ASK THE NAME OF THE LION
RALPH ALLEN'S novel of pride, fear and ust in the new Congo
First of three parts
“WITH LUCK THEY’LL STOP to finish up the whisky before coming on.” Chartrand partly turned his head so that the three passengers in the back seat could hear him. He tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice; it might be a long and difficult journey, and it was best to start on the best terms possible. “How much was there left by the way, Monsieur le Docteur?”
“Just what there was on the table,” Grant
said. “Unless, of course Señor Sierra happened to have any in his bag. They’d be sure to find that.”
“No,” Sierra said. “I’d only been counting on staying until the next plane out.”
“Too bad.” Again Chartrand found his annoyance was strong enough to need concealing. The more so because, in this particular at least, both the others were so clearly and completely blameless. It was
not their fault that the Congolese army was full of fear, suspicion, caprice, and sometimes hate laced with alcohol. No, it was not the two new visitors’ fault at all. Everything they and their like did or failed to do was done or not done blamelessly — and yet, might each of them pay for it in hell, everything they and their like and — all. right, he and his like — had done or not done for the last year and more had turned
out to be wrong, often fatally wrong.
He braked swiftly to swing around a pothole in the dirt road and the roof of the car grazed against a moonlit anthill. The Gombe girl beside him stirred, snuggled instinctively toward him, and murmured drowsily, “Mbote.” “Mbote,” he replied soothingly. And still in Lingala, “Go back to sleep, Astrid.”
Ah well, after they were through search-
ing the hospital, they'd be sure to go next to the ranch. At worst they'd waste a good half hour prowling around the house and the barns. There was, unfortunately, no drink to detain them there. Nor, if Sergeant Tshibangu was in charge, would they pause for wholesale looting. So long as it could be defended, however vaguely, on the grounds of military duty, Tshibangu was brave enough for murder. But he was not brave
enough for unlicensed theft, not at least till the murder was safely over and done. Chartrand had known the sergeant personally for three years, employed him for almost two as a foreman on the ranch, seen him in drink, seen him in lust, seen him fearful, seen him boastful, seen him with one bare foot in the tribal world of his Gombe village and the other stretching out warily but hopefully to try on an Oxford made in Brussels.
After seventeen years in this Equateur town, Chartrand felt he knew only enough not to be sure of anything. Still, it was often necessary to make the best guess one could. His guess was that with the ten or fifteen minutes’ start they had had to begin with and the halts the sergeant and his detachment would make at the hospital and at the ranch, he could count on his station wagon ultimately being almost an hour ahead of the jeeps of the ANC.
The Gombc girl beside him stirred again.
“Donnez," he ordered softly.
Uncaring of the three men in the back seat and of the white lady on the other side of her in front, she put her fragrant little face up to his ear and whispered playfully. “Tu m'aimes?"
He pulled her head over so that he could whisper back in mock schoolmaster severity, “Astrid Cleopatra Lolita Mahamba: je vous commande — dormez!" The Astrid was genuine and baptismal, a tribal salute to the memory of a Belgian queen, a memory left over from les temps, left over from the trueblue days avant. The Cleopatra and the Lolita were his own improvisations, half in mild self-ridicule for a fifty-year-old man's lonely folly, half in tender apology to her. He had explained the two names to her, humorously but affectionately, in the hope she would understand that they were almost as good as the outright and explicit confession of love she kept trying to coax from him, the nearest he could bring himself to returning her tu-tois. (And after all it was not as though he was the only man she had known in her fifteen years; or was it fourteen? Between the morning she danced into town from her village to celebrate the Independence and the evening she picked him up in a bar of the hotel more than eight months had passed and much money, much raiment, and many trinkets had changed hands.)
“You are a good girl, Astrid Cleopatra Lolita Mahamba, but you must go to sleep now.”
“O.K., monsieur le chef, monsieur le boss, monsieur le roi de tous les Belges."
They had now been on the red-earth jungle road for fifteen minutes and it began to occur almost simultaneously to the three men in the back seat that their journey had as yet no more order or design than the towering veined shoulders of trees and vines that shrugged them darkly on. Richard Grant had kept silent deliberately. His only responsibility was to Miss Kelvin; because she was his nurse; to himself, for reasons endemic in the human condition; and to the three hundred patients in the hospital, because he was a doctor and had undertaken to care for them as best he could. It was true that until they were interrupted just before dessert the
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other five passengers had been his dinner guests — only four of them really, for ( hartrand’s little tart had certainly not been invited and he’d have asked her to leave if he hadn’t known her presence would he less distasteful than the scene that was certain to accompany her departure.
In any case they had all ceased to be his guests some two minutes after Jules, the head male nurse, burst into the improvised dining room, trembling like a man in a malaria seizure. "Monsieur le Docteur!” he cried. “They’re coming again! This is payday and the hotel got a new supply of whisky.”
Grant waved his guests to go on with their meal and hurried Jules out into the corridor.
“That is what they say again.”
"Are you sure they’re really coming?”
"I sat near them. They drank for two hours, talking about the two strangers who got off the morning plane from Coq. Yes, one, the one who called himself Sierra, was supposed to he the head of Once for all Equateur. Yes, the other, the man who called himself Songolo, was supposed to be a minister of the government. Yes, they were said to be together on a mission to investigate an outbreak of sleeping sickness. But why. they kept saying, would such great men really come all the way up here? Why would such men come in an ordinary Air Congo aircraft instead of a private aircraft? Why would the Onee man be given permission to come at all. when the Onee troops were driven out just five months ago? Why would a bodyguard not accompany a minister of the government from Leo?”
" I hanks, Jules.” Grant stepped back into the room.
"Gentlemen.” he said, "1 must tell you something very quickly. Twice since I’ve been here the troops from the barracks have burst into the hospital looking for UN spies. Drink, imagination, and their constant fear that Onee is plotting to take away their arms again and seize the airport. Fortunately each time I was the only stranger on the premises except the patients in the wards and their relatives. So all they did was break a few windows, nudge me with their guns, and then go away. But this time we have a larger gathering and they’ll be here again nearly at once. It seems to me we have one immediate question to decide: can you, Señor Sierra, or you Monsieur Songolo dispel these peoples’ suspicions before they start shooting or”— his eyes barely flickered toward the pale Miss Kelvin—“before they start grabbing? Can you singly, or between you get them under some kind of control?”
Ramón Sierra’s craggy, sunburned face was thoughtful but unperturbed. He might have been a local magistrate back in Valencia. "I can promise nothing.” he said in his unaccented F’nglish. “Fve dealt with cases far worse than this and usually successfully. But there has been someone at least half educated to speak with and I've had UN guns and soldiers either right behind me or in the offing. Of course I wasn't allowed to carry a weapon on this trip.”
Felicien Songolo, slender, elegant, and darkly patrician in his Brussels-cut suit, white shirt, and thin, polished brown shoes, was a little less terse, but just as calm. The accent was largely Cambridge, tempered by Louvain and a special African softness. "For reasons 1 need not explain I am mildly in the doghouse with the president. My
credentials are in good enough order, but there’s not much fanfare in them considering I’m a minister of the Republic. The soldiers at the airport were afraid to question me too carefully, for fear I might turn out to be real after all, but they were plainly suspicious. If they ever work up enough nerve to accuse me of being a secret enemy of the government or a fugitive from it they will assume, as a corollary. that my papers are forged. If anything serious comes up right now. I’m afraid I’ll be a liability to you, rather than an asset.’’
I hey had all risen from the table.
Chartrand summed it up: “I've lived among these people nearly half my life. I know at least three members of the local army detachment personally, a connection that lor the time being is of no more advantage than Señor Sierra’s position or Monsieur Songolo’s position or the work Dr. Grant and Miss Kelvin have been doing for them here in the hospital.” If the others detected the edge of mockery and rebuke, their intent faces did not show it. "For the next few hours and perhaps for the next few days,” Chartrand went on in the same cool, almost offensively objective tone, “we must act precisely as though two of us were guilty of spying against the Republic, two others were guilty of harboring spies and two others of associating with spies. We. the members of an evil conspiracy about to be apprehended, must flee from the forces of law and order. A Hons!”
And with that they filed out into the moonlight night, not in panic but in a decent hurry, although all but the little black girl were just a little ashamed to show it.
Now, A FEW MILLS down the road it was growing more and more apparent that they still had no agreed plan and no agreed leader. The heavy night air was dead and silent, suffused and half suffocated with punctilio and civilized hostility.
Grant perceived the trouble, but it was not his place to correct it. Who was the senior man? In this situation it probably should he Chartrand. But how could Sierra. the United Nations head of mission for the entire province, defer to a private settler? A Belgian settler of all people: under the Security Council resolution the few Belgians who hadn’t already left were supposed to he minding only their own private business, and the less of that the better. And for Songolo. a minister of the
government, a pillar and a beacon of the Independence, to surrender his authority to a Beige would be not only unconstitutional, it would be treasonable. Since this was clearly an international situation, could Sierra, the UN man, default liis authority to the Congolese? And since this was Congolese soil how could Songolo. the government man, yield one millimeter or milligram of his nation's sovereignty to the frequently useful but menacingly officious UN?
Grant, hoping as a representative of the Red Cross to be recognized as a neutral, concluded that it would be least awkward if Bie tried to break the ice himself and then subside for good.
'Do we have a destination?” he asked of no one in particular.
Songolo waited for Sierra and Sierra waited for Songolo. At last Chartrand spoke from behind the wheel. His voice was diffident, warily hedging against a rebuff. "I know something about the roads anti the country ahead. I’d be happy to tell youi what I can.”
'Please do.” Grant said.
‘We’re about a hundred and fifty kilometers from the Ubangi River and the French Congo.” Chartrand was still driving as hard as the road would permit, but histone showed no sense of haste. "I come up here several times a year to buy cattle or took for strays and do a little shopping across the river in Bangui. The road's about like this all the way to the river and then it branches both ways, upstream and downstream. There’s no regular ferry anywhere near and the river’s between two and four kilos wide. But there are always a few fisherman or crocodile hunters around with pirogues. A big pirogue with two or three paddlers can carry seven or eight people.”
Now that the question of precedence
had been safely evaded. Songolo and Sierra both joined in.
"I cannot say yet whether I personally will cross the river,” Songolo said in his soft Afro-Cambridge English. "But for the rest of you that is quite obviously the best and most sensible thing.”
"Whether any of us go across or not.” Sierra ventured, "it does seem sensible to keep heading in that direction.”
Chartrand had temporarily deferred his part in the conversation to the other two. “There are a few other matters.” he remarked. “There are two army checkpoints between here and the river. We should, of course, get through them without undue difficulty. 1 myself have passed them regularly.”
"Of course.” Chartrand went on. “the soldiers at the checkpoints might, like those in the town, be confused by our heterogeneous nature. It is possible they would delay us long enough for the soldiers behind to catch up."
“How far from the river are the checkpoints?” Sierra asked him.
"The first about twenty kilos, the second about five.”
"Well, we all have good shoes at least.” Sierra was showing signs of taking charge in spite of the presence of the Congolese cabinet minister. "I understand the jungle gives way to savanna not far ahead. Couldn't we leave the car and bypass the checkpoints? We might get halfway in what’s left of tonight. Find some shade tomorrow, hide ourselves through the day. and go on to the river tomorrow night.”
It was only now that Grant began to remember the fables of Sierra's career as a guerrilla general in the Spanish war. What other man would have made so implausible a suggestion so casually? What other man would have acted as though the hazards did not exist; as though the rough savanna,
with its high sharp grasses and its endless miles of burnt-out anthills were part of the tailored downs of Surrey? Who else would have ignored the fact that they had no food and very little water; who would have ignored the heat, the insects, the animals, and the possibility of an encounter with unfriendly tribesmen; ignored the uncertainty of arranging a crossing of the river even if they reached it; ignored the dangerous hunting party behind and the two trapping parties ahead; ignored the palpable fact that their rate of progress must be no more than the heart and endurance of a blonde nurse so newly out from Canada that she wasn't even properly sunburned?
But Chartrand now mentioned a new hazard that no one could ignore.
"Unfortunately.” the Belgian said. “The first of the checkpoints cannot be bypassed. It is true, as Señor Sierra says, that it is nominally in the savanna. But, alas! it lies in one of the last little bulges of jungle. There are at least three kilos of very bad bush and swamp on each side of the road. Even the monkey hunters seldom leave the road at this place. We could, if lucky, walk around the second checkpoint and strike the river a few kilos downstream from the road and without doubt find a pirogue there. But there is only one way past the first barrier. That is straight ahead." He finished on just the merest wisp of challenge. What next, you smart Onee bastard? he seemed to add.
“I wish everybody would stop calling me Señor,” Sierra said testily. "I am a naturalized American citizen. Have you any weapons in the car?”
Songolo broke in before there could be a reply.
"No one here will use a weapon against any Congolese unless we are first attacked.”
Sierra leaned across Grant so that Miss Kelvin would not hear. He addressed their Congolese seat companion in a rasping whisper.
“Am I right in my impression of what you are proposing?” he demanded. “You wish us to surrender to the sentries an hour’s drive ahead and remain unprotestingly in their hands until the soldiers an hour’s drive behind arrive to shoot us? Am I correct?”
"I am perfectly capable of speaking for myself and I see no need to whisper,” Songolo snapped hack angrily. “We cannot be sure, in the first place, that the sentries will not recognize our papers and let us through at once. Even if they don’t we cannot be sure that the soldiers from Ngubdja will do us actual violence.”
"Then what the hell.” Sierra asked him scornfully, “are we running away from? What are you doing in this car. Monsieur le Ministre, if you have so much confidence in your countrymen and in your authority over them? Did you or did you not tell us back there before we left the hospital that you couldn’t control them?”
“1 said I could not promise,” Songolo replied with firm dignity. “And since ladies were involved. I thought it would have been folly to remain. But whatever happens I forbid any person in this car to open fire on any Congolese. For any reason, real or imaginary. 1 speak as a member of the government of the Republic.”
Before the stubborn finality of Songolo’s words had fully registered. Chartrand made another interjection of still greater finality. "There are no weapons in this car.” he said, “and therefore there is nothing to dispute about. It is a year since I carried even a sporting rifle. We few Belgians in this part of the Congo have been rather lonely since our countrymen departed. We have grown even more lonely since the United Nations elected to protect us and then also—departed. Since the
Independence it is more dangerous to be armed than unarmed.”
For the first time Grant became consciously aware of their helplessness. At first he felt only sick and ashamed—and for all he could tell for certain, rather frightened-—Lut he was not altogether sorry. For the last seven months his thoughts about the Congo, about his profession, his life, and himself, had been something like the great river itself—muddy, and full of strange illogical currents and whirlpools, an opaque and endless mystery on which islands of bright hyacinths floated toward the sea while devouring reptiles lurked along the hanks.
HE HAD BEEN FLATTERED, hut not unduly so, when the Red Cross asked him to come out lo Equateur for a year. He was not particularly vain, but by the time he had completed his essential studies at Manitoba and later at McGill, it was no more than a statement of fact that no one in his year, anywhere in Canada, had a better record behind him or a more promising future ahead. It had been his ambitious plan to become a great surgeon, to practise for twenty years until he was fifty and selfsufficient anil then to spend another twenty years in research and teaching.
It was just a week before he finished the last year of his internship that the Red Cross asked him to go to the Congo. "We’ve promised to supply several medical teams,” the man from the Red Cross said. “At first, if you take this on, you'll be a one-man team working with a handful of Congolese male nurses, a Congolese administrator and a couple of Belgian nursing sisters. You can take it as a compliment or an insult, but after checking on most of the medical schools and hospitals in the country, the committee agreed unanimously that you're by far the best man for the job. The hospital is just one degree above the equator, in real Tarzan country. It has three hundred beds, most of them in very dirty barracks-room-type wards. The Belgians left a good new clinic, a good new laboratory, and a good new operating room, but you probably won't be able to use them, because you won't have the technicians or the power or equipment and God knows what else. You'll he short of anesthetics, drugs, and oxygen; there'll be times when you may not have any at all. The political situation is uncertain and occasionally dangerous. Right now there's a small detachment of United Nations troops in the town and in the event of trouble they'd give you what protection they could. But it’s only fair to warn you that in the political and military sense this place hasn't much strategic value. The UN might withdraw voluntarily at any time or allow the Congolese to kick them out. As to the general health conditions in the area, 1 can leave you a stack of reports. They can be summarized in one word. Terrible.”
“You make it sound very attractive,” Grant said.
“Just the same we think a man like you could do a lot of good. Not just for a few individual patients; not just for the general health picture, but for the whole notion of—”
"Yes.” Speeches, especially worthy speeches, had always embarrassed him. "Yes, I know what you mean.”
“We don’t expect a decision right away. But we'd appreciate it if you'd think it over for a few days.”
Think what over. Grant asked himself. He had never considered himself a political or social animal, but even as a fifteenyear-old boy trying to grasp the headlines of Hiroshima he had come to one fifteenyear-old’s conclusion, which he had seen no cause to alter. In its purgatory the world was a thousand worlds, but when it
went to hell it would go as a single world. Think it over; think what over? If you had to think it over, you had to say no.
“I'll go.” he said.
THE CAR SWAYED into another narrow clearing in the jungle and sped past a clump of moonlit huts. For a moment Grant was in the present tense again, hut his humiliation and defeat still came on in dogged pursuit. How pompous and priggish and sanctimonious he must have sounded lhat day on the way in.
On his first and only night in Leopoldville he had been quite at home and almost at peace. In jet time, not counting stops, he was less than twelve hours away from Idlewild. So far as his immediate surroundings were concerned, he might have been in one of the carefully atmospheric restaurants adjoining Rockefeller Plaza. Behind the bar of the Memling Palace a long cageful of tropical birds chattered and flitted above a resplendent, reassuring array of Gordon’s Gin. Cinzano. Campari, Black and White, anil Dewar’s. Just beyond, in the open courtyard, a huge fountain threw a silvery bouquet of cool water almost to the level of the second floor.
The white-jacketed Congolese barman brought back the change from his hundred-franc note and asked softly, "You got dollars?”
The young man on the stool beside him said, in English, “Whatever he's offering, don’t take it. You can do better at the beach.”
"The beach?” Grant asked curiously.
“The Brazzaville ferry. Albert here is probably starting at eighty and he'll go to eighty-five. The bidding is brisker at the beach. You can get ninety or ninety-five there.”
A United Nations officer on the other side of the American joined the conversation. "My driver got ninety-two this afternoon at the beach.”
Grant passed the paper back to the barman. “No dollars,” he said. But then— now fleeing down the lonely road toward the Ubangi River, the memory of his ostentatious display of high-mindedness made him wince again—he hail had to set it straight for the two strangers.
"I didn’t come out here to play with an abacus or make money,” he said rudely.
Curiously, the American showed no resentment. “Don't worry,” he said, “the way the franc is slipping you'll never show a profit. All you can do is avoid letting your U. S. bucks evaporate at fifty or sixty cents.”
He introduced himself and the UN officer beside him. “Greg Percival of World News Service. This is Johnny Dawson.” Percival looked at the UN man's shoulder. “Three pips. I can never remember whether that’s a captain or a major.”
“Captain.” The soldier passed his hand around the drinks.
“I’m a Canadian too,” Grant said, returning the introduction and stating his business.
They dined together in the hotel restaurant.
Grant’s fellow Canadian, the captain, was waiting for the next UN plane back home. His six-months tour of duty was ended and he’d he gone in a day or two. “Gone but not forgotten,” he said sardonically. “One ANC soldier has got my watch. 1 imagine the Thysville garrison is still shooting craps for the three thousand francs they took away from me when they rode us out of Matadi. I’m sure 1 left the imprint of my skull on several of their rifle butts the day they dragged me and my driver out of our jeep right here on the edge of Leo, and made us run the gantlet barefoot to the guardhouse.”
Grant remembered having read newspaper accounts of several “incidents” in-
volving the scattered detachments of Canadian Army signalers who had undertaken to restore communications in the Congo after the flight of the Belgians.
“I guess I’m plain stupid.” he said, "but I find it hard to understand how. when you're so obviously here to help them, they could turn against you like that without at least some sort of provocation."
"You'll never understand," the correspondent broke in. "None of us will ever understand. But I suppose you're aware that there are thousands of people still living in this country, some of them right here in Leo. who have seen their parents murdered and their villages burned because they didn’t meet the quotas of palm oil or ivory or rubber old King Leopold II set for them when the place was his private preserve. People who have watched with their own eyes while their aunts’ and uncles’ hands were cut off on the orders of the white man. You ever read Roger Casement or E. D. Morel? No?”
The correspondent stopped to order a round of cognac. "This didn’t happen in the dark ages. It happened in this lifetime, in this century. The Congolese Army got its rules from the Force Publique. The Belgians got their idea of how to treat the natives from that pious, mattress-bearded old hood, old King Leo. And the natives got their ideas about the white man from the Belgians.”
The officer turned to Grant. "You asked about provocation. Richard Halliburton or Lowell Thomas here has just told you part of it. The rest is even easier. All the provocation they need is that they're drunk, doped, diseased, illiterate, or crazy, and sometimes all of them at once.”
"Also scared.” the reporter added. "Also suspicious. Also full of natural hate. They don’t just hate us. They hate each other.” "Their mammy done tole 'em," the officer began chanting, “their chiefy done tole ’em. Their witch doctor tole 'em so."
"If I didn’t know better,” Grant remarked lightly, "I’d say you gentlemen might be a bit prejudiced.”
The reporter turned serious. “I’m from Alabama. Three months ago my kid sister got beaten up and jailed for joining some nigra kids in a sit-in at a white restaurant. She's eighteen and her head is full of nothing, but I’m proud of her. The last letter I had she was talking about joining some more nigra kids in some harebrained exercise called a freedom ride. I sent her five hundred bucks to cover legal expenses.”
"Nothing personal.” Grant said.
The reporter was still extremely earnest. “These ANC soldiers aren't drunk and doped and illiterate and crazy and full of hate because they’re black. They’re all those things and black, that’s all. Being black doesn’t make them that way. But don’t kid yourself; it sure as hell doesn’t prevent them being that way either."
"As a fellow Canadian,” the officer broke in, "I wish 1 could stick with you, Doc. You'll be going through here again—with luck—in, what’s your tour? six months?”
“Too long. All right, you'll be going through here in a year. You'll be talking just like Hemingway here and me. Only if you've really been a year in the bush you'll be saying it louder.”
“What a TV series you could do, though.” The reporter had turned sarcastic, as though ashamed of his moment of solemnity. “Young Doctor Malone Meets the Ape Men.”
“He’s right, you know.” the other Canadian said. "If either of us said it back home we'd gel expelled from the Bible Class, the Big Brother Movement, and the Junior Board of Trade. But even if these people
were white, yellow, or emerald green they’d still only be a step ahead of the baboons.” •
Suddenly Grant was fed to the teeth with the whole discussion. “Got to catch an early plane,” he said, paid his share of the check, and took a strained farewell.
In his first days at the hospital he was grateful for the gloomy briefing his two chance acquaintances had given him. Without their caveats he’d have found things considerably worse than he’d expected: as it was they were slightly better. The physical plant was about as the Red Cross had described it to him. The patients were crammed into half a dozen long, narrow brick wards. The only bedding on the rusty cots was what they brought with them, often no more than a filthy loincloth. Their only food was the starchy, glutinous manioc root or maize or bananas or dried fish their resident families cooked in the open compounds or, when it rained, under the porches of the wards. If they brought no food or relatives who had some food they simply starved; the hospital had no means of feeding them. A detail of convicts from the local jail came regularly to clean the grounds and. occasionally, the wards. As Grant had been warned before he left Canada, there was an acute — usually a total — shortage of anesthetics, drugs, oxygen, and bandages. With the exception of an eager, young head nurse named Jules, the half-dozen Congolese ward attendants seemed hopelessly lazy, indifferent, and ill-trained.
But in spite of what the reporter and the soldier had tried to tell him over their moambe and drinks, seven hundred miles away in Leopoldville, he felt an intense kinship with his patients from the start. Though many of them had to endure surgery on a handful of aspirins and two or three grunting male nurses to hold them down, he seldom heard one of them cry out. He came to admire their patience and their fatalistic courage as much as he came to pity their condition. Here, on the equator, he soon discovered even a “healthy” man could have two or three chronic ailments: tuberculosis, malaria,
yellow fever, hepatitis, any one of a dozen parasitic diseases, anemia, or any one of a dozen forms of malnutrition. One person in twenty had leprosy, or it could be sleeping sickness, typhus, cholera, bubonic plague, syphilis, yaws, or DTs or cirrhosis of the liver or even a fashionable Madison Avenue ulcer or a case of hardened arteries.
In his first report to Montreal, Grant wrote: “I’m beginning to wonder if at least some of the problem out here isn’t a psychiatric problem. They’re scared, always have been, always had good reason to be: scared of the crocodile, the leopard, the snake, the next tribe, the white man, the black man. the witch doctor; scared of sickness, scared of torture, scared of murder, scared of too many bosses and now that the Belgians have gone, scared of the lack of bosses; scared of the UN Army, scared of the Congo Army. Scared of the Christian god of the missionaries and scared of their own idols, all of which they try to serve and pacify.”
His pity grew each day, nor did it diminish when the red-eyed garrison of the ANC broke down the windows and threatened to destroy his pitifully meagre work and—briefly, and probably not altogether seriously—him.
Until Mary Kelvin arrived, he had had the feeling that he was learning a little, but accomplishing scarcely anything. For weeks the Red Cross in Canada, Geneva, and Leopoldville had been trying to get permission from the Congolese government to fly in a special plane-load of supplies. Grant spent two anxious days—at first prayerfully and at last profanely—
waiting in the grubby, sweltering, flyinfested shed that served as the airfield’s waiting room. At last the ex-Sabena employee who was acting as Air Congo’s local traffic manager relayed a message that had come through with one of the commercial airline’s pilots. Tribal fighting had broken out again in the Baluba country. The sovereign war-lords of Katanga and Orientale were once more threatening to liquidate each other and every UN plane was standing by for military emergencies.
In this unpredictable climate the arrival of Mary Kelvin should not have been even a mild surprise. Mary came completely unannounced in the rear of the local butcher’s truck, bearing in triumph a quarter ton of excess baggage.
“Tvc been trying to get here or some place like it for two weeks,” she told him. Grant was prying feverishly into the little Golconda of ether, oxygen, morphine, plasma, sutures, sponges, and bandages.
“Well, you’ll have to go back on the next plane,” Grant said absently, deep in a mental calculation of how long the ether and the oxygen woidd last and on which of his two-dozen critical cases it would best be risked.
“When Dr. Bouvard got word they had room for five hundred pounds of supplies
on the regular plane I was the only spare body around the office to send with it. He said I could stay if you said I could.”
"Well,” Grant said, admiring a package of intravenous needles, “I say you can't. You’ll have to go back to Leo.”
“But I don’t want to go back to Leo. 1 might as weli he in Vancouver or Pasadena.”
"I know.” Grant straightened up and looked at her for the first time. His tone was kind, comradely, and understanding, even though the words were not. “You’re looking for the real Africa. Well, this is the real Africa and it’s no place for a probie from Saskatoon.”
"You know perfectly well probies don’t get sent to Leo,” she protested. “It’s seven years since I was a probie and it wasn't Saskatoon, it was Sudbury.”
He looked at her again. She was indeed older than he had first surmised. Her gray eyes were far from hard, but they were also far from innocent. Nights over coffee back at the Royal Vic, this was one of the girls the interns would have decided knew her way around. Interns being notoriously evil-minded about nurses, they'd have wondered how much her trim hips and breasts owed to nature and how much to the cunning of the garment industry. Discussing her coolly handsome face they’d have concluded rather uneasily that she
was both a good girl and a hep girl, a combination not to be taken lightly.
“Are you sure they said you could stay?”
“I’ve got a letter. Doctor.” She opened her handbag.
"I'll see it later.” he said. “Well, God knows, we could use you. The nuns are damned good, but all their time is taken up in maternity and what they can do in pediatrics. None of the natives are any use at all. I’m sure you realize I can’t guarantee your personal safety.”
"I could have stayed at home.”
“I suppose. As a matter of fact. 1 doubt that we’ll have much more trouble here. Every time a patient goes out of here dead his local witch doctor puts in another knock against us. Rut every time one goes out alive we get a gold star. Our stock in the villages is going up. You can’t really tell about the Congo Army, but they seem to have given up the hope of finding a secret nest of fifth columnists here or a secret cache of booze; I was never quite certain which they were really looking for.
"From what they call the security angle there are certain advantages to a backwater like this,” he said. The tribes arc small, scattered and loosely organized. The district has no military or economic value. So long as the UN and the native politicians keep out there’s nothing much to fight about and hardly anything worth stealing. Sure, 1 guess you can stay if you really want to.”
She was efficient and hard-working and, better still, sensible. She was excellent for the hospital, excellent for the patients, and excellent for Grant's morale. After she asked the two Belgian nuns if she might move into the vacant room between them, their suspicion of her subsided and all but disappeared. She made friends, in French, with the head nurse, Jules. With the help
of Jules’ Lingala she taught two of the other male nurses to take pulse and temperature readings and mark them on the fly-specked, soggy, paper bed-charts.
The oxygen ran out during a particularly hot spell and in spite of Grant’s agonizing attempts at mouth-to-mouth respiration, three new babies died in a single morning. “I’m through for the day,” he told Miss Kelvin harshly as he stumbled through the desperate noon heat to his room. “If anybody wants a doctor tell them not to call me. I’ll call them.”
An hour later she knocked at his door. He was a third of the way through a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label. She paid no attention to his defiant invitation to join h i m.
"The man you operated on for the hernia has torn out the stitches. I think he may bleed to death.”
"I said not to call me. I can't do anything.”
"You can try. Doctor,” she said.
"I know' the case, damn it! It’s not a patch-up job. It needs another cut. I should have done it in the first place.”
He made an elaborate, overdisgusted shrug, calling her attention half to the
bottle and half to himself. "Right now 1 couldn’t sharpen a pencil.”
"I’ve sent him to the operating room.” she said. “Come down and tell me what to do.”
Thus she postponed for him the inevitable and tragic moment when every man of medicine must know that through his fault alone, through his avoidable fault, his fault of cowardice or ignorance or self-indulgence or weariness, through his sole, exclusive, and wholly unshared fault a human life that might have been spared has been lost. She made a rather appalling mess of the rather simple operation, but her hands and nerves were good and with his foggy coaching she did bring it off. When it was over he almost said to her, “You got two for the price of one that time." But after all he was in charge and it was best that he retain the authority and self-respect he had been so close to throwing away.
Now HE CONTEMPLATED the back of Mary’s fair head, held stiff and upright in the front seat of Chartrand’s station wagon. She alone of the six passengers seemed to be by herself. Chartrand was intent on the dark road ahead. His little Gombe mistress was drowsing on his shoulder. Grant and his two companions in the back seat were wedged close together, and every time the car took a turn or veered around a bad piece of road there was a reassuring sense of proximity. He reached ahead and touched Mary’s shoulder. "You O.K.?”
She turned her head slightly, not enough to let him see her face. “Yes, thanks.” He had no way of telling whether she was frightened or not. He sat back and began exchanging quiet small talk with Ramón Sierra.
They tried atomic disarmament, Charles de Gaulle, Mickey Mantle, Irma la Douce,
Zero Mostel, and even the weather. Nothing caught on and both men were soon silent again.
SIERRA’S THOUGHTS WERE TURNING on a lifelong companion, a fellow wayfarer called /. 1 he / had taken him aw'ay from the family estates near Valencia and made him a soldier at nineteen and a general at twenty-one. The / had made him an exile from each of his first three homes: from Spain, from the Roman Catholic Church, from the Communist Party. The / had shouted at him all his life that he was not as good a painter or composer as he ought to have been. At the same time it had begun to involve him far too deeply for his good in what an old comrade of the fighting in Spain had described in one of his books as Man’s Fate. The 1 had shunted him, after the initial war was lost, a fifth of the way around the world. At last it had won him the right to live—not as an exile, but as a freeman and a voter—in the very Prado, the Cathay and Xanadu of his early dreams, the blessed isle of Manhattan.
From Manhattan he had gone to war again, as a private soldier of the United States Infantry. He came back a full Colonel, with two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, a DSC and a DSM, and a face lined and cragged in the mint of danger, but still glaring with ultimate faith in Ramón Sierra.
The painting and the music had deserted him and for a little while after his second war he went a little hungry. He painted one good picture and almost twenty disappointing ones and his most ambitious symphony was such a sad and lovely failure that he could not subject it to the judgment of a stranger. He burned it.
He lost his savings through buying a small art gallery, and again went a little
hungry for a little while. He got a safer, salaried job managing another man’s store in the East Fifties. He did well and was soon able to move into a pleasant apartment near the East River. Not long after his fortieth birthday he met and married a splendid girl from Dublin. She being a practisin’ Roman Catholic and he still being, in spite of the unpleasantness in Spain, a Catholic in his heart, it was no surprise to anyone that they produced three handsome children in their first three years. Now nearing fifty he was a happy n:an, as indeed he had always been except during his adjustment to the fact that he could never go home again.
But hi could not go on forever selling other people’s pictures. He had fallen into the habit, occasionally, of strolling the half-dozen blocks along First Avenue to the United Nations when there was a night meeting; the swirl of tongues and races, the angry shouts and waving fists, and the furious, fateful marches called across the years to the hills of Valencia, the woods of the Ardennes, and the iron triangle of Pyongyang, called to the restless and relentless / of Ramón Sierra as the calling of a bugle. I must be part of this, too, he told himself. The history they are making here is bad history, but bad history has one advantage over bad art. It is better than no history at all.
One day he saw a United Nations advertisement in the Times asking for a Spanish interpreter. He got the job of course, for his departed father had insisted that he learn English. French, and German as well as four of the Spanish dialects.
His career as an interpreter was shortlived. One afternoon, in the middle of an angry debate over a new trouble in the Caribbean, he sat in his booth overlooking the Assembly and decided that the translation he had to make in the next three seconds might be the most important act of his life. The relentless / of Ramón Sierra ambushed and overpowered the anonymous, unseen functionary.
“Señores,” he said into the microphone of the Spanish band, "I am not sure I can give you the exact meaning of what was just said. The American delegate has used the English word destroy, which he believes is the correct rendition of what the Albanian delegate said in French. I offer you the choice of matar, herir, or per indicar; kill, wound, or hurt. Pardon.”
So the United Nations fired him as a translator, but took a longer look at his background and his experience of the world and the world’s strife and sent him to the Congo as a civilian trouble-shooter. With his accumulation of scar tissue he was by now impervious to surprise or disappointment and therefore ideally suited to his task. He was not in the least disenchanted by the discovery that, having become the world’s third largest bureaucracy as well as its greatest arena of combat, the United Nations had lunged into the Congo bearing not only the tattered shreds of its high ideals but its own jungle of cynicism, confusion, incompetence, and sloth. Nor was he in the least shocked to discover that, at least at the level of their tribal and political leadership, the simple, innocent Congolese of the legends were more attracted to homicide than to schoolbooks, serums, and swamp drainage.
Yet Ramón Sierra never doubted that he was engaged in good and necessary and hopeful work. He never doubted that the auspices under which he worked were not only the best auspices possible but the only ones possible.
“I have been reading again L' Eglise des Temps Barbares by Daniel-Rops,” he wrote his wife one night from Stanleyville. "If, may your Irish saints forbid, you should ever be afflicted by uncertainty about the
Church’s political conduct, this may be your antidote. Who knows, a third reading might even induce me to forgiVe her trespasses and beseech her to forgive mine.”
It was the last long letter he had written her. It might conceivably be—now, in the fleeing station wagon, he savored the instant of self-dramatization—his last letter to anyone.
"As you will have detected,” he had written on, "I am basking in sentiment and booze and 1 am lonely and it is late at night. I hese are conditions that always bring out a good man’s spirituality and lust.
Today I have come through a terrible ordeal. Eight young Belgian paratroopers wandered across the border from RuandaUrundi and I took it upon myself to dissuade a Congolese general from executing them on the spot.
"At first 1 got a very cool reception. There was no question of my making a demand for I had no authority to do so and no time to ask for instructions. Besides, they outnumbered us five to one. Thanks to the Russians ihey had artillery and we had none. T hey had mortars and we had none.
“Then I thought of L’ Eglise des Temps Barbares and Augustine of Hippo and Gregory the Pope and Clovis the emperor and Benedict the saint and Charlemagne the soldier and just for a moment I saw my new church, the United Nations, in the same way I had once seen my old churches —the Catholics and the communists. For Ihis short moment it again became my belief that it was enough to be right.
“So,” he had gone on in this rambling mixture of information and philosophy, “I decided I must do, in whatever way I could, all that I could to save these poor
lost children. Poor Jost children standing there in their foolish, wasted camouflage clothes three thousand miles from home. The general who had captured them was still hostile to them and unsympathetic to me. their only defender.
‘T saw only one chance. I decided to be devious and Congolese. ‘These men are in the wrong.’ I said to the general. ‘They have done a very bad thing. But they meant no harm to anyone. They were only trying to protect their own people.’ Now 1 played my trump card. ‘Besides,’ I said, ‘their lives are worth nothing to you. You are fully entitled to impose a fine on them —a very heavy fine. Fine them ten million francs, twenty million francs, and their government will have no choice but to pay.’ I thought this would do it and it did do it. but in a different way than I had imagined. Instead of grabbing at the bribe, the general looked me in the eye and said, ‘We do not barter lives for money. If we spare these men they will go free absolutely and no money will change hands.’ By being devious and Congolese I had unwittingly forced the Congolese general to be noble and Spanish. I hated myself bitterly for deserting my noble Spanish nature. Still, although the eight Belgian paratroopers are still in prison they also have some hope of survival.”
A MOST DESIRABLE ADVANTAGE. Freedom, as the great Lawrence of Arabia had written. is a pleasure only to be tasted by a man alive. And as Lawrence had also said, guerrilla war was far more intellectual than a bayonet charge. The thinking man’s war no doubt.
The little war, the ilia war, the war the Spanish furnished with its very definition. He did not need all this, for his mind would have been made up without it. His one certainty was that he was far from ready to die and if he did have to die it would be in a manner more close to his own choosing than any in prospect here.
He leaned forward and spoke to the driver.
“How far are we from the checkpoint, monsieur?”
“Perhaps ten kilometers,” Chartrand answered.
“Do you have any idea, monsieur, how many soldiers might be on duty?”
“At this time of night, one,” Chartrand replied more agreeably.
“And the guardhouse or barracks. How far is it from the sentry post?”
“Oh. a long way. Six hundred meters, perhaps.”
They were all listening. Songolo leaned across the doctor and spoke to Sierra in his soft Afro-Cambridge voice. “No one will attack any Congolese. Do you understand that?”
“Of course, of course,” Sierra assured him. "Dr. Grant, I wonder if you’d be good enough to change places with me?”
“Would you mind sitting forward a little?” Sierra said to Songolo after they were resettled. “We are in accord, but I don’t think you heard me fully.” An opinion can be argued with, as Lawrence had said. A conviction is best shot.
The edge of his hand had become dis-“ tressingly soft through soft living and when in the darkness he saw the right place on the side of the black man’s neck, he yielded to the temptation to strike too hard. Songolo fell forward like a dead man. Sierra pulled him back and propped him in his corner of the seat.
“Please stop the car, monsieur,” he asked Chartrand.
"It is my pleasure, monsieur.” Chartrand had heard the sound of the blow and the ensuing silence.
"Thank you, monsieur,” Sierra said. “Perhaps you have some rope.”
“Be so good then, as to give it to me.” Chartrand opened the trunk and obtained the rope, a large thin coil he carried always for general emergencies around the ranch. Sierra pulled a clasp knife from his pocket, cut off two lengths, and tied the still unconscious Songolo's kgs and arms. His quick movements brushed and strayed against Dr. Grant, but all Grant said was, “I hope you haven’t killed him.” “No. There is not the faintest chance.” Sierra was securing the last knot and had to speak over his shoulder.
“Turn out the lights,” he said to Chartrand. The stilled and darkened car lay quiet for a moment under the weight of the night, the heat, and the deep shadows.
“I am now how far from the checkpoint?” Sierra asked. He spoke as though he were not requesting but demanding and the Belgian’s moment of liking for him was gone.
“You,” Chartrand replied, furiously resenting the “I,” “are as far from anywhere as any of us.”
“This is no time for dialectics,” the Spaniard snapped back. “How far?”
“I will tell you,” Chartrand answered him with angry magnanimity. “A kilo and a half.”
“Good. Who has a watch?”
The nurse, whom everyone had supposed to be either asleep or paralyzed with fear, announced, “Two minutes past eleven.” “Good. Please listen to me most carefully, all of you,” Sierra said. “Dr. Grant, I leave this gentleman in your custody. Keep him quiet. Do not argue with him and do not, for the time being, argue with me. Keep him quiet.”
“Go on,” Grant said.
“I am leaving the car now. Give me a start of twenty minutes. That is the time 1 need to reach the barrier and have it opened.”
“Yes,” Grant and Chartrand said almost together.
“Good. Then at eleven hours plus twenty-five, the car will come slowly down the road to the barrier, with the lights off. If the barrier is raised, as it surely will be, stop and pick me up and we will proceed together. If the barrier is down, go at your highest speed and break through it. Is the barrier of wood. Monsieur Chartrand?”
"It is wood.”
“If I am not awaiting you and the barrier is still lowered do not stop. Do not stop under any circumstances. Someone may shoot at you but do not stop. Go right through it.”
"lionne chance,’' Chartrand said, partly n envy and partly in reluctant admiration.
“It is unlikely that I shall need it.” Sierra said back. He held the handle of the door and closed it noiselessly, and then he was off down the road in his noiseless desert boots.
He condensed and contracted his mind and expelled everything but the task directly ahead. Expelled the splendid girl from Dublin, expelled the houseful of radiant, tumbling boys. Expelled the paintings he had never painted and the music he had never written or even heard except as a faint lost cry.
He expelled the people his duty and instinct now called on him to rescue. Expelled the righteous minister of the Republic and the unrighteous Gombe girl. Expelled the surly Belgian, the careful Canadian, and the half-frozen lady with the watch.
Sent them all away and saved his whole attention for the unseen, unknown sentry. Black as night and scared as night and in the black scared night the proprietor of a gun. He went on with the appraisal, went on with the guessing. Sometimes the guesses had worked and sometimes not, but just the making of them helped ease the fearful loneliness. Five feet six, a hundred and forty pounds. Fair ears, good eyes, not much muscle, not much strength, but still the gun. Should have a helmet, but might have taken it off in the heat.
He had managed a dozen more formidable sentries before. He expected no difficulty here, but it was a handicap that he could not take this one’s life. It was fitting enough, but it was still a handicap.
In another part of his mind he was counting his footsteps, counting them separately from old habit. His night eyes grew sharper and picked out the edges of the road when the moon broke through the thick and heavy trees. He walked on the edge of the road in a careful hurry, putting his cushioned feet down in short, measured paces. Five hundred gone. A thousand to go.
He tested the side of the road. The jungle yielded a tempting yard or so and clasped him toward its vines and moist fragrant branches. He returned to the road and made what haste he could without creating sound. At thirteen hundred paces he turned a bend and saw the barrier ahead in an eddy of moonlight.
He kept on walking in the shadows. He walked another hundred paces, quietly but swiftly. He picked out the dark figure of the sentry sitting on the bench beside the barrier with his back to the road and his eyes and his thoughts on the moon.
He stopped and opened the front of his
shirt and took out the rest of Chartrand’s rope. Then he went on again, but reduced the length of his paces. There were no stones or pebbles on the road and this added to his almost total confidence.
When he was only a dozen steps away, he made the tiniest of missteps in a tiny rut. It was the smallest of sounds, but the drowsing sentry leaped erect, peering in terror first to his left and then to his right into the abyss of jungle.
The sentry did not in these first instinctive movements even think of the road, and so Sierra was able to strike him easily and without hindrance. He tied him up with the rope and gagged him with leaves. Then he sat down to wait for the sound of the car behind.
CHARTRAND HAD LTFT the car stopped in the exact middle of the road.
“Would anyone care for a cigarette?” he asked. Grant began to object. “No, no," the Belgian said, “they won't hear or see us from here. This is not," he assured them with a trace of condescension, “the land of James Fenimore Cooper. The sounds and sights do not carry far. There will be no snapping of dry twigs."
The murmurs of appreciation did not materialize. It was a poor audience. Astrid Mahamba was still dozing on his shoulder. Grant was watching the bound and stillunconscious Songolo.
“Would anyone mind, then, if / smoked?” Chartrand challenged them. It was, to his surprise, the white woman who replied. “I have some Pall Malls from Brazza. Would you like one for a change?” "With pleasure.” Chartrand prepared his lighter for her.
When she took her first puff she studied the orange tip in the darkness. For a moment it looked steady enough.
"We'll start in eight minutes.” he said. “I don’t think you remember my name. It was a hurried introduction."
“But I do.” She plunged into a barrage of half whispers. “I am very odd on names. I never miss the names of people I haven’t met before. 1 always get them and hang on to them for days. But then with people I’ve known for ages I go blank and call George Herbert and Marjorie Margaret.”
“I don’t mean to be stubborn.” Chartrand persisted. "I’m really only inquisitive and vain.”
“Well then, your name is Jacques Chartrand.”
"Marvelous. For an American you are astonishingly clever.”
“Canadian,” she said.
“Even more astonishing.”
"If we're trying for records—” her voice still betrayed her fear, but foolish and wavering as it was it carried a forlorn comfort to her. While she was talking she was still in being.
“Ah, you wish me to say what you appelle yourself,” he replied. “I am not so expert at remembering first introductions as you. However—”
“Your name is almost surely Bertha or Bessie or Victoria or one of those other Anglo-American atrocities. In your world they always give the most attractive women the most awful names. I am a gallant man with gallant observing eyes, and I would rather think of you as Freda or Natasha or something Nordic or Oriental or at least girlish.”
“So would I. I chance to be Mary Kelvin.”
“Console yourself, mademoiselle. You are not, after all, a Smith or a Scroggins. Think what a disaster that would have been.”
She tried a subdued laugh. “I feel like Mary Scroggins or even Bessie Scroggins.” “How’s that?”
“Scared and out of place.” she said.
“Yes. yes, others may feel that way too. It is no distinction.”
“Do you think we’ll get through?" “There is no doubt.”
“The man ahead, the Spanish one," she tried to reassure herself, “seems very brave and capable. But what can he do?"
"I know him well by reputation. He is said to be most resourceful. As you say, he has courage too.”
Astrid Mahamba stirred. "Don’t fidget." Chartrand said to her. "Donnez.”
"I suppose it would be an imposition to
tell you the story of my life?” Mary said.
“I should be delighted. Has it been interesting?"
"Not very. Oh God, what a coward! 1 just can't shut up.”
"You are behaving quite normally and charmingly. There are many reactions to fear and if our friend the doctor were not engaged with our friend the minister, he would give us a more scientific opinion than I can. But I can vouch for some things. One reaction is to talk more than usual. One is to sleep more than usual."
“I had a child." she had already blurted
to the stranger at the wheel, before she stopped herself. She realized how inane the unelaborated remark must sound, left lying there. "As you say, one reaction is to talk more than usual. Needless to add, I am not married or the matter would not have been worth mentioning.”
"I will not enter into a competition with you. my dear mademoiselle,” he replied softly, “for it would be most unchivalrous and unequal. In a contest of guilt I would defeat most people. I was a captain in the Belgian Army when the Germans broke through our great Fort Eben - Emael.
Broke through this great fort as though it were an overripe round of Brie. Not one man in my company fired a shot in our defense. Not one. Right there, in that very moment, my country fell again into slavery.
"No, no, a moment please.” He broke in on her interruption. "1 have a wife in Bruges, a wife as fair and young as you. at least God help her and me in theory. She left at the Independence with our two daughters. Left by this very road, and that may explain why I know it so well. I took them across the river and promised that I would follow within the month. But I have eight hundred Kohomae cattle, a big house, a bank account of more than a million francs and—his eyes passed briefly over the Gombe girl between them — many, many friends. Do not, pray, compete with me in self-rebuke.”
"You are kind to tell me all this. Thank you.” She meant it, for she found his words inexplicably comforting.
“I think it must be time to go on,” he said.
She looked at her watch. “Yes, it is time to go on.”
Chartrand drove slowly and very expertly. picking his way as though by instinct through the shadows. When they had turned the last bend he caught the waiting figure of Sierra beside the raised barrier. “Please open the door,” Chartrand said to Dr. Grant, “and admit our friend.”
The Spaniard had no time for greetings. As soon as he was settled and the car was in motion he leaned forward again. "At the next barrier, monsieur? Please say again exactly what must be expected there.”
Chartrand replied in the same vein, with the least waste possible. “A goodsized detachment. Perhaps eight men. Either one or two will be on duty at the barrier. The rest will be in the guardhouse right beside, within six or seven meters.” “Then we must leave the car and go around?”
“Unless,” Chartrand said, “you happened to obtain the last sentry’s gun.”
“I might have. But I did not.”
“Then you have accepted Monsieur Songolo’s conditions? We will not defend ourselves?”
“You have asked two questions, monsieur. Which do you want answered first?”
“As you yourself pointed out”—Chartrand’s voice had a note of genuine admiration for the other man, but he still did not disguise the barb—"this is no time for dialectics. Since we do not have a gun there is little chance that we will use one.” “Exactly,” Sierra rasped back. “Now if you will be good enough to slow down briefly, perhaps the doctor and I can restore our friend the minister.”
“Certainly.” Chartrand cut the car to its lowest speed.
“He has almost come to already,” Grant said. “Shall we untie him?”
“Yes,” the Spaniard said.
Songolo sat up abruptly and looked around with an air of surprise and speculation. It took him only a moment to find his bearings.
“I see,” he remarked in his pleasant Cambridge-Congo accent, “that I am still among—how shall I describe you—colleagues?”
"You have my personal apology, monsieur.” Sierra said. “No doubt in the fullness of time my regrettable assault on you will be carefully investigated by the General Assembly, the Security Council, or one of the committees or perhaps a special commission and your government will receive a more formal expression of regret. Our immediate problem is, happily or not, somewhat more rudimentary.”
“I agree,” Songolo said. “The only thing I must ask is whether you have during my —shall we call it absence—killed or wounded ^ny of my countrymen?”
"I immobilized the sentry back there and had to leave him immobilized. But I did him no more permanent harm than I did to you.”
“In that case,” the African suggested, “let us forget these little mishaps and return at least temporarily to being colleagues.”
"A most felicitous proposal,” Sierra said. “Monsieur Chartrand has described the next checkpoint. He advises against trying to get through it. It is his feeling that we should abandon the car in a few minutes and try to proceed to the border on foot as best we can.”
“This is my first trip to this part of Equateur province,” Songolo said. "In matters of geography I defer entirely to Monsieur Chartrand’s judgment.”
“And what,” Sierra asked, not challenging but seeking information, "if we should encounter hunters or herdsmen or tribal raiding parties beyond the road? What are the latest reports to the government in Leo? Have you any recent information?”
"Monsieur, I see by your conduct and your questions that this sort of situation is not new to you,” Songolo replied. “So I can only repeat what you surely know yourself. We Congolese are no more uniform or predictable than anyone else. You cannot go to New York or London or Paris and expect to know whether the taxi drivers will all overcharge you or the waiters all be polite or the ladies all accommodating. They are far from the same and even within what sameness they have they change from season to season. ! The only generalization I will venture is' that this is a particularly uncertain season here. A year ago most of us here could have gone into most villages in the Congo and been treated as gods, or at least as awesome devils. Eour of you because you are white, which is a synonym for Helge. Even I and the young Congolese lady because of our pretty European clothes. Now we might be destroyed just because of your whiteness and just because of our pretty European clothes. I do not deplore the sudden change; I would be a traitor if I did. But for the next twenty-four hours we might as well remember that there has been a change.”
Chartrand was still driving slowly but listening.
“For fairly obvious reasons,” he said. “I do deplore the change.”
“Yes,” Sierra acknowledged from the back seat. “Most things have their deplorable aspects. Flowever it seems to be settled that we must leave the car and try to avoid being seen or intercepted by anything. man or beast, that moves.”
Chartrand slowed to a crawl and then stopped. “From my memory and the speedometer I believe we are now only a short distance from the barrier.” They had emerged from the edge of the jungle into the rolling, hummocked plain of the savanna. where the grasses stretched out endlessly among the hut-sized anthills and occasional trees.
“In which direction,” Sierra asked, “do you recommend that we proceed?”
“To our left, to the west,” the Belgian answered. “In that direction the bend of the river brings it slightly closer and there is as good a chance of finding a pirogue in that part as anywhere.”
“Excellent,” Sierra said. “Do you not agree that it then would be best to drive the car a few yards off the road on the right-hand side and leave it there? When those behind us find it they may think we have gone the other way.”
“It can assuredly do no harm.”
The others dismounted. Chartrand took only a moment or two to barge his station wagon across the little ditch beside the trail and leave it hanging halfway up an anthill. “You have the water jug, monsieur?” he asked Sierra when he rejoined them on the other side of the trail.
“Yes. We might as well proceed.” “Should we be on watch here for animals?” Mary Kelvin asked. It was the sort of question her father might have asked in unfamiliar country, although on second thought he probably would know.
“We will hear jackals and hyenas and some may follow us in curiosity or hope,” Chartrand said. “They will not trouble us. There might even be a leopard or two, but they will hardly interfere either.”
Chartrand added that it was almost impossible to miss the river, but thought that with the help of the stars he could find the shortest route. He and the agile African girl set off in front with Dr. Grant and Mary Kelvin behind and Sierra and Songolo still further back in the rear.
Although their path around the anthills and past the occasional clumps of trees was a winding one and the low changing grade made fast walking difficult, they were able to begin at an encouraging pace. It was not unpleasantly hot and beneath the warm starred sky the little cries of insects, birds, and small animals gave the night a companionable feel; everything seemed to offer a reminder that the universe was truly universal and, except when some temporary and pressing need demanded a lapse from its good manners, a place of infinite good will.
“I tried not to eavesdrop,” Grant said quietly to Mary as they walked along. “But I couldn’t help it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Not tonight anyway. I don’t mean what happened —that will always matter—I mean your knowing about it.”
“The reason I brought it up was to say it doesn’t matter to me either. Or at least in the conventional way. I felt the sadness, but not the scandal.”
She took his arm as though they were walking together down Portage Avenue or St. Catherine Street. “You've got me talking again. But now we’re in the open air, I don’t think it’s only because I’m scared. In fact I’m not sure I’m scared at all. I’ll tell you a little more about it, if you’ll listen. Then, if we get across the river I’ll
probably be so remorseful I’ll never look you in the face again.”
“Don’t say if we get across the river. We will.”
“Doctor, I told you I’m not a probie. I’m not a child. And at the moment, if only for the moment. I’m truly not scared.”
“All right. But we have a damned good chance and don’t forget it.”
“That’s not what we were talking about. I won't tell you the man’s name although you’d likely know it. He is a doctor and a fine, decent man. I don’t in the least regret
what happened between him and me. The only thing I regret is what we allowed to happen to the baby. There was nothing fine or decent there, on his part or mine.” He reached across and pressed her arm with his free hand. “Mary,” he said persuasively. “I don’t want to sound like Norman Vincent Peale, in this place least of all. But surely anyone in a spot like this —and since you won’t believe otherwise I’ll admit I think we’re in a spot too— surely anyone in a spot like this needs no special dispensation or license to think about the good things in his life too. It’s
not a matter of self-justification or even divine forgiveness. It’s just a matter of good medicine or psychiatry. We’ve all got enough troubles now without torturing ourselves with ones we used to have.”
“It may be good medicine theoretically, but you damned well know it doesn’t work that way in practice.” But she sounded a little more cheerful and they walked on in silence, listening to the unknown but friendly sounds of the African night. ★
Part 11 of Ask The Name Of The Lion will appear in the next issue of Maclean’s.