A dramatic story of a renegade's revulsion from the code of the African jungle
L. PATRICK GREENE
THE few white men who knew him called him “Dirty Jim.”
His native carriers—they were reputed to be cannibals—slurred the two words, mangling them beyond recognition; the loss of two front upper teeth and the filing to sharp points of others, according to tribal custom, made it impossible for them to pronounce the English names. “Deer Shim,” they called him, making of it a title of awed respect.
Deer Shim all other natives called him, with a strange hissing intonation. In the same way they speak of poisonous snakes. Dirty Jim . , . !
Yet as he bathed now, wallowing in the tub with an almost sensuous pleasure, he was offering his white, tender-skinned body on the altar of cleanliness.
Bathing thus, bathing as he did every day unless hostile natives or the Belgian police were too close upon his trail, he was ignoring practically every precept followed by white men w7ho endeavor to thwart the attacks of Africa upon their health. It was in that short hour between the setting of the sun and total darkness; night’s chill was creeping upon the forest, keeping pace with night’s shadows; the water was cold . . .
When he rose to towel himself, mosquitoes, tsetse, and all the flying pests of African darkness took their toll of him, sucked his blood and inoculated him with the bile of the Congo.
Dry at last, he stood motionless for a moment, listening to the jungle murmurs, his ear attuned to catch the slightest divergence from the normal.
Several yards to the right, half veiled by a tangle of vines, a fire blazed, and about it crouched six natives. They were very quiet, unnaturally so, conversing only in sibilant whispers. Other natives, massed together beyond the fire, seemed to have congealed into a black, solid mass. Only a momentary gleam here and there, as eyes mirrored the light of the dancing flames, indicated their aliveness. They were very still, not moving their heads even, staring apathetically straight before them; when one did move his hand in a tentative attempt to scratch his woolly pate, the movement was accompanied
by a steely rattle of the chains binding them.
At the clanking of the chains Dirty Jim’s green eyes smiled, but the set of his thin lips did not change.
“Timale!” he called presently, and a thickset, brutal-faced native came running to him, carrying clean clothes.
He stood before the white man, the clothes on his outstretched hands, his attitude one of extreme humbleness or over anxiety to please; hoping, maybe, for a word of commendation. Physically, he was all that the white man was not, all that Dirty Jim would have liked to be, He could have squeezed the life out of Dirty Jim with the thumb and forefinger of one hand.
Dirty Jim took the garments and dressed himself.
“Is food ready?” Dirty Jim asked.
“In a little while. There was bread to make.”
The native was down on his hands and knees, collecting the clothes the white man had discarded, soaping them and putting them to soak in the tin bath.
Dirty Jim nodded thoughtfully, moved off a few paces, hesitated, turned and squatted on his haunches, native fashion.
“The boys are very quiet, Timak. Why?”
Timale neglected the washing at that and turned to face the white man.
“We do not like this place, Deer Shim. This is the country of Chief Panda.”
“Well, what of it, fool?”
“Tchat! Truly, you have forgotten the things you did last time you came this way. Burnings and punishment—doubtless well deserved—and four hundred of Panda’s people carried away in the fork. Have you forgotten that?”
The white man was silent, his forehead corrugated with thought.
“Yes,” he said presently. “I had forgotten. But what of it? That was six years ago. Panda has forgotten.”
“Some call Panda ‘the elephant,’ Deer Shim,” the native replied, “and an elephant’s memory is long.”
“You are a fool,” Dirty Jim said scathingly. “There is nothing to fear—not even if Panda remembers; and he has forgotten. Six years ago, the things we did are dead in his memory.”
“It may be, Deer Shim. Yet I had not forgotten the evil we worked on the people of Panda those six years ago.”
“Fear made you remember,” Dirty Jim said. “And I tell you now that there is no cause for fear. No, not even should Panda remember. For see! The sun has set. Darkness takes the jungle to itself. The evil spirits are loosed and they will guard us. What warrior of Panda dare leave his village until the rising of the morrow’s sun? And then, in the light of day, my guns and your guns will be charms strong enough to keep us from harm. There is no cause for fear tonight.
So well guarded are we by the spirits of darkness that there is no need to set a watch. Tell the others my words. Tell them, too, that we trek early in the morning at the time of the first cock-crowing.
“Before the sun rises we will have passed out of Panda’s country—just as we passed out of his memory six years ago. It is enough—I have spoken.”
He rose to his feet.
SLEEP came easily to the men Dirty Jim was taking to work in the mines. Resigned to their fate, they harbored no thoughts of resentment toward their chief who, maudlinly drunk, had delivered them into the hands of Dirty Jim. Tonight they were conscious only of a great weariness. The loads they had been forced to carry were heavy; the trail difficult; the pressure of the forked sticks about their necks strangling.
And so they slept, heavily, dreamlessly.
Sleep came easily, too, to Dirty Jim. He slept because he willed himself to sleep; because he knew that sleep was the best preserver of health. He slept as easily as a child or a man untroubled by conscience is supposed to sleep. And why not? His trip had been a success. Ivory poaching, labor recruiting, prospecting: he had succeeded in all three things. The proceeds of this trip would make it possible for him to leave the country he professed to hate, the country which had chained him for twenty years.
In five more days, at the most six, he would be in British territory, safe, on his way back to civilization and the pleasures of cities.
From the country which had proved the grave of so many white men, he was taking wealth. He had conquered where all others had failed; he had won the game. The end was great; the means he had used to attain that end were not worth considering. He was not sentimental about it; neither did he attempt to justify himself. Dirty Jim was no hypocrite. He had wanted a thing and had ruthlessly swept aside every obstacle which stood between him and his desire.
He was conscienceless, and so, clean of body, contented of mind, his stomach well filled, he slept.
Sleep was longer in coming to his six followers. They feasted ghoulishly, sitting huddled about a steaming pot. They ate as ravenous beasts eat, as hyenas and vultures eat; they ate until they could hold no more.
Presently, they too slept, snoring hoggishly.
The fire burned low; night's darkness smothered the sleepers; the light of the stars could not penetrate the thick foliage.
Dark shadows crept through the bush, converging on the camp of the sleepers.
"RROM the lips of one of them sounded the scream of a tree hyrax, and at the signal the creepers sprang erect, took on the form of men.
Yelling fiercely they rushed the camp.
The followers of Dirty Jim awakened tardily; awoke only in time to fling up an arm in futile protest against a swiftly descending spear.
Dirty Jim, dressed in pyjamas, rushed to the opening of his tent and opened fire with his revolver.
A weird, hellish scene!
The night’s blackness; the naked, yelling savages passing back and forth before the red glow of the fire; the stabbing spurts from Dirty Jim’s revolver; the bodies of his followers lying in a distorted heap—they were feathered by assegais; the passive silent laborers . .
Four men went down to Dirty Jim’s shots. His revolver was empty. He loaded again from the belt about his waist with an uncanny speed.
The tent suddenly collapsed about him, tangling him in its folds.
Heavy forms instantly dropped upon him, smothering him still more effectively in the canvas. They lashed him in it and then, picking him up—he looked like a monstrous cocoon—vanished with him into the darkness.
Others picked up and carried their dead; still others loaded themselves with Dirty Jim’s equipment, leaving nothing.
When the last of the raiders ^a(j departed, the laborers, the men jn the forks, rose and hastened back along the trail leading to their
At the camp nothing was left except six still bodies huddled about a cooking pot.
' I 'HE sun had barely risen when the warriors of Panda tossed down before their chief an odd-shaped bundle of canvas.
“Undo him,” Panda ordered, and rubbed his hands in anticipation of a revenge long delayed. He was a tall, powerfully built man, his face seamed with scars. The black, clerical-looking clothes he wore were as ill-fitting to his character and disposition as they were to his figure.
distant villages. The clanking of their chains was added to the night’s noises.
A warrior quickly cut the ropes and freed Dirty Jim of his canvas shroud.
The white man was lying on his back. The fierce rays of the morning’s sun beat full in his face. But he did not move.
“If you have killed him, dogs,” Panda shouted wrathfully, fearing that death had taken Dirty Jim out of reach of his revenge.
He bent over his captive.
Dirty Jim moved then with lightning rapidity. One hand reached out and grabbed Panda by the lapel of his coat; the other forced the muzzle of a revolver into the chief’s fat paunch.
There was an evil, mocking light in his eyes.
“They did not kill me, Panda,” he said softly as he rose cautiously to his feet, keeping the chief covered.
Panda cursed his warriors, called them nameless fools because they had failed to extract Deer Shim’s fangs.
Then he smiled ingratiatingly.
“This can be arranged,” he said.
“Undoubtedly,” Dirty Jim agreed curtly. “But the payment will be high. Your warriors killed my men; they touched me with their filthy hands —”
“The canvas of the tent was between you and them.” The white man waved aside the interruption.
“And doubtless,” he continued, “they took possession of my stores—elephants’ tusks and trading goods. Doubtless, too, they killed my laborers—”
“Our quarrel is not with them,” Panda interrupted again. “They were unharmed.”
The white man shrugged his shoulders.
“At least they have gone to their own place,” he said. “It will be hard to capture them again. Truly, the payment will be high, Panda.”
“And if I say I will not pay? You are but one—” “As you are but one,” Dirty Jim said quickly.
“I have many warriors—”
“True. But the death in this is quicker than their spears. Therefore, unless you desire death, you will not refuse to pay.”
“Um!” Panda took a large pinch of snuff, sneezed loudly, and then: “It is true that I do not desire death, so what payment do you ask?”
Dirty Jim smothered a sigh of relief. He had inveigled Panda into bargaining. The rest would be easy.
“Send warriors to catch my laborers; give me twenty of your young men to swell their number; give me, also, twenty tusks of ivory and your word that no hand shall be raised against me. Give me that and I will forget the rest—that violent hands were put upon me and that my men are dead.”
“You are greedy, Deer Shim. Let us talk together.” “Yes, we will talk,” Dirty Jim agreed drily, “but first send away your warriors. They are too near. A step
nearer, and the women will mourn the death of their chief.” His revolver clicked ominously.
Panda made a hasty gesture, gave an order in a quavering voice and the warriors withdrew from the enclosure surrounding the chief’s hut.
“If my warriors had not been fools,” Panda growled, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other before the mocking light in the other’s eyes, “you would not be laughing now.”
Dirty Jim laughed aloud at that.
“Laughter blinds the eyes of a man to the danger which is close at hand,” Panda said sententiously. There was a new note of confidence in his voice. It was as though he had suddenly found a way out of his dilemma.
“Yes?” Dirty Jim looked keenly at the chief; made a swift survey of the clearing. “Yes?” he asked again.
“Yes,” Panda echoed and grinned. “Many years have passed since you last came this way, Deer Shim, and in those years many things have happened. And
so—it was foolish of me to be afraid and angry a little while ago—although I will not make the payment you demand, I will give you my word that you shall not be harmed by me or by any of my people. Aye, I will forego the vengeance I had planned to work on you.”
Dirty Jim nodded thoughtfully. He knew that he would have to be content with that, content with his skin’s safety. The chief had called his bluff and, at present, he could not see a way to enforce his terms. After all, the loss of his ivory and trade goods, the desertion of the laborers, mattered very little; they were only minor losses. Not even the death of his own followers mattered, although they had been with him for many years, serving him faithfully, loyally. This was his last trip; he would not have needed them again. He still had his diamonds; the rest did not matter.
But the white man was puzzled; he did not like this rolte face on Panda’s part; he was puzzled by the
expression of alternate fear and savage gloating on the chief’s face. He searched for the explanation.
“So things have happened, eh, Panda?” he said slowly. “A trader has sold you w'hite man’s clothing and you fancy yourself a white man. Is that it?”
“I am a Christian,” Panda said ponderously.
“Oh, help!” Dirty Jim laughed. Then in the vernacular, “I wrondered why you remembered a long-past evil; I wondered why your warriors dared to face the jungle spirits.”
“Yah! I am a Christian. I am no longer a savage. My people are Christians, too. We have all beeo washed in the river. That is why I give you my word /ou shall not be harmed by my people.” >
“Yet my men w'ere killed last night. A little while ago you planned to kill me.”
Panda shrugged his shoulders.
“First I would have tortured you, Deer Shim,” he
said savagely. Then, in a whining, hypocritical voice: “The customs of my people cling fast, white man. But the backsliding will be forgiven. The provocation was great.”
Dirty Jim’s eyes closed to narrow slits.
“There is more?” he questioned harshly. “Undoubtedly.” Panda beamed. “Listen; not long after that night you put my village to flames and did that other evil, a missionary came to dwell in my country. He spoke soft words to us; he promised that the workers of evil would be punished, that they would burn for ever in a fire far hotter than the one you made. And because it was made known to us that the soldiers of the Belgians would be loosed upon us if we offered him
"Yes, we will talk,” Dirty Jim agreed drily. "But, warn your warriors. A step near e r, and the toornen will mourn the death of their chief.” His revolver clicked ominously.
hurt, I suffered him to remain. And so softness came among my people. Aye, in the years that have passed, the missionary has dwelt among us. At first he was feeble and begged for food, he dared not enter my village without first asking permission. Now he goes where he will; he takes what he will. He and his woman have taken our maidens and filled them with all manner of unwomanly desires, so that a man is no longer master of his own hut.
“But, as I say, I suffered them to stay because over my head they held the threat of the Belgian soldiers. And rather would I suffer your wrath, Deer Shim, than theirs.”
“You are long-winded,” Dirty Jim grunted. “What is all this to me?”
“Last night, Deer Shim, I sent word to the missionary of your coming and he rode on a horse to the post of the Belgian soldiers. They will capture you, Deer Shim. You cannot escape them. You have for a long time been a thorn in their path, and I think they will let you live long enough to pray for death.”
Dirty Jim swore softly. He knew that his chance of eluding capture was a slim one, now that he was without followers, without carriers, without food.
“And how far is the post from here, Panda?” he asked idly.
“The soldiers should be here by sundown,” Panda replied.
Dirty Jim’s mind worked swiftly, looking for some loophole, considering all that had taken place, all that Panda had said and done.
Presently he smiled.
A ND so,” he remarked, “Panda had become a J*creature of a missionary. Without a soft fool’s permission he dare not move. He is nothing; he is only a name, an empty drum. The only words which pass his lips are praises of a God born of a woman; a God who faints at the sight of blood. Wo-we!”
He rose to his feet.
“I go now,” he continued, “before you cast a spell on me and make me, too, fear death.”
Panda’s eyes flashed angrily as he jumped to his feet.
“Wait, white man,” he cried, and tore off the black coat and tight-fitting trousers. He stood there, breathing heavily, naked save for a ghee-string; the veneer of civilization was very thin—only a pose. “Now we can talk, Deer Shim,” he said.
“Aye. You are a man now,” Dirty Jim applauded. “But is there anything else to say?”
“You do not desire death, Deer Shim?”
“Who does?” the white man countered lightly. “But what does it matter? I have lost everything.” “Riches may come to a live man; never to a dead one,” Panda said significantly.
“And that from a follower of the missionary’s God !” Dirty Jim scoffed.
“Forget that, Deer Shim. Remember only that I am Panda.”
“But who gave the order for my capture and the killing of my men -Panda the chief, or Panda the Cnristian?”
“I, Panda, gave that order. We—we—had been
drinking; the blood was hot and—”
"Teh! And who will answer for that sin?” Dirty Jim interrupted.
“No one shall call me to account,” Panda rejoined hotly. “Of that I am sure. No longer will I be called to account by a soft fool of a white man and his woman. Listen to the evil of it, Deer Shim. These many years they have been telling me that their God was just and would punish workers of evil. And so, when word was brought to me of your coming into my country again I sent w'ord to the missionary saying that the Great Spirit
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had delivered you into my hand. But he sent back word that I must not harm you but deliver you up for judgment. He said that I must forgive the evil you had wrought upon me.
“Au-a! What words to me! Further, he threatened me with great evil if I disobeyed his commands . And my warriors had already been sent out to get you: they could not be recalled. For a while I trembled, but this morning I came again into my manhood, lost it for a little while and found it again. So I will forego the evil you have done to me, Deer Shim, remembering that such evils make a nation strong; not again could you capture my people so easily. No. The buck that has once felt a lion’s claw on its flanks and lives to escape, dies of old age. At least it does not become food for a lion.
“So the claw marks you made,
Deer Shim, are forgotten.”
He made a sweeping gesture with his hands.
“Why then, why now, Deer Shim, I make a bargain with you. Without my aid you cannot escape from the Belgians. Your feet are not shod; you have no covering for your head; nowhere could you get food. It is agreed? Then hear me. Show me a way by which I can escape from the yoke the missionary has put upon me; show me a trail which will lead my people back to the old ways and I will give you twice what you have lost; aye, and help you to go safely from this country.”
“Let us sit,” said Dirty Jim. “This requires further talk and much thought.”
“There is little time for talk or thought,” Panda grunted as the two men squatted on their haunches, facing each other. “By sundown the missionary will have returned, bringing the Belgians with him. Then I will be punished for having permitted my warriors to kill your followers, and you will be punished because, because you are Deer
“Ah!” Dirty Jim breathed softly. “And who is now at the mission?”
“The white woman.”
“Alone, save for a few foolish maidens.” “If you took the woman,” Dirty Jim said slowly, "and hid her in a place where none could find her, you could demand what you pleased.”
Panda looked puzzled. The taking and holding of hostages had no part in the tactics of his people.
“You jest,” he said sourly. “If I lay hands on the white woman, the punishment will be all the greater.”
“I tell you, no. Take the woman, I say, to some secret place. Hide there with her; take with you your favorite wives, your best soldiers, your wisest counsellors. Take plenty of food. Know you of such a place?”
“Truly; it is a place we used to go in the old days when the Belgians came to collect the tax. It was there we would have gone six years ago—only you were very cunning, Deer Shim; we delayed our departure too long. And so we suffered. Aye, we know such a place. It is near here, yet the missionary does not know of it, neither do the Belgians. It is provisioned and easily guarded.”
“Good! Then there you will hide yourselves and from there you will send messengers, stating terms. The missionary will agree to all your demands; white men are fools about their women. You know it?”
“Aye, I have seen that,” Panda said contemptuously. “They eat together. He gives her the best portion of the food. He serves her before himself. Yes, I am not blind. But suppose they, believing the woman dead, refuse to listen to our bargaining and put my people to death and burn my villages?”
“Cut off an ear and send it as a token that she lives. If they do not listen then, cut off another ear, or a finger, or a toe. They will listen then.”
“Ah !” Panda said softly, and he rubbed his hands on his fat thighs. “Now I see. It is a good plan, Deer Shim. I will act on it.”
“Then now I may go, O Panda? You will order that my things be brought to
me at once? You will keep your word on all the other things you promised?” “Not so fast, Deer Shim. It may be that your counsel is false counsel—” “You have known me before; you have heard much of me,” Dirty Jim said hotly. “Have you ever heard that I was a liar?” “No,” Panda said passively. “But you are a harsh man, your heart is black. You go your way, taking what you most desire; nothing else matters. That you have not lied does not mean you will not lie. Therefore” he paused, “there-
fore, you shall go to the mission and carry the woman away. Then if your plan is a false one, the blame is yours, not mine.” Dirty Jim laughed.
“And alone, you think, I can carry off a woman against her will?”
“I did not say that,” Panda said mildly. “You shall take certain of my warriors with you, dressed as your men were dressed. When you have captured the woman they will lead you to the Cave of Bats. And there awaiting you shall be the ivory and the men I promised you; your goods shall be there also. And from that place, Deer Shim, there leads a trail which will take you secretly from this country. I have spoken.”
Dirty Jim nodded.
“Let my things be brought to me and water. First, I must shave and wash and dress. Then I will go about this thing. Give the order; there is need of haste.”
“And yet you loiter to wash? Wo-ive! What a man!”
TT WAS nearly noon wher Dirty Jim came to the place of the mission. The house itself was an elaborate, well-constructed building of wood, situated on rising ground well ab ,ve the reek of the jungle. Many acres' of ground about it had been cleared ind intensively cultivated; women of Panda’s tribe, clad in hideous “Mother Hubbard’s” were weeding industriously.
Dirty Jim halt ed the men in the midst of a thick patch of mealies.
“You will wait here,” he said. “I go on alone.”
One of the natives nodded.
“If you have not brought the woman to us by the time the sun is there”—he pointed upward to a spot in the heavens, indicating the passing of the hour— “we shall go back to the kraal as Panda ordered. Then your capture by the Belgians will be sure, as sure as the death that will follow. And as for us, Panda and his people, we will go down on our knees and grovel in the dust. Maybe, then, the missionary will forgive us our sins !”
The white man smiled sardonically.
“In half that time I will bring the white woman to you,” he said. “Yet there is no need of haste. Not until sunset can the missionary and the soldiers return.”
Dirty Jim left them at that, whistling shrilly. He had no intention of playing tricks; too much was at stake—his wealth, his liberty, his life. He was not likely to risk losing all that; actually, he was well pleased with himself; he was getting out of a nasty mess with very little effort on his part, and with practically no risk.
He knocked at the door of the mission. No one answered, but from the rear sounded the drone of childish voices. They were reciting the alphabet in a queer, lilting sing-song.
“The fools,” Dirty Jim muttered, and went round to the back of the building.
Peering through the window he could see eight or nine little girls, the blackness of their skins contrasting oddly with the shapeless white gowns they wore. They were sitting primly on wooden benches, their eyes glued on a blackboard on which was printed the characters of the alphabet.
Bending over a large stove in a distant corner—the room was evidently the mission kitchen—was a white woman. She was vigorously polishing the stove, and calling out occasionally in a highpitched voice to correct the pronunciation of the children.
Dirty Jim grinned, stepped to the rear door and pounded on it with his fists.
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HPHE children’s voices hushed instantly,
-*• broke out again in a babel of excited whispers; the harsh voice of the woman commanded silence, and then Dirty Jim heard the firm tread of her feet as she crossed to the door.
“Who's there?” she called.
“A traveller seeking refreshment,” Dirty Jim answered.
The door was flung open and he was faced by the woman of the mission.
The tight-fitting black serge dress she wore accentuated her gauntness; about her neck was a high, stiff, white collar fastened by a large cameo brooch. Her mouse-colored hair was drawn tightly back from her forehead and fastened in a bun on the top of her head. The hornrimmed glasses she wore—they were secured by a black ribbon looped over her ear gave her an aspect of severity. A smudge of stove-black was on her cheek; her face was flushed an ugly red from her exertions over the stove. In her right hand she held a large frying-pan.
“Y'our name?” she snapped as Dirty Jim took off his helmet and bowed.
“Jim Turner, ma’am,” he said. “Jim Turner on my way back home.
I’m leaving this country.”
She nodded, incredulously.
“I am Mrs. Shepstone. My husband, the Reverend Obadiah Shepstone, is a humble gardener in this part of the great vineyard.”
Dirty Jim looked puzzled.
“He is a missionary,” she explained primly.
“Of course.” He bowed again. “I should have guessed; and is he in, Mrs. Shepstone?”
“No, he is not in,” she said. “He has gone to the Belgian fort. He will bring the soldiers back with him.”
“Are you expecting trouble from the natives, ma’am?”
"From the natives? My goodness, no! We have nothing to fear from them. But a degraded white man, a murderer, a slave-dealer, a—oh, he is everything that is vile—has been seen in this district. He is wanted by the Belgians for many crimes. My husband hopes they will capture him, and another stumbling-block will be removed from the path of our black brothers.”
There was a smugly pious expression on her face.
“Perhaps the man is not as black as he is painted,” Dirty Jim suggested.
The woman sniffed.
"His name is ‘Dirty Jim’; that’s sufficient, isn’t it, Mr. Turner? He is dirty, body and soul.”
“Africa does that to some white men,” Dirty Jim said mildly.
“Oh, nonsense,” she interrupted shrilly. “Weak men always blame Africa for their sins. They forget the evil they have done to Africa.
“But come in and wait for my husband, Mr. Turner. It’s too hot standing here. He will be back by sundown at the latest. Come in; it isn’t often a white man calls on us. Of course we see the Belgians frequently, but they are not of our creed.” One felt that she would have spoken of obnoxious insects in the same way. “Come in. I’d like you to see the work we are doing. Yrou shall hear my girls go through their scripture lessons, and then you shall see them do their cooking.”
Dirty Jim smiled wanly.
Talking volubly, she led him into the room, closing the door behind her.
Sheepishly, Dirty Jim followed her, painfully self-conscious of the titterings of the little girls. Mounting a dais at the far end of the room the woman motioned to Dirty Jim to seat himself in the chair which was placed there, and took her stand close beside him.
She stamped her foot for silence.
“Get out your books,” she ordered.
“We will now read the parable of the Prodigal Son.”
There was a rustling commotion as the
white-clad children reached down for their books, fluttering of pages and then hushed expectancy.
“We will all read together aloud,” the woman said. “I will count three, and then you will start.
“One, two, three!”
And the drone commenced.
“The King dom of .
Slowly they floundered through the story, syllable by painful syllable. They made of it a meaningless jumble of sounds.
As they read, the woman gave Dirty Jim a history of the work of the mission; her high shrill voice formed a discordant obbligato to the drone of the children.
The story she told was the story of a narrow-minded zealot. Yet Dirty Jim— he was always frank to himself—saw that there was a great deal to the credit side of the missionaries. In their pitiless austerity they had made frightful errors. But they were being sincere; they were not cowards; they had not shirked hardships or disease. But for them a smallpox epidemic would have utterly destroyed Panda’s people
Time passed swiftly.
The girls were going through the parable for the sixth time. Twice Dirty Jim attempted to rise to his feet. He had his work to do; he had already delayed too long. But the woman’s hands pressed firmly on his shoulders, holding him down. Her voice went on and on, remorselessly, devastatingly.
For Dirty Jim there seemed no escape and he sat as one in a trance, hypnotized by the drone of the children and the never-ceasing flow of words from the woman.
THIRTY' JIM began to understand a little of the loneliness of her life, of the sacrifice she had made, of frustrated desire. He understood her longing for the cold, smug orderliness of a small country town, and laughed inwardly at her attempt to establish that orderliness in the hot hell of the Congo where nothing was orderly.
Perhaps she sensed his thoughts, for suddenly the flow of words faltered; her hand closed tightly on his shoulder.
Then she laughed nervously and let her hands drop listlessly to her side.
The children droned on. For the seventh time they were reading:
“ . . . thy fa-ther hath . . .
kill-ed the fat-ted . calf, be-cause . . . he hath receiv-ed . . . sa-fe
. . and . . sou-ound ...”
“Y'ou know,” Dirty Jim drawled, “I always felt sorry for the elder son. Doesn’t seem as if he had a square deal.”
The woman nodded assent; then started violently, as if frightened at having been surprised into such unorthodoxy.
She started to make a heated protest, got as far as, “Oh, it was fair. The younger son repented and—”
She stopped there and turned to the children.
There was a rustle as they obeyed her order to put away the books.
Dirty Jim rose.
“I cannot stay any longer,” he said. His hand played with the flap of his revolver holster. He did not look at the woman or at the children who were now crowding about her. He was staring out of the window, looking toward the patch of mealies where the men of Panda awaited him.
He started slightly as he noticed the position of the sun.
“I must go now,” he said again, moving toward the door. “Will you come outside a moment?” There was no sense, he thought, in making a scene before the children. “There is something I want to say to you; something I want to give you to help your mission work.”
“Oh, wait,” she cried eagerly. “You can wait a little longer, ~urely. You must see the children cook. It’s their favorite lesson.”
“It would be,” Dirty Jim said drily. “But I’m afraid I must go now. And I have something here”—he tapped the knapsack on his back—“to give you.”
“Yrou must wait,” she insisted. “I want to give you some samples of the children’s cooking. They are going to make doughnuts.”
“Doughnuts,” Dirty Jim echoed, and laughed at the incongruity of it. “Doughnuts,” he said again, softly, weakened by the memories which flooded him.
“Doughnuts,” he said again. “With jam inside?”
“You’ll wait, won’t you? It won’t take long. We set the ‘sponge’ yesterday.”
“All right,” he said casually. “I don’t mind. I’m fond of doughnuts.”
He went back to the window.
The children clustered about the woman, obeying her shrill-voiced commands. There was a clatter of cooking utensils, the smell of the dough; a thin film of pungent smoke floated up from the big pan of heating fat.
The woman’s voice was never still.
“ . . . they must be very good, children. We make them for the kind white man.”
Dirty Jim heard that and smiled—not pleasantly.
The cry of a “Go-away” bird sounded thrice.
He looked toward the mealie patch. The men of Panda had come out into the open; their spears glistened in the sun.
The time was getting short.
Dirty Jim drew his revolver.
“Come outside,” he said harshly.
“Presently, they will be ready soon.” The woman’s voice was strained. She did not look up from her task; she was bending over the pan, testing the temperature of the bubbling fat.
A long forgotten odor quieted Dirty Jim’s nerves. He returned his revolver to its holster; shook his fist at the waiting warriors. . .
He resolutely turned his back to the window and came slowly toward the stove, sniffing appreciatively.
Three shots sounded faintly. The children clapped their floury hands together.
The woman sighed with relief.
“That’s my husband,” she announced somewhat dully. “He’s back earlier than I had expected. He always fires those signal shots when he reaches the ford.”
“How far is the ford from here?” Dirty Jim asked.
“About half an hour,” she answered. “I suppose the Belgians are with him — their soldiers are very cruel. Sometimes I think ...”
She was waving her hands back and forth over the boiling fat, peering through the blue smoke at the browning lumps of dough.
Dirty Jim shrugged his shoulders and went again to the window.
The natives had vanished.
“There!” the woman’s triumphant voice roused him from his reverie. She was coming toward him, bearing a large tray heaped with doughnuts.
He took one and ate it with a schoolboy’s greediness.
“It’s good,” he mumbled. “My, it’s good.” He licked his fingers, licked the powdered sugar from his lips.
He reached for another, looking at her as if asking permission.
“They are all for you. Shall I put them in a paper bag for you?”
He took the knapsack from his shoulders and emptied its contents out on to the table.
She surveyed the dull, oddly-shaped pebbles with incurious eyes.
“You’re making a good exchange,” she said merrily as she put the doughnuts into the empty bag.
Dirty Jim smiled grimly.
“You give that stuff”—he indicated the pile on the table—“to your husband. They’re diamonds. They’ll buy most anything you want for the mission here.”
She looked doubtfully at him, then at the stones.
To her they seemed nothing but worthless lumps of dirty glass.
“And now,” said Dirty Jim, “I’m going, ma’am. Which way’s the ford? I’ll have a talk with your husband if I meet him.”
She pointed toward the west.
“But I don’t think I’d go that way, if I were you,” she said. “It’s a hard trail. Death ...” She broke off suddenly, greatly confused.
But he seemed not to have heard her. He had slung the knapsack over his shoulders and was walking toward the door.
“Good day, ma’am,” he said and closed the door behind him.
He headed west until he reached the shelter of the jungle. Then he turned abruptly to the north and travelled swiftly.
There was a chance, a slim chance, that he could escape from the Belgians and from Panda. If he could get far enough north before the morrow’s sun rose
Things might be worse, he reasoned. The diamond “pipe” was still there for him to tap; up north he could get more followers, more provisions—and he was not in such a hurry to get out of the country. Civilization might be all right, still ... It would be there for a while longer; it could wait.
Y'es, things might be worse, much worse. He had his revolver and food. And
He reached round to his knapsack and extracted a doughnut.
“Lord!” he muttered as he bit into it. “I’m like the prodigal son. I’ve spent everything I had for a bag of—doughnuts. But there’s no one going to kill the fatted calf for me. Not likely!
TI) ACK at the mission, the woman was
down on her knees, praying for the safety of a renegade named “Dirty Jim,” and eight or nine little white-clad girls, their thick pouting lips outlined by a film of powdered sugar, feasted unrebuked on doughnuts.