The Yellow God An Idol of Africa
H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 5
"So I gather," she answered in a feeble voice.
"Do you care for me?" he asked.
"It would seem that I must, Alan, otherwise I should scarcely--oh! you
foolish Alan," and heedless of her Sunday hat, which never recovered
from this encounter, but was kept as a holy relic, she let her head
fall upon his shoulder and began to cry again, this time for very
He kissed her tears away, then as he could think of nothing else to
say, asked her if she would marry him.
"It is the general sequel to this kind of thing, I believe," she
answered; "or at any rate it ought to be. But if you want a direct
answer--yes, I will, if my uncle will let me, which he won't, as you
have quarrelled with him, or at any rate two years hence, when I am
five and twenty and my own mistress; that is if we have anything to
marry on, for one must eat. At present our worldly possessions seem to
consist chiefly of a large store of mutual affection, a good stock of
clothes and one Yellow God, which after what happened last night, I do
not think you will get another chance of turning into cash."
"I must make money somehow," he said.
"Yes, Alan, but I am afraid it is not easy to do--honestly. Nobody
wants people without capital whose only stock in trade is a brief but
distinguished military career, and a large experience of African
Alan groaned at this veracious but discouraging remark, and she went
"I mean to spend another guinea upon my friend the lawyer at
Kingswell. Perhaps he can raise the wind, by a post-obit, or
something," she added vaguely, "I mean a post-uncle-obit."
"If he does, Barbara, I can't live on your money alone, it isn't
"Oh! don't you trouble about that, Alan. If once I can get hold of
those dim thousands you will soon be able to make more, for unto him
that hath shall be given. But at present they are very dim, and for
all I know may be represented by stock in deceased companies. In
short, the financial position is extraordinarily depressed, as they
say in the Market Intelligence in /The Times/. But that's no reason
why we should be depressed also."
"No, Barbara, for at any rate we have got each other."
"Yes," she answered, springing up, "we have got each other, dear,
until Death do us part, and somehow I don't think he'll do that yet
awhile; it comes into my heart that he won't do that, Alan, that you
and I are going to live out our days. So what does the rest matter? In
two years I shall be a free woman. In fact, if the worst comes to the
worst, I'll defy them all," and she set her little mouth like a rock,
"and marry you straight away, as being over age, I can do, even if it
costs me every halfpenny that I've got."
"No, no," he said, "it would be wrong, wrong to yourself and wrong to
"Very well, Alan, then, we will wait, or perhaps luck will come our
way--why shouldn't it? At any rate for my part I never felt so happy
in my life; for, dear Alan, we have found what we were born to find,
found it once and for always, and the rest is mere etceteras. What
would be the use of all the gold of the Asiki people that Jeekie was
talking about last night, to either of us, if we had not each other?
We can get on without the wealth, but we couldn't get on apart, or at
least I couldn't and I don't mind saying so."
"No, my darling, no," he answered, turning white at the very thought,
"we couldn't get on apart--now. In fact I don't know how I have done
so so long already, except that I was always hoping that a time would
come when we shouldn't be apart. That is why I went into that infernal
business, to make enough money to be able to ask you to marry me. And
now I have gone out of the business and asked you just when I
"Yes, so you see you might as well have done it a year or two ago when
perhaps things would have been simpler. Well, it is a fine example of
the vanity of human plans, and, Alan, we must be going home to lunch.
If we don't, Sir Robert will be organizing a search party to look for
us; in fact, I shouldn't wonder if he is doing that already, in the
The mention of Sir Robert Aylward's name fell on them both like a
blast of cold wind in summer, and for a while they walked in silence.
"You are afraid of that man, Barbara," said Alan presently, guessing
"A little," she answered, "so far as I can be afraid of anything any
more. And you?"
"A little also. I think that he will give us trouble. He can be very
malevolent and resourceful."
"Resourceful, Alan; well, so can I. I'll back my wits against his any
day. He shan't separate us by anything short of murder, which he won't
go in for. Men like that don't like to break the law; they have too
much to lose. But no doubt he will make things uncomfortable for you,
if he can, for several reasons."
Again they walked on lost in reflections, when Barbara suddenly saw
her lover's face brighten.
"What is it, Alan?" she asked.
"Something that is rare enough with me, Barbara--an idea. You remember
speaking about that Asiki gold just now. Well, why shouldn't I go and
She stared at him.
"It sounds a little speculative," she said; "something like one of my
"Not half so speculative as you think. I have no doubt it is there and
Jeekie knows the way. Also I seem to remember that there is a map and
an account of the whole thing in Uncle Austin's diaries, though to
tell you the truth the old fellow wrote such a fearful hand, that I
have never taken the trouble to read it. You see," he went on with
enthusiasm, "it is the kind of business that I can do. I am thoroughly
salted to fever, I know the West Coast, where I spent three years on
that Boundary Commission, I have studied the natives and can talk
several of their dialects. Of course there would be a risk, but there
are risks in everything, and like you I am not afraid about that, for
I believe that we have got our lives before us."
"Read up those diaries, Alan, and we will talk the thing over again.
I'll pump Jeekie, who will tell me anything by coaxing, and try to get
at the truth. Meanwhile what are you going to do about my uncle?"
"Speak to him, of course, and have the row over."
"Yes," she answered, "that is the best and the most honest. Of course
he can turn you out, but he can't prevent my seeing you. If he does,
go home to Yarleys and I'll come over and call. Here we are, let us go
in by the back door," and she pointed to her crushed hat, and laughed.
BARBARA MAKES A SPEECH
While Alan and Barbara, on the most momentous occasion of their lives,
were seated upon the fallen oak in the woods that thrilled with the
breath of spring, another interview was taking place in Mr. Champers-
Haswell's private suite at The Court, the decorations of which, as he
was wont to inform his visitors, had cost nearly £2000. Sir Robert,
whose taste at any rate was good, thought them so appalling that while
waiting for his host and partner, whom he had come to see, he took a
seat in the bow window of the sitting-room and studied the view that
nobody had been able to spoil. Presently Mr. Haswell emerged from his
bedroom, wrapped in a dressing gown and looking very pale and shaky.
"Delighted to see you all right again," said Sir Robert as he wheeled
up a chair into which Mr. Haswell sank.
"I am not all right, Aylward," he answered; "I am not all right at
all. Never had such an upset in my life; thought I was going to die
when that accursed savage told his beastly tale. Aylward, you are a
man of the world, tell me, what is the meaning of the thing? You
remember what we thought we saw in the office, and then--that story."
"I don't know," he answered; "frankly I don't know. I am a man who has
never believed in anything I cannot see and test, one who utterly
lacks faith. In my leisure I have examined into the various religious
systems and found them to be rubbish. I am convinced that we are but
highly-developed mammals born by chance, and when our day is done,
departing into the black nothingness out of which we came. Everything
else, that is, what is called the higher and spiritual part, I
attribute to the superstitions incident to the terror of the hideous
position in which we find ourselves, that of gods of a sort hemmed in
by a few years of fearful and tormented life. But you know the old
arguments, so why should I enter on them? And now I am confronted with
an experience which I cannot explain. I certainly thought that in the
office on Friday evening I saw that gold mask to which I had taken so
strange a fancy that I offered to give Vernon £17,000 for it because I
thought that it brought us luck, swim across the floor of our room and
look first into your face and then into mine. Well, the next night
that negro tells his story. What am I to make of it?"
"Can't tell you," answered Mr. Champers-Haswell with a groan. "All I
know is that it nearly made a corpse of me. I am not like you,
Aylward, I was brought up as an Evangelical, and although I haven't
given much thought to these matters of late years--well, we don't
shake them off in a hurry. I daresay there is something somewhere, and
when the black man was speaking, that something seemed uncommonly
near. It got up and gripped me by the throat, shaking the mortal
breath out of me, and upon my word, Aylward, I have been wishing all
the morning that I had led a different kind of life, as my old parents
and my brother John, Barbara's father, who was a very religious kind
of man, did before me."
"It is rather late to think of all that now, Haswell," said Sir
Robert, shrugging his shoulders. "One takes one's line and there's an
end. Personally I believe that we are overstrained with the fearful
and anxious work of this flotation, and have been the victims of an
hallucination and a coincidence. Although I confess that I came to
look upon the thing as a kind of mascot, I put no trust in any fetish.
How can a bit of gold move, and how can it know the future? Well, I
have written to them to clear it out of the office to-morrow, so it
won't trouble us any more. And now I have come to speak to you on
"Not business," said Mr. Haswell with a sigh. "We have that all the
week and there will be enough of it on Monday."
"No," he answered, "something more important. About your niece
Mr. Haswell glanced at him with those little eyes of his which were so
sharp that they seemed to bore like gimlets.
"Barbara?" he said. "What of Barbara?"
"Can't you guess, Haswell? You are pretty good at it, generally. Well,
it is no use beating about the bush; I want to marry her."
At this sudden announcement his partner became exceedingly interested.
Leaning back in the chair he stared at the decorated ceiling, and
uttered his favourite wind-in-the-wires whistle.
"Indeed," he said. "I never knew that matrimony was in your line,
Aylward, any more than it has been in mine, especially as you are
always preaching against it. Well, has the young lady given her
"No, I have not spoken to her. I meant to do so this morning, but she
has slipped off somewhere, with Vernon, I suppose."
Mr. Haswell whistled again, but on a new note.
"Pray do stop that noise," said Sir Robert; "it gets upon my nerves,
which are shaky this morning. Listen: It is a curious thing, one less
to be understood even than the coincidence of the Yellow God, but at
my present age of forty-four, for the first time in my life I have
committed the folly of what is called falling in love. It is not the
case of a successful, middle-aged man wishing to /ranger/ himself and
settle down with a desirable /partie/, but of sheer, stark
infatuation. I adore Barbara; the worse she treats me the more I adore
her. I had rather that the Sahara flotation should fail than that she
should refuse me. I would rather lose three-quarters of my fortune
than lose her. Do you understand?"
His partner looked at him, pursed up his lips to whistle, then
remembered and shook his head instead.
"No," he answered. "Barbara is a nice girl, but I should not have
imagined her capable of inspiring such sentiments in a man almost old
enough to be her father. I think that you are the victim of a kind of
mania, which I have heard of but never experienced. Venus--or is it
Cupid?--has netted you, my dear Aylward."
"Oh! pray leave gods and goddesses out of it, we have had enough of
them already," he answered, exasperated. "That is my case at any rate,
and what I want to know now is if I have your support in my suit.
Remember, I have something to offer, Haswell, for instance, a large
fortune of which I will settle half--it is a good thing to do in our
business,--and a baronetcy that will be a peerage before long."
"A peerage! Have you squared that?"
"I think so. There will be a General Election within the next three
months, and on such occasions a couple of hundred thousand in cool
cash come in useful to a Party that is short of ready money. I think I
may say that it is settled. She will be the Lady Aylward, or any other
name she may fancy, and one of the richest women in England. Now have
I your support?"
"Yes, my dear friend, why not, though Barbara does not want money, for
she has plenty of her own, in first-class securities that I could
never persuade her to vary, for she is shrewd in that way and steadily
refuses to sign anything. Also she will probably be my heiress--and,
Aylward," here a sickly look of alarm spread itself over his face, "I
don't know how long I have to live. That infernal doctor examined my
heart this morning and told me that it was weak. Weak was his word,
but from the tone in which he said it, I believe that he meant more.
Aylward, I gather that I may die any day."
"Nonsense, Haswell, so may we all," he replied, with an affectation of
cheerfulness which failed to carry conviction.
Presently Mr. Haswell, who had hidden his face in his hand, looked up
with a sigh and said:
"Oh! yes, of course you have my support, for after all she is my only
relation and I should be glad to see her safely married. Also, as it
happens, she can't marry anyone without my consent, at any rate until
she is five and twenty, for if she does, under her father's will all
her property goes away, most of it to charities, except a beggarly
£200 a year. You see my brother John had a great horror of imprudent
marriages and a still greater belief in me, which as it chances, is a
good thing for you."
"Had he?" said Sir Robert. "And pray why is it a good thing for me?"
"Because, my dear Aylward, unless my observation is at fault, there is
another Richard in the field, our late partner, Vernon, of whom, by
the way, Barbara is extremely fond, though it may only be in a
friendly fashion. At any rate she pays more attention to his wishes
and opinions than to mine and yours put together."
At the mention of Alan's name Aylward started violently.
"I feared it," he said, "and he is more than ten years my junior and a
soldier, not a man of business. Also there is no use disguising the
truth, although I am a baronet and shall be a peer and he is nothing
but a beggarly country gentleman with a D.S.O. tacked on to his name,
he belongs to a different class to us, as she does too on her mother's
side. Well, I can smash him up, for you remember I took over that
mortgage on Yarleys, and I'll do it if necessary. Practically our
friend has not a shilling that he can call his own. Therefore,
Haswell, unless you play me false, which I don't think you will, for I
can be a nasty enemy," he added with a threat in his voice, "Alan
Vernon hasn't much chance in that direction."
"I don't know, Aylward, I don't know," replied Haswell, shaking his
white head. "Barbara is a strong-willed woman and she might choose to
take the man and let the money go, and then--who can stop her? Also I
don't like your idea of smashing Vernon. It isn't right, and it may
come back on our own heads, especially yours. I am sorry that he has
left us, as you were on Friday night, for somehow he was a good,
honest stick to lean on, and we want such a stick. But I am tired now,
I really can't talk any more. The doctor warned me against excitement.
Get the girl's consent, Aylward, and we'll see. Ah! here comes my
soup. Good-bye for the present."
When Sir Robert came down to luncheon he found Barbara looking
particularly radiant and charming, already presiding at that meal and
conversing in her best French to the foreign gentlemen, who were
paying her compliments.
"Forgive me for being late," he said; "first of all I have been
talking to your uncle, and afterwards skimming through the articles in
yesterday's papers on our little venture which comes out to-morrow. A
cheerful occupation on the whole, for with one or two exceptions they
are all favourable."
"Mon Dieu," said the French gentlemen on the right, "seeing what they
did cost, that is not strange. Your English papers they are so
expensive; in Paris we have done it for half the money."
Barbara and some of the guests laughed outright, finding this
"But where have you been, Miss Champers? I thought that we were going
to have a round of golf together. The caddies were there, I was there,
the greens had been specially rolled this morning, but there was no
"No," she answered, "because Major Vernon and I walked to church and
heard a very good sermon upon the observance of the Sabbath."
"You are severe," he said. "Do you think it wrong for men who work
hard all the week to play a harmless game on Sunday?"
"Not at all, Sir Robert." Then she looked at him and, coming to a
sudden decision, added, "If you like I will play you nine holes this
afternoon and give you a stroke a hole, or would you prefer a
"No, let us fight alone and let the best player win."
"Very well, Sir Robert; but you mustn't forget that I am handicapped."
"Don't look angry," she whispered to Alan as they strolled out into
the garden after lunch, "I must clear things up and know what we have
to face. I'll be back by tea-time, and we will have it out with my
The nine holes had been played, and by a single stroke Barbara had won
the match, which pleased her very much, for she had done her best, and
with such heavy odds in his favour Sir Robert, who had also done his
best, was no mean opponent, even for a player of her skill. Indeed the
fight had been quite earnest, for each party knew that it was but a
prelude to another and more serious fight, and looked upon the result
as in some sense an omen.
"I am conquered," he said in a voice in which vexation struggled with
a laugh, "and by a woman over whom I had an advantage. It is
humiliating, for I confess I do not like being beaten."
"Don't you think that women generally win if they mean to?" asked
Barbara. "I believe that when they fail, which is often enough, it is
because they don't care, or can't make up their minds. A woman in
earnest is a dangerous antagonist."
"Yes," he answered, "or the best of allies." Then he gave the clubs
and half-a-crown to the caddies, and when they were out of hearing,
added, "Miss Champers, I have been wondering for some time whether it
is possible that you would become such an ally to me."
"I know nothing of business, Sir Robert; my tastes do not lie that
"You know well that I was not speaking of business, Miss Champers. I
was speaking of another kind of partnership, that which Nature has
ordained between men and women--marriage. Will you accept me as a
She opened her lips to speak, but he lifted his hand and went on.
"Listen before you give that ready answer which it is so hard to
recall, or smooth away. I know all my disadvantages, my years, which
to you may seem many; my modest origin; my trade, which, not
altogether without reason, you despise and dislike. Well, the first
two cannot be changed except for the worse; the second can be, and
already is, buried beneath the gold and ermine of wealth and titles.
What does it matter if I am the son of a City clerk who never earned
more than £2 a week and was born in a tenement at Battersea, when I am
one of the rich men of this rich land and shall die a peer in a
palace, leaving millions and honours to my children? As for the third,
my occupation, I am prepared to give it up. It has served my turn, and
after next week I shall have earned the amount that years ago I
determined to earn. Thenceforth, set above the accidents of fortune, I
propose to devote myself to higher aims, those of legitimate ambition.
So far as my time would allow I have already taken some share in
politics as a worker; I intend to continue in them as a ruler which I
still have the health and ability to do. I mean to be one of the first
men in this Empire, to ride to power over the heads of all the
nonentities whose only claim upon the confidence of their countrymen
is that they were born in a certain class, with money in their pockets
and without the need to spend the best of their manhood in work. With
you at my side I can do all these things and more, and such is the
future that I have to offer you."
Again she would have broken in upon his speech and again he stopped
her, reading the unspoken answer on her lips.
"Listen: I have not told you all. Perhaps I have put first what should
have come last. I have not told you that I love you earnestly and
sincerely, with the settled, unalterable love that sometimes comes to
men in middle-age who have never turned their thought that way before.
I will not attempt the rhapsodies of passion which at my time of life
might sound foolish or out of place; yet it is true that I am filled
with this passion which has descended on me and taken possession of
me. I who often have laughed at such things in other men, adore you.
You are a joy to my eyes. If you are not in the room, for me it is
empty. I admire the uprightness of your character, and even your
prejudices, and to your standard I desire to approximate my own. I
think that no man can ever love you quite so well as I do, Barbara
Champers. Now speak. I am ready to meet the best or the worst."
After her fashion Barbara looked him straight in the face with her
steady eyes, and answered gently enough, for the man's method of
presenting his case, elaborate and prepared though it evidently was,
had touched her.
"I fear it is the worst, Sir Robert. There are hundreds of women
superior to myself in every way who would be glad to give you the help
and companionship you ask, with their hearts thrown in. Choose one of
them, for I cannot do so."
He heard and for the first time his face broke, as it were. All this
while it had remained masklike and immovable, even when he spoke of
his love, but now it broke as ice breaks at the pressure of a sudden
flood beneath, and she saw the depths and eddies of his nature and
understood their strength. Not that he revealed them in speech, angry
or pleading, for that remained calm and measured enough. She did not
hear, she saw, and even then it was marvellous to her that a mere
change in a man's expression could explain so much.
"Those are very cruel words," he said. "Are they unalterable?"
"Quite. I do not play in such matters, it would be wicked."
"May I ask you one question, for if the answer is in the negative, I
shall still continue to hope? Do you care for any other man?"
Again she looked at him with her fearless eyes and answered:
"Yes, I am engaged to another man."
"To Alan Vernon?"
"When did that happen? Some years ago?"
"No, this morning."
"Great Heavens!" he muttered in a hoarse voice turning his head away,
"this morning. Then last night it might not have been too late, and
last night I should have spoken to you, I had arranged it all. Yes, if
it had not been for the story of that accursed fetish and your uncle's
illness, I should have spoken to you, and perhaps succeeded."
"I think not," she said.
He turned upon her and notwithstanding the tears in his eyes they
burned like fire.
"You think--you think," he gasped, "but I know. Of course after this
morning it was impossible. But, Barbara, I say that I will win you
yet. I have never failed in any object that I set before myself, and
do not suppose that I shall fail in this. Although in a way I liked
and respected him, I have always felt that Vernon was my enemy, one
destined to bring grief and loss upon me, even if he did not intend to
do so. Now I understand why, and he shall learn that I am stronger
than he. God help him! I say."
"I think He will," Barbara answered, calmly. "You are speaking wildly,
and I understand the reason and hope that you will forget your words,
but whether you forget or remember, do not suppose that you frighten
me. You men who have made money," she went on with swelling
indignation, "who have made money somehow, and have bought honours
with the moneys somehow, think yourselves great, and in your little
day, your little, little day that will end with three lines in small
type in /The Times/, you are great in this vulgar land. You can buy
what you want and people creep round you and ask you for doles and
favours, and railway porters call you 'my Lord' at every other step.
But you forget your limitations in this world, and that which lives
above you. You say you will do this and that. You should study a book
which few of you ever read, where it tells you that you do not know
what you will be on the morrow; that your life is even as a vapour
appearing for a little time and then vanishing away. You think that
you can crush the man to whom I have given my heart because he is
honest and you are dishonest, because you are rich and he is poor, and
because he chances to have succeeded where you have not. Well, for
myself and for him I defy you. Do your worst and fail, and when you
have failed, in the hour of your extremity remember my words to-day.
If I have given you pain by refusing you it is not my fault and I am
sorry, but when you threaten the man who has honoured me with his love
and whom I honour above every creature upon the earth, then I threaten
back, and may the Power that made us all judge between you and me, as
judge it will," and bursting into tears she turned and left him.
Sir Robert watched her go.
"What a woman!" he said meditatively, "what a woman--to have lost.
Well she has set the stakes and we will play out the game. The cards
all seem to be in my hands, but it would not in the least surprise me
if she won the rubber, for the element that I call Chance and she
would call something else, may come in. Still, I never refused a
challenge yet and we will play the game out without pity to the
That night the first trick was played. When he got back to The Court
Sir Robert ordered his motorcar and departed on urgent business,
either to his own place, Old Hall, or to London, saying only that he
had been summoned away by telegram. As the 70-horse-power Mercedes
glided out of the gates a pencilled note was put into Mr. Haswell's
It ran: "I have tried and failed--for the present. By ill-luck
A.V. had been before me, only this morning. If I had not missed my
chance last night owing to your illness, it would have been
different. I do not, however, in the least abandon my plan, in
which of course I rely on and expect your support. Keep V. in the
office or let him go as you like. Perhaps it would be better if
you could prevail upon him to stop there until after the
flotation. But whatever you say at the moment, I trust to you to
absolutely veto any engagement between him and your niece, and to
that end to use all your powers and authority as her guardian.
Burn this note.
MR. HASWELL LOSES HIS TEMPER
Alan and Barbara sat in Mr. Champers-Haswell's private sitting-room
with the awful decorations, and before them by the fire Mr. Champers-
Haswell reclined upon his couch. Alan in a few, brief, soldier-like
words had just informed him of his engagement to Barbara. During the
recital of this interesting fact Barbara said nothing, but Mr. Haswell
had whistled several times. Now at length he spoke, in that tone of
forced geniality which he generally adopted towards his cousin.
"You are asking for the hand of a considerable heiress, Alan my boy,"
he said, "but you have neglected to inform me of your own position."
"Where is the use of telling you what you know already, Mr. Haswell? I
have left the firm, therefore I have practically nothing."
"You have practically nothing, and yet---- Well, in my young days men
were more delicate, they did not like being called fortune-hunters,
but of course times have changed."
Alan bit his lip and Barbara sat up quite straight in her chair,
observing which indications, Mr. Haswell went on hurriedly:
"Now if you had stopped in the firm and earned the very handsome
competence in a small way which would have become due to you this
week, instead of throwing us over at the last moment for some quixotic
reasons of your own, it might have been a different matter. I do not
say it would have been, I say it might have been, and you may remember
a proverb about winks and nods and blind horses. So I ask you whether
you are inclined to withdraw that resignation of yours and bring up
this question again let us say, next Sunday?"
Alan thought a while before he answered. As he understood Mr. Haswell
practically was promising to assent to the engagement upon these
terms. The temptation was enormously great, the fiercest that he had
ever been called upon to face. He looked at Barbara. She had closed
her eyes and made absolutely no sign. For some reason of her own she
had elected that he should determine this vital point without the
slightest assistance from her. And it must be determined at once;
procrastination was impossible. For a moment he hesitated. On the one
side was Barbara, on the other his conscience. After long doubts he
had come to a certain conclusion which he quite understood to be
inconvenient to his partners. Should he throw it over now? Should he
even try to make a sure and certain bargain as the price of his
surrender? Probably he would not suffer if he did. The flotation was
underwritten and bound to go through; the scandal would come
afterwards, months or years hence, long before which he might get out,
as most of the others meant to do. No, he could not. His conscience
was too much for him.
"I do not see any use in reconsidering that question, Mr. Haswell," he
said quietly; "we settled it on Friday night."
Barbara reopened her brown eyes and stared amiably at the painted
ceiling, and Mr. Haswell whistled.
"Then I am afraid," he said, "that I do not see any use in discussing
your kind proposal for my niece's hand. Listen--I will be quite open
with you. I have other views for Barbara, and as it happens I have the
power to enforce them, or at any rate to prevent their frustration by
you. If Barbara marries against my will before she is five and twenty,
that is within the next two years, her entire fortune, with the
exception of a pittance, goes elsewhere. This I am sure is a fact that
will influence you, who have nothing and even if it did not, I presume
that you are scarcely so selfish as to wish to beggar her."
"No," answered Alan, "you need not fear that, for it would be wrong. I
understand that you absolutely refuse to sanction my suit on the
ground of my poverty, which under the circumstances is perhaps not
wonderful. Well, the only thing to do is to wait for two years, a long
time, but not endless, and meanwhile I can try to better my position."
"Do what you will, Alan," said Mr. Haswell harshly, for now all his
/faux bonhomme/ manner had gone, leaving him revealed in his true
character of an unscrupulous tradesman with dark ends of his own to
serve. "Do what you will, but understand that I forbid all
communication between you and my niece, and that the sooner you cease
to trespass upon a hospitality which you have abused, the better I
shall be pleased."
"I will go at once," said Alan, rising, "before my temper gets the
better of me and I tell you some truths that I might regret, for after
all you are Barbara's uncle. But on your part I ask you to understand
that I refuse to cut off from my cousin, who is of full age and has
promised to be my wife," and he turned to go.
"Stop a minute, Alan," said Barbara, who all this while had sat
silent. "I have something to say which I wish you to hear. You told us
just now, uncle, that you have other views for me, by which you meant
that you wish me to marry Sir Robert Aylward, whom, as you are
probably aware, I refused definitely this afternoon. Now I wish to
make it clear at once that no earthly power will induce me to take as
a husband a man whom I dislike, and whose wealth, of which you think
so much, has in my opinion been dishonestly acquired."
"What are you saying?" broke in her uncle furiously. "He has been my
partner for years, you are reflecting upon me."
"I am sorry, uncle, but I withdraw nothing. Even if Alan here were
dead, I would not marry that man, and perhaps you will make him
understand this," she added with emphasis. "Indeed I had sooner die
myself. You told us also that if I marry against your will, you can
take away all the property that my father left to me. Uncle, I shall
not give you that satisfaction. I shall wait until I am twenty-five
and do what I please with myself and my fortune. Lastly, you said that
you forbade us to see each other or to correspond. I answer that I
shall both write to and see Alan as often as I like. If you attempt to
prevent me from doing so, I shall go to the Court of Chancery, lay all
the facts before it, as I have been advised that I can do--not by Alan
--please remember, /all/ the facts, and ask for its protection and for
a separate maintenance out of my estate until I am twenty-five. I am
sure that the Court would grant me this and would declare that
considering his distinguished family and record Alan is a perfectly
proper person to be my affianced husband. I think that is all I have
"All you have to say!" gasped Mr. Haswell, "all you have to say, you
impertinent and ungrateful minx!" Then he fell into a furious fit of
rage and in language that need not be repeated, poured a stream of
threats and abuse upon Alan and herself. Barbara waited until he
ceased from exhaustion.
"Uncle," she said, "you should remember that your heart is weak and
you must not overexcite yourself, also when you are calmer, that if
you speak to me like that again, I shall go to the Court at once, for
I will not be sworn at by you or by any other man. I apologize to you,
Alan; I am afraid I have brought you into strange company. Come, my
dear, we will go and order your dogcart," and putting her arm
affectionately through his, she went with him from the room.
"I wonder who put her up to all this?" gasped Haswell, as the door
closed behind them. "Some infernal lawyer, I'll be bound. Well, she
has got the whip hand of me, and I can't face an investigation in
Chancery, especially as the only thing against Vernon is that the
value of his land has fallen. But I swear that she shall never marry
him while I live," he ended in a kind of shout and the domed and
painted ceiling echoed back his words--"/while I live/" after which
the room was silent, save for the heavy thumping of his heart.
When Alan reached home that night after his ten-mile drive he sent
Jeekie to tell the housekeeper to find him some food. In his
mysterious African fashion the negro had already collected much
intelligence as to the events of the day, mostly in the servants'
hall, and more particularly from the two golf-caddies, sons of one of
the gardeners, who it seemed instead of retiring with the clubs, had
taken shelter in some tall whins and thence followed the interview
between Barbara and Sir Robert with the intensest interest. Reflecting
that this was not the time to satisfy his burning curiosity, Jeekie
went and in due course returned with some cold mutton and a bottle of
claret. Then came his chance, for Alan could scarcely touch the mutton
and demanded toast and butter.
"Very inferior chop"--that was his West African word for food--"for a
gentleman, Major," he said, shaking his white head sympathetically and
pointing to the mutton,--"specially when he has unexpectedly departed
from magnificent eating of The Court. Why did you not wait till after
dinner, Major, before retiring?"
Alan laughed at the man's inflated English, and answered in a more
nervous and colloquial style:
"Because I was kicked out, Jeekie."
"Ah! I gathered that kicking was in the wind, Major. Sir Robert
Aylward, Bart., he also was kicked out, but by smaller toe."
Again Alan laughed and, as it was a relief to talk even to Jeekie,
"How do you know that?"
"I gathered it out of atmosphere, Major; from Sir Robert's gentleman,
from two youths who watch Sir Robert and Miss Barbara talking upon
golf green No. 9, from the machine driver of Sir Robert whose eyes he
damn in public, and last but not least from his own noble
"I see that you are observant, Jeekie."
"Observation, Major, it is art of life. I see Miss Barbara's eyes red
like morning sky and I deduct. I see you shot out and gloomy like
evening cloud, and I deduct. I listen at door of Mr. Haswell's room, I
hear him curse and swear like holy saint in Book, and you and Miss
Barbara answer him not like saint, though what you speak I cannot
hear, and I deduct. Jeekie deduct this--that you make love to Miss
Barbara in proper gentlemanlike, 'nogamous, Christian fashion such as
your late Reverend Uncle approve, and Miss Barbara, she make love to
you with ten per cent. compound interest, but old gent with whistle,
he /not/ approve; he say, 'Where corresponding cash!' He say 'Noble
Sir Robert have much cash and interested in identical business. I
prefer Sir Robert. Get out, you Cashless.' Often I see this same thing
when boy in West Africa, very common wherever sun shine. I note all
these matters and I deduct--that Jeekie's way and Jeekie seldom
Alan laughed for the third time, until the tears ran down his face
"Jeekie," he said, "you are a great rascal----"
"Yes, yes," interrupted Jeekie, "great rascal. Best thing to be in
this world, Major. Honourable Sir Robert, Bart., M.P., and Mr.
Champers-Haswell, D.L., J.P., they find that out long ago and sit on
top of tree of opulent renown. Jeekie great rascal and therefore have
Savings Bank account--go on, Major."
"Well, Jeekie, because if you are a rascal you are kind-hearted and
because I believe that you care for me----"
"Oh! Major," broke in Jeekie again, "that most 'utterably true. Honour
bright I love you, Major, better than anyone on earth, except my late
old woman, now happily dead, gone and forgotten in best oak coffin, £4
10 without fittings but polished, and perhaps your holy uncle,
Reverend Mr. Austin, also coffined and departed, who saved me from
early extinction in a dark place. Major, I no like graves, I see too
much of them, and can't tell what lie on other side. Though everyone
say they know, Jeekie not quite sure. May be all light and crowns of
glory, may be damp black hole and no way out. But this at least true,
that I love you better, yes, better than Miss Barbara, for love of
woman very poor, uncertain thing, quick come, quick go. Jeekie find
that out--often. Yes, if need be, though death most nasty, if need be
I say I die for you, which great unpleasant sacrifice," and Jeekie in
the genuine enthusiasm of his warm heart, throwing himself upon his
knees after the African fashion, seized his master's hand and kissed
"Thanks, Jeekie," said Alan, "very kind of you, I am sure. But we
haven't come to that yet, though no one knows what may happen later
on. Now sit upon that chair and take a little whisky--not too much--
for I am going to ask your advice."
"Major," said Jeekie, "I obey," and seizing the whisky bottle in a
casual manner, he poured out half a tumbler full, for Jeekie was fond
of whisky. Indeed before now this taste had brought him into conflict
with the local magistrates.
"Put back three parts of that," said Alan, and Jeekie did so. "Now,"
he went on, "listen: this is the case, Miss Barbara and I are----" and
"Oh! I know; like me and Mrs. Jeekie once," said Jeekie, gulping down
some of the neat whisky. "Go on, Major."
"And Sir Robert Aylward is----"
"Same thing, Major. Continue."
"And Mr. Haswell has----"
"Those facts all ascertained, Major," said Jeekie, contemplating his
glass with a mournful eye. "Now come to the point, Major."
"Well, the point is, Jeekie, that I am what you called just now
cashless, and therefore----"
"Therefore," interrupted Jeekie again, "stick fast in honourable
intention towards Miss Barbara owing to obstinate opposition of Mr.
Haswell, legal uncle with control of property fomented by noble Sir
Robert who desire same girl."
"Quite right, Jeekie, but if you would talk a little less and let me
talk a little more, we might get on better."
"I henceforth silent, Major," and lifting his empty tumbler Jeekie
looked through it as if it were a telescope, a hint that Alan ignored.
"Jeekie, you infernal old fool, I want money."
"Yes, Major, I understand, Major. Forgive me for breaking conspiracy
of silence, but if £500 in Savings Bank any use, very much at your
service, Major; also £20 more extracted last night from terror of
wealthy Jew who fear fetish."
"Jeekie, you old donkey, I don't want your £500; I want a great deal
more, £50,000 or £500,000. Tell me how to get it."
"City best place, Major. But you chuck City, too much honest man,
great mistake to be honest in this terrestrial sphere. Often notice
that in West Africa."
"Perhaps, Jeekie, but I have done with the City. As you would say, for
me it is 'wipe out, finish.'"
"Yes, Major, too much pickpocket, too much dirt. Bottom always drop
out of bucket shop at last. I understand, end in police court and
severe magistrate, or perhaps even 'Gentlemen of Jury'; etcetera."
"Well, Jeekie, then what remains? Now last night when you told us that
amazing yarn of yours, you said something about a mountain full of
gold, and houses full of gold, among your people. Jeekie, do you
think----" and he paused, looking at him.
Jeekie rolled his black eyes round the room and in a fit of
absentmindedness helped himself to some more whisky.
"Do I think, Major, that this useless lucre could be converted into
coin of gracious King Edward? Not at all, Major, by no one, Major, by
no one whatsoever, except possibly by Major Alan Vernon, D.S.O., and
by one, Jeekie, Christian surname Smith."
"Proceed, Jeekie," said Alan, removing the whisky bottle, "proceed and
"Major, thus: The Asiki tribe care nothing about all that gold, it no
good to them. Dead people who live long, long ago, no one know when,
dig it up and store it there and make the great fetish which they call
Bonsa to keep away enemy who want to steal. Also old custom when any
one in country round find big nugget, or pretty stone, like ladies
wear on bosom, to bring it as offering to Bonsa, so that there now
great plenty of all this stuff. But no one use it for anything except
to set on walls of house of Asiki, or to make basin, stool, table and
pot to cook with. Once Arab come there and I see the priests give him
weight in gold for iron hoe, though afterwards they murder him, not
for the gold, but lest he go away and tell their secret."
"One might trade with them then, Jeekie?"
He shook his white head doubtfully.
"Yes, perhaps, if you can find anything they want buy and can carry it
there. But I think there only one thing they want, and you got that,
"I, Jeekie! What have I got?"
The negro leant forward and tapped his master on the knee, saying in a
"You got Little Bonsa, which much more holy than anything, even than
Big Bonsa her husband, I mean greater, more powerful devil. That
Little Bonsa sit in front room Asika's house, and when she want see
things, she put it in big basin of gold, but I no tell you what it
float in. Also once or twice every year they take out Little Bonsa;
Asika wear it on head as mask, and whoever they meet they kill as
offering to Little Bonsa, so that spirit come back to world to be
priest of Bonsa. I tell you, Major, that Yellow God see many thousand
of people die."
"Indeed," said Alan. "A pleasing fetish truly. I should think that the
Asiki must be glad it is gone."
"No, not glad, very sorry. No luck for them when Little Bonsa go away,
but plenty luck for those who got her. That why firm Aylward & Haswell
make so much money when you join them and bring her to office. She
drop green in eye of public so they no smell rat. That why you so
lucky, not die of blackwater fever when you should; get safe out of
den of thieves in City with good name; win love of sweet maiden, Miss
Barbara. Little Bonsa do all those things for you, and by and by do
plenty more, as Little Bonsa bring my old master, your holy uncle,
safe out of that country because all the Asiki run away when they see
him wear her on head, for they think she come sacrifice them after she
eat up my life."
"I don't wonder that they ran," said Alan, laughing, for the vision of
a missionary with Little Bonsa on his head caught his fancy. "But come
to the point, you old heathen. What do you mean that I should do?"
"Jeekie not heathen now, Major, but plenty other things true in this
world, besides Christian religion. I no want you do anything, but I
say this--you go back to Asiki wearing Little Bonsa on head and
dressed like Reverend uncle whom you very like, for he just your age
then thirty years ago, and they give you all the gold you want, if you
give them back Little Bonsa whom they love and worship for ever and
ever, for Little Bonsa very, very old."
Alan sat up in his chair and stared at Jeekie, while Jeekie nodded his
head at him.
"There is something in it," he said slowly, speaking more to himself
than to the negro, "and perhaps that is why I would not sell the
fetish, for as you say, there are plenty of true things in the world
besides those which we believe. But, Jeekie, how should I find the
"No trouble, Major, Little Bonsa find way, want to get back home, very
hungry by now, much need sacrifice. Think it good thing kill pig to
Little Bonsa--or even lamb. She know you do your best, since human
being not to be come at in Christian land, and say 'thank you for life
"Stop that rubbish," said Alan. "I want a guide; if I go, will you
come with me?"
At this suggestion the negro looked exceedingly uncomfortable.
"Not like to, not like to at all," he said, rolling his eyes. "Asiki-
land very funny place for native-born. But," he added sadly, "if you
go Jeekie must, for I servant of Little Bonsa and if I stay behind,
she angry and kill me because I not attend her where she walk. But
perhaps if I go and take her to Gold House again, she pleased and let
me off. Also I able help you there. Yes, if you and Little Bonsa go,
think I go too."
After this announcement Jeekie rose and walked down the room, carrying
the cold mutton in his hand. Then he returned, replaced it on the
table and standing in front of Alan, said earnestly:
"Major, I tell you all truth, just this once. Jeekie believe he /got/
go with you to Asiki-land. Jeekie have plenty bad dream lately, Little
Bonsa come in middle of the night and sit on his stomach and scratch
his face with her gold leg, and say, 'Jeekie, Jeekie, you son of
Bonsa, you get up quick and take me back Bonsa Town, for I darned
tired of City fog and finished all I come here to do. Now I want jolly
good sacrifice and got plenty business attend to there at home, things
you not understand just yet. You take me back sharp, or I make you sit
up, Jeekie, my boy;'" and he paused.
"Indeed," said Alan; "and did she tell you anything else in her
"Yes, Major. She say, 'You take that white master of yours along also,
for I want come back Asiki-land on his head, and someone wish see him
there, old pal, what he forget but what not forget him. You tell him
Little Bonsa got score she wants settle with that party and wish use
him to square account. You tell him too that she pay him well for
trip; he lose nothing if he play her game 'cause she got no score
against him. But if he not go, that another matter, then he look out,
for Little Bonsa very nasty customer if she riled, as his late
partners find out one day.'"
"Oh! shut up, Jeekie. What's the use of wasting time telling me your
"Very well, Major, just as you like, Major. But I got other reasons
why I willing go. Jeekie want see his ma."
"Your ma? I never heard you had a ma. Besides she must be dead long
"No, Major, 'cause she turn up in dream too, very much alive, swear at
me 'cause I bag her blanket. Also she tough old woman, take lot kill
"Perhaps you have a pa too," suggested Alan.
"Think not, Major, my ma always say she forget him. What she mean, she
not like talk about him, he such a swell. Why Jeekie so strong, so
clever and with such beautiful face? No doubt because he is son of
very great man. All this true reason why he want to go with you,
Major. Still, p'raps poor old Jeekie make mistake, p'raps he dream
'cause he eat too much supper, p'raps his ma dead, after all. If so,
p'raps better stay at home--not know."
"No," answered Alan, "not know. What between Little Bonsa and one
thing and another my head is swimming--like Little Bonsa in the
"Big Bonsa swim in water," interrupted Jeekie. "Little Bonsa swim in
"Well, Big Bonsa, or Little Bonsa, I don't care which. I'm going to
bed and you had better clear away these things and do the same. But,
Jeekie, if you say a word of our talk to anyone, I shall be very
angry. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Major, I understand. I understand that if I tell secrets of
Little Bonsa to anyone except you with whom she live in strange land
far away from home, Little Bonsa come at me like one lion, and cut my
throat. No fear Jeekie split on Little Bonsa, oh! no fear at all," and
still shaking his head solemnly, for the second time he seized the
cold mutton and vanished from the room.
"A farrago of superstitious nonsense," thought Alan to himself when he
had gone. "But still there may be something to be made out of it.
Evidently there is lots of gold in this Asiki country, if only one can
persuade the people to deal."
Then weary of Jeekie and his tribal gods, Alan lit his pipe and sat a
while thinking of Barbara and all the events of that tumultuous day.
Notwithstanding his rebuff at the hands of Mr. Haswell and the
difficulties and dangers which threatened, he felt even then that it
had been a happy and a fortunate day. For had he not discovered that
Barbara loved him with all her heart and soul as he loved Barbara? And
as this was so, he did not care a--Little Bonsa about anything else.
The future must look to itself, sufficient to the day was the abiding
So he went to bed and for a while to sleep, but he did not sleep very
long, for presently he fell to dreaming, something about Big Bonsa and
Little Bonsa which sat, or rather floated on either side of his couch
and held an interminable conversation over him, while Jeekie and Sir
Robert Aylward, perched respectively at its head and its foot, like
the symbols of the good and evil genii on a Mahommedan tomb, acted as
a kind of insane chorus. He struck his repeater, it was only one
o'clock, so he tried to go to sleep again, but failed utterly. Never
had he been more painfully awake.
For an hour or more Alan persevered, then at last in despair he jumped
out of bed wondering what he could do to occupy his mind. Suddenly he
remembered the diary of his uncle, the Rev. Mr. Austin, which he had
inherited with the Yellow God and a few other possessions, but never
examined. They had been put away in a box in the library about fifteen
years before, just at the time he entered the army, and there
doubtless they remained. Well, as he could not sleep, why should he
not examine them now, and thus get through some of this weary night?
He lit a candle and went down to the library, an ancient and beautiful
apartment with black oak panelling between the bookcases, set there in
the time of Elizabeth. In this panelling there were cupboards, and in
one of the cupboards was the box he sought, made of teak wood. On its
lid was painted, "The Reverend Henry Austin. Passenger to Acra,"
showing that it had once been his uncle's cabin box. The key hung from
the handle, and having lit more candles, Alan drew it out and unlocked
it, to be greeted by a smell of musty documents done up in great
bundles. One by one he placed them on the floor. It was a dreary
occupation alone there in that great, silent room at the dead of
night, one indeed with which he was soon satisfied, for somehow it
reminded him of rifling coffins in a vault. Before him so carefully
put away lay the records of a good if not a distinguished life, and
until this moment he had never found the energy even to look through
At length he came to the end of the bundles and saw that beneath lay a
number of manuscript books packed closely with their backs upwards,
marked--"Journal"--and with the year and sometimes the place of the
author's residence. As he glanced at them in dismay, for they were
many, his eye caught the title of one inscribed--as were several
others--"West Africa," and written in brackets beneath--"This vol.
contains all that is left of the notes of my escape with Jeekie from
the Asiki Devil-worshippers."
Alan drew it out, and having refilled and closed the box, bore it off
to his room, where he proceeded to read it in bed. As a matter of fact
he found that there was not very much to read, for the reason that
most of the closely-written volume had been so damaged by water, that
the pencilled writing had run and become utterly illegible. The centre
pages, however, not having been soaked, could still be deciphered, at
any rate in part, also there was a large manuscript map, executed in
ink, apparently at a later date, on the back of which was written: "I
purpose, D.V., to re-write at some convenient time all the history of
my visit to the unknown Asiki people, as my original notes were
practically destroyed when the canoe overset in the rapids and most of
our few possessions were lost, except this book and the gold fetish
mask which is called Little Bonsa or Small Swimming Head. This I think
I can do with the aid of Jeekie from memory, but as the matter has
only a personal and no religious interest, seeing that I was not able
even to preach the Word among those benighted and blood-thirsty
savages in whose country, as I verily believe, the Devil has one of
his principal habitations, it must stand over till a convenient
season, such as the time of old age or sickness. H.A."
"P.S. I ought to add with gratitude that even out of this hell fire I
was enabled to snatch one brand from the burning, namely, the negro
lad, Jeekie, to whose extraordinary resource and faithfulness I owe my
escape. After a long hesitation I have been able to baptize him,
although I fear that the taint of heathenism still clings to him. Thus
not six months ago I caught him sacrificing a white cock to the image,
Little Bonsa, in gratitude, as to my horror he explained, for my
having been appointed an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral. I have told
him to take that ugly mask which has been so often soaked in human
blood, and melt it down over the kitchen stove, after picking out the
gems in the eyes, that the proceeds may be given to the poor. /Note./
I had better see to this myself, as where Little Bonsa is concerned,
Jeekie is not to be trusted. He says (with some excuse) that it has
magic, and that if he melts it down, he will melt down too, and so
shall I. How dark and ridiculous are the superstitions of the heathen!
Perhaps, however, instead of destroying the thing, which is certainly
unique, I might sell it to a museum, and thus spare the feelings of
that weak vessel, Jeekie, who otherwise would very likely take it into
his head to waste away and die, as these Africans do when their nerves
are affected by terror of their fetish."
Reflecting that time evidently had made little change in Jeekie, Alan
studied this route map with care, and found that it started from Old
Calabar, in the Bight of Biafra, on the west coast of Africa, whence
it ran up to the Great Qua River, which it followed for a long way.
Then it struck across country marked "dense forest," northwards, and
came to a river called Katsena, along the banks of which the route
went eastwards. Thence it turned northward again through swamps, and
ended in mountains called Shaku. In the middle of these mountains was
written "Asiki People live here on Raaba River."
The map was roughly drawn to scale, and Alan, who was an engineer
accustomed to such things, easily calculated that the distance of this
Raaba River from Old Calabar was about 350 miles as the crow flies,
though probably the actual route to be travelled was nearer five
Having mastered the map, he opened the water-soaked diary. Turning
page after page, only here and there could he make out a sentence,
such as "so I defied that beautiful but terrific woman. I, a Christian
minister, the husband of a heathen priestess! Perish the thought.
Sooner would I be sacrificed to Bonsa."
Then came more illegible pages and again a paragraph that could be
read--"They gave me 'The Bean' in a gold cup, and knowing its deadly
nature I prepared myself for death. But happily for me my stomach,
always delicate, rejected it at once, though I felt queer for days
afterwards. Whereon they clapped their hands and said I was evidently
innocent and a great medicine man."
And again, further on--"never did I see so much gold whether in dust,
nuggets, or worked articles. I imagine it must be worth millions, but
at that time gold was the last thing with which I wished to trouble
After this entry many pages were utterly effaced.
The last legible passage ran as follows--"So guided by the lad Jeekie,
and wearing the gold mask, Little Bonsa, on my head, I ran through
them all, holding him by the hand as though I were dragging him away.
A strange spectacle I must have been with my old black clergyman's
coat buttoned about me, my naked legs and the gold mask, as pretending
to be a devil such as they worship, I rushed through them in the
moonlight, blowing the whistle in the mask and bellowing like a bull.
. . . Such was the beginning of my dreadful six months' journey to the
coast. Setting aside the mercy of Providence that preserved me for its
own purposes, I could never have lived to reach it had it not been for
Little Bonsa, since curiously enough I found this fetish known and
dreaded for hundreds of miles, and that by people who had never seen
it, yes, even by the wild cannibals. Whenever it was produced food,
bearers, canoes, or whatever else I might want were forthcoming as
though by magic. Great is the fame of Big and Little Bonsa in all that
part of West Africa, although, strange as it may seem, the outlying
tribes seldom mention them by name. If they must speak of either of
these images which are supposed to be man and wife, they call it the
Not another word of all this strange history could Alan decipher, so
with aching eyes he shut up the stained and tattered volume, and at
last, just as the day was breaking, fell asleep.
At eleven o'clock on that same morning, for he had slept late, Alan
rose from his breakfast and went to smoke his pipe at the open door of
the beautiful old hall in Yarleys that was clad with brown Elizabethan
oak for which any dealer would have given hundreds of pounds. It was a
charming morning, one of those that comes to us sometimes in an
English April when the air is soft like that of Italy and the smell of
the earth rises like that of incense, and little clouds float idly
across a sky of tender blue. Standing thus he looked out upon the park
where the elms already showed a tinge of green and the ash-buds were
coal black. Only the walnuts and the great oaks, some of them pollards
of a thousand years of age, remained stark and stern in their winter
Alan was in a reflective mood and involuntarily began to wonder how
many of his forefathers had stood in that same spot upon such April
mornings and looked out upon those identical trees wakening in the
breath of spring. Only the trees and the landscape knew, those trees
which had seen every one of them borne to baptism, to bridal and to
burial. The men and women themselves were forgotten. Their portraits,
each in the garb of his or her generation, hung here and there upon
the walls of the ancient house which once they had owned or inhabited,
but who remembered anything of them to-day? In many cases their names
even were lost, for believing that they, so important in their time,
could never sink into oblivion, they had not thought it necessary to
record them upon their pictures.
And now the thing was coming to an end. Unless in this way or in that
he could save it, what remained of the old place, for the outlying
lands had long since been sold, must go to the hammer and become the
property of some pushing and successful person who desired to found a
family, and perhaps in days to be would claim these very pictures that
hung upon the walls as those of his own ancestors, declaring that he
had brought in the estate because he was a relative of the ancient and
Well, it was the way of the world, and perhaps it must be so, but the
thought of it made Alan Vernon sad. If he could have continued that
business, it might have been otherwise. By this hour his late
partners, Sir Robert Aylward and Mr. Champers-Haswell, were doubtless
sitting in their granite office in the City, probably in consultation
with Lord Specton, who had taken his place upon the Board of the great
Company which was being subscribed that day. No doubt applications for
shares were pouring in by the early posts and by telegram, and from
time to time Mr. Jeffreys respectfully reported their number and
amount, while Sir Robert looked unconcerned and Mr. Haswell rubbed his
hands and whistled cheerfully. Almost he could envy them, these men
who were realizing great fortunes amidst the bustle and excitement of
that fierce financial life, whilst he stood penniless and stared at
the trees and the ewes which wandered among them with their lambs, he
who, after all his work, was but a failure. With a sigh he turned away
to fetch his cap and go out walking--there was a tenant whom he must
see, a shifty, new-fangled kind of man who was always clamouring for
fresh buildings and reductions in his rent. How was he to pay for more
buildings? He must put him off, or let him go.
Just then a sharp sound caught his ear, that of an electric bell. It
came from the telephone which, since he had been a member of a City
firm, he had caused to be put into Yarleys at considerable expense in
order that he might be able to communicate with the office in London.
"Were they calling him up from force of habit?" he wondered. He went
to the instrument which was fixed in a little room he used as a study,
and took down the receiver.
"Who is it?" he asked. "I am Yarleys. Alan Vernon."
"And I am Barbara," came the answer. "How are you, dear? Did you sleep
"No, very badly."
"Nerves--Alan, you have got nerves. Now although I had a worse day
than you did, I went to bed at nine, and protected by a perfect
conscience, slumbered till nine this morning, exactly twelve hours.
Isn't it clever of me to think of this telephone, which is more than
you would ever have done? My uncle has departed to London vowing that
no letter from you shall enter this house, but he forgot that there is
a telephone in every room, and in fact at this moment I am speaking
round by his office within a yard or two of his head. However, he
can't hear, so that doesn't matter. My blessing be on the man who
invented telephones, which hitherto I have always thought an awful
nuisance. Are you feeling cheerful, Alan?"
"Very much the reverse," he answered; "never was more gloomy in my
life, not even when I thought I had to die within six hours of
blackwater fever. Also I have lots that I want to talk to you about
and I can't do it at the end of this confounded wire that your uncle
may be tapping."
"I thought it might be so," answered Barbara, "so I just rang you up
to wish you good-morning and to say that I am coming over in the motor
to lunch with my maid Snell as chaperone. All right, don't
remonstrate, I /am coming/ over to lunch--I can't hear you--never mind
what people will say. I am coming over to lunch at one o'clock, mind
you are in. Good-bye, I don't want much to eat, but have something for
Snell and the chauffeur. Good-bye."
Then the wire went dead, nor could all Alan's "Hello's" and "Are you
there's?" extract another syllable.
Having ordered the best luncheon that his old housekeeper could
provide Alan went off for his walk in much better spirits, which were
further improved by his success in persuading the tenant to do without
the new buildings for another year. In a year, he reflected, anything
might happen. Then he returned by the wood where a number of new-
felled oaks lay ready for barking. This was not a cheerful sight; it
seemed so cruel to kill the great trees just as they were pushing
their buds for another summer of life. But he consoled himself by
recalling that they had been too crowded and that the timber was
really needed on the estate. As he reached the house again carrying a
bunch of white violets which he had plucked in a sheltered place for
Barbara, he perceived a motor travelling at much more than the legal
speed up the walnut avenue which was the pride of the place. In it sat
that young lady herself, and her maid, Snell, a middle-aged woman with
whom, as it chanced, he was on very good terms, as once, at some
trouble to himself, he had been able to do her a kindness.
The motor pulled up at the front door and out of it sprang Barbara,
laughing pleasantly and looking fresh and charming as the spring
"There will be a row over this, dear," said Alan, shaking his head
doubtfully when at last they were alone together in the hall.
"Of course, there'll be a row," she answered. "I mean that there
should be a row. I mean to have a row every day if necessary, until
they leave me alone to follow my own road, and if they won't, as I
said, to go to the Court of Chancery for protection. Oh! by the way, I
have brought you a copy of /The Judge/. There's a most awful article
in it about that Sahara flotation, and among other things it announces
that you have left the firm and congratulates you upon having done
"They'll think I have put it in," groaned Alan as he glanced at the
head lines, which were almost libellous in their vigour, and the
summaries of the financial careers of Sir Robert Aylward and Mr.
Champers-Haswell. "It will make them hate me more than ever, and I
say, Barbara, we can't live in an atmosphere of perpetual warfare for
the next two years."
"I can, if need be," answered that determined young woman. "But I
admit that it would be trying for you, if you stay here."
"That's just the point, Barbara. I must not stay here, I must go away,
the further the better, until you are your own mistress."
"Where to, Alan?"
"To West Africa, I think."
"To West Africa?" repeated Barbara, her voice trembling a little.
"After that treasure, Alan?"
"Yes, Barbara. But first come and have your lunch, then we will talk.
I have got lots to tell and show you."
So they lunched, speaking of indifferent things, for the servant was
there waiting on them. Just as they were finishing their meal Jeekie
entered the room carrying a box and a large envelope addressed to his
master, which he said had been sent by special messenger from the
office in London.
"What's in the box?" asked Alan, looking somewhat nervously at the
envelope, which was addressed in a writing that he knew.
"Don't know for certain, Major," answered Jeekie, "but think Little
Bonsa; think I smell her through wood."
"Well, look and see," replied Alan, while he broke the seal of the
envelope and drew out its contents. They proved to be sundry documents
sent by the firm's lawyers, among which were a notice of the formal
dissolution of partnership to be approved by him before it appeared in
the /Gazette/, a second notice calling in a mortgage for fifteen
thousand and odd pounds on Yarleys, which as a matter of business had
been taken over by the firm while he was a partner; a cash account
showing a small balance against him, and finally a receipt for him to
sign acknowledging the return of the gold image that was his property.
"You see," said Alan with a sigh, pushing over the papers to Barbara,
who read them carefully one by one.
"I see," she answered presently. "It is war to the knife. Alan, I hate
the idea of it, but perhaps you had better go away. While you are here
they will harass the life out of you."
Meanwhile with the aid of a big jack-knife and the dining-room poker,
Jeekie had prized off the lid of the box. Chancing to look round
Barbara saw him on his knees muttering something in a strange tongue,
and bowing his white head until it touched an object that lay within
"What are you doing, Jeekie?" she asked.
"Make bow to Little Bonsa, Miss Barbara, tell her how glad I am see
her come back from town. She like feel welcome. Now you come bow too,
Little Bonsa take that as compliment."
"I won't bow, but I will look, Jeekie, for although I have heard so
much about it I have never really examined this Yellow God."
"Very good, you come look, miss," and Jeekie propped up the case upon
the end of the dining-room table. As from its height and position she
could not see its contents very well whilst standing above it, Barbara
knelt down to get a better view of it.
"My goodness!" she exclaimed, "what a terrible face, beautiful too in
Hardly had the words left her lips when for some reason unexplained
that probably had to do with the shifting of the centre of gravity,
Little Bonsa appeared to glide or fall out of her box with a startling
suddenness, and project herself straight at Barbara, who, with a faint
scream, fearing lest the precious thing should be injured, caught it
in her arms and for a moment hugged it to her breast.
"Saved!" she exclaimed, recovering herself and placing it on the
table, whereon Jeekie, to their astonishment, began to execute a kind
of war dance.
"Oh! yes," he said, "saved, very much saved. All saved, most
magnificent omen. Lady kneel to Little Bonsa and Little Bonsa nip out
of box, make bow and jump in lady's arms. That splendid, first-class
luck, for miss and everybody. When Little Bonsa do that need fear
nothing no more. All come right as rain."
"Nonsense," said Barbara, laughing. Then from a cautious distance she
continued her examination of the fetish.
"See," said Jeekie, pointing to the misshapen little gold legs which
were yet so designed that it could be stood up upon them, "when anyone
wear Little Bonsa, tie her on head behind by these legs; look, here
same old leather string. Now I put her on, for she like to be worn
again," and with a quick movement he clapped the mask on to his face,
manipulated the greasy black leather thongs and made them fast. Thus
adorned the great negro looked no less than terrific.
"I see you, miss," he said, turning the fixed eyes of opal-like stone,
bloodshot with little rubites, upon Barbara, "I see you, though you no
see me, for these eyes made very cunning. But listen, you hear me,"
and suddenly from the mask, produced by some contrivance set within
it, there proceeded an awful, howling sound that made her shiver.
"Take that thing off, Jeekie," said Alan, "we don't want any banshees
"Banshees? Not know him, he poor English fetish p'raps," said Jeekie,
as he removed the mask. "This real African god, howl banshee and all
that sort into middle of next week. This Little Bonsa and no mistake,
ten thousand years old and more, eat up lives, so many that no one can
count them, and go on eating for ever, yes unto the third and fourth
generation, as Ten Commandments lay it down for benefit of Christian
man, like me. Look at her again, Miss Barbara."
Miss Barbara took the hateful, ancient thing in her hands and studied
it. No one could doubt its antiquity, for the gold plate of which it
was made was literally worn away wherever it had touched the foreheads
of the high priests or priestesses who donned it upon festive
occasions or days of sacrifice, showing that hundreds and hundreds of
them must have used it thus in succession. So was the vocal apparatus
within the mouth, and so were the little toad-like feet upon which it
was stood up. Also the substance of the gold itself as here and there
pitted as though with acid or salts, though what those salts were she
did not inquire. And yet, so consummate was the art with which it had
originally been fashioned, that the battered beautiful face of Little
Bonsa still peered at them with the same devilish smile that it had
worn when it left the hands of its maker, perhaps before Mohammed
preached his holy war, or even earlier.
"What is all that writing on the back of it?" asked Barbara, pointing
to the long lines of rune-like characters which were inscribed within
"Not know, miss, think they dead tongue cut in the beginning when
black men could write. But Asiki priests swear they remember every one
of them, and that why no one can copy Little Bonsa, for they look
inside and see if marks all right. They say they names of those who
died for Little Bonsa, and when they all done, Little Bonsa begin
again, for Little Bonsa never die. But p'raps priests lie."
"I daresay," said Barbara, "but take Little Bonsa away, for however
lucky she may be, she makes me feel sick."
"Where I put her, Major?" asked Jeekie of Alan. "In box in library
where she used to live, or in plate-safe with spoons? Or under your
bed where she always keep eye on you?"
"Oh! put her with the spoons," said Alan angrily, and Jeekie departed
with his treasure.
"I think, dear," remarked Barbara as the door closed behind him, "that
if I come to lunch here any more, I shall bring my own christening
present with me, for I can't eat off silver that has been shut up with
that thing. Now let us get to business--show me the diary and the
"Dearest Alan," wrote Barbara from The Court two days later, "I
have been thinking everything over, and since you are so set upon
it, I suppose that you had better go. To me the whole adventure
seems perfectly mad, but at the same time I believe in our luck,
or rather in the Providence which watches over us, and I don't
believe that you, or I either, will come to any harm. If you stop
here, you will only eat your heart out and communication between
us must become increasingly difficult. My uncle is furious with
you, and since he discovered that we were talking over the
telephone, to his own great inconvenience he has had the wires cut
outside the house. That horrid letter of his to you saying that
you had 'compromised' me in pursuance of a 'mercenary scheme' is
all part and parcel of the same thing. How are you to stop here
and submit to such insults? I went to see my friend the lawyer,
and he tells me that of course we can marry if we like, but in
that case my father's will, which he has consulted at Somerset
House, is absolutely definite, and if I do so in opposition to my
uncle's wishes, I must lose everything except £200 a year. Now I
am no money-grubber, but I will not give my uncle the satisfaction
of robbing me of my fortune, which may be useful to both of us by
and by. The lawyer says also that he does not think that the Court
of Chancery would interfere, having no power to do so as far as
the will is concerned, and not being able to make a ward of a
person like myself who is over age and has the protection of the
common law of the country. So it seems to me that the only thing
to do is to be patient, and wait until time unties the knot.
"Meanwhile, if you can make some money in Africa, so much the
better. So go, Alan, go as soon as you like, for I do not wish to
prolong this agony, or to see you exposed daily to all you have to
bear. Whenever you return you will find me waiting for you, and if
you do not return, still I shall wait, as you in like
circumstances will wait for me. But I think you will return."
Then followed much that need not be written, and at the end a
postscript which ran:
"I am glad to hear that you have succeeded in shifting the mortgage
on Yarleys, although the interest is so high. Write to me whenever
you get a chance, to the care of the lawyer, for then the letters
will reach me, but never to this house, or they may be stopped. I
will do the same to you to the address you give. Good-bye, dearest
Alan, my true and only lover. I wonder where and when we shall
meet again. God be with us both and enable us to bear our trial.
"P.P.S. I hear that the Sahara flotation was /really/ a success,
notwithstanding the /Judge/ attacks. Sir Robert and my uncle have
made millions. I wonder how long they will keep them."
A week after he received this letter Alan was on the seas heading for
the shores of Western Africa.
THE DWARF FOLK
It was dawn at last. All night it had rained as it can rain in West
Africa, falling on the wide river with a hissing splash, sullen and
continuous. Now, towards morning, the rain had ceased and everywhere
rose a soft and pearly mist that clung to the face of the waters and
seemed to entangle itself like strands of wool among the branches of
the bordering trees. On the bank of the river at a spot that had been
cleared of bush, stood a tent, and out of this tent emerged a white
man wearing a sun helmet and grey flannel shirt and trousers. It was
Alan Vernon, who in these surroundings looked larger and more
commanding than he had done at the London office, or even in his own
house of Yarleys. Perhaps the moustache and short brown beard which he
had grown, or his skin, already altered and tanned by the tropics, had
changed his appearance for the better. At any rate it was changed. So
were his manner and bearing, whereof all the diffidence had gone. Now
they were those of a man accustomed to command who found himself in
his right place.
"Jeekie," he called, "wake up those fellows and come and light the
oil-stove. I want my coffee."
Thereon a deep voice was heard speaking in some native tongue and
"Cease your snoring, you black dogs, and arouse yourselves, for your
lord calls you," an invocation that was followed by the sound of
kicks, thumps, and muttered curses.
A minute or two later Jeekie himself appeared, and he also was much
changed in appearance, for now instead of his smart, European clothes,
he wore a white robe and sandals that gave him an air at once
dignified and patriarchal.
"Good-morning, Major," he said cheerfully. "I hope you sleep well,
Major, in this low-lying and accursed situation, which is more than we
do in boat that half full of water, to say nothing of smell of black
man and prevalent mosquito. But the rain it over and gone, and
presently the sun shine out, so might be much worse, no cause at all
"I don't know," answered Alan, with a shiver. "I believe that I am
fever proof, but otherwise I should have caught it last night, and--
just give me the quinine, I will take five grains for luck."
"Yes, yes, for luck," answered Jeekie as he opened the medicine chest
and found the quinine, at the same time glancing anxiously out of the
corner of his eye at his master's face, for he knew that the spot
where they had slept was deadly to white men at this season of the
year. "You not catch fever, Little Bonsa," here he dropped his voice
and looked down at the box which had served Alan for a pillow, "see to
that. But quinine give you appetite for breakfast. Very good chop this
morning. Which you like best? Cold ven'son, or fish, or one of them
ducks you shoot yesterday?"
"Oh! some of the cold meat, I think. Give the ducks to the boatmen, I
don't fancy them in this hot place. By the way, Jeekie, we leave the
Qua River here, don't we?"
"Yes, yes, Major, just here. I 'member spot well, for your uncle he
pray on it one whole hour; I pretend pray too, but in heart give
thanks to Little Bonsa, for heathen in those days, quite different
now. This morning we begin walk through forest where it rather dark
and cool and comfortable, that is if we no see dwarf people from whom
good Lord deliver us," and he bowed towards the box containing Little
"Will those four porters come with us through the forest, Jeekie, as
"Yes, yes, they come. Last night they say they not come, too much
afraid of dwarf. But I settle their hash. I tell them I save up bits
of their hair and toe nails when they no thinking, and I mix it with
medicine, and if they not come, they die every one before they get
home. They think me great doctor and they believe. Perhaps they die if
they go on. If so, I tell them that because they want show white
feather, and they think me greater doctor still. Oh! they come, they
come, no fear, or else Jeekie know reason why. Now, here coffee,
Major. Drink him hot before you go take tub, but keep in shallow
water, because crocodile he very early riser."
Alan laughed, and departed to "take tub." Notwithstanding the
mosquitoes that buzzed round him in clouds, the water was cool and
pleasant by comparison with the hot, sticky air, and the feel of it
seemed to rid him of the languor resulting from his disturbed night.
A month had passed since he had left Old Calabar, and owing to the
incessant rains the journeying had been hard. Indeed the white men
there thought that he was mad to attempt to go up the river at this
season. Of course he had said nothing to them of the objects of his
expedition, hinting only that he wished to explore and shoot, and
perhaps prospect for mines. But knowing as they did, that he was an
Engineer officer with a good record and much African experience, they
soon made up their minds that he had been sent by Government upon some
secret mission that for reasons of his own he preferred to keep to
himself. This conclusion, which Jeekie zealously fostered behind his
back, in fact did Alan a good turn, since owing to it he obtained
boatmen and servants at a season when, had he been supposed to be but
a private person, these would scarcely have been forthcoming at any
price. Hitherto his journey had been one long record of mud,
mosquitoes, and misery, but otherwise devoid of incident, except the
eating of one of his boatmen by a crocodile which was a particularly
"early riser," for it had pulled the poor fellow out of the canoe in
which he lay asleep at night. Now, however, the real dangers were
about to begin, since at this spot he left the great river and started
forward through the forest on foot with Jeekie and the four bearers
whom he had paid highly to accompany him.
He could not conceal from himself that the undertaking seemed somewhat
desperate. But of this he said nothing in the long letter he had
written to Barbara on the previous night, sighing as he sealed it, at
the thought that it might well be the last which would ever reach her
from him, even if the boatmen got safely back to Calabar and
remembered to put it in the post. The enterprise had been begun and
must be carried through, until it ended in success--or death.
An hour later they started. First walked Alan as leader of the
expedition, carrying a double-barrelled gun that could be used either
for ball or shot, about fifty cartridges with brass cases to protect
them from the damp, a revolver, a hunting-knife, a cloth mackintosh,
and lastly, strapped upon his back like a knapsack, a tin box
containing the fetish, Little Bonsa, which was too precious to be
trusted to anyone else. It was quite a sufficient load for any white
man in that climate, but being very wiry, Alan did not feel its
weight, at any rate at first.
After him in single file came the four porters, laden with a small
tent, some tinned provisions and brandy, ammunition, a box containing
beads, watches, etc. for presents, blankets, spare clothing and so
forth. These were stalwart fellows enough, who knew the forest, but
their dejected air showed that now they had come face to face with its
dangers, they heartily wished themselves anywhere else. Indeed,
notwithstanding their terror of Jeekie's medicine, at the last moment
they threw down their loads intending to make a wild rush for the
departing boat, only to be met by Jeekie himself who, anticipating
some such move, was waiting for them on the bank with a shotgun. Here
he remained until the canoe was too far out in the stream for them to
reach it by swimming. Then he asked them if they wished to sit and
starve there with the devils he would leave them for company, of if
they would carry out their bargain like honest men?
The end of it was they took up their loads again and marched, while
behind them walked the terrible and gigantic Jeekie, the barrels of
the shotgun which he carried at full cock and occasionally used to
prod them, pointing directly at their backs. A strange object he
looked truly, for in addition to the weapons with which he bristled,
several cooking-pots were slung about him, to say nothing of a cork
mattress and a mackintosh sheet tied in a flat bundle to his
shoulders, a box containing medicines and food which he carried on his
head, and fastened to the top of it with string like a helmet on a
coffin, an enormous solar-tope stuffed full of mosquito netting, of
which the ends fell about him like a green veil. When Alan
remonstrated with him as to the cork mattress, suggesting that it
should be thrown away as too hot to wear, Jeekie replied that he had
been cold for thirty years, and wished to get warm again. Guessing
that his real reason for declining to part with the article, was that
his master should have something to lie on, other than the damp
ground, Alan said no more at the time, which, as will be seen, was
fortunate enough for Jeekie.
For a mile or more their road ran through fantastic-looking mangrove
trees rooted in the mud, that in the mist resembled, Alan thought,
many-legged arboreal octopi feeling for their food, and tall reeds on
the tops of which sat crowds of chattering finches. Then just as the
sun broke out, strongly, cheering them with its warmth and sucking up
the vapours, they entered sparse bush with palms and great cotton
trees growing here and there, and so at length came to the borders of
the mighty forest.
Oh! dark, dark was that forest; he who entered it from the cheerful
sunshine felt as though suddenly and without preparation he had
wandered out of the light we know into some dim Hades such as the old
Greek fancy painted, where strengthless ghosts flit aimlessly,
mourning the lost light. Everywhere the giant boles of trees shooting
the height of a church tower into the air without a branch; great rib-
rooted trees, and beneath them a fierce and hungry growth of creepers.
Where a tree had fallen within the last century or so, these creepers
ramped upwards in luxuriance, their stems thick as the body of a man,
drinking the shaft of light that pierced downwards, drinking it with
eagerness ere the boughs above met again and starved them. Where no
tree had fallen the creepers were thin and weak; from year to year
they lived on feebly, biding their time, but still they lived, knowing
that some day it would come. And always it was coming to those
expectant parasites, since from minute to minute, somewhere in the
vast depths, miles and miles away perhaps, a great crash echoed in the
stillness, the crash of a tree that, sown when the Saxons ruled in
England, or perhaps before Cleopatra bewitched Anthony, came to its
end at last.
On the second day of their march in the forest Alan chanced to see
such a tree fall, and the sight was one that he never could forget. As
it happened, owing to the vast spread of its branches which had killed
out all rivals beneath, for in its day it had been a very successful
tree embued with an excellent constitution by its parent, it stood
somewhat alone, so that from several hundred yards away as these six
human beings crept towards it like ants towards a sapling in a
cornfield, its mighty girth and bulk set upon a little mound and the
luxuriant greenness of its far-reaching boughs made a kind of
landmark. Then in the hot noon when no breath of wind stirred,
suddenly the end came. Suddenly that mighty bole seemed to crumble;
suddenly those far-reaching arms were thrown together as their support
failed, gripping at each other like living things, flogging the air,
screaming in their last agony, and with an awful wailing groan
sinking, a tumbled ruin, to the earth.
Silence again, and in the midst of the silence Jeekie's cheerful
"Old tree go flop! Glad he no flop on us, thanks be to Little Bonsa.
Get on, you lazy nigger dog. Who pay you stand there and snivel? Get
on or I blow out your stupid skull," and he brought the muzzle of the
full-cocked, double-barrelled gun into sharp contact with that part of
the terrified porter's anatomy.
Such was the forest. Of their march through it for the first four
days, there is nothing to tell. Its depths seemed to be devoid of
life, although occasionally they heard the screaming of parrots in the
treetops a couple of hundred feet above, or caught sight of the dim
shapes of monkeys swinging themselves from bough to bough. That was in
the daytime, when, although they could not see it, they knew that the
sun was shining somewhere. But at night they heard nothing, since
beasts of prey do not come where there is no food. What puzzled Alan
was that all through these impenetrable recesses there ran a distinct
road which they followed. To the right and left rose a wall of
creepers, but between them ran this road, an ancient road, for nothing
grew on it, and it only turned aside to avoid the biggest of the trees
which must have stood there from time immemorial, such a tree as that
which he had seen fall; indeed it was one of those round which the
He asked Jeekie who made the road.
"People who come out Noah's Ark," answered Jeekie, "I think they run
up here to get out of way of water, and sent them two elephants ahead
to make path. Or perhaps dwarf people make it. Or perhaps those who go
up to Asiki-land to do sacrifice like old Jews."
"You mean you don't know," said Alan.
"No, of course don't know. Who know about forest path made before
beginning of world. You ask question, Major, I answer. More lively
answer than to shake head and roll eyes like them silly fool porters."
It was on the fourth night that the trouble began. As usual they had
lit a huge fire made of the fallen boughs and rotting tree trunks that
lay about in plenty. There was no reason why the fire should be so
large, since they had little to cook and the air was hot, but they
made it so for the same reason that Jeekie answered questions, for the
sake of cheerfulness. At least it gave light in the darkness, leaping
up in red tongues of flame twenty or thirty feet high, and its roar
and crackle were welcome in the primeval silence.
Alan lay upon the cork mattress in the open, for here there was no
need to pitch the tent; if any rain fell above, the canopy of leaves
absorbed it. He was amusing himself while he smoked his pipe with
watching the reflection of the fire-light against a patch of darkness
caused probably by some bush about twenty yards away, and by picturing
in his own mind the face of Barbara, that strong, pleasant English
face, as it might appear on such a background. Suddenly there, on the
identical spot he did see a face, though one of a very different
character. It was round and small and hideous, resembling in its
general outline that of a bloated child. At this distance he could not
distinguish the features, except the lips, which were large and
pendulous, and between them the flash of white teeth.
"Look here," he whispered to Jeekie in English, and Jeekie looked,
then without saying a word, lifted the shotgun that lay at his side
and fired straight at the bush. Instantly there arose a squeaking
noise, such as might be made by a wounded animal, and the four porters
sprang up in alarm.
"Sit down," said Jeekie to them in their own tongue, "a leopard was
stalking us and I fired to frighten it away. Don't go near the place,
as it may be wounded and angry, but drag up some boughs and make a
fence round the fire, for fear of others."
The men who dreaded leopards, looking on these animals, indeed, with
superstitious reverence, obeyed readily enough, and as there was
plenty of wood lying within a few yards, soon constructed a /boma/
fence that, rough as it was, would serve for protection.
"Jeekie," said Alan presently as they laboured at the fence, "that was
not a leopard, it was a man."
"No, no, Major, not man, little dwarf devil, him that have poisoned
arrow. I shoot at once to make him sit up. Think he no come back
to-night, too much afraid of shot fetish. But to-morrow, can't say.
Not tell those fellows anything," and he nodded towards the porters,
"or perhaps they bolt."
"I think you would have done better to leave the dwarf alone," said
Alan, "and they might have left us alone. Now they will have a blood
feud against us."
"Not agree, Major, only chance for us put him in blue funk. If I not
shoot, presently he shoot," and he made a sound that resembled the
whistling of an arrow, then added, "Now you go sleep. I not tired, I
watch, my eyes see in dark better than yours. Only two more days of
this damn forest, then open land with tree here and there, where dwarf
no come because he afraid of lion and cannibal man, who like eat him."
As there was nothing else to be done Alan took Jeekie's advice and in
time fell fast asleep, nor did he wake again till the faint light
which for the want of a better name they called dawn, was filtering
down to them through the canopy of boughs.
"Been to look," said Jeekie as he handed him his coffee. "Hit that
dwarf man, see his blood, but think others carry him away. Jeekie very
good shot, stone, spear, arrow, or gun, all same to him. Now get off
as quick as we can before porters smell a rat. You eat chop, Major, I
Presently they started on their trudge through those endless trees,
with Fear for a companion. Even the porters, who had been told
nothing, seemed more afraid than usual, though whether this was
because they "smell rat," as Jeekie called it, or owing to the
progressive breakdown of their nervous systems, Alan did not know.
About midday they stopped to eat because the men were too tired to
walk further without rest. For an hour or more they had been looking
for a comparatively open place, but as it chanced could find none, so
were obliged to halt in dense forest. Just as they had finished their
meal and were preparing to proceed, that which they had feared,
happened, since from somewhere behind the tree boles came a volley of
reed arrows. One struck a porter in the neck, one fixed itself in
Alan's helmet without touching him, and no less than three hit Jeekie
on the back and stuck there, providentially enough in the substance of
the cork mattress that he still carried on his shoulders, which the
feeble shafts had not the strength to pierce.
Everybody sprang up and with a curious fascination instead of
attempting to do anything, watched the porter who had been hit in the
neck somewhere in the region of the jugular vein. The poor man rose to
his feet with great deliberation, reminding Alan in some grotesque way
of a speaker who has suddenly been called on to address a meeting and
seeks to gain time for the gathering of his thoughts. Then he turned
towards that vast audience of the trees, stretched out his hand with a
declamatory gesture, said something in a composed voice, and fell upon
his face stone dead! The swift poison had reached his heart and done
His three companions looked at him for a moment and the next with a
yell of terror, rushed off into the forest, hurling down their loads
as they ran. What became of them Alan never learned, for he saw them
no more, and the dwarf people keep their secrets. At the time indeed
he scarcely noticed their departure, for he was otherwise engaged.
One of their hideous little assailants, made bold by success, ventured
to run across an open space between two trees, showing himself for a
moment. Alan had a gun in his hand, and mad with rage at what had
happened, he raised it and swung on him as he would upon a rabbit. He
was a quick and practised shot and his skill did not fail him now, for
just as the dwarf was vanishing behind a tree, the bullet caught him
and next instant he was seen rolling over and over upon its further
"That very nice," said Jeekie reflectively, "very nice indeed, but I
think we best move out of this."
"Aren't you hurt?" gasped Alan. "Your back is full of arrows."
"Don't feel nothing, Major," he answered, "best cork mattress, 25/3 at
Stores, very good for poisoned arrow, but leave him behind now,
because perhaps points work through as I run, one scratch do trick,"
and as he spoke Jeekie untied a string or several strings, letting the
little mattress fall to the ground.
"Great pity leave all those goods," said Jeekie, surveying the loads
that the porters had cast away, "but what says Book? Life more than
raiment. Also take no thought for morrow. Dwarf people do that for us.
Come, Major, make tracks," and dashing at a bag of cartridges which he
cast about his neck, a trifling addition to his other impedimenta, and
a small case of potted meats that he hitched under his arm, he poked
his master in the back with the muzzle of his full-cocked gun as a
signal that it was time to start.
"Keep that cursed thing off me," said Alan furiously. "How often have
I told you never to carry firearms at full cock?"
"About one thousand times, Major," answered Jeekie imperturbably, "but
on such occasion forget discreetness. My ma just same, it run in
family, but story too long tell you now. Cut, Major, cut like hell.
Them dwarfs be back soon, but," he puffed, "I think, I think Little
Bonsa come square with them one day."
So Alan "cut" and the huge Jeekie blundered along after him, the
paraphernalia with which he was hung about rattling like the hoofs of
a galloping giraffe. Nor for all his load did he ever turn a hair.
Whether it were fear within or a desire to save his master, or a
belief in the virtues of Little Bonsa, or that his foot was, as it
were, once more upon his native heath, the fact remained that
notwithstanding the fifty years, almost, that had whitened his wool,
Jeekie was absolutely inexhaustible. At least at the end of that
fearful chase, which lasted all the day, and through the night also,
for they dared not camp, he appeared to be nearly as fresh as when he
started from Old Calabar, nor did his spirits fail him for one moment.
When the light came on the following morning, however, they perceived
by many signs and tokens that the dwarf people were all about them.
Some arrows were shot even, but these fell short.
"Pooh!" said Jeekie, "all right now, they much afraid. Still, no time
for coffee, we best get on."
So they got on as they could, till towards midday the forest began to
thin out. Now as the light grew stronger they could see the dwarfs, of
whom there appeared to be several hundred, keeping a parallel course
to their own on either side of them at what they thought to be a safe
"Try one shot, I think," said Jeekie, kneeling down and letting fly at
a clump of the little men, which scattered like a covey of partridges,
leaving one of its number kicking on the ground. "Ah! my boy," shouted
Jeekie in derision, "how you like bullet in tummy? You not know
Paradox guaranteed flat trajectory 250 yard. You remember that next
time, sonny." Then off they went again up a long rise.
"River other side of that rise," said Jeekie. "Think those tree-
monkeys no follow us there."
But the "monkeys" appeared to be angry and determined. They would not
come any more within the range of the Paradox, but they still marched
on either side of the two fugitives, knowing well that at last their
strength must fail and they would be able to creep up and murder them.
So the chase went on till Alan began to wonder whether it would not be
better to face the end at once.
"No, no, if say die, can't change mind to-morrow morning," gasped
Jeekie in a hoarse voice. "Here top rise, much nearer than I thought.
Oh, my aunt! who those?" and he pointed to a large number of big men
armed with spears who were marching up the further side of the hill
from the river that ran below.
At the same moment these savages, who were not more than two hundred
yards away, caught sight of them and of their pursuers, who just then
appeared on the ridge to the right and left. The dwarfs, on perceiving
these strangers, uttered a shrill yell of terror, and wheeled about to
fly to their fastnesses in the forest, which evidently they regretted
ever having left. It was too late. With an answering shout the
spearsmen, who were extended in a long line, apparently hunting for
game, charged after them at full speed. They were fresh and their legs
were long. Therefore very soon they overtook the dwarfs and even got
in front of them, heading them off from the forest. The end may be
guessed,--save a few whom they reserved alive, they killed them
mercilessly, and almost without loss to themselves, since the little
forest folk were too terrified and exhausted to shoot at them with
their poisoned arrows, and they had no other weapons.
In fact, as Alan discovered afterwards, for generations there had been
war between them, since all the other tribes hate the dwarfs, whom
they look upon as dangerous human monkeys, and never before had the
big men found such a chance of squaring their account.
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