The Land of Footprints by Stewart Edward White
Fundi, as I have suggested, was built very much on the lines of the marabout stork. He was about twenty years old, carried himself very erect, and looked one straight in the eye. His total assets when he came to us were a pair of raggedy white breeches, very baggy, and an old mesh undershirt, ditto ditto. To this we added a jersey, a red blanket, and a water bottle. At the first opportunity he constructed himself a pair of rawhide sandals.
Throughout the first part of the trip he had applied himself to business and carried his load. He never made trouble. Then he and his companion saw five lions; and the chance Fundi had evidently long been awaiting came to his hand. He ran himself almost into coma, exhibited himself game, and so fell under our especial and distinguished notice. After participating whole-heartedly in the lion dance he and his companion were singled out for Our Distinguished Favour, to the extent of five rupees per. Thus far Fundi's history reads just like the history of any ordinary Captain of Industry.
Next morning, after the interesting ceremony of rewarding the worthy, we moved on to a new camp. When the line-up was called for, lo! there stood Fundi, without a load, but holding firmly my double-barrelled rifle. Evidently he had seized the chance of favour-and the rifle-and intended to be no longer a porter but a second gunbearer.
This looked interesting, so we said nothing. Fundi marched the day through very proudly. At evening he deposited the rifle in the proper place, and set to work with a will at raising the big tent.
The day following he tried it again. It worked. The third day he marched deliberately up past the syce to take his place near me. And the fourth day, as we were going hunting, Fundi calmly fell in with the rest. Nothing had been said, but Fundi had definitely grasped his chance to rise from the ranks. In this he differed from his companion in glory. That worthy citizen pocketed his five rupees and was never heard from again; I do not even remember his name nor how he looked.
I killed a buck of some sort, and Memba Sasa, as usual, stepped forward to attend to the trophy. But I stopped him.
"Fundi," said I, "if you are a gunbearer, prepare this beast."
He stepped up confidently and set to work. I watched him closely. He did it very well, without awkwardness, though he made one or two minor mistakes in method.
"Have you done this before?" I inquired.
"How did you learn to do it?"
"I have watched the gunbearers when I was a porter bringing in meat."*
*Except in the greatest emergencies a gunbearer would never think of carrying any sort of a burden.
This was pleasing, but it would never do, at this stage of the game, to let him think so, neither on his own account nor that of the real gunbearers.
"You will bring in meat today also," said I, for I was indeed a little shorthanded, "and you will learn how to make the top incision straighter."
When we had reached camp I handed him the Springfield.
"Clean this," I told him.
He departed with it, returning it after a time for my inspection. It looked all right. I catechized him on the method he had employed-for high velocities require very especial treatment-and found him letter perfect.
"You learned this also by watching?"
"Yes, bwana, I watched the gunbearers by the fire, evenings."
Evidently Fundi had been preparing for his chance.
Next day, as he walked alongside, I noticed that he had not removed the leather cap, or sight protector, that covers the end of the rifle and is fastened on by a leather thong. Immediately I called a halt.
"Fundi," said I, "do you know that the cover should be in your pocket? Suppose a rhinoceros jumps up very near at hand: how can you get time to unlace the thong and hand me the rifle?"
He thrust the rifle at me suddenly. In some magical fashion the sight cover had disappeared!
"I have thought of this," said he, "and I have tied the thong, so, in order that it come away with one pull; and I snatch it off, so, with my left hand while I am giving you the gun with my right hand. It seemed good to keep the cover on, for there are many branches, and the sight is very easy to injure."
Of course this was good sense, and most ingenious; Fundi bade fair to be quite a boy, but the native African is very easily spoiled. Therefore, although my inclination was strongly to praise him, I did nothing of the sort.
"A gunbearer carries the gun away from the branches," was my only comment.
Shortly after occurred an incident by way of deeper test. We were all riding rather idly along the easy slope below the foothills. The grass was short, so we thought we could see easily everything there was to be seen; but, as we passed some thirty yards from a small tree, an unexpected and unnecessary rhinoceros rose from an equally unexpected and unnecessary green hollow beneath the tree, and charged us. He made straight for Billy. Her mule, panic-stricken, froze with terror in spite of Billy's attack with a parasol. I spurred my own animal between her and the charging brute, with some vague idea of slipping off the other side as the rhino struck. F. and B. leaped from their own animals, and F., with a little .28 calibre rifle, took a hasty shot at the big brute. Now, of course a .28 calibre rifle would hardly injure a rhino, but the bullet happened to catch his right shoulder just as he was about to come down on his right foot. The shock tripped him up as neatly as though he had been upset by a rope. At the same instant Billy's mule came to its senses and bolted, whereupon I too jumped off. The whole thing took about two finger snaps of time. At the instant I hit the ground, Fundi passed the double rifle across the horse's back to me.
Note two things to the credit of Fundi: in the first place, he had not bolted; in the second place, instead of running up to the left side of my mount and perhaps colliding with and certainly confusing me, he had come up on the right side and passed the rifle to me across the horse. I do not know whether or not he had figured this out beforehand, but it was cleverly done.
The rhinoceros rolled over and over, like a shot rabbit, kicked for a moment, and came to his feet. We were now all ready for him, in battle array, but he had evidently had enough. He turned at right angles and trotted off, apparently-and probably-none the worse for the little bullet in his shoulder.
Fundi now began acquiring things that he supposed befitting to his dignity. The first of these matters was a faded fez, in which he stuck a long feather. From that he progressed in worldly wealth. How he got it all, on what credit, or with what hypnotic power, I do not know. Probably he hypothecated his wages, certainly he had his five rupees.
At any rate he started out with a ragged undershirt and a pair of white, baggy breeches. He entered Nairobi at the end of the trip with a cap, a neat khaki shirt, two water bottles, a cartridge belt, a sash with a tasseI, a pair of spiral puttees, an old pair of shoes, and a personal private small boy, picked up en route from some of the savage tribes, to carry his cooking pot, make his fires, draw his water, and generally perform his lordly behests. This was indeed "more-than-oriental-splendour!"
From now on Fundi considered himself my second gunbearer. I had no use for him, but Fundi's development interested me, and I wanted to give him a chance. His main fault at first was eagerness. He had to be rapped pretty sharply and a good number of times before he discovered that he really must walk in the rear. His habit of calling my attention to perfectly obvious things I cured by liberal sarcasm. His intense desire to take his own line as perhaps opposed to mine when we were casting about on trail, I abated kindly but firmly with the toe of my boot. His evident but mistaken tendency to consider himself on an equality with Memba Sasa we both squelched by giving him the hard and dirty work to do. But his faults were never those of voluntary omission, and he came on surprisingly; in fact so surprisingly that he began to get quite cocky over it. Not that he was ever in the least aggressive or disrespectful or neglectful-it would have been easy to deal with that sort of thing-but he carried his head pretty high, and evidently began to have mental reservations. Fundi needed a little wholesome discipline. He was forgetting his porter days, and was rapidly coming to consider himself a full-fledged gunbearer.
The occasion soon arose. We were returning from a buffalo hunt and ran across two rhinoceroses, one of which carried a splendid horn. B. wanted a well developed specimen very much, so we took this chance. The approach was easy enough, and at seventy yards or so B. knocked her flat with a bullet from his .465 Holland. The beast was immediately afoot, but was as promptly smothered by shots from us all. So far the affair was very simple, but now came complication. The second rhinoceros refused to leave. We did not want to kill it, so we spent a lot of time and pains shooing it away. We showered rocks and clods of earth in his direction; we yelled sharply and whistled shrilly. The brute faced here and there, his pig eyes blinking, his snout upraised, trying to locate us, and declining to budge. At length he gave us up as hopeless, and trotted away slowly. We let him go, and when we thought he had quite departed, we approached to examine B.'s trophy.
Whereupon the other craftily returned; and charged us, snorting like an engine blowing off steam. This was a genuine premeditated charge, as opposed to a blind rush, and it is offered as a good example of the sort.
The rhinoceros had come fairly close before we got into action. He headed straight for F. and myself, with B. a little to one side. Things happened very quickly. F. and I each planted a heavy bullet in his head; while B. sent a lighter Winchester bullet into the ribs. The rhino went down in a heap eleven yards away, and one of us promptly shot him in the spine to finish him.
Personally I was entirely concentrated in the matter at hand-as is always the way in crises requiring action-and got very few impressions from anything outside. Nevertheless I imagined, subconsciously that I had heard four shots. F. and B. disclaimed more than one apiece, so I concluded myself mistaken, exchanged my heavy rifle with Fundi for the lighter Winchester, and we started for camp, leaving all the boys to attend to the dead rhinos. At camp I threw down the lever of my Winchester-and drew out an exploded shell!
Here was a double crime on Fundi's part. In the first place, he had fired the gun, a thing no bearer is supposed ever to do in any circumstances short of the disarmament and actual mauling of his master. Naturally this is so, for the white man must be able in an emergency to depend absolutely on his second gun being loaded and ready for his need. In the second place, Fundi had given me an empty rifle to carry home. Such a weapon is worse than none in case of trouble; at least I could have gone up a tree in the latter case. I would have looked sweet snapping that old cartridge at anything dangerous!
Therefore after supper we stationed ourselves in a row before the fire, seated in our canvas chairs, and with due formality sent word that we wanted all the gunbearers. They came and stood before us. Memba Sasa erect, military, compact, looking us straight in the eye; Mavrouki slightly bent forward, his face alive with the little crafty, calculating smile peculiar to him; Simba, tall and suave, standing with much social ease; and Fundi, a trifle frightened, but uncertain as to whether or not he had been found out.
We stated the matter in a few words.
"Gunbearers, this man Fundi, when the rhinoceros charged, fired Winchi. Was this the work of a gunbearer?"
The three seasoned men looked at each other with shocked astonishment that such depravity could exist.
"And being frightened, he gave back Winchi with the exploded cartridge in her. Was that the work of a gunbearer?"
"No, bwana," said Fundi humbly.
"You, the gunbearers, have been called because we wish to know what should be done with this man Fundi."
It should be here explained that it is not customary to kiboko, or flog, men of the gunbearer class. They respect themselves and their calling, and would never stand that sort of punishment. When one blunders, a sarcastic scolding is generally sufficient; a more serious fault may be punished on the spot by the white man's fist; or a really bad dereliction may cause the man's instant degradation from the post. With this in mind we had called the council of gunbearers. Memba Sasa spoke.
"Bwana," said he, "this man is not a true gunbearer. He is no longer a true porter. He carries a gun in the field, like a gunbearer; and he knows much of the duty of gunbearer. Also he does not run away nor climb trees. But he carries in the meat; and he is not a real gunbearer. He is half porter and half gunbearer."
"What punishment shall he have?"
"Kiboko," said they.
"Thank you. Bass!"
They went, leaving Fundi. We surveyed him, quietly.
"You a gunbearer!" said we at last. "Memba Sasa says you are half gunbearer. He was wrong. You are all porter; and you know no more than they do. It is in our mind to put you back to carrying a load. If you do not wish to taste the kiboko, you can take a load to-morrow."
"The kiboko, bwana," pleaded Fundi, very abashed and humble.
"Furthermore," we added crushingly, "you did not even hit the rhinoceros!"
So with all ceremony he got the kiboko. The incident did him a lot of good, and toned down his exuberance somewhat. Nevertheless he still required a good deal of training, just as does a promising bird dog in its first season. Generally his faults were of over-eagerness. Indeed, once he got me thoroughly angry in face of another rhinoceros by dancing just out of reach with the heavy rifle, instead of sticking close to me where I could get at him. I temporarily forgot the rhino, and advanced on Fundi with the full intention of knocking his fool head off. Whereupon this six feet something of most superb and insolent pride wilted down to a small boy with his elbow before his face.
"Don't hit, bwana! Don't hit!" he begged.
The whole thing was so comical, especially with Memba Sasa standing by virtuous and scornful, that I had hard work to keep from laughing. Fortunately the rhinoceros behaved himself.
The proud moment of Fundi's life was when safari entered Nairobi at the end of the first expedition. He had gone forth with a load on his head, rags on his back, and his only glory was the self-assumed one of the name he had taken-Fundi, the Expert. He returned carrying a rifle, rigged from top to toe in new garments and fancy accoutrements, followed by a toro, or small boy, he had bought from some of the savage tribes to carry his blanket and cooking pot for him. To the friends who darted out to the line of march, he was gracious, but he held his head high, and had no time for mere persiflage.
I did not take Fundi on my second expedition, for I had no real use for a second gunbearer. Several times subsequently I saw him on the streets of Nairobi. Always he came up to greet me, and ask solicitously if I would not give him a job. This I was unable to do. When we paid off, I had made an addition to his porter's wages, and had written him a chit. This said that the boy had the makings of a gunbearer with further training. It would have been unfair to possible white employers to have said more. Fundi was, when I left the country, precisely in the position of any young man who tries to rise in the world. He would not again take a load as porter, and he was not yet skilled enough or known enough to pick up more than stray jobs as gunbearer. Before him was struggle and hard times, with a certainty of a highly considered profession if he won through. Behind him was steady work without outlets for ambition. It was distinctly up to him to prove whether he had done well to reach for ambition, or whether he would have done better in contentment with his old lot. And that is in essence a good deal like our own world isn't it?