GENERAL ARTICLES

Study in Ebony

GEORGE LASH December 1 1933
GENERAL ARTICLES

Study in Ebony

GEORGE LASH December 1 1933

Study in Ebony

GEORGE LASH

Editor's Note: This is the fourth and concluding reminis-

cence from Mr. Lash's forthcoming book. ‘VI Nobody's Easiness."

THE TRAIN was speeding through the night toward the mountains. In the drawing-room of one of the cars five of us were gathered about a table upon which a number of partly filled glasses formed an irregular ring around a squat, brown bottle. The air was heavy with tobacco smoke, and the sound of the wheels clicking over the rail joints and rumbling across the switch points came to us so muffled that it was sensed rather than heard. We had not drawn the blinds, and so now and then our eyes would catch the wann glow of yellow light shining through the shaded window of a prairie farmhouse.

Besides myself there were in the room Osborne, Arthur, a bearded giant of a man from England named Professor Thompson, and a young scientist from Ireland. As is often the case when men are gathered together for a few hours of companionship, the conversation touched upon many subjects. For men when they talk without any definite purpose in mind or any problem to settle are like men who are strolling only for tiie exercise it gives them and the fine sense of kinship it begets. They frequently prefer to leave the broad highway and to wander at pleasure among the little lanes and bypaths that may rejoin the turnpike, but may just as easily lose themselves in rich meadows or quiet

And so it happens that I cannot recall the whole of that evening’s talk. However, what I have forgotten does not matter because it liad nothing to do with what was subsequently told. My recollection begins with the turning of the conversation to a lively discussion of the question as to whether or not an uncivilized person is better able to withstand pain than one who is civilized. Most of us. for purely theoretical reasons, believed that the savage can show more fortitude in the face of pain than can a civilized person.

Professor Thompson did not agree, and expressed the thought that we were regarding the subject from a strictly masculine viewpoint. He contended, citing a number of examples to support his argument, that the civilized woman has a capacity to bear pain that is the equal of anything on earth. The young scientist from Ireland admitted that this might be so, but flung forth the opinion that if it were so it was because women are savages. The rest of us refused to accept such a statement as fact and we rose to the defense of womanhood.

Whither the debate might have led it is vain to conjecture because it did not go beyond that point. At that moment the door opened to admit Sir David Bruce, who was probably as well equipped as any man in the world to settle such a discussion. For Sir David, when he was winning world acclaim for his discovery of the cause of sleeping sickness in Africa, spent many months among the savages of that continent and there were few men who understood them as he did.

There was nothing small about Sir David. By every measurement he w as a big man. He stood well over six feet tall and his frame was massive. His heavy, strong jaws jxmer and virility. A pair of shaggy eyebrows that lent an unfair air of sternness to his features masked keen eyes that sparkled with humor. An equally shaggy mustache hid kindly, sensitive lips.

Sir David seated himself on the sofa and took a sip from the glass that I handed to him.

“Well, gentlemen,” he said when we had outlined our discussion to him and asked him his opinion, “I don’t know that I am capable of answering such a profound question. After all. I am hardly what one might describe as a ladies’ man. However. I shall try to express my view, as Scheherazade might have done, by telling you a story’. It may not settle your argument, but I think it may offer you a bit of evidence that women are the same whether they are black, yellow or white, and no matter in what clime they are bom.” He paused to take another sip from his glass. The rest of us shifted ourselves into comfortable positions and waited for him to continue.

A Ticklish Situation

WHEN I WAS in Africa,” Sir David began with a smile at us, “my search for the breeding places of the tsetse f!v took me far into the interior and on one occasion into the territory of a native chief who proved to be dist inctly unfriendly. He gave us an ungracious welcome and quickly made it evident that he resented our presence. He was quite an unpleasant fellow.

“Through my interpreters he discovered that I was a surgeon, and a day or two after my arrival he ordered me into his presence. He met me in a sort of pavilion. His evillooking and evil-smelling court was gathered about him. Quite a ferocious lot they were, too. By his side was a young woman with a large growth on her neck. He explained to me that she was his daughter and that because of her malformation no member of the tribe would marry her. This, of course, w’as a source of deep annoyance to him and of shame to the girl. Tales of my prowess as a maker of magic had reached him and he commanded me to work magic upon his daughter and remove the growth from her neck and the stigma from his name.”

Sir David lifted his glass to his lips and then lowered it slowly. He gazed out of the window' at a far-off point oi light twinkling like a tiny yellow star. He put his glass upon the table and let his hand rest there beside it for a moment while his fingers beat a quiet tattoo upon the wood. The little yellow star was gathered into the darkness and the window pane was black again.

“Where was I? Oh, yes.” He returned to his tale like a man who has been awakened suddenly from a deep sleep and is unable for the moment to recall his surroundings. “Under ordinary circumstances,” he continued, “it would have been a comparatively simple matter to remove the growth. But this was in the heart of Africa. I lacked the proper instruments and antiseptics, and the small supply of drugs I had with me was barely sufficient to meet the needs of my own party. I explained this to the chief. I told him that no magic would suffice in this case, that the growth would have to be cut out with a knife. I offered to take the girl back with me to the coast where the operation could be performed with safety. But the chief was stubborn. He insisted that it should be done immediately, and he made it perfectly plain that unless I obeyed his command he would not hold himself responsible for what might happen to me and my party.”

Sir David paused and made a low rumbling sound in his throat.

"It was ticklish,” he commented. “It was a devilish sort of predicament. I looked into face after face and could see mercy in none. There was an evil scowl on every countenance, and no imagination was required to see what was in store for us unless I obeyed the will of this black tyrant. Despite its gravity there was a sort of grim humor in the situation, and I could not repress a smile. I was looking at the girl then, who was peeping at me in a frightened way from behind her father’s shoulder. To my surprise. I saw an answering half-shy, half-frightened smile touch her lips, and I believed that I could read a deep pleading in her eyes. Anyway, whether I was right or wrong, it decided me.

I told the chief that I must speak to the girl alone first and that afterward I would give him my answer.

There was much objection to my request on the part of the chief. I suspect he was afraid he would miss seeing me Iierform some magic, or he may have thought I would use the occasion to cast some spell over him and his tribe But I refused to give way and finally after much palaver he agreed, and he and his warriors withdrew’.

“I examined the growth carefully and found it to be much larger than I had supposed. I called in an interpreter, and through him I explained to her the seriousness of the operation and the severe pain it would cause her. But she had good stuff in her. She told me that she would rather die than continue to live and shame the chief, and that if I would operate she would do everything I told her.

Continued on page 43

Study in Ebony

Continued from page 16

“Under my directions the natives built a rude operating table the next day in a small clearing outside the village, and when I was ready to begin the operation the girl was led out. The whole village follow'ed her. They crowded around the table, but I ordered them to move to a spot about a hundred feet away and to remain there. I refused to proceed with the operation until they did as I asked, and finally they moved over and grouped themselves around their chief at the spot I had indicated. My own party I had gathered close behind meall except Janet, my wife, who wras to help me with the instruments and the dressings. My men were well armed and. w'hile I knew there would be small hope for any of us if I failed, it had been decided that on a prearranged signal from me we would open fire and sell our lives as dearly as possible.”

Fortitude

HE STOPPED and again that low rumbling sound in his throat, something between a growl and a deep-throated chuckle.

“We put the girl on the table,” he continued, “and once more I told her it was going to hurt and 1 gave her the opportunity to back out. But she refused and told me to go ahead. Remember I had neither anaesthetics nor drugs to give her. She lay on the operating table without any preparation whatever. I was frightened, but when I saw the confidence with which she gave herself to my care, my wavering faith in myself grew steadier. Janet, too, was going about her duties with a calm and assured air. While the faces of my black boys were set and determined, they seemed also to bespeak complete faith in my ability to do the job successfully. It was no time for me, the leader of the expedition and the star of this drama, to falter or show stage fright.

“I wasted no more time in prolonging the ordeal. I chose the spot and made a deep incision in her neck. I expected her to scream and to twist in terror under the knife ; to feel its blade, under her writhings, cut her life away. But I only saw her muscles grow taut and her face wince under the pain of the blade. She uttered no sound except a quickly stifled moan and she did not move. Inch by inch I cut around and under the growth. It was a desperate business. There are so many veins and arteries in that part of the neck, and I knew that if the knife slipped or she moved and caused the blade to penetrate deeper than I had intended, it would almost surely result in her death and ours.”

Sir David paused and brushed the back of his hand across his forehead. He lifted his glass to his lips and drained it.

“How long did the operation last?” asked Arthur as I refilled Sir David’s glass from the bottle that Osborne pushed across the table to me.

“I lost all recollection of time,” said Sir David, “but they told me afterward it was about two hours.”

“Whew!” whistled Professor Thompson between his teeth.

“Didn’t the girl cry out or move all that time?” asked the young scientist from Ireland.

“Not once,” replied Sir David. “Not once. She lay there as if made of stone. After the first incision of the knife, not even a muscle in her face moved. It was the most amazing example of human fortitude I have ever witnessed, and I say that as an army surgeon who has served in half a dozen campaigns. At last it was over. I washed the wound with sterilized water and sewed it up. Then I ordered her removed to my quarters, which were reasonably sanitary and where I would be at hand if any emergency occurred. At the end of ten days she was up and around again.”

He chuckled and lifted his glass.

“What did the chief say?” asked Osborne.

Sir David laughed.

“Oh,” he said, “he offered her to me for a wife. But”and his eyes twinkled merrily —“Janet wouldn’t hear of it.”

“You said, Sir David,” commented Professor Thompson, “that your story would prove that women are the same, no matter their color or their race. Just how does your story prove that?”

“Well.” smiled Sir David, “you remember I told you that no warrior would marry the girl because of the growth on her neck. Now, the removal of that growth left her with a bad scar, of course. To us that would have been as unsightly as the growth. But to the members of the tribe it was regarded as a badge of honor. Therefore, in the eyes of the males, it made her more desirable than any other woman in the tribe. She knew this and it was to this she made reference w-hen she came to bid me farewell. Her white teeth gleamed and she caressed the length of the scar with the tip of a finger.

“ ‘Now,’ she said to me with a glance of scornful superiority toward her father’s men, ‘I certainly won’t take the first one who asks me.’ ”

Water-filled Fountain Pen

WHEREVER there is water, there is a “filling station” for a new fountain pen which is rapidly becoming popular. This popularity is rightly deserved, for with this newpen one never needs a bottle of ink.

To outward appearance, it is but little different from any ordinary fountain pen of the self-filling sort. Inside, however, there is a sac which is to be filled with water.

Flowing from this reservoir, the water passes over a perforated metallic cartridge in a slot under the nib. In that cartridge is the secret of the pen’s ability to do magic: a special solid ink, something like the ordinary indelible leads of familiar pencils, dissolves slowly to furnish just enough ink for the instant of writing at just the place it is needed.— Scientific American.