The Elephants’ Graveyard

The way that led to the Valhalla of the Jungle giant was beset with mystery

ALLAN SWINTON March 1 1927

The Elephants’ Graveyard

The way that led to the Valhalla of the Jungle giant was beset with mystery

ALLAN SWINTON March 1 1927

The Elephants’ Graveyard

The way that led to the Valhalla of the Jungle giant was beset with mystery

ALLAN SWINTON

MURRAY stopped short as Segun n’Gaba, the naked Kikuyu tracker ahead, raised his hand in warning. Then, as the wizened negro beckoned silently, he crept to join him, followed by Unfalosa with the second rifle.

Segun n’Gaba, with his lips at Murray’s ear, whispered eagerly. “Lord, they are very close!” He pointed to where the ragged tangle of Wacht-een-beetjie thorn thickened to fairly open bush sprinkled with yellow mimosas and occasional clumps of trees.

The tanned white man in the battered sun helmet and bush-stained khaki nodded and opened his heavy.4 50 double rifle, shutting it with a soft little click after a glance at the breech. Then he stepped past the tracker, who took his place behind Unfalosa, looking very black and scrubby beside the towering, coffee-colored bulk of the old Zulu.

The three crept on through the thorny brush and soon entered the shade of the trees. In a hundred yards or so, in response to a hiss from Según n’Gaba they stopped again.

Following the native’s pointed arm Murray discerned something large and black, motionless in the dense shadows of a clump of ironwoods, and, in a little, came into full view of the tracker’s promised herd.

Fifteen or twenty elephants stood in the shadows slowly flapping their ears as they dozed in the heat.

Murray raised the bin oculars which hung by their thong from his neck and examined the herd carefully, seeking the largest pair of tusks. As he picked out a huge old hull, his eyebrows lifted in satisfaction. His shot was obscured by the bulk of a cow, so he began to edge quietly to the left till he could clear her.

Suddenly, to his great surprise, the whole herd started to attention, standing motionless with ears cocked and huge heads raised, all gazing in one direction.

For an instant,he thought he had misjudged the wind, or that Unfalosa, who was a notoriously bad bushman, had made some sound. But, the elephants were not facing them. They gazed into the bush on the far side of the clearing. Whatever had alarmed them must be there.

Recovering from his sur-

prise, he slipped up the safety catch for his shot when the silent beasts terrifically came to life. Crashing and plunging, they wheeled wildly and bunched, packing close round the tusker and spoiling the shot. Then they

stood immobile, heads high, still tensely facing in the same direction.

Irritated and mystified, Murray lowered his rifle. For the first time, he was conscious of a steady crackling off in the scrub, which, as he listened, grew swiftly, till, from the dense jungle where the herd watched, there burst an enormous old bull elephant.

He made no attempt to join the others, but rushed straight for the three men. With head high and trunk tight curled between two sweeping tusks he came, going like a locomotive, and in a dead straight line.

Before Murray, old elephant hunter that he was, could recover from his surprise, the beast was almost upon him. It seemed as if the old tusker were charging him.

But Murray had been charged before; the position is ideal for the head shot.

He whipped up his rifle but, just as he was about to fire, there came a yell from Según n’Gaba* “Lord, do not shoot!” The distraction spoiled his aim. He saw a big white splinter fly from one of those magnificent tusks and before he could fire the second barrel the bull was upon him. It flashed through his mind that, at last, the many tuskers he had killed would be avenged.

But, to his utter amazement, the beast ignored him passing within three feet and charging on, madly, into the bush, still keeping to the dead straight line.

He stood, astounded, fingering his rifle and listening to the cracking and crashing that waned swiftly in the jungle depths.

At the shot, the herd had plunged to panic-stricken flight. Murray turned angrily upon the tracker, who cringed, whining in the dicky, bushmen’s dialect.

“Lord, the bull was already dead. The F’Slaye rode him. All your bullets could not bring him down till he had reached his journey’s end!”

Murray stopped short in his tirade. The F’Slaye? In his thirty years of hunting he had heard, often, whispered tales of the elephants’ graveyard.

f No man, the natives say, has ever found a wild elephant which has died a natural death. In explanation, they tell how when one dies its body is occupied by the F’Slaye, the familiar spirits of Gombi, the elephant god, who guide it to the elephants' graveyard, deep somewhere in the jungle. There it lies, with the bodies of all the elephants that ever died. On its last journey the beast is invulnerable, travelling irresistibly and inevitably in a straight line to its appointed place.

The legend of the F’Slaye and the elephants’ graveyard persists among all the natives of the Great Bush. But this was the first time Murray had seen anything which looked even remotely like evidence of its truth. He pondered a moment, fingering his moustache, then shrugged his shoulders. Ridiculous, of course. Curious coincidence though . . .

To Según n’Gaba he said bitingly: “Tell me no women's tales to conceal thy fear! Thou wert afraid! A Kikuyu is ever chicken hearted!”

Unfalosa, who, Zulu-like, despised all bushmen, grunted, glaring down disdainfully at the monkey-like tracker, whose eyes had dropped before the white man’s wrath.

Murray led back over their own tracks. He was annoyed. This was the last day of his trip—a most unsuccessful one. Ivory was becoming increasingly scarce. He had killed hardly enough to pay expenses. If he couldn’t find a new bush he’d better quit the business. Damn that nigger! But for him he would have dropped the tusker. He carried two hundred pounds if he carried an ounce! And it was too late in the day to follow the herd.

Irritably he led to where his safari lay, the porters sprawled in the savage sun beside their loads. He could not go on. They were deserting, daily, as they got farther and farther away from their own country. Giving the order to camp, he took a shot gun to try for a guinea hen. Unfalosa followed with his rifle.

CIX weeks later, his safari disbanded, Murray repaired ^ to the godown of Ibn Daoud Asef to dispose of his tusks.

As he had done ever since Murray could remember, the old ruffian sat cross-legged in the mud-floored verandah beside the godown door. A thick-lipped Soudanese waved a fan above him. He never seemed to change; and

the volume of trade which passed through his godown grew ever greater at the club, men said he was the richest man in Mombasa—or Zanzibar, either, for that matter. The crafty eyes over his great hooked nose glittered as he saw Murray.

“Peace be unto you, Ibn Daoud Asef!”

“Peace be unto you also! A short trip this time old hunter! Couldst thou not find porters enough to carry thy tusks, or didst thou weary of the killing?”

Murray smiled sourly, watching with envious eyes the boys unloading ivory from a string of native carts.

“No,” he said shortly. “Ivory was scarce. A bad trip.”

Ibn Daoud Asef spread his hands in deprecation.

“The hunter’s fortunes are with Allah! He makes the beasts to come and go. My hunters found much ivory,” and he nodded in his beard, glancing craftily at Murray.

In truth, the tusks which the big Masai boys bore in were good. They seemed all to be those of mature bulls; there was not a small one among them. Murray was irritably puzzled to know where they could have been obtained. He did not believe them the product of any of Ibn Daoud’s own safaris. They must have been bought pair by pair from hunters, choosing only their best.

At this moment, Ms own boys arrived, bearing his tusks. Eight meagre pairs; barely six hundred pounds in all; the result of months of tireless hunting! Somehow, this morning, he was disgusted with the whole business He was getting old. He would not go back—find some other means of livelihood.

While the half-caste clerk weighed his ivory, he watched sulkily the great specimens which still came from the string of carts in the dusty road. Suddenly, he stiffened to surprised attention. From the cart at the end, came a huge black porter with a magnificent tusk on his shoulder.

As his eyes ran admiringly along its length, half way down they found a large, white scar, the shape of which seemed startlingly familiar. Like a flash, he saw a huge bull charging down upon him. He felt his rifle in his hands, fired, and saw a splinter fly as Según n’Gaba spoiled his shot!

Incredulously, he stopped the boy and carefully examined the scar. It was white and new, and the smooth round imprint of the glancing bullet unmistakable. He remembered the scar’s shape distinctly. In moments of

extreme stress, details are impressed indelibly upon the mind.

Ibn Daoud Asef’s cracked voice broke in upon his hurrying thoughts. “A poor shot, eh?”

“Where did you get that tusk?” asked Murray slowly.

The old trader’s eyes narrowed. “All these tusks, my son, came down from Machado’s safari, west of Ujiji.”

The other was thinking, quickly. It was eight hundred miles of densest jungle, six months’ journey even for an elephant, from Ujiji to the Tangra bush where, if he was not mistaken, he had seen that tusk six weeks ago. He looked at Ibn Daoud Asef sharply. The old ruffian was watching him with lively interest, so he turned and crossed to the scales, inspecting the weight of his own poor bag of ivory. But once past the eagle eye of the old Arab, he stepped quickly into the dim and odorous interior of the corrugated-iron godown.

All along one side, against the wall, stood the ivory which was being unloaded. He counted one hundred and fifteen tusks, and more to come. Each one of the largest size. In ten lifetimes, a man could not kill so many perfect specimens. He bit his lip perplexedly, and stood, waiting, till the scarred tusk should be brought in. In a few moments, he recognized the porter.

“Where is the tooth with the mark on it?” he asked.

The huge negro grinned: “Master, I put it behind the Arab’s bedding, as he told me.’

Murray nodded and waved him on.

A great excitement possessed him. Ibn Daoud Asef had lied about the scarred tusk. Then he had hidden it. Where had he got all this ivory? And why were the tusks so big and old? Where would a man go to find a hundred and fifty old bull elephants with perfect tusks? His mind raced dizzily. He must go out and think.

He hurried out to where the old Arab sat. Ibn Daoud Asef never walked, being carried in a litter wherever he went.

“T have checked the weight; it is little enough. You will get no more ivory from me. I shall hunt no more!”

“So! All men grow old. As thou knowest, I have not walked these many years.”

Ignoring the inference, Murray raised his hand in salute.

“Send the money to the club, then. Peace be unto you, Ibn Daoud Asef!”

“Peace be unto you!” came the cracked, old voice.

DACK at the club, Murray sent a boy for Unfalosa, who lived in the bazaar. They walked down the Bund, past the old slave-barracks to the white beach, where the long blue combers roll in from the Indian Ocean.

“Unfalosa,” said Murray. “What ailed the big bull I missed the last day we hunted? Why did he charge so fast and straight, and why did he pass us by£" Unfalosa, towering, shook his grim head, with the gum ring fast in its grizzled hair.

“Lord, how can I tell? Perhaps there is truth in this story of these lice of bushmen, and he was possessed by devils

“You think he went to die, then?” “Lord, no man knows. The bushmen say—but thou knowest what they say

“I saw his tusk with the bullet mark in the godown of Ibn Daoud Asef to-day.” Unfalosa’s eyes widened, and, thereafter, he listened, gravely, while Murray talked for an hour with eagerness.

A WEEK later they met again beside 1 the shimmering sea.

“At first, I could learn nothing,” Unfalosa told. “But, then I found a warrior, Kalebe, who was with the caravan which brought in the tusks. It was he who carried the marked one which thou sawest. He says that, twice a year, Abdul Ben Asef, son of the old thief, here, comes to their kraals from the westward across the desert with a great safari of strange warriors and much ivory. The chief of his tribe gives porters to bring the tusks to the head of the cartroad, where the men of Ibn Daoud Asef meet them. When the tusks are stored, the Arab departs across the desert, alone.”

Murray nodded, biting his lips. “Unfalosa, it is in my mind that, perhaps, we shall make no more trips which are barren of ivory. Tell this man that I will pay him well to guide me to his kraals'.”

Unfalosa departed at a long lope for the bazaar.

TWO months later, a little safari wound down a trail on a river’s brink, some hundred miles north of where Murray had abandoned his last trip. In the lead, plodded the Masai warrior whom Unfalosa had found in the Mombasa bazaar, then came Murray with Neale, an old partner of his whose co-operation he had enlisted for the trip, followed by the big Zulu and twenty porters with loads of equipment and stores.

As they rounded a bend, the Masai, halted, pointing. ‘‘Lord, behold the kraals of my people!”

In the alluvial flat in the bend, were groups of huts each group surrounded by a mud and wattle wall.

Murray called a halt and set Unfalosa ahead. At the end of fifteen minutes, he returned, lunging down the river path.

“Lord,” he said,

“Dingala, the chief, bids you welcome.”

“Did he ask no questions?”

“No, Bord. I said we hunted elephant, and would pass on to the north when we were rested.”

“There were no signs of Abdul ben Asef?”

“None, master.”

Murray halted the carriers on the outskirts of the kraal and went on with Neale, the Zulu and the Masai guide.

Before the big hut, in the centre of the kraal, sat the chief.

Enormously fat, he wore an old silk hat and a skirt of oxtail tufts, and sat in state on a three-legged stoo1 surrounded by a crowd of wives and retainers.

“0 King, we go to hunt elephant to the northward. We would rest awhile in thy shadow ere we go on.”

The chief nodded.

‘‘That is good. Rest ye. But, there is no ivory in this country.

You will need no porters to take out the teeth when you return.”

“0 King, that we know; but the tuskers have left the bush between here and the great water, and we march evernorthward to find new hunting grounds.”

At this, an old councillor behind the king whispered to him, hurriedly and the fat man nodded.

“To the north ye say? It is best. To the west there is nothing, that we know, but to the north, where the bush is thick, who can tell? Rest in peace. The audience is over. To-night the girls shall dance!”

The tents were pitched in the shade of the trees by the river’s brink. As they emerged after, changing their bush-soiled khaki, a long string of women filed into camp, bearing mealies and chickens, milk, fish and honey, gifts from their king.

That night, there was a great dance in Dingala’s kraal and long after Murray and his partner had retired the night resounded with savage revelry.

They rested three days, during which Unfalosa managed to see much of the kraals, but there was no sign of Abdul ben Asef. The chief betrayed no knowledge of the wealth of ivory which they knew he handled twice each year, and Murray became more than ever convinced of the soundness of his deductions.

The night before they left, Unfalosa slipped into camp very late.

"Master, all is arranged,” he said. “We shall blaze our trail, and, when the Arab comes, Kalebe will bring us word.”

They travelled for three more days, blazing their trail and then camped in a sort of pot-hole among rolling hillocks by the river. Here, in addition to admirable concealment, there was wood, water and plenty of game, so they set the boys to making camp comfortable, and

settled down to wait. Nor, contrary to their expectations, did they wait long.

On the fourth day, Neale and Murray strolled out in search of meat. Following a game-trail, that led back from the water-hole, Neale, who was behind, pointed suddenly to where a cloud of vultures wheeled above some object behind the skyline.

“Looks like a lion kill, Phil,” Murray nodded. “Better get him. Don’t want to have to build a boma, do we? Make sure.”

Scouting up the rise, they peered over, cautiously. A mass of the loathesome scavenger birds flapped and

scuffled around some object on a bare, brown slope. For a long distance, there was no cover which could conceal a lion.

“Hmm, something just died!” For they had passed there on the previous day, and if a lion had killed so recently, he would not yet have abandoned his meat to the vultures.

They turned to resume their search for springbok, but, in the little valley, Murray stopped with an exclamation of surprise, picking something from the ground and extending it in his palm.

It was one of those little, silver boxes in which an Arab keeps his chewing material—betel nut on one side and lime on the other.

“What ho!” said Neale. Then, hunter-wise, his eyes sought the dusty ground. He pointed to a wide trail leading up to the mob of vultures. It was as if a sack of grain had been dragged uphill, and, all along the trail it made, ran an inch-wide column of red ants. Both knew at once. The ants fed on blood.

Neale quickly led up the hill to where the huge birds scuffled, and broke in among them, kicking them right and left. So intent were they, that not till he knocked them from their food did they notice him. Then they flopped away clumsily, to sit in a circle—waiting.

They had been feeding on the body of a man; a huge

negro who lay on his face—a ghastly sight. Unfalosa turned him over with his foot, and, as the face rolled into view, they spoke together: “Kalebe!”

The big Masai had been stabbed; three—four times, and left for dead. But he had managed to crawl a little up the hill before he died.

“Well, this settles it.”

Neale nodded. “Pretty obvious. Unfalosa, go for the boys to bury this poor devil. We’ll wait.”

When the Zulu left, they eyed each other, turning their backs on the gruesome remains.

“Well?”

“I — dunno’ Phil. Obviously, they followed Kalebe. If they’ve smelt the rat enough to go this far, there’s no sense in going back to Dingala. If it wasn’t for the box I might think this his work—that old score with Kalebe, you know. But the box proves an Arab did it; dropped it in the scuffle. Wonder if he found camp, or whether he just killed this chap on principle . You know these Arabs. They take no chances.”

“Seems to me this proves old Ibn Daoud Asef suspected I was wonderingsome about that extraordinary collection of tusks, and if he mentioned the fact to his son, and then Dingala told him how this fellow Kalebe came back with us, it wouldn’t take much imagination to assume that we came for a reason. It’s likely whoever knifed Kalebe is watching us now. What’ll we do?” “I don’t think it’s much use trying to follow him. We’d be spotted. And if the country to the west is as sandy as Kalebe always maintained, we couldn’t track him after the trail was a day or so old.”

The boys came to bury the dead Masai, and the two continued their hunt for meat, soon dropping a hartebeeste.

As they erected a sapling, for a signal to the boys who would come to butcher the carcass, Neale said:

“Tell you what we’ll do: I’m betting that we’re spotted here and shall be watched as long as we stay. Right! Let’s cross the river and trek north a bit, enough to try and convince them we’re really going that way. We’ll cover our tracks as well as we can and then turn and go due west as fast as possible. If we push, we can go a lot faster than any Arab party would. As soon as we get to this open country, we’ll be able to see whether we’re still followed. After that we’ll have to run south again and trust to luck to pick up some trace of them. ’Tisn’t much of a scheme, but it’s about the best we can do.’

They marched by night, and when their manoeuvre was executed, made camp in a sheltered hollow below the highest crest they could see. Murray, Neale and the Zulu took turns from dawn till dusk to watch.

A WEEK they lay there, and were beginning to feel ^ dubious, when, just at sunset, away to the east, there rose two spires of smoke.

Unfalosa came tearing in giant strides, amazingly sure-footed, down the steep slope.

“Master, they come! Their smokes rise!”

They scrambled to the look-out.

“Strange,” said Neale, as they regarded the two columns of black vapor. “Not much appearance of concealment about that. Wonder if it is the right outfit? We’ll wait. Let ’em go. Then we’ll cross their trail and pick ’em up.”

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So, they made no move and, in the morning, kept all the porters close in camp, Neale and Murray going to the lookout. They saw the smoke from the morning fire, and then, as this died, knew that whoever it was had resumed their journey.

All morning, they lay on the lookout, taking it in turns to watch, but those other wanderers in the brown, burned waste made no sign. About three in the afternoon, Neale, who dozed below the crest, under the shade of a scrap of canvas, heard his friend give a muttered curse. He started up, to follow Murray’s pointed arm.

Silhouetted, strikingly, against the sky on the ridge overlooking the dip where their camp lay, was an Arab on horseback.

A magazine rifle in his bridle hand, and motionless, but for the tossing of his horse’s head, he gazed down at the tents, and the porter sprawling in the savage sun.

“Caught, by Gad!” muttered Neale. “We’ll have to bluff. Come on—’fore he spots we were watching. Good job we’ve a rifle—say we were after meat. Don’t let him see us lying doggo here.”

They rose swiftly, swinging at once into' the safari-man’s slouch, as though tired from a long tramp, and wound in single file down the hillside.

The Arab saw them now. He spoke to his stallion and with superb horsemanship, east him full tilt down the steep and broken hillside, plunging to a halt before the two in a whirl of dust and flowing burnous. The stallion reared and squealed, champing on the huge chased silver bit.

Letting fall his hood, the fellow raised his hand in salute. “Peace be unto you, brethren! The Prophet saith, ‘The sight of a friend’s face in the wilderness is like unto a draught of sweet water to a thirsty man!’ ”

They replied: “Peace be unto you, brother!”

Murray watched him, attentively. He was sure he had never seen him before. But the sons of Ibn Daoud Asef were many and various. The Arab dismounted and turned to Murray.

“Lords,” he said, “the day is hot and my beasts are very weary. If it be your pleasure, I will march no more, but will lie in your camp till to-morrow,” and he gazed at Murray with a serene and contemplative eye. The latter nodded slowly.

“Abiding and pure is the peace that grows by the camp fire in the desert. Rest ye.”

The Arab stood a moment, then swung up to his saddle, wheeled, plunged, and, without a word, dashed over the hill in a cloud of dust.

The two regarded each other, surprisedly.

“Well?”

“Dunno’. Must be the wrong man,” said Neale.

“I . . . wonder. Queer business, this, from the very beginning. . . We’ll just wait and see.”

They hurried into camp and sent for the headman, warning him to see that none of the porters talked.

In ten minutes, the horseman reappeared, hurling himself over the skyline and descending in a mad swoop into camp.

Unfalosa took the stallion, and the Arab squatted in the dust. In a little while, over the rise, came six small white donkeys, heavily laden and led in pairs by three Soudanese boys.

Soon, as he sat, their guest pulled from within his burnous a scrap of cloth like a handkerchief. Untying a knot in it he took out a scrap of betel nut and a pinch of lime. The eyes of the two whites sought each other guardedly. They knew now that the little silver box which should have held that chewing material was at that moment in Murray’s pocket!

The Arab chewed a while in silence" Then he spat a gout of scarlet juice.

“Brothers, this is a barren land. Here is little meat and water, and no elephants . . . ”

This, they knew, was in the nature of a question. Murray went boldly into the open.

“We be old elephant hunters. In the good lands, between here and the sea, the bulls are scarce. We would cross these barrens. Perhaps, on the other side, there will be many elephants.”

The Arab nodded. “The hunter’s fortune is with Allah! I have crossed this desert. To the north, there is much ivory. I have seen it. I go west with gifts to buy a wife for the young son of my father, Ibn Daoud Asef, whom all men know.”

He caught the eye of Murray and held it gravely.

“The son of Ibn Daoud Asef is welcome in our camp. Much ivory have we sold to his father.” Murray gravely returned the stare.

That night, they sat long by the fire in silence, after the manner of Arabs. Murray was profoundly mystified at the state of affairs. That this was the man who had killed Kaleve, he felt morally certain. The Arab knew they sought his secret. Yet, apart from the hint that they should go north, he did not seem in any way interested to learn their intentions. It was very strange.

That night he gave orders to break camp and go north in the morning.

With the first streak 0Í fown, the' two parties were packed and afoot.

The Arab mounted and raised his hand: “Peace be unto you, brethren! May you take many tusks to my father’s godown when your hunt is done. There is much ivory to the north.”

“Peace be unto you!”

Fresh after its rest, the horse reared high and squealed. As it came down the rider drove home the pointed stirrups which Arabs use like spurs, and dashed over the skyline into silence.

The six donkeys followed slowly and, when all had disappeared, Murray led his safari northward.

“Well, this beats cock fightin’!” he said to Neale. “I’m going to follow that bird. O ily, I don’t like it. He was too smooth by far. What do you think?”

Neale shook his head. “Damned if I know. As you say, we’ll have to follow and chance it.”

So they lay for half a day, then returned and picked up the trail.

As they started westward, Unfalosa spoke.

“Lords,” he said. “While the camp slept, I searched the donkeys’ loads There were many boxes which I could not open, but each beast carried two water skins. It is in my mind, that the Arab prepared for a long march without water. Should we not make water skins?”

Neale nodded. “Thou dost well, old bull.”

The six donkeys left a plain trail, and, taking care not to overrun their quarry, for a week they crawled across the brown and sun scorched waste, seeing sometimes the spires of Abdul’s camp smoke to the west.

When they killed game they skinned it carefully and Unfalosa sewed the raw hide into waterbags.

At first the land was brown and rolling, with occasional clumps of vegetation, but, on the sixth day, topping a ridge, they found a vast, bare plain, dreary and white, stretching as far as the eye could reach.

“Here’s where we fill those waterbags,” said Murray. Though they had marched three hours from the last water hole, he led back again and filled every available receptacle. This overloaded the porters very badly, and, with regret, they

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abandoned their tents and much equipment.

“This is going pretty far,” remarked Murray, as they watched the boys piling the stores they were leaving. “But where there’s water there’s meat; and I’ll see this thing through or bust.”

So they resumed their march, husbanding the water carefully.

Day after day, they struggled through the barrens. It was not a desert proper; merely an arid plain, ankle deep in fine, white dust, and the tracks of their quarry showed well.

They wondered, greatly, that the Arab had done nothing to prevent their following.

That night, they found no water, and they thanked the stars for their store; nor, did they find it for three more days. On the fourth Jay, however, marching a mile or so ahead of the porters, they ran into a sort of valley bottom. Here, there was little dust, and occasionally patches of thorny scrub. The dip swung northerly and the tracks led up it.

“Water, soon,” said Neale. The other nodded.

Murray pointed suddenly, “That’s springbok, lying down, isn’t it?”

“Good! To-night, we’ll have fresh meat and water.”

They looked to their rifles and kept on.

The country was quite open, and they knew that the game would stand at gaze for a few moments, giving them time to shoot.

Nearer and nearer, they crept, but still the gazelles did not take alarm, till they were close enough to see that they lay, all five of them, prone on their sides, a most unusual thing. It was no\V an easy shot. Murray shouted to put them on their feet. But, to their astonishment, the beasts did not move.

They hurried across the remaining distance, and then looked at each other incredulously. Five springbok lay there, dead, without mark upon them.

Murray felt one.

“Wheew! What the devil ...”

They examined all five, carefully, finding them absolutely unmarked.

“This must' be rinderpest. Nothing else could do it. That Arab’s cattle will get it sure. Here’s a go! Bet we’ll be up to him in three days. He can’t miss it.”

“Damn! This will wreck everything. Good job we’ve got no cattle. The water must be near,.that’s one good thing.”

They abandoned the carcasses to the gathering vultures and pushed on till they opened up a tiny clump of bushes, green, delightful lookifig, sheltering a deep cool pool.

Murray took his collapsible cup and dipped it full, handing it to his friend.

“Thanks, old man!”

Neale threw back his head and raised the drink. But before he could put it to his lips the other yelled and struck at him desperately, knocking the cup from his hand.

“What the deuce . . . !” But at the look on Murray’s face Neale stopped and stared.

“Look there,” said Murray. “Rinderpest doesn’t kill monkeys—nor birds!”

Ten feet from the pool, lay three dead monkeys, and, near, a flock of tiny, brilliant birds.

Murray nodded grimly. “We’ve made no mistake, Neale, old man, about that Arab. He’s poisoned this well! That’swhy he didn’t care whether we followed or not.”

Their faces set in indignation.

By this time, the porters were almost up. Murray ran to meet them, ordering Unfalosa to see that no man drank.

The boys muttered, sullenly, as they flung themselves down and gazed with longing eyes at the verdant clump of bushes and the tranquil pool.

Murray and Neale took stock of their water. Two small gemsbok skins-full only remained, and that for twenty-five.

Anxiously, they held a council of war with Unfalosa.

“It all turns on the next water,” said Murray, “and it seems to me that it can’t be very far. You see, any one coming back over this route must pack enough to take him to the east end of the valley. No safari could carry much more per man than we did, and as I’m certain that these eastbound parties are carrying heavy ivory, they can’t take much water. So, I’m betting it’s within two days at the most; but if you—and you, Unfalosa— don’t agree, I’m ready to abandonthe trip. There’s the possibility that the next water will be poisoned, too, though I don’t think it likely.

Unfalosa spoke. “There must be water soon. How else could the safaris cross to the eastward?”

Neale nodded. “Get ’em movin’, and push till we strike it!”

THAT night, they found no water, and used just half their supply. At dawn, they pushed on; anxiously. It was blazing hot, though the trail still led along the ancient water-course. By noon, the two white men looked grave.

“If we don’t strike it to-night, we’ll be in the soup,” said Neale. The other nodded grimly.

A quarter of a mile ahead, was a clump of boulders which both watched eagerly, hoping they concealed the longed-for oasis; but when at last they rounded them they stopped in stark amazement.

A clump of bushes ringed a lovely pool; and in attitudes of agony around it lay their erstwhile guest, his horse, his three boys and six donkeys.

The two rushed forward. All were dead, though not yet cold.

“Good God!” burst out Murray.

“We—you don’t think we were mistaken about poisoning that well? Neale said in awe. "P’raps there’s some new plague or something in this country

"Why haven’t we got it, then?” Looks to me as if they poisoned this and then forgot and drank here.”

“But that’s preposterous! He wouldn’t couldn’t do a ridiculous thing like that!”

Now, the safari rounded the boulders and the boys yelled joyfully, throwing down their loads and charging for the water. Neale and Murray, spreading their arms, shouted: “Pwango! Pwango!” Bad! Bad! But the negros would not heed till Neale swung his rifle butt brutally to a woolly head, felling the man, at which the rest stopped angrily, clustering, and jabbered.

Murray felt the Arab as he lay on his face, his knees drawn up, hands at the pit of his stomach in agony. ^

Unfalosa strolled back up the trail and could be seen kneeling among the boulders.

“What’ll we do?” said Murray.

“Have to go on; can’t go back.”

In the mauve distance, half a day’s march away, they could see a distinct ridge.

“I’ve a notion that, over that ridge, the country will change. We can’t touch this water, that’s a cinch. Haven’t time to bury these chaps, either. Search ’em quickly and push on; that’s all we can do.”

He snatched up his rifle and put a bullet jn the dust six inches from the nose of a boy who was stealthily wriggling to the water.

Unfalosa came running. “Lords, I know how death came to those,” he motioned to the grotesque dead. “In my country, there are many dongas like this. Ages ago, this was a mighty river. She has dried up these many years; but the basin is of rock, filled with boulders and gravel and covered with a little dirt. At the valley’s bottom among the boulders runs the remnant of the stream, and sometimes it comes to the surface, as thou seeest here and before. Come!” He led to the pool and pointed.

At first they did not comprehend, but suddenly Murray saw.

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“Gad!” he said. “Look, Neale, the scum!”

The westward edge of the pool was thick with scum—as though the water slowly flowed from east to west.

The Zulu nodded. “Lords,” he said, “Mark how death came to those. The Arab poisoned the other well and marched on, camping here. But it was no well; it is a river flowing hither. The poisoned water followed. He was here at night—see his fires and the loaded beasts. In the morning, just before they marched, they drank their fill. But, by the workings of fate, the water which they had poisoned at the other pool had reached here when they drank. Now it has flowed on. Drink, Lords; have no fear. Look!” He indicated a dozen blue pigeons which alighted at the water’s edge.

They watched in awestruck silence, while the birds drank, then took wing and circled skyward, higher and ever higher till they were lost from sight.

Neale whistled. “Truth,” said he, “is stranger than fiction! Here’s a brand new miracle!”

Very solemnly they told the boys to drink.

Then they searched the Arab. Neale, with a muttered imprecation, held up a small bottle, half filled with yellow crystals which exuded a faint odor of almonds. “Cyanide,” he gritted. “The brute!”

The strain of their long, forced march having told heavily on them, Murray made no attempt to leave the pool that day, but trekked at dawn next day and, by eleven o’clock, they topped the ridge ahead.

The ground fell away in a red-brown barren slope, but far to the northward, etched perfectly against the quivering turquoise was a low, flat hill with sloping sides, terminating in a jagged, horizontal plateau.

“Do you know,” remarked Neale, “that looks to me like an old volcano. Don’t you recognize the outline from the picture books?”

“By Gad, that would explain this > barren plain; though I hope it doesn’t reach as far on the other side as it does on this!”

They pressed on, heading for the hill. They had a full load of good water and their men were fed and rested, so their fears were much allayed.

By nightfall, they had much reduced the distance and next morning, by ten o’clock, were within three miles of the first slopes of the jagged hill.

Neale gazed intently to the southward, and, following his eyes, the other saw, at once, a tiny black object moving toward them.

“You see it, too?” Neale said. His voice held a queer note.

“Yes. What can it be? Too black for any antelope I know of.’í

'T'HE air was crystal clear, though quivering with heat, an'd?;though it was very far away, the object was distinctly seen.

They studied it earnestly through their binoculars, then sought each other’s eyes with blank astonishment.

“Now what in Tophet can an elephant be doing in this screaming desert. By Heck! We’re coming to it, Phil! As sure as the Lord made little apples we made no mistake about this business! Make those boys lie down. I want to watch that feller!”

Prone on the burning earth, they watched the black dot crawl across the plain. It neared them, but seemed to be heading for the hill. At the end of an hour, the two sat back and faced each other in sheer amazement. The elephant had climbed the slope and disappeared behind the jagged skyline!

With their glasses on the peak top they had seen swarms of vultures wheeling over it.

Excitement mastered them. Waving on the safari, they made for the crater as

>

hard as they could, soon outdistancing the porters, till, at last, they climbed the foot of what was, obviously, a small but very ancient crater, three hundred yards or so to its top.

Murray spoke in a small voice, “We’ll go up alone.”

Ordering the headman to hold the porters, with the old Zulu, the two hurried up the dusty hillside, urged on by the most intense excitement.

The day was fiercely hot. Not a thing moved but the clouds of vultures wheeling, wheeling above the hilltop. Looking up, they could see hordes of others sitting, ghoul-like, on the boulders.

On they labored, dripping with perspiration, stumbling and climbing through the dust and rolling stones, till at last they were among the boulders which made the jagged skyline. Clambering feverishly over these, they came to where the ground sloped downwards to the crater.

Here, they stopped, confronted by a sight so staggering that they began to doubt their sanity.

The crater’s mouth was a quarter of a mile or so across, and its walls sloped steeply to a bottom fifty feet below them. The floor was level, of a whiteness dazzling in the savage sun; and the whiteness was of the bleached bones of elephants.

From lip to lip of the vast round basin, even and level and bleached, they lay, huge skulls, legs, spines, ribs, jaws—but not a single tusk.

Murray gripped Neale’s arm convulsively, pointing to where, on the far side, a hundred yards or so from the edge, an enormous mob of vultures scuffled black against the dazzling whiteness of the bone-strewn plain. He led down to that amazing floor.

The bones, some rotten, crunched, and the dust flew, covering them with a fine, white powder. Neale’s foot went through a crumbling skull and he fell, heavily, extricating himself with impatient curses, to hurry on.

“You see,” said Murray. “No ivory!”

When they had crossed to where the mass of black birds scuffled, they broke in on them, kicking them aside, but could not make them leave their meal. However, they saw they fed on a great old bull, new dead, still warm.

Murray went to the head and pointed silently. There were no tusks, but the marks of the machete which had hacked them free were clear.

At this, they at once crouched low upon the bones, fearing a bullet from friends of the dead Abdul ben Asef. But nothing came, and in a little they rose cautiously, their eyes searching the crater’s edge.

“There! Look there!” whispered Murray.

Coming across the whiteness, was an old, old, native, his dry and scaly skin a mere covering for an animated skeleton, his knees bent and his talon-like hands dangling very near the ground. He was quite unarmed.

As they walked to meet him, the old fellow flung himself on his face, where they found him trembling among the bones.

Murray spoke to him in the bushmen’s dialect, and in a little he sat up on his heels, but did not speak. Murray tried again, using the N'taada, the mo«£ primitive of all the tongues of Africa, and this time the man replied, in a reedy whisper.

They talked there in the blazing sunshine, with the charnel-house smell and the mob of scuffling scavengers, the little trembling savage on his knees before the white men and the Zulu. Then Murray turned.

“Never saw a white man before. Just asked where Abdul ben Asef was. Lives in a cave up there in the boulders and takes the tusks as the bulls come in. Twice a year, the Arab comes with a safari for the ivory. He was brought here years ago by Ibn Daoud Asef, and

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marooned. Been here ever since; scared of the desert. Once in a while, the safari brings in a wife or two for his sons. Very simple, eh?”

The old man rose, tremblingly, spoke and pointed whence he had come. They followed.

Among the boulders to the crater’s brink he led, to a habitation, half cave, half lean-to, where were his two wives', his sons, their wives and a crowd 'of starved, old-looking children, a tragic little community, ghoul-like to see, and, somehow, fitting the preposterous graveyard on the brink of which they lived.

A man led to a shelter between two boulders. Row on row stood the ivory. They counted it in awed astonishment. One hundred anc^ sixty-eight huge tusks; more than Neale and Murray together could kill in five years under ideal conditions.

Neale spoke. “Well, Phil, I don’t know who all this exactly belongs to, but I guess we’re entitled to a good share of it. Ask him about the bulls. Why do they come?” . ^

Murray talked a long time with the native. Though he was a young man, his limbs were thin and frail, and his face bore that hopeless look which seemed to come to all who lived there.

“It’s the same old story, Neab—you know ...”

Neale nodded. “Well, I don’t believe that, of course; but here it is. There must be some explanation, some instinct, some atavistic survival of age-old habit which leads them here when they begin to fail. Perhaps, aeons ago, their ancestors headed here against some stronger predatory beasts . . . who knows how deep the crater might have bee'a ... ! God! Think of it! Thousands and thousands and thousands of ’em. Ask him when they come. I want to see one.”

The man replied, sweeping his arm from west to south.

“He says they come any time, but always from the west and south—the bush is much nearer, there, I suppose . . . Well, let’s go and get the boys then we’ll see about gettin’ these poor devils back to the green bush again. The dirty brute—that Arab! He might have relieved ’em once in a while.”

They went back to the squalid dwellings covered with their swarming flies. A

boy shrilled, and the old man jabbered, pointing.

Murray’s face worked. “Come on! He say’s one’s cornin’!”

They climbed a high rock overlooking both the surrounding plain and the floor of bones.

The beast was close, not more than a quarter , of a mile away, and coming swiftly/ the white dust bursting at his evëry footstep.

On he came, the watchers panting in the savage heat, till he was at the foot of the slope up which he started without hesitation, disappearing, for a moment, among the boulders at the crater-lip. Then, he emerged on the other side, some fifty yards from where they stood.

He was a huge, scarred, grey, old bull, gaunt and grim, his ears tattered from many fights, his toenails worn to the quick with old age. His hide hung on his massive frame 'like an ill-fitting suit of clothes.

With trunk tight-curled between his tusks, he stepped uponthe floor of bones, continuing for„.t\yenty yards or so. Then he stopped, flung up his great head, seeming to sway a little, and stood with all four feet outspread, braced against his weakness, like a horse in the showring. " •

Neale’s grip on Murray’s arm grew painful. Neither spoke, dumbed by that incredible, fantastic sight. The wide .arena, floored with white bones; the jagged, circling palisade of stark, black, barren rocks, so sharply etched against the sky’s fierce turquoise; the swarm of vultures, weaving majestically to and fro above them, with never a flap of their wings; the black mass of the dead beast, covered by still more rending, scuffling forms; and then, not fifty yards away, the dying bull.

For a moment he stood. They saw him sway. He moved a foot, stumbled and went to his knees, but gallantly heaved to his feet again. His trunk uncurled as he flung his great head skyward, the curved tusks gleaming. Then, his tattered ears came forward as though for one last charge. He trumpeted; high, clear, shrill and long-drawn out, and so stood an instant, a magnificent,'; tragic figure. Then, in a breath he collapsed, dropping as if he had been shot upon the multitudinous bones of his ancestors.

The watchers stood, fearing to move, a long time.