The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XIV. Over the Ranges
When the day came for departure the Leopard Woman was indisposed, and could not travel. At the end of that period eight bags of potio disappeared. They had to be replaced. Kingozi occupied the time on the details of his preparations. Then three men deserted, and all loads had to be redistributed. At last they were off.
A horde of savages accompanied them at first. These dropped off one by one until there remained only the guides appointed. The trail led steeply upward. It soon shook free of the thorn tangle and debouched on grassy rolling shoulders from which a wide, maplike view could be seen of the country through which they had passed. Shortly they skirted a deep deft canon in which sang a brook; and at its head came to a forest. The trees were tall, their cover dense; long, ropelike vines hung in festoons. It was very still. A colobus barked somewhere in the tops; the small green monkeys swung from limb to limb, or scampered along the rope vines, chattering. Silent, gaudy birds swooped across dusky spaces. The dripping of water reached the ear; the smell of dampness the nostrils.
This was as far as they went the first day. The climb had been severe; and at the end of three and a half hours the woman announced that she was done up. Nothing remained but to make camp. This was done, therefore; and all the afternoon Kingozi lay flat on the cot he had caused to be brought into the open air, and blew smoke upward, and stared at the maze of limbs in the forest roof. The Leopard Woman kept her tent; but he did not offer to disturb her. He was thinking.
Next day they marched for hours through the forest, and at last came out on more rolling grass shoulders. Evidently this side of the mountains was not abrupt, but slanted off in a gentle slope to unknown distances. There the game began to reappear; and Kingozi dropped two hartebeeste for the safari. Here Cazi Moto came up in great perturbation to announce that two of the memsahib's porters were missing. The little headman did not understand how it happened, as he had zealously brought up the rear. Unless, of course, it was a case of desertion.
Kingozi looked thoughtful, then ordered camp to be pitched. Accompanied by Simba, Mali-ya-bwana, and three askaris he took the back track. At the end of an hour and a half of brisk walking he met the two missing porters. Their explanation was voluble. They had fallen out for a few moments, and when they had resumed their loads, the safari was ahead. Then they had hastened, but the road had divided. They had taken the wrong fork.
"Show me where the road divided," ordered Kingozi.
The loads were deposited by the side of the trail, and the delinquents, with every appearance of confidence, led the way back another hour's march to a veritable fork. Kingozi examined the earth for tracks.
"Could you not see that the safari had gone this way and not that way?" he asked.
"Yes, bwana," they said together; "we saw it after a little. That is why we came back."
Kingozi grunted, but said nothing. The nine men retraced their steps. Both porters were on a broad grin, laughing and talking in subdued tones to the askaris. The bwana strode on rapidly ahead. They followed at a little dogtrot, carrying their loads easily.
At camp Kingozi ordered them to place the loads in place beneath the tarpaulin.
"Simba," said he in a casual voice, "these men get kiboko."
"Yes, bwana. How many?"
The bystanders gasped, and the shining countenances of the culprits turned a sickly gray. Fifty lashes is a maximum punishment, inflicted only for the gravest crimes. More cannot be administered without fear of grave consequences. The offence of straggling is generally considered not serious. Even Simba was not certain he had heard aright.
"How many, bwana?" he asked again.
"Fifty," repeated Kingozi tonelessly, and turned his blank, baleful glare in their direction.
The punishment was administered. When it was finished the porters, shaking like leaves, blankets drawn over their bleeding flanks, were brought to face the white man seated in his chair.
"Bassi," he pronounced. The word went out into a dead silence, so that it was heard to the farthest confines of the hushed camp. "Let no man hereafter miss the trail."
He arose and entered his tent. Cazi Moto was there, unfolding the canvas bath tub, laying out the clean clothes. He looked up from his occupation, his wizened face contorted in a shrewd smile.
"No more will we make camp when the sun is only a few hours high," he surmised.
Kingozi looked at him.
"You and I have handled many safaris, Cazi Moto," he replied.
Delays from these causes ceased, but other delays supervened. Never were the reasons for them attributable to accident; but they were more numerous than ordinarily. Kingozi said nothing.
All the day's march he walked fifty yards ahead of the long procession. The Leopard Woman walked part of the time; part of the time she rode a donkey procured from the sultani. The two necessarily held little converse during the day. At camp Kingozi had many tasks--camp to arrange, meat to procure, sick to doctor, guides to interrogate. Only at the evening meal, which now they shared, did he and his travelling companion resume their intimacies.
The relation had developed into a curious one. For one thing, it was more expansive. They discussed many subjects of what might be called general interest, talking interestedly on books, world politics, colonial policies, even the larger problems of life. In these discussions they explored each other's intelligence, came to a mental approachment, a cold, clear respect for each other's capacity and experience. Never did they approach the personal. At no time in their acquaintance had they talked so unrestrainedly, so freely, with so much genuine pleasure; at no time did they touch so little the mysteries of personality.
If the Leopard Woman felt this, or wondered at the cloaked withdrawal, she gave no sign. Apparently she was all candour. She seemed to throw herself frankly and with pleasure into this relationship of the head, to have forgotten the possibilities so richly though so momentarily disclosed by the magic of the moon. She lounged in her canvas chair, twisting her lithe body within her silks; she smoked her cigarettes; the jewel of changing lights glowed on her forehead; she talked in her modulated voice and quaint, precise English. The man's pulses remained calm. His eyes did not miss the beauty of her form, as frankly defined beneath the silk as the forms of the naked bibis of the village; nor the alluring paleness of her face in contrast to the red lips; nor the drowning passion of her wide eyes. But they did not reach his senses. Were the insulation of his plain duty--which to Kingozi meant quite sincerely his whole excuse for existence in this puzzling life--were this to be withdrawn--he never even contemplated the thought. Reminders from that night of the moon prevented him from doing so.
After this fashion they came to the grass plains of the uplands. Here ensued more delays. These did not spring from delinquencies in the safari: the exemplary punishment assured that. But things broke, and things were forgotten, and things had to be done differently. The guides, procured with difficulty from the little hunting peoples of the plain, disappeared at the end of the second day. They professed themselves afraid of Chake, the Nubian. The latter vehemently denied having spoken a word to them. Day's marches were shortened because the woman could not stand long ones. Kingozi found it a great bother to travel with a woman.
Nevertheless, he made no attempts to separate the safaris. He had been watching closely. These difficulties, the delays, breakages, and abbreviations of day's journeys had, nine times out of ten, their origin in the camp of the Leopard Woman. In ordinary circumstances he would have put this down to inferior organization. But there was the mysterious, unmentioned map, whose accuracy, by the way, he found exact. Gradually he came to the conclusion that the delays were not entirely accidental. The conclusion became a conviction that the Leopard Woman was making as much of a drag and as big a nuisance of herself as possible.
She wanted to become such a burden that Kingozi would go on without her. Again, why? At the village she had vehemently refused to go back, and had pleaded to join forces with Kingozi. This puzzled him for some time. Then he saw. Of course she did not want to turn back. If, as he surmised, she had some errand with M'tela, like his own, she would not want to turn back, but she would like a plausible excuse to separate from him once the ranges of mountains were crossed. Why did she not drop off then on the excuse, say, of the wonderful new hunting grounds? That would be simple. Kingozi concluded that she wished the initiative to come from him. And the more convinced he was that she wanted to get rid of him, the more firmly he resolved that she must remain.
But it did make for slow travel.
What of it? There was no haste. There was plenty of game, the days passed pleasantly, the evenings were delightful. A moonbeam flashed in his brain showing him vistas----He firmly shut the window!
Certainly if Bibi-ya-chui harboured any active desire to drive Kingozi into leaving her to her own devices, she concealed it well. Occasionally in the evening, when he stared into the distance, she twisted herself to look at him. Then her eyes widened, no one could have told with what emotion. In her fixed stare could have been many things--or nothing. Did she desire this man, as she had seemed to the night of the full moon, and did she but bide her time, knowing this was not the moment? Did she desire this man, and hate him because he had touched her only to turn away? Did the very simplicity and directness of his nature baffle her? Did she hate him for his mastering of circumstances but not herself? Any or all of these emotions might have lain beneath the smoulder in her eyes. One thing Kingozi would not have seen, had he turned his head suddenly enough, and that was indifference. But he continued to stare out into the veldt, and she continued to stare at him; while around them the chatter of men, the wail of hyenas, the thunder of lions, the shrill, thin cries of night birds, and the mighty brooding silence that took no account of them all attended the African night.