The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XII. The Pilocarpin
The sultani duly appeared the next morning; women brought in firewood and products of the country to trade; all was well. The entire day, and the succeeding days for over a week, Kingozi sat under his big tree, smoking his black pipe. The sultani sat beside him. For long periods at a time nothing at all was said. Then for equally long periods a lively conversation went on, through an interpreter mostly, though occasionally the sultani launched into his bastard Swahili or Kingozi ventured a few words in the new tongue. Once in a while some intimate would saunter into view, and would be summoned by his king. Then Kingozi patiently did the following things:
(a) He performed disappearing tricks with a rupee or other small object; causing it to vanish, and then plucking it from unexpected places.
(b) With a pair of scissors--which were magic aplenty in themselves--he cut a folded paper in such a manner that when unfolded a row of paper dolls was disclosed. This was a very successful trick. The pleased warriors dandled them up and down delightedly in an n'goma.
(c) He opened and shut an opera hat. The ordinary "plug hat" was known to these people, but not an opera hat.
(d) He allowed them to look through his prism glasses.
(e) On rare occasions he lit a match.
This vaudeville entertainment was always a huge success. The newcomers squatted around the two chairs, and the conversation continued.
Bibi-ya-chui occasionally stood near and listened. The subjects were trivial in themselves, and repeated endlessly.
Ten minutes of this bored her to the point of extinction. She could not understand how Kingozi managed to survive ten hours day after day. Only once was he absent from his post, and then for only a few hours. He went out accompanied by Simba and a dozen shenzis, and shot a wildebeeste. The tail of this--an object much prized as a fly whisk--he presented to his majesty. All the rest of the time he talked and listened.
"It is such childish nonsense!" the Leopard Woman expostulated. "How can you do it?"
"Goes with the job. It's a thing you must learn to do if you would get on in this business."
And once more she seemed to catch a glimpse of the infinity of savage Africa, which has been the same for uncounted ages, impersonal, without history, without the values of time!
But had she known it, Kingozi was getting what he required. Information came to him a word now, a word then; promises came to him in single phrases lost in empty gossip. He collected what he wanted grain by grain from bushels of chaff. The whole sum of his new knowledge could have been expressed in a paragraph, took him a week to get, but was just what he wanted. If he had asked categorical questions, he would have received lies. If he had attempted to hurry matters, he would have got nothing at all.
About sundown the sultani would depart, followed shortly by the last straggler of his people. The succeeding hours were clear of shenzis, for either the custom of the country or the presence of strangers seemed to demand an n'goma every evening. In the night stillness sounds carried readily. The drums, no longer rubbed but beaten in rhythm; the shrill wailing chants of women; the stamp and shuffle of feet; the cadenced clapping of hands rose and fell according to the fervour of the dance. The throb of these sounds was as a background to the evening--fierce, passionate, barbaric.
After the departure of the sultani Kingozi took a bath and changed his clothes. The necessity for this was more mental than physical. Then he relaxed luxuriously. It was then that he resumed his relations with the Leopard Woman, and that they discussed matters of more or less importance to both.
The first evening they talked of the wonder of the ivory stockade. Kingozi had not yet had an opportunity to find out whence the tusks had come, whether the elephants had been killed in this vicinity, or whether the ivory had been traded from the Congo.
"It is very valuable," he said. "I must find out whether old Stick-in-the- mud knows what they are worth, or whether he can be traded out of them on any reasonable basis."
"You will not be going farther," she suggested one evening, apropos of nothing.
"Farther? Why not?" he asked rather blankly.
"You told me you were an ivory hunter," she pointed out.
"Ah--yes. But I have hardly the goods to trade--come back later," he stumbled, for once caught off his guard. "I'm really looking for new hunting grounds."
She did not pursue the subject; but the enigmatic smile lurked for a moment in the depths of her eyes.
Every night after supper Kingozi caused his medicine chest to be brought out and opened, and for a half-hour he doctored the sick. On this subject he manifested an approach to enthusiasm.
"I know I can't doctor them all," he answered her objection, "and that it's foolish to pick out one here and there; but it interests me. I told you I was a medical student by training." He fingered over the square bottles, each in its socket. "This is not the usual safari drug list," he said. "I like to take these queer cases and see what I can do with them. I may learn something; at any rate, it interests me. McCloud at Nairobi fitted me out; and told me what it would be valuable to observe."
She appeared interested, and shortly he became enough convinced of this to show and explain each drug separately. The quinine he carried in the hydrochlorate instead of the sulphate, and he waxed eloquent telling her why. Crystals of iodine as opposed to permanganate of potash for antiseptic he discussed. From that he branched into antisepsis as opposed to asepsis as a practical method in the field.
"Theory has nothing to do with it," said he. "It's a matter of which will work!"
It was all technical; but it interested her for the simple reason that Kingozi was really enthusiastic. True enthusiasm, without pose or self- consciousness, invariably arouses interest.
"Now here's something you'll never see in another safari kit," said he, holding up one of the square bottles filled with small white crystals, "and that wouldn't be found in this one except for an accident. It's pilocarpin."
"What is pilocarpin?" she asked, making a difficulty of the word.
"It is really a sort of eye dope," he explained. "You know atropin--the stuff an oculist uses in your eyes when he wants to examine them--leaves your vision blurred for a day or so."
"Yes, I know that."
"The effect of atropin is to expand the pupil. Pilocarpin is just the opposite--it contracts the pupil."
"What need could you possibly have of that?"
"There's the joke: I haven't. But when I was outfitting I could not get near enough phenacetin. I suppose you know that we use phenacetin to induce sweating as first treatment of fever."
"I am not entirely ignorant. I can treat fevers, of course."
"Well, I took all they could spare. Then McCloud suggested pilocarpin. Though it is really an eye drug, to be used externally, it also has an effect internally to induce sweating. So that's why I have it."
She was examining the bottles.
"But you have atropin also. Why is that?"
"There's a good deal of ophthalmia or trachoma floating around some native districts. I thought I might experiment."
"And this"--she picked up a third bottle--"ah, yes, morphia. But how much alike they all are."
"In appearance, yes; in effect most radically and fatally different--like people," smiled Kingozi.
But though Kingozi's scientific interest was keen in certain directions-- as ethnology, drugs, and zoology--it had totally blind spots. Thus the Leopard Woman kept invariably on her table the bowl of fresh flowers; and she manifested an unfailing liking to investigate such strange shrubs, trees, flowers, or nondescript growths as flourished thereabouts.
"Do you know how one names these?" she asked him concerning certain strange blooms.
"I know nothing whatever about vegetables," he replied with indifferent scorn.
Several times after that, forgetting, she proffered the same question and received exactly the same reply. Finally it became a joke to her. Slyly, at sufficient intervals so that he should not become conscious of the repetition, she took delight in eliciting this response, always the same, always delivered with the same detached scorn:
"I know nothing whatever about vegetables."
In the meantime Simba, with great enthusiasm, continued his drill of the askaris. Kingozi gave them an hour early in the day. They developed rapidly from wild trigger yanking. An allowance of two cartridges apiece proved them no great marksmen, but at least steady on discharge.
The "business conversation" Kingozi projected with the Leopard Woman did not take place until late in the week. By that time he had pieced together considerable information, as follows:
The mountain ranges at their backs possessed three practicable routes. Beyond the ranges were grass plains with much game. Water could be had in certain known places. No people dwell on these plains. This was because of the tsetse fly that made it impossible to keep domestic cattle. Far--very far--perhaps a month, who knows, is the country of the sultani M'tela. This is a very great sultani--very great indeed--a sultani whose spears are like the leaves of grass. His people are fierce, like the Masai, like the people of Lobengula, and make war their trade. His people are known as the Kabilagani. The way through the mountains is known; guides can be had. The way across the plains is known; but for guides one must find representatives of a little scattered plains tribe. That can be done. Potio for two weeks can be had--and so on.
Kingozi was particularly interested in these Kabilaganis: and pressed for as much information as he could. Strangely enough he did not mention the ivory stockade, nor did he attempt either to trade or to determine whether or not the sultani knew its value.
At the end of eight days he knew what he wished to know.
"I shall leave in two days," he told the Leopard Woman. "I should suggest that you go to-morrow. I will send Simba with you to show you the water- hole in the kopje. After that you know the country for yourself."
"But I am not going back!" she cried. "I am going on."
"That is impossible." He went on to explain to her what he had learned of the country ahead: omitting, however, all reference to M'tela and his warrior nation. "More plains: more game. That's all. You have more of that than you can use back where we came from. And with every step you are farther away. I am going on--very far. I may not come back at all."
She listened to all his arguments, but shook her head obstinately at their end.
"Your plan does not please me," said she. "I will go and see these plains for myself."
This was final, and Kingozi at last came to see it so.
"I was going to suggest that I relieve you of your askaris," said he, "but if you persist in this foolish and aimless plan, you will need them for yourself."
"Cannot we go together, at least for a distance?"
But to this he was much opposed.
"I shall be travelling faster than your cumbersome safari," he objected. "I could not delay."
And in this decision he seemed as firm as had she in her intention to proceed. After a light reconnaissance, so to speak, of argument, appeal, and charm, she gave over trying to persuade him, and fell back on her usual lazily indifferent attitude. Kingozi went ahead with his preparations, laying in potio, examining kits, preparing in every way his compact little caravan for the long journey before it. Then something happened. He changed his mind and decided to combine safaris with the Leopard Woman.