ASK THE NAME OF THE LION
COPYRIGHT 1962 BY RALPH ALLEN
Six people of various backgrounds, thrown together by the strange and violent tempests of the modern Congo, are fleeing for their lives across the prairie-like savanna of Equateur province, trying to reach and cross the Ubangi River into safety. The pursuers arc a halfdrugged, half-drunk posse of Congolese soldiers led by SERGEANT ALBERT TSHIBANGU. The pursued are RICHARD GRANT, a Canadian doctor who has volunteered to work in a Congolese hospital for the Red Cross; MARY KELVIN, a Canadian nurse; JACQUES CHARTRAND, a
Belgian rancher; ASTRID MAHAMBA, Chartrand’s young native mistress; RAMÓN SIERRA, an important official of the United Nations; and FÉLICIEN SONGOLO, an important official of the Congolese government. After a night of terror during which the UN man, Ramon Sierra, has established himself as the person most likely to rescue them, the two women and the four men have had to abandon their car and continue on foot. Behind, are the Congolese soldiers; ahead, hostile tribesmen and the terrible equatorial heat and thirst.
'WE STILL HAVE SOME, Joseph?” Sergeant Tshibangu turned from the vheel to the smaller man at his side.
"Yes, Albert," the smaller man giggled. "Oh yes. yes indeed. You vish some more now?”
The sergeant’s rejoinder began as a chuckle. Then as an afterthought he became stern. "It is better that you call me Sergeant."
Corporal Joseph Nijili cackled in shrill delight and he slapped the sergeant’s knee. "Yes, Albert,” he shrieked. He turned to face the three soldiers in the back seat. He had some difficulty at first in engaging their mention. Remy Okito was passing a huge jar of palm wine to Alphonse Mpolo. Grégoire Ilunga was puffing dreamily on an Indian cigarette.
Joseph sprayed them in a fountain of hilarity. "Listen! Listen! Listen! Albert demands to be called Sergeant.”
Albert Tshibangu jammed the brake. Emile Kwange brought the second jeep of the two-vehicle convoy to an uncertain stop just in time to avert a collision. The sergeant leaped to the road. He was a big. wellmuscled man, unusually so for an Equateur Congolese, almost six feet tall, almost two hundred pounds.
“A jest, a jest, a harmless jest!” Joseph Nijili cried in terror. The looming sergeant dragged him from the jeep, held him erect, and struck him a massive blow full in the mouth.
"Put him in the second jeep behind Emile." he ordered. "If he were not a friend I would leave him for the jackals.”
As the two jeeps set off again, the sergeant suddenly became the most amiable of men.
“Come. Alphonse." he said. "Come and sit beside me.” Alphonse Mpolo, a smaller man too, quickly clambered from the rear into the empty seat in front, dragging his gun behind him by its barrel.
Changing into second gear, the sergeant said heartily, "Let us have a sip of wine, Albert. And if you would prepare a cigarette we could share it w hile we proceed.”
As the jeep lurched along the trail the sergeant, with one hand on the wheel and the other on the cigarette, grew suddenly expansive.
"You were with us at the Independence, Alphonse?”
"Indeed, indeed, Sergeant. May I have a sip of wine?”
"Better still have a puff or two." The sergeant reached across to Alphonse with the cigarette.
"Yes. yes you were with us. 1 remember clearly. Oh. what days! I remember better now," the sergeant went on with increasing respect, “you were the one who had the woman of the Commissioner."
Alphonse Mpolo hesitated. “So it has been said,” he replied woefully. "The saying of it has given me great honor and regard. But I will not deceive you. The woman of the Commissioner kept crying to me on that morning. Ngai monin^a tui bixo—kendo! She C ONTINUED ON PAGE 32
Continued from page 23
kept crying / am your friend — go!” "And you did go?” the sergeant asked in disappointment.
“She had been my friend.” Alphonse Mpolo apologized.
“Do not mourn,” the sergeant consoled him. “There will be other times. Let us have another sip of wine.”
“Ah. yes,” Alphonse replied. “There are other times and other matters to attend to. We must intercept these spies and plotters. We must punish them.”
“What we do with them is of little consequence,” Tshibangu decreed grandly. It was only in that instant that he came to the full realization of his own destiny. "What we do with them is of small account. It is what we do with ourselves that will count. We shall save the district of Mgonga.”
“I agree!” Alphonse Mpolo echoed even more vaguely than before.
“I have decided." the sergeant announced, casting the butt of their cigarette carelessly to the road, but drawing new inspiration from it still, “that Mgonga must be an independent state.”
“I agree!” Alphonse Mpolo’s response was now completely bewildered, though still full of admiration.
“I thought at first these men from the south were only ordinary spies and schemers. Particularly the man who says he is from Once and the man who says he is from the Boulevard Albert. Now I see two things. They are either imposters or they are truly from Onee and Leo. If the first is true it is bad. If the second is true it is worse. They are trying to enslave our people again. They arc trying to take away our guns and return us all to bondage. Pass the wine.”
“I could not help hearing, Monsieur Ie Sergeant," Grégoire Ilunga interrupted from the back seat, where he and Remy Okito had concealed and occasionally partaken of a reserve jug of wine. “Mgonga must be independent!”
Sergeant Tshibangu swept on. “Mgonga shall be independent. Orientale is independent. Katanga is independent. I am an educated man and know these things.” “This is a renowned fact,” one soldier applauded.
“For four years I have attended the schools of les Helges,” the sergeant said. “Ask me anything."
“What shall we ask?” Grégoire Ilunga requested timidly.
“Anything!’ the sergeant repeated imperiously. “Ask!”
Their questions, forced and hurried by befuddlement and fear of the sergeant’s moods, piled up and emerged almost as a chorus.
“Is it bad or good to be eaten by a crocodile?” asked Remy Okito.
“Who are most dangerous, les Helges or les Casques Hleus?” asked Grégoire Ilunga.
"Is it true that Coquilhatville is nearer to the sun than Leopoldville?" asked Alphonse Mpolo.
"To an educated man all these problems and a thousand thousand more are child’s play,” the sergeant declared. “I will satisfy your curiosity later."
“It is good to be educated,” Remy Okito sighed from the back seat. “I have learned the French.” He shook his fellow private Grégoire Ilunga. Ilunga, half comatose with dope, sat up and grinned at him.
"Ask me the name of Nkoi.” his friend commanded.
“Nkoi. Do not be foolish.” Gregoire’s reply was sleepy, but nevertheless full of certainty. ‘‘Nkoi is Nkoi.”
Remy grasped him by the shoulders.
“Ask me,” he demanded, “the name of Nkoi in French.”
“The name of Nkoi in French? Ah, I see.” Grégoire gave himself a further shake. “Ah, I see. Remy I do not know, you will have to tell me the name of Nkoi in French.”
“Léopard,” Remy responded proudly.
"Without doubt,” his companion said, preparing to drift off again.
Remy tugged him upright. “Ask me the name of Nyoka.” Grégoire was growing impatient. “What is the name of Nyoka?”
“Serpent!” Remy cried triumphantly. “Have a sip of the wine, Grégoire.”
"The French is so difficult,” Grégoire sighed after he had drunk. He became more co-operative. “I once tried it but found it beyond me.”
“One must be unusually clever,” Remy consoled him. “Ask me the name of Nzoktt."
Suddenly the car stopped. The hulking figure of the sergeant towered over them and overwhelmed them like a night-blackened Braculbea tree.
“Silence!" the sergeant thundered.
They were at once so silent that their silence could almost be heard.
“Ask me the name of Nkosi!” the sergeant thundered now'.
"What is the name of Nkosi?” Grégoire quavered.
“Lion,” the sergeant replied.
The two men in the back seat sank back in relief. But they were jolted up at once.
"Ask the name of the lion!” the towering treelike figure bellowed down on them.
Remy and Grégoire implored with their frightened eyes, each begging the other to take the risk of speaking first. The only name for lion they knew had been said already and each feared falling into some awful and cruelly punishable error.
“Ask me the name of Nkosi,” the Sergeant roared insistently. “Ask the name of the lion!”
There was still no sound from the back seat but the stifled lack of sound.
“Pah!” the sergeant spat at them. “Mhwa does not know the name of Nkosi. HUSH does not know the name of Nkosi. Nkema does not know the name of Nkosi. The dog does not know the name of the lion. The cat does not know the name of the lion. The monkey does not know the name of the lion.”
Still none dared interrupt or applaud.
“Then I will tell you,” Albert Tshibangu said majestically.
"The name of the lion is Albert Tshibangu.”
“It is truly so,” Remy Okito quavered in sudden relief.
"Without doubt!” cried Grégoire Ilunga. “Only the lion knows the name of the lion,” added Alphonse Mpolo.
"It is more than a question of words,” Albert Tshibangu informed them forgivingly. “It is more than changing the Lingala to the French. How shall we save the district of Mgonga? How shall we rescue our sacred home?”
“Alas, how?” Grégoire Ilunga was drowsing off again.
"The lion will rescue. Tshibangu will rescue.” The sergeant gathered strength from his rhetoric as a warrior gathering strength from the earth. “I shall proclaim Mgonga to be a separate state. All shall be free. All shall be serene. I will be the president.”
“I agree!” said Alphonse Mpolo.
"Did not Patrice Lumumba once command all the Congo?” the sergeant declaimed. “Does not Joseph Kasavubu command it now? Do not Antoine Gizenga and
Moise Tshombe and Albert Kalonji rule the lands of their ancestors? Has not Joseph Mobutu, a sergeant even as me, been lord of them all?”
“All this is most true,” said Alphonse Mpolo, and none offered dissent.
“This will be the greatest rising of all,” the sergeant promised them. “The hunters and warriors will rush behind us, rush ahead of us, rush as the highest wind. The oldest man will take up spear once more, the youngest boy will grasp a bow. My father is the headmar. of a village. My father and my village will be in the forefront with me.”
“In the years far gone,” Alphonse Mpolo ’ boasted, “two Banza men stole a goat from my village. The men of my village crept upon their village at night and killed and burned all that was there, all the huts, all the people, all the goats and chickens and cattle. Les Belges sent three soldiers to my village and they too were killed and burned. At last les Belges sent forty men with great guns and cars of steel, but the men of the village had stolen into the jungle. There was nothing for les Belges to do but ask foolish questions of the women.”
“That is what we shall require.” the sergeant said. “We require brave men and clever men, from brave and clever tribes and villages. I appoint you Alphonse Mpolo, as premier.”
“Let us toast the premier,” said Grégoire Ilunga, raising the reserve jar of wine.
“But first let us toast the president,” Alphonse Mpolo interjected carefully.
FELICIEN SONGOLO HAD FELT a half-guilty respect for many white men; none stronger than for the one walking beside him, easily and noiselessly across the rolling plain.
They were a yard or two apart. “We met as enemies and will no doubt part as enemies.” he said in his weirdly smooth and donnish English.
“I never regret my enemies,” Sierra said, not quite seriously. “Sometimes my friends, but never my enemies.”
“A fair enough point.”
“Besides, you’re being presumptuous. Fve had a lot of good enemies in my life and I don’t take on new ones carelessly. State your qualifications.”
"My qualifications?” the African said. “How else can 1 begin except by stating just the simple fact that I am black. Oh, I know you’re too sophisticated to let that count in any conscious way, but it’s just as much there with you as with me.”
“Maybe. I’ve never been sure, but maybe.”
“And yet you’ve taken it on yourself to run our poor backward country in your own rich, enlightened way.”
"Oh. for Christ’s sake. Look. Songolo, if you get through the next twelve hours alive it will be my fault, not yours. That’s what I’m doing here.”
"No doubt we shall see.” Songolo replied with dignity. “Perhaps if you get through it will be my fault.”
Sierra missed the note of hurt and rushed on angrily. “It’s too God-damned bad we couldn't thresh this thing out while we were picking the onions out of our glasses at the Waldorf or in the Delegates Lounge in New York. Right now 1 have no taste for philosophy. I just want to get arOund this next anthill.”
Songolo drew away again and walked on through the night in solitude. His life had been full of self-reproach and he did not lack for it now. The rebuff by the man from the UN had been clearly earned. How was the man from the UN to know an African's great and special shafts of fear, the special need for discourse. To tell this man, outright, of the three ritual murders he had seen in person would have been an act of boastfulness or disloyalty. It would, nevertheless, have eased the passage to the dawn. But the opportunity was
gone and Fel ¡cien Songolo was once more alone.
And how, for God's sake how, could this loneliness be avoided or be helped? How he yearned for the simple clash of Tours and Agincourt and Flodden Field and Gettysburg, where spears and bows and claymores and muskets collided in a clearer kind of air. The barricades in this wild and lovely land were so hard to find and srake out. Protect the Congo against 1 he world; wage war for the Congo against all who came. But first—oh. sadly, first— wage war for the Baluba against the Lulua, the Tumba against the Bolia, the Walengulo against the Mituku. Where would a Lincoln or a Charlemagne plant his standard here? The Lincolns and the Charlemagnfs had at least a single goal and adversaty.
Sierra, the Spaniard, with his finely chiseled causes and clean-cut wars behind him could afford to make epigrams about his friends and enemies. Yet Songolo still felt a great yearning for the other man's regard. He would be a good man to fight beside, if fighting was necessary. A good man 10 hear a new symphony with or discuss the plays of the Greeks, a good man to introduce to Brother Bernard. But none of these things w'ere possible and so. like the ebetor and the nurse ahead of them, these two walked on in silence.
Further ahead Chartrand and his girl had stopped in the shadow of an umbrella tree. When the others had caught up. Chartrand said in a low', unhurried voice, “Astrid has just heard a shot from the direction of the road.”
“Yes, messieurs,” she said in rather officious French, claiming the right to speak for her ears herself, "the Gombe hear best in Gombe country, and I have undoubtedly heard a shot."
Indubitablement. It was a tour dc force. She would not have dared to try it had the effect of her two predinner drinks not still lingered, but it came out w'ell and confidently. She sensed their surprise and was momentarily a good deal more pleased with her rendition of the word than with her hearing of the shot.
She had, thus far, no sense of fear and this gave her another temporary advantage. She was not certain of the man from Ome. w'hose demeanor was that of a chief but who might still, as chiefs sometimes did, betray a secret, last-minute cowardice when they came to put the knives upon him. Her grandfather had been one of these—as stern, mighty, and unassailable as the summer sun. The tribe that seized him had obliged her. as a sevenyear-old granddaughter, to watch. On that long day she lost him twice: once the lean, proud body, once the strong, proud heart.
If the man from Onee was frightened he had concealed it. As for the others, she could scent their fear and their vain suppression of it as surely as the jungle scents just left behind.
The one she felt the greatest compassion for w'as Monsieur Chartrand. He had been good to her, better and more generous than any of the others she had known. For a white man, he was as manly as could be expected. She was pleased in this moment that he had called on her for what help she could give them all. For herself, she was in her own country and had no cause for nervousness.
She had kicked off her thong sandals shortly after they left the road. It was good to be barefoot again, even though her soles had lost a little of their toughness and the grass w'as not as easy on them as it once had been. It was on these same bare feet that she had come into the town to celebrate the Independence.
In the joyous, ringing street, a soldier had grasped her wrist. “Come!” he commanded.
“I cannot.” she had said. ‘T must return to my village.”
She never returned to her village. She met several other soldiers of the Congolese National Army and then a white merchant or two, and then Jacques Chartrand.
Monsieur Chartrand took her in his large Europe-smelling car to his large empty house. He showed her all around it. showed her the rows of hooks and told her she could read them at will, showed her the bright pictures on the walls, showed her the miraculous implements in the kitchen, the machine that made ice. the one that made fire without even seeming to.
He had been good to her when she was frightened and now that he was frightened she was determined to be good to him.
She admired'the way he concealed his fright. He was cool and haughty, as her grandfather had been: but remembering the changes that had so soon come over her grandfather, she pitied him and guessed what lay beneath.
“I do not think they can come across the plain in the cars.” she told them reassuringly. “And I know they have no good tracker with them.”
"Might it be that they would find a tracker in one of the villages?” Sierra asked.
“Yes.” She spoke deliberately, savoring her new seniority and acknowledged wisdom. “It could he done. But to track at night on the plains is very slow. If we go quickly they cannot keep up with us on foot, at least not until daybreak. Besides.” she added scornfully, “these are rich men behind us. The army pays them six thousand francs a month and puts their feet in great stiff boots. These rich sore-footed men will not desert their automobiles.” "Then there is no reason to change our own direction?” Sierra asked.
"Not that I can see,” Chartrand said. “They surely do not know where we are at the moment, but just as surely they will know we are trying for the river. We must still hope they will try to intercept us upstream rather than downstream.”
“Then let us move on,” Sierra said. “I suggest we accelerate our pace.”
Tm SHOT HAD BEEN quite unintended and Sergeant Tshibangu regretted it as much as anyone else.
The two jeeps had made a stop of convenience and the sergeant had walked down the road to see the state of Joseph Nijili. He had been thinking in the interstices of his larger planning that he need not have struck Joseph so hard.
He was pleased when he reached the rear jeep, to see Joseph sitting upright behind Emile Kwange. the driver.
“You are better now, Joseph?” His voice was truly solicitous and kind, not in the least chiding or sarcastic.
Joseph’s only answer was to put the back of his hand to his still-bloody face.
“You should have called me Sergeant, Joseph.”
“Yes, Sergeant." Joseph replied full of bitterness and feigned deference.
“Joseph, 1 am no longer a sergeant.” “No, Sergeant.”
“Joseph. I am the President.”
“Yes. Monsieur le Président “Of all Mgonga.”
“Of all Mgonga.” Joseph like many small men, had always had a bad, unforgiving streak. The sergeant tried again.
“Joseph, you shall be one of my army commanders.”
“One of your army commanders.” Joseph spat a little blood on the floor of the jeep.
“With a Cadillac, and a chauffeur.” “With a Cadillac, and a chauffeur.”
“Like Kasavubu. Like Mobutu. Like Tshombe.”
“Like Kasavubu. Like Mobutu. Like Tshombe."
It was unfortunate that Emile Kwange was within hearing. Otherwise they might have left the matter for settlement on a day when the sergeant’s blood was not so high and Joseph’s not so sullen.
The sergeant grasped his friend by the shoulders and dragged him to the road. Then he struck him another deadening blow full in the face. "Give me your gun.” he said to Emile Kwange. He lurched a little as he bent down to fit the muzzle to Joseph Nijili's temple.
When the trigger had been pulled he stood up. "They shall pay. Joseph.” he promised. “We will find them and they shall pay.”
I HI Y WI KI WALKING so quietly across the savanna that when Mary fell she was on her feet at once and going on.
Grant had caught her arm.
“No harm.” she said, hut in another twenty steps it was apparent there was.
How noble people could be when there was no real call on their nobility. She’d have settled this predicament easily in an essay for the Canadian Girls in Training, or the Brownies or Girl Guides. Your hoot is sinking, et cetera, et cetera. Whom do you save? Or let me go et cetera and rescue those you cun.
In spite of Grant’s help her ankle was becoming more troublesome by the second. “Oh. God,” she sobbed. “1 can’t walk. Don't leave me!” Gone were the Canadian Girls in Training, gone the Brownies and Girl Guides, gone the nobility and the splendid essays. Gone the reliant. reliable, brave daughter of a reliant brave father. Gone the staunch sister of staunch brothers.
They had had lo stop and Sierra and Songolo caught up again.
“Put your arm across my hack and put
the other across the back of Dr. Grant,” Sierra commanded.
They went on a little more slowly.
“I believe you said at dinner, mademoiselle, that you were born in the West. Calgary, was it? I know your country slightly.” “What will they do to us?”
“Nothing,” Sierra said. “Nothing at all. Nothing whatsoever.”
"We must pay them the compliment of running. They would be offended if we didn’t. By morning they will have forgotten what it’s all about. But for now we must observe the niceties.”
She hobbled on between the two hard strong men.
The dawn arrived on them with merciless haste. They had made good time through the remnants of the night. They finished the water; Sierra thought this was no time for saving luggage, and Chartrand said they would find more ahead. The men took turns in helping Miss Kelvin, whose foot was now swollen and loggish. Once when Chartrand stumbled on a protruding root his girl rushed across and insisted on taking his place.
Songolo had been on the other side and he remained there and for a while Mary was assisted by the two Congolese. They would not speak to each other. It had been apparent at dinner that Songolo was ashamed of the girl and she could not conceal her awe of him and her resentment of her awe. But the Gombe girl was as lissome as a thong and so full of life she could not be ignored.
“I think”—Mary broke stride on a ripple in the ground—“they said your name is Astrid.”
“Astrid,” the girl echoed as though sharing a pleasant discovery. “Yes, Astrid. Your foot goes well?” she added.
Mary could not know whether her little note of patronage was being returned or not. She stiffened a little and limped on.
Soon the wiry girl beneath her arm reopened the conversation, full of friendly curiosity.
“You smell well, madame,” the African girl announced.
"Pardon?” Mary inquired.
“It is not often that Europeans smell well.” the girl resumed. “Perhaps you would tell me the name of your essence.” “Essence. Oh yes. It is a Lanvin. I forget exactly which.”
“One would scarcely know, in the darkness, that you are a European. Do you find the doctor agreeable?”
“I have had among my friends a doctor from France. He was not agreeable in the least.”
“Dr. Grant is not my friend,” Mary said primly.
“Do not despair, madame,” the Gombe girl consoled her. “I observed him studying you at dinner in a most amiable way.” Songolo, helping on the other side, had not been able to avoid hearing and his sense of outrage and disgrace overcame his reluctance to interrupt.
“I have no doubt, mademoiselle,” he broke in, “that you are familiar with the works of Jean-Paul Sartre.”
They went on across the savanna.
“In my opinion,” Songolo said, “there is nothing retrograde in Sartre.” The Gombe girl was now expelled, but only briefly.
“I have just heard another shot,” she said.
ASTRID HAD NOT HEARD a shot, for after the first there had been no other one. But in a while the shots did arrive. Sergeant Tshibangu came upon the bound sentry at the checkpoint and released him in a mounting rage.
“This discloses!” he cried in a fury of
excitement to his premier, Alphonse Mpolo. “It discloses everything.”
As they drove away the sergeant fired his gun three times into the nearby trees. He also kept his jeep in second gear, making it as noisy as possible. “They will know!” he shouted to Alphonse Mpolo above the motor.
WHEN THE SOUNDS reached them Sierra hurried ahead and took Chartrand’s arm. “Do you think they have left the road?” he asked.
“I still do not think they w'ill leave the road. As Astrid has said, they are rich and have confining shoes. At the moment 1 think they are only offering us some harmless terrorism.” Sierra dropped back again and in a few minutes Songolo rejoined him.
The day was awakening, flat and hot. In the first intimations of its torpor the life around them was falling to sleep or going to ground.
“What is your belief, monsieur?” Songolo asked. “Should we take cover for the day or try at once for the river?”
“The Belgian tells me we can reach the
Now' he turned to the African. “What after all is a country? I have lost mine. You will lose yours.”
“What was it O'Casey said?” the African mused. "Many an institution has a right and reason to be proud of many a man. but no man has a right to be proud of any institution.”
“Damned nonsense.” Sierra said.
“O’Casey gives you something to argue about.”
“So you're half accepting his argument and half refusing it all at the same time,” Sierra countered. “You're proud of your
institution, prouder than of yourself.” “It is a great mischance that we cannot find a convenient log on which to ponder this,” Songolo reflected. “I am not. by the way, a my-country-right-or-wronger.” “But you'll stay here, stay here and let some hoodlum—”
“Not a hoodlum,” Songolo interrupted. For all its sarcasm there was an underlying note of defiant earnestness and yearning. "A fellow' member of our new society.”
"I won't brag.” Sierra said. “At least I won’t brag any more than 1 can help. But when they started chasing me out of my
country I had the guts to keep on going. It wasn't easy.”
“Ah." the African said. “There you had the advantage of m:. You had a country to leave.”
"Do you really feel that this place has the makings of a country?”
“Look at it and draw it into your lungs.” “We are all running out of sense. You look at a place and draw it into your lungs and it becomes your religion. Then you start another war. All right then, not just you. We. Everybody. The Spaniards. The Congolese. Those Canadians up ahead. The
river in two hours. We must continue. Tomorrow will not do. 1 here will be too much heat and thirst.”
Ahead Grant and Chartrand were now assisting Miss Kelvin. Her steps had grown more labored, but she still refused to falter.
“We shall be at the river by eight hours,” the Spaniard assured the Congolese.
"I have decided not to cross with you,” Songolo said.
“It would be advisable.”
"At the same time,” Songolo said in his gentle Cambridge voice. "I have other things to consider.”
"What are you aiming for?” Sierra asked him with a trace of cynicism.
“Not what you think. At least I hope not.”
“You are positive?”
“All I said was I hoped. You think all that would keep me here is ambition. All I say is that I hope not.”
“Then cross the Ubangi wdth us.” In the little, unplanned instant of affinity Sierra spoke with warmth.
“No. It is harder to return than to leave.”
"It depends on what you’re leaving.” But Sierra's heart was not in his words. His very bones ached from the old and desperate climb across the Pyrenees and his heart ached for the last look he had had more than half a life ago when he began the descent to Perpignan. It had been a high clear sunset that last night and below' the final range of the mountains two towns gleamed on their separate heights as w’hite and silent as ancient ravished virgins.
Russians .nal the Americans and the Germans and the Japs. Everybody. Geography becomes God and in its holy name we start another war.”
“Here." Songolo answered, with a sorrowful half-laugh, “it is not so complicated. We start another war just because the old one is over.”
“And that is why you’re staying here?"
“One of the reasons. Not the sole one, but one of them. There is a faint anil fleeting chance that at last my people's quaint lust for blood will end. Perhaps I could help to end it. Perhaps they are not yet too civilized to learn."
Sierra put his hand on the African’s arm. “Come with us.” he urged. “You can be back in a week. We’ll cross the river and make our way to Brazza and then to Leo."
“What you say about the folly of substituting geography for God may be true," Songolo said. "Just the same, I will not be driven out of my own country by my own people. I have too great an investment in it. My great-grandfather was dragged away from the coast as a slave. My great-grandmother was eaten by an enemy tribe. Two of my great-uncles were butchered by the Belgians. I have been pushed oil many sidewalks.”
“And this." Sierra reflected, “is how patriots and nationalists are made.”
"In your case it was different?"
“Not much,” the Spaniard admitted.
"It would be of interest to know what the Canadians ahead there feel.” Songolo suggested.
“The same as us no doubt. They too see sanctity in lines on a map.”
“Why. after all, not?" the African speculated. "It is always the big tribe that lectures the small tribe on the sins of tribalism. The big tribe seldom lectures the small tribe on the costs of vassalage.”
“I had better go and see if the nurse needs more help,” Sierra said.
The old wounds were hurting now wdth an intensity he had not felt since he was little more than a boy. “Long live death! Down with intelligence!" The cries and slogans, the endless sea of faces—eager faces, stunned faces: sainted faces, evil faces, brave faces, cowardly faces — they were all in full pursuit of him again in this threatening dawn. Guernica and Barcelona, Granada and Valencia and Catalonia and the river Ebro followed him across this new' and desperate plain. So did so many old friends and enemies, Gil Robles. Guelfo de Llano, de Rivera. Franco, the stone-hard woman called La Pasionaria.
“May I help?” he said politely when he caught up wdth Miss Kelvin. Grant and Chartrand were now assisting her.
They sought shade behind an anthill. It w'as growing hotter by the instant. Mary put her drawn face between her knees, trying as well as she could to conceal her agony and despair. The Gombe girl uprooted a broad leaf of shrub and sat beside her and began fanning her.
Sierra beckoned the other three men to one side. “I believe w'e must somehow contrive a litter.”
“How and with what?” Chartrand asked practically.
Sierra pointed to a little oasis of higher vegetation almost a mile away. "If the heat continues it will soon be impossible for any two of us to carry her." he said. “Let us take an hour now.”
Chartrand spoke a word of explanation to Astrid Mahamba and the four men set off together. In the clump of trees they found, not without some difficulty, four good branches and an assortment of vines and with the help of Sierra’s and Chartrand’s clasp knives they built a crude stretcher.
Grant helped Mary to the stretcher. It
was iu.¡ going, for in their uncertainty
and haste none had stopped to bring a hat. Astrid insisted on taking her turn at one of the four rough handles and it soon became so apparent she was standing up to the heat better than any of them that their masculine objections ceased. Songolo, the other African, was the only one who had started out in a jacket and tie. He showed no sign of discarding either of these badges of his estate, although he had loosened the tie. As he toiled on with the others he. too, was drenched and glistening with perspiration and his breath, like theirs, was running short.
They went down another rise of ground and tip another and began passing a small glade of trees. The sun danced hotly on its edges and there was no chance to see what lay beyond.
In a few more steps, without the slightest sound, two bare figures appeared at the edge of the trees, as startled and frightened as they themselves. One was as gnarled and ropy as a drying vine, an old man of —what? fifty, sixty?—an old man beginning to wilt to the ground, but still stubbornly determined to stay erect. His ribcreased trunk and his bony shoulders were thrown a shade behind the perpendicular as though he knew his next concession to gravity and eternity would be his last. His only garment was a slender loin cloth. A recently killed monkey was hung around his neck by a leather thong and he held a bow in one hand, a few arrow's in the other. His face was shrunk and flattened and eroded by years of heat and leanness, but he held his head as upright as he held his body.
The second man was younger. He too carried a slung monkey and a bow and arrows. After the first frozen instant of meeting, each of the hunters flung an arrow into his bowstring and the two took aim.
Sierra put down his corner of the litter.
"Remain!" he commanded over his shotdder. Then he took four or five unhurried steps ahead. His strong hard chest swelled a little under his faded khaki bush shirt and he presented it with seeming confidence to the bowmen.
"Moninga." he said almost conversationally. "Moninga na hiso."
The hunters lowered their arrows a fraction of an inch and the Spaniard went ahead again, not hastily, but not in the least uncertainly. "Moninga." he repeated reassuringly. “Friend."
The hunters still did not put their bows down and Sierra now stopped and began to parley from a dozen feet away.
He would have preferred it if there had been no one behind him and no need to parley and—alas! no years since 1937. When he was younger and unencumbered it would have been easy to make a sudden lunge to the young man’s bow hand, break his arm. and twist him in front of the old man for a shield. But even if they were still agile enough, men of his seniority and position were no longer allowed to fight, nor to invite new' danger to those behind.
He would parley if he could.
He counseled the old man to have no fear of them. To explain their presence and nature to these Equateur hunters in any rational terms was out of the question. Mary was trying to rise from the litter. Cirant was bending over her: Songolo and Chartrand stood beside the two handles they had put on the ground and Astrid Mahamba stood a little to one side, as interested in these new developments as a curious small gazelle.
“The Belgian woman.” Sierra told the hunters, “is my woman. She has been stricken very badly by the fever. We must get her somehow to the river and—”
Neither man replied.
“The other Beiges tire frierais also. The two Congolese have consented to show us the way.”
The older of the hunters made a gesture and the two disappeared into the glade as silently and mysteriously as they had come.
Sierra walked back and stooped to take the empty handle of the litter. But before they went on, Songolo drew him and Chartrand to the edge of the trees. “I don’t pretend to know the tribes up here,” Songolo said.
“These I think, are Gombe, or perhaps Sudanese. Before the Independence and before the United Nations”—Chartrand looked in open challenge from Songolo to Sierra—“they were among the most peaceable of all the tribes. But now, of course —” he went on more briskly, “they have gone back to their village to talk or perhaps consult the witch doctor or get more men. It would have been much better if they had not seen us. We must go a little faster.” "If the rest of you can manage the litter,” Sierra suggested, “I shall go on ahead and watch for them. I suppose,” he added, "I have Monsieur Songolo’s permission to defend us if I must?”
Songolo put one sleeve of his soaked brown Dacron jacket across his eyes and blotted up a rising stream of sweat. “I cannot either give or withhold permission. If it's a question of consent the conditions are the same. Do what you must if you can prove you must. But be sure there is no alternative.”
Sierra gave a fractional nod. disdaining to show his contempt, “i will stay in view, where I can. If you see a wave or any strange movement from me or my direction take what cover you can.”
“One moment.” Chartrand hurried a few steps after him. then reached and handed him his own heavy clasp knife. “I noticed that mine is better than yours,” he said. “Let us exchange.”
Sierra’s confidence had been a little shaken by the advent of the two hunters, but after the instinct of a good general he had done his best to keep his misgivings to himself. He perceived now that he had allowed the man in Leo to cut his hair too short. It was still strong hair, the black-gray color of pepper sand when the surf is running, and there was still enough of it, but it was not giving him enough protection from the sun. As he hurried to gain a lead on the others, he had a tiny spell
of faintness. He tried to ignore it as he always had tried to ignore his weaknesses and soon it passed.
He looked back and saw the others toiling after him, Chartrand and the Gombe girl at the front of the stretcher, Songolo and the doctor at the back, and the nurse huddled almost out of sight on top.
How, he wondered, as the faintness passed, would these have fared on the longer, earlier flight to Boulow? How at Bilbao, Guadalajara, Malaga? How at Madrid? The doctor, he thought, would fight to the limit of his bravery and endurance, but not beyond. Most men fought to their limits and only a very few could go beyond. He had seen some do so and once or twice he had done so himself, but only when he was much younger. He saw no need either to applaud or reproach the doctor.
The nurse had not done well, but no doubt she was, indeed, in extremity. Besides, he reflected, it was unrealistic to expect much of the pale people of the world, of the Nordics and Anglo-Saxons. They were stalwart, but not very daring. They were good endurers, but bad adventurers. Who found their greatest stronghold. sailing boldly across the rim of the world? One of ours. Who inherited it? Theirs. The pale people in their chaste pilgrim clothes, with their chaste diluted pilgrim souls. Good endurers, but the pale people lacked the joys and hurts of passion.
The active part of Sierra’s mind was concentrated on the little swells of ground, the anthills, and the clumps of growth in the savanna. He saw little cause for stealth, for if anyone ahead was watching there was no way to avoid being seen. The knife in his hand had a good heft to it and his meditations were almost as pleasing as a long argument with good arguers in the Delegates Lounge.
He slowed a little to survey another glade. He could not be sure what was hidden within, but there was no choice except to proceed. In a moment he resumed the pastime of making an inventory of his companions. He had come to a good opinion of the Belgian. In this strange assemblage the Belgian was the only honest primitive. If he searched his family tree he would no doubt find at least some subsidiary link to the primitive colonizer, old King Leo. Of all of them perhaps only the
Belgian knew precisely who he was and where he was and what he was prepared to do about it. He had a personal stake here and the toughness and the ingenuity to sell it dearly. He had Chartrand’s knife and Chartrand had his knife; if this could not make them friends it could make them fellows. In the older struggles, to give your knife or gun away was as important an act as to give your woman away. There would. Sierra concluded, be no real chance to fight, but if one should arise the Belgian would not be a disappointment.
He dismissed the Congolese girl as an innocent camp follower. Songolo, of course, was more complicated, he had begun to realize. What a pleasure it would have been to sit down and really twist wrists with this man over a platter of cosacosa and a bottle of decent Beaujolais. What a—in spite of the staggering heat he nearly laughed aloud at the incongruity of his thoughts and the Madison Avenue world—what a challenge to dine with him and thump tables in the discreet night air.
“Songolo,” he’d have said, “I don't give a damn how good you are on Keats or Walt Whitman or how closely you’ve been following C. P. Snow. What are you doing right at this place, right at this minute?”
“Well,” Songolo would have to say, “I am protecting the interests of the Congolese Republic.”
“Good,” Sierra would have to say. “How?”
“Well,” Songolo would have to say. “I am (a) trying to see that none of my countrymen injures you. (b) that you injure none of my countrymen, and additionally and quite as importantly (c) that no one of any nationality whatever injures me.”
“A good platform,” Sierra would be able to say. "When you become head of the government 1 hope they make me U. S. ambassador.”
They had more in common than at first became apparent. They were both displaced persons in a sense—one the intellectual made captive by the man of action, one the man of action made captive by the intellectual. He, Sierra, the born and trained musician, had not written a scrap of music in more than twenty years; he was too busy fighting wars. The other man, the born warrior and hunter, had not been near a war or a hunt for even longer; he was too busy filling up his head. Here was the longhair with his barbarous blade of steel. I here was the savage with his Jermyn Street shoes and his Bond Street suit and the Regent Street haberdashery. Not a bad world to be in, just the same, for both of them. In order to stay in it Sierra had been under many kinds of duress and had shed some blood and he still meant to stay as long as he decently could.
He descended into a small dip in the ground and came out before a few Mgonga trees. His watchfulness might have been impaired by the thunderous heat. As he came up the little rise he found that in utter silence half a dozen bowmen had sprung from amid the trees. Two were the old man and the young man they had met before. There was no uncertainty in them now. All six were within a dozen yards of him, with their bows held high, forming a ring. The stretcher party behind was in plain sight and the old native African waved them imperiously in. Chartrand was on one side of the front handles and his voice carried clearly across the two hundred yards of flat and tepid air. "Ça va rien," he could be heard to say as he tightened his hold on the litter. "We might as well.”
When they reached Sierra the six tribesmen stood back. Chartrand, Astrid, Songolo, and Dr. Grant put the stretcher down. Mary Kelvin pulled herself partly
up and looked around through her private, special haze of heat and pain.
The six bowmen closed in until they were like the stakes of a little compound. Astrid Mahamba’s eyes were wide and gleaming. Chartrand moved toward her. Mary, on the litter, turned her head away. Grant took her hand. Songolo stood a little apart, quite erect. The bowmen drew back their strings a little, waiting for the command.
With the sudden agility of an animal. Sierra made two incredibly swift leaps with his knife held high. The old Congolese man’s startled arrow went over his head and then Sierra was behind the old man with his knife at his back and the old man’s body between him and the other bowmien. He had the old man’s bow hand clasped and tw'isted up against his spine.
“Now!” he shouted to the other five, all of them with their bows still aimed, but frozen by shock. “Now!” Sierra shouted. "Now! Now' you want killing. Let us have it then!"
The chief’s bow fell into the dust and he gave a quavering order to the other bowmen. They lowered their bows. “Put them on the ground.” Sierra commanded. The chief spoke again. His five companions dropped their weapons and stood staring at each other, abashed and wholly confused.
Sierra's voice was like a trumpet. "Tell your men to go back to the village. Tell them to remain there. Tell them we are not their enemies and tell them you will be allowed to return to them in safety and honor. Tell them too that if people should die here you will be among them.”
The chief spoke again.
“Tell them, too." Sierra commanded, "that it is of no use to try to surprise us later with poisoned arrows. As you have seen I am not slow and my knife is very sharp. Whatever happens you shall live a few seconds less than 1."
“Yes, yes." the old chief said.
His fellow' tribesmen melted away into the Mgonga trees. Sierra took the chief by his naked arm. He did not make a display of the knife, but the chief was fully aware of its presence. They proceeded together step by step, with the others behind them.
With each of their steps Sierra felt the gaunt and ropy old man’s humiliation: this man would never again be what he once had been, either in his own eyes or in the eyes of his village, and his heavy despair burdened his every movement.
"Father and brother.” Sierra said. “I am your friend.”
The other man turned his eyes away in self-hatred.
"Father,” Sierra said in a comforting voice. “How many leopards have you slain?”
The old man lifted his eyes for an instant. “None.”
“You have slain a hundred.”
The older man was weeping. "You have slain many leopards.” Sierra reassured him. putting a kindlier pressure on his arm.
"1 would not be able to slay a leopard.”
"You have,” Sierra said.
After awhile, as they crossed the plain. Sierra’s captive said. “I have slain more than a hundred leopards.”
"A great number,” Sierra said to him.
The chief's head came up a little. “A great number,” Sierra said. "A very very great number.”
From the direction of the road there was a distant sound of noisy motors.
"We must advance more quickly.” Sierra said, and tugged the old man on as gently as he could.
The next time he looked behind the litter had fallen. The white girl w'as half erect on it. weaving and groping under the weight of heat. The doctor was on his
knees in the grass, returning to his feet. Chartrand, Songolo, and the black girl were beside him.
Sierra turned quickly and went back to them, with one hand on the chiefs arm.
“It’s all right,” Grant was upright again and ready to take his place at the corner of the litter. "I hurt my ankle, but it’s all right.”
“It’s not,” Chartrand said to him.
"It is,” Grant stretched to prove he could stretch, but his sweat-washed and overburdened face betrayed him.
Within twenty feet Grant stumbled and fell again. Only Songolo, perspiring in his London clothes, saved the stretcher and Mary from falling with him. And then again, from perhaps two miles away, there were two more warning, intimidating shots.
Chartrand called ahead as quietly as he could and Sierra came back to them with the desolate chief on one side and the open knife on the other.
They went aside.
“We shall have to go much more slowly, monsieur,” the Belgian said.
“Then it would be better to stop and go on when we can.”
“In my opinion,” the Belgian said, “we must reach the river today or risk not reaching it at all.”
“You have no thought,” Sierra asked him, "of leaving anyone behind?”
"Withhold your insults until a more appropriate time,” Chartrand answered.
“Then what do you propose?” Sierra asked.
“It will explain itself,” Chartrand said.
He beckoned Astrid Mahamba to him. “Astrid,” he said to her. "you must find your way quickly to the road. You must cross the road and return to it from the other side. You must be discovered by the men of the army coming from that direction. You must tell them that is the direction in which to search for us.” He put his arm around her. “You must delay them as long as you can. You understand it is your life as well as ours?”
“Then go, dear Astrid,” he whispered. “Go, Astrid Cleopatra Lolita Mahamba. We shall be reunited soon.”
He touched her fondly and fleetingly on her fine hard rump. She smiled over her
shoulder and was off toward the menace of the road, a printed blue and orange] dress and a flash of swift black legs.
Songolo followed the disappearing girl] for a moment, and then crossed the few yards to grasp the Belgian’s shoulder.
"What have you done? What have yotil dared to do?”
"What is necessary, monsieur,” Chartrand said. “And if I were you I'd take off that bloody tie.”
ASTRID HAD SEI N at once the logic Monsieur Chartrand’s directions. As she ran barefoot across the savanna it did occur to her that she could return unhurt to her own people. But Monsieur Chartrand had been good to her and she preferred not to leave him in trouble. Besides it would have made her uneasy to disobey Chartrand. Independence or not. it was still against all habit to disobey a Beige.
She was accustomed to the crashing heat here. This, nevertheless, was one of the worst of days. She paused and pulled off her dress and threw it aside. She hurried on adorned only by her clean black skin, a figurine of damp and gleaming] ebony. The soldiers will be as glad to see me this way, she assured herself.
She could hear the jeeps cruising up and down the road and once there was! another warning shot. They were, she perceived. rushing the few miles to the river and then rushing back again, creating as much disturbance and terror as they could] in the manner of warriors sure of their superior numbers or weapons.
Astrid was one of the fortunate ones. She had no disease or disability and her clean young legs continued to bear her clean young body with smooth and easy haste. Near the road she paused and shrank behind a cluster of reeds. The jeeps went past.
In a few minutes the jeeps passed a third time. She sprang to the side of the road in all her lustrous unclothed beauty.
The jeeps slammed to a halt and the sergeant jumped out and grasped her byi the arm. His big hand was determined.] but not hostile.
“The white men have taken off my clothes,” she said.
“Yes,” the sergeant said, still holding her arm. “They shall pay.” She pretended reluctance as he took her across the ditch into the shelter of the anthill. “It is not becoming to boast,” he said, “but I am the new president of Mgonga province.”
“Come and place yourself beside me,” the sergeant said as they returned to the jeep. "I may make you one of the wives of the president.”
"That might be most enjoyable.” Astrid responded politely.
"It may be,” the sergeant said, “that in time I will be president of all of the Congo. It may be that even then you shall be among my wives.”
Astrid leaned back against the seat of the jeep and sighed with only partly feigned anticipation.
"Perhaps,” the sergeant added magnanimously. "the first of them.”
She sighed again.
"You have been to Leo?” he asked her.
The chance to boast without being caught was almost too tempting to resist, but she was still a little frightened.
"No. I have not."
The sergeant hesitated and he too decided not to lie. "I have talked to many who have been there." he said. “The river is so wide you can scarcely see across it and the avenues are as wide and long as the river. The buildings are like high white mountains. There are places to drink and places to dine and places to hear strange music. There are white linen places where one makes love. Someday I may lake you to Leo."
She smiled dreamily.
"But for the moment.” the sergeant resumed, having recovered his concentration, “we must deal with our enemies. Tell me which way to turn.”
Drowsing and weary from her recent exertions she was half under the spell of his body and half under the spell of his tongue. In her languor and absent-mindedness she almost told him the truth. But she remembered the kindnesses of Chartrand even though the thoughts of his strength had dwindled. The white lady too had asked her name, not in a white-lady way, but in the w'ay of one who wished to know'. Had there been a way to betray her lofty white-acting countryman. Songolo, without betraying the rest, she would have done so immediately. But she continued in her deceit.
"They will come out this way. upon the river road,” she said. “You will discover them within two kilos of the place where the two roads meet. They will be in the direction from which the river flows.”
The sergeant rested a hand on her. He signaled over his shoulder for the jar of palm wine, took four or five massive gulps and handed it to her. Then he lifted his gun from the side of his seat and fired a shot above the top of the jeep. He raced on as loudly as he could, in first gear, with the other jeep on the road behind.
In a few' minutes they reached the junction of the roads and turned upstream. A mile away the sergeant waved the jeep of Emile Kwange to a halt. Then a mile further on he stopped himself and ordered the three men in his owm jeep to dismount and take up watch at the side of the road.
They w'aited for almost an hour in the mounting heat. They could see for nearly a mile across the glaring plain, but there was no sign of movement.
"You are quite certain it was this way they came?” the sergeant asked with a trace of suspicion.
"Oh yes.” Astrid said in some alarm. “Altogether certain.”
They sat on overlooking the plain. At last the sergeant signaled his other three passengers to return to the jeep. Lie looked at Astrid again.
"If you have not told the truth this is your last opportunity.”
"It is the truth.”
“You arc a good woman to have, but I will kill you.”
“You will find no need.” Astrid bent her head a little and her voice had become less steady.
“Not with my gun. With my hands.”
"It is the truth.”
"What do you call yourself?” he asked. “Astrid.”
"The name of the queen. Perhaps I shall make you a queen.”
"Nkosi. The name of the lion. 1 once was known as Albert Tshibangu, but most men call me ‘Nkosi.’ ”
“Nkosi!” she said, and kissed him in the way Monsieur Chartrand had taught her.
“But I must arise and find those spies and traitors,” he said.
“Nkosi,” she ventured, “1 do not think they arc a danger.”
“Where are they?” he demanded. "Now that you are my wife I command you again to tell the truth. I shall not punish you, for you are a good wife. But you must tell me the truth. Where are they?”
“I have lied to you twice,” she said disarmingly. “They did not harm me and I also lied about where they are. Let us forget them, Nkosi, and return down the road. They arc of no consequence.”
"I am the judge of that,” he said. “Do not forget yourself.”
"Please let me be heard,” she said doggedly and daringly. "The doctor and the nurse you know about.”
“I only know what they pretend to be. They are our enemies. A woman cannot tell these things.”
"The Belgian — ” she began.
"I know about the Belgian,” he said bitterly. “1 know about the Belgian and about you. Do not speak of him.”
“He — ”
"Speak another word of him and 1 will
put you away.”
“As you order me, Nkosi,” she said. “And what of the man who says he is from Once?”
“He is a brave strong man, Nkosi. Not as brave and strong as you, but all the same brave and strong.”
“We shall discover more about that soon.”
"If you must destroy him,” she implored, “do it quickly.” She still had the memory of her grandfather’s unspeakable last agony and the terrifying collapse of his valor.
"The women watch. The men decide,” he reminded her. “And what of the African?”
"I cannot say.”
"No. He comes here in his mighty clothes waving mighty papers. Where is his mighty body guard?”
"I do not know. Nkosi.”
“Once we had Lumumba here. His whole plane spilled out soldiers who held their guns ahead. Once we had Mobuto, who had four planes of soldiers and once Kasavubu, who had two. Now this other one comes saying 'here I am, a big officer from Leo.’ And who is there to greet him, who is there to guard him, who is there even to carry his valise?”
"I do not know him. But the others deserve your mercy.”
“Where are they?”
"Must I say?”
He put his big hands on her tender throat. “You arc my wife but I must know.”
Her soft eyes closed. “They are on the other side of the road.”
"You should not have deceived me,” he said.
"I regret it.”
“A lying woman, however good to he with, is not easy to put up with.’’
“That, too, is so. But when I lied to you 1 was not truly your woman.”
He eased his touch on her throat.
"Place your hands where they should be.” She moved them down to her warm and silky flanks.
For the first time she heard a laugh from him.
“You will make a good queen, I won't need many more,”
"It is not probable,” she admitted with demure pride. “Tell me more, Nkosi, about Leo.”
“Ah.” he said, resting on one elbow above her, waving one hand spaciously to the trees. “The things they say of Leo are hardly to be believed. There are women
striding down the streets as white and silvery as the moon. A man like me or a woman like you can walk down the same streets. We will drive down them together in our United States Cadillac.”
“Tell me how you have acquired so much knowledge of the world.”
"It is the education. You have observed my French.”
“It is much better than mine. It is a valuable gift, but not an easy one.”
“Who taught you?” he asked, with a trace of jealousy. “The Belgian?”
“Only a little,” she reassured him. “Mostly it was the fathers and brothers and the nuns.”
"I do not find your lack of clothing suitable,” he said, a little severely. “It is agreeable but not suitable. In Leo I shall buy you pants of the whitest, finest lace, lace so fine you will not feel it. Above will be a golden dress, as golden as the sun.”
"Once,” she said wistfully, “I had a red dress. But I have never had a golden dress.”
"Where did you get the red dress?” "From an official of the Belgians.”
"The one over there?”
"No — another.”
"You should not have taken it.”
"It was the first dress I ever had.”
“We will put that in the past. From now on you will accept no dresses except from me.”
"What a warm and lazy day it is,” he smiled, ridiculing himself with another unexpected touch of humor. “Not a good day to become a president.”
"No,” she agreed.
"Still, I have my duty to perform and I shall perform it now.”
“Can you not spare them?”
"I cannot and will not.”
His subordinates were waiting sullenly in the two jeeps, but the wine had held out. The sergeant took a massive dose from the neck of the jar and passed it on to Astrid.
As the sergeant started the jeep Astrid leaned back, not unhappily. She had done what she was capable of doing and she could do no more.
THEY HAD HAD TO STOP again with the stretcher. Sierra and Songolo were on the front handles, the Canadian and the Belgian at the back. The gnarled chief stopped just ahead of Sierra, who still held the open knife in his hand, a foot away.
The chief turned directly to Songolo. He raised a trembling, defiant arm. “I see that you have the appearance of an important person. You are one of the new
chiefs from the south. You are one ot the new chiefs of the Independence. Order these Belgians to release me.”
Songolo thought a moment. “You know, monsieur, I think perhaps you ought to.” “And I,” Sierra said, “know I won’t.” “Suppose I demand it?”
“On whose authority?”
“You are not quite as experienced as 1,” Sierra said. “But this is your country and we all have things to learn. Perhaps I can learn from you. Give me your guess of what would happen.” They were talking English, more hurriedly than was possible in either of the other two tongues they shared.
“It is not easy to be sure. But the old man would be free.”
"Free to prepare another and better ambush for us. No.”
“I believe he would be grateful enough to leave us.”
“And if your belief turned out to be wrong?”
“You take a great deal on yourself.” "Monsieur Songolo,” Sierra said to him. “The debate is ended. We have a short day ahead of us and a great deal to do. Unless you have picked up that pole within ten seconds I will carve you from your gullet to your groin. It may create an international incident, but you will not be testifying.” Songolo bent down. “I would still like to meet you under more civilized auspices.” he said.
"And I to meet you. But it is a short day and let’s get on.”
“And do you not grant me a part in these decisions?" Songolo rose to his haunches, towering thinly in the strange, soaked elegance of his Bond Street clothes over the sprawled and growling Spaniard. “Perhaps my point of view is a rather special one," he went on acidly. “This party of six, in the Congo, has included three Congolese. One has a white man’s knife at his back. Another” — Chartrand was lying on his face, a little apart and apparently oblivious to their conversation — "was as much a prisoner of the white man until you freed her for a purpose of your own.”
Sierra began to rise, shaking with anger. "No. let me finish. And the other? I am the other. I am said to be the fourth in succession to the presidency of this country — my country, a country of fourteen million people. But you, a stranger and an alien, deny me the sovereignty over so much as one frail old man.”
"It was your government that asked us to come and put an end to anarchy.” Sierra reminded him. "Besides, in what way have I denied you anything?”
“You have the knife, monsieur.”
Sierra looked at him. Then he tossed the open blade at Songolo’s feet. “Now it's yours,” he said. “Let’s see what you will do with it.”
Scngolo hesitated. “Go ahead,” Sierra urged him. “Let the old man go. You will be able to defend us when he returns. No doubt you have some means of your own for using this weapon against a score of bows, machetes, and spears.” Grant and Chartrand were staring tensely at the two men and at the knife on the ground between them and even Mary raised her head a little from the stretcher.
"Go on!” Sierra rasped. Songolo did not move. “Go on! You've made your point.”
“Stop this, you bloody fools!” Chartrand sprang to his feet and strode over. "I don't suppose either of you has done much traveling in this part of the country. Well. I have. I've ranched in this kind of country for fifteen years. The cover doesn’t look very good, but it’s quite passable for those who know' how to use it.”
“Yes. monsieur?” Sierra waited with exaggerated politeness.
"In the last half hour I have seen at least a dozen armed tribesmen behind us, in front of us and on our flanks. At this moment there are at least that number within five hundred paces."
"Why did you not tell me?” Sierra demanded.
"To what purpose? You have been doing all that could be done. And there was mademoiselle to consider.”
Sierra turned again to Songolo. “Well?" The Congolese was staring past him with scared and widened eyes, staring toward the ripples of heat shifting over each distant swelling in the ground, seeking the borders of each clump of trees and elephant grass, searching the tops of the round, tufted anthills, each grown suddenly ;ts ominous as the top of a lurking giant warrior’s head. He wet his lips and reached out with his tongue toward the rivulet of salt on his upper lip. Songolo was no more scared than the rest of them, but he was at a disadvantage; he was the one they were all looking at.
With a painful though not altogether unsuccessful attempt at dignity, he grasped the knife by the blade and held the handle toward the Spaniard. “Please take it back, monsieur, along with my apology." His voice was not unduly humble, but it was earnest enough. “I have spent too much time at Lovanium and at Louvain and Cambridge and the debating halls of Leopoldville.”
“And not enough in the places where the hair grows short and the spears grow long." Sierra was suddenly amiable, as full of sympathy for the routed intellectual on one side as for the shrunken savage on the other.
He rose and went to the stretcher. As an afterthought he went to a small clump of high coarse grass and cut off several handfuls. He brought them back, gently moved Mary’s linen-sheathed arms away from her burned wet face, placed the grass carefully on top. and then returned her arms. "It is not far now. Miss Kelvin.” he said to her.
“Do you really believe we’ll get through?”
“I believe we will.” He added gently as though under a mandate of conscience. “But if you are religious, it can do no harm to pray.”
It was now late morning and the heat pursued them with growing fury. Songolo and Chartrand. both watching constantly toward the menacing distance for new signs of movement, stumbled often on the uneven ground. In spite of their difficulties Grant could feel, or perhaps only imagine, that they w'ere both waiting for him to be the first to collapse. If one fell now. they must all fall. Only the first to fall would
need an excuse. One failure would give absolution to all subsequent failures and gather up and absorb the total of their guilt. He clung like death to his grip on the pole and each time Songolo or Chartrand recovered from a false step he felt a fresh twinge of despair. As a doctor and, he had never hesitated to admit to himself, a fairly vain one, he had always made a systematic effort to keep in good condition; but for the accident of turning his ankle, he protested, he would have been capable of outlasting either of his rivals for the disgrace of being first to fail. Not the unfaltering, unflinching Spaniard, perhaps; but then the Spaniard obviously represented some rare geological fault within the total mass of human bedrock. But to have his endurance melt away in the presence of the other two, along with his tiny stock of heroism, was like being stretched on the rack and letting go the dregs of life to the sound of hideous jeers.
The Belgian was glancing his way, half in stealth, every few steps.
“Keep your damned eyes to yourself!” Grant commanded him venomously.
From the road and much closer there was another shot and again the racing of motors. No one spoke, but they were able miraculously to quicken their pace.
And. quite as miraculously, the first saffron glint of the river lay ahead, just a glimpse of it beckoning behind a rise in the ground and a sudden strip of jungle. Here the trees were much thicker, fighting thirstily toward the river like convention delegates before a bar. “A furlong!” Sierra was apparently as strong as ever. “A furlong and we are there.” He found a fisherman’s path through the final jungle strip and somehow Grant lurched and staggered with them. He even managed to set his handle down with the others before he dropped, panting, beside the river.
IN A MOMENT Grant raised his head. Sierra stood at the edge of the river calling across fifty yards of water to a pirogue standing off the bank. An old woman stood at each end, holding the long dugout canoe steady in the broad, sluggish stream with a long pole. Their fishing nets lay on the bank and their abandoned cooking fire still smoldered beneath a black iron pot.
“Kendo! Kendo!” the old woman in the rear of the pirogue was screeching. “Kendo! Kendo! Kendo!" Grant was halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness and as though determined to concentrate its shaky powers on one single thing, his mind momentarily dwelt wholly on this old woman screeching, "Kendo! Kendo! Kendo!"
“Moninga! Moninga!" Sierra’s voice called back across the strip of shore water, but it was the old woman who held his attention almost wholly.
In each voice, in the harsh squalling of the old woman and in the urgent cajoling of Sierra there was the same note of desperate imploring. In the figure of the old woman in the boat Grant caught a fanciful image of Charon. Charon is a woman, an old and ugly dying woman, old and ugly and dying and still all-powerful. "Kendo! Kendo!” Charon screeched again, denying them passage to the other side. Charon was almost bald. Her face was gray with leprosy. One hand was bent and stiff. The other bore only one finger and a thumb. Her arms and legs were much less thick than the slender pole with which she held the barge in place and though they were hidden from his view Grant could see in the eye of his experience the almost toeless stumps of her feet.
"Come, mother!” Sierra was holding
aloft a wad of money. “There are many thousands of francs here.”
“I need no money!” Charon, now certain of the unassailability of her position, became a little taunting.
“This money will buy a machine to drive your boat. You can put away your pole and your paddle forever and end your days in comfort. Only take us across.” "How do I know you will not kill me and steal my pirogue?”
Sierra turned to Songolo. “You’d better try, monsieur. To her any white man is a Beige. She doesn’t like les Belges and even if she did she wouldn’t dare get mixed up with them. I’m getting nowhere.”
Songolo went to the river bank and called to the old woman not in Lingala but in Ngombc, her own tribal dialect. They called back and forth across the water for what seemed to Grant like an eternity, Songolo alternately imperious and importunate, the fisherwoman alternately malicious, encouraging, coy, and obscenely seductive. She cackled and scolded and grinned and glared and cursed. She caressed her ropy withered breasts with her leprous half-fist and tossed her half-bald head, a woman hard to get, but just maybe gettable.
“It’s no use,” Songolo said at last. “After all, we are a pretty suspicious looking outfit, even to anyone to whom suspicion isn’t second nature. The old hunter here happens to be the chief of the village next to hers and she recognized him. She boasted that from her pirogue she can see the chief’s warriors skulking in the trees behind us. As they say back in Cambridge,” Songolo added in a feeble attempt at chins-up humor, “news travels fast in the jungle.”
“I suppose, then.” Chartrand proposed heavily, "there is only one thing left to us.” "And that?”
"To throw' ourselves on their mercy.” “What mercy?” Sierra’s reaction had a glandular spontaneity. His voice was as hard and peremptory as ever. “If we surrender to the chief here, he will seize his only means of recovering face and have us killed at once, or take us home to do it in style. If we wait and surrender to the soldiers it will be no better.”
“You can still think of something else?” Chartrand whispered, hopefully incredulous.
“The old woman is playing cat and mouse with us and she is enjoying it. Is that not correct. Monsieur Songolo?”
“Yes. It is a great experience for her. It is almost as good as a ritual murder; perhaps better for she is in sole command.” Sierra looked back across the water into the old woman’s malevolent, three-toothed grin.
"She will gladly prolong it?” “Indefinitely.”
“Good. Keep her engaged. I am going through the trees upstream. I shall swim quietly and as much underwater as I can to the level of the canoe. Then I shall drift down to the far side and board it.”
“Even if you reach the canoe,” Songolo said, “you will be at a tremendous disadvantage. The women of the Congo are astonishingly strong, even the old ones.” "When I have boarded and taken possession of the canoe,” Sierra went on, "I shall need help. I presume you all swim? Then if I cannot persuade the women to bring it in I shall hold the pirogue stationary. Monsieur Songolo and Monsieur Chartrand will join me and we will bring it in together.” -k
The final port of Ask The Nome Of The Lion will appear in the next Maclean's. The novel will he published in hook form by Doubleday June I.