile and say, ‘Nothing to say, Paddy.’ ” He lay back in his chair and closed his eyes.
No one had words. To Helen all the world seemed hateful.
Her frayed nerves shrank, as from the kraals outside the town thundered the stroke of one of the great signal drums, and she turned involuntarily to regard Mulungu behind her on the wall. Black and obscene the idol squatted.
To her surprise, no answering glitter sprang from the gaping single socket. She waited for another stroke, when Julian said;
“Beastly uncanny thing. If it were mine I’d plug that eye. 'Tisn’t healthy.” Still further mystified, she turned. He sat across from her on the other side of the fireplace, facing the idol behind her.
“Did it glitter?” she said. “I didn’t see
“It did . . . devilishly!”
She turned again to wait the drum-beat.
No many-colored fire sprang from the
“Did it shine that time?” she asked.
“Of course! What is it, Sis?” he queried noting her puzzlement.
She bit her lip.
“So you can’t see it from here,” she mused. “That’s strange.” Momentarily distracted by the occurrence, her weariness was fast returning when a thought struck through her brain like a stab of living fire whose gleam illumined all the darkness of her spirit. She gasped, and her hands trembled, then she sprang to her feet and called, “Mr. Martin!”
Surprised at her vehemence, he straightened.
“Wasn’t Retief shot in this chair I’m sitting in?”
He slumped and nodded wearily, as if in disgust that she should raise the subject.
“Yes. The bullet hole’s there yet.”
“Was the chair in this same place at the time, and wasn’t it done from behind?”
“Why, yes,” he eyed her curiously.
“Was Mulungu on that bracket then— the night it happened?”
“Yes. But ...”
She rushed across to him and beat on his shoulder with her clenched fists. “Take me to him! To Mr. Scaife!” As the Commissioner began to speak, “Oh, please don’t argue! Take me!”
Julian came across. “Steady, old girl. Steady. What is it?”
Continuea on page 46
Ccnlinued from page 44 But she shook him off and hustled Martin to the door.
It seemed like miles down the dusty road to the courthouse where he was imprisoned under a guard of Haussas. The two men had to hurry to keep place with her flying feet.
Old and wise in the lore of men, the Commissioner held his peace; Julian did likewise, but from bewilderment.
In white duck trousers and a sleeveless vest Scaife sat at a table writing by the yellow lamplight. The dim glow made deep shadows in the hollows of his falcon features.
At the sound of feet he rose wearily, but jerked to startled attention when he saw her in the doorway.
She stopped and stabbed at him an accusing finger. Her words poured hotly. “You told me when that man was killed you saw Mulungu glitter at the shot.”
His face showed indignation, and his voice was cold. “Yes.”
“Then why do you let them think you did it? He was shot from behind. If you’d done it you’d not have seen the glitter. You can’t, except from right in front!”
A note of near-hysteria crept into her voice. Her tears were unmistakable.
Scaife stiffened, and his teeth gleamed under his lifted lip. They heard the swift catch of his breath, and Martin exclaimed,
“My God, if that’s true then . . .” “Tell them you didn’t do it!” she burst out hotly, through her tears. “Tell them! Why don’t you tell them?”
Then her words died in her throat as her eyes met his, which glowed with growing heat as a slow smile dawned on his gaunt face. He swayed toward her.
She drew back in alarm, but he reached swiftly out and caught her shoulders.
“And what is it to you, whether I did or not?” he said, and his voice shook.
She saw her heart laid bare for all to see, and flung back, panic stricken. But he held on and drew her close to him.
“I knew there was justice,” he breathed “. . . and when you came to me out there . . . Oh, my Helen!”
She clung to him as to the one firm thing in a reeling world.
Julian blew that long whistle which is the inarticulate Englishman’s way of indicating utter bewilderment.
She drew back in Scaife’s arms to search his face. “Who did it?”
He seemed unconscious of everything but her and his new glory.
“Barstow. From the garden. I prommised Vera I’d protect him till he died, by any means I could. I was trying to buy Reteif off. This was the only way. I have his signed confession.”
Suddenly realizing that the two men were listening, he stopped and whispered, “God! What have I said ...”
But Martin was beside him, his hand on his shoulder.
“Old man, I’d meant to tell you. Barstow died in Zanzibar last week!”