The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XVI. The Murder
That night Kingozi was restless and could not sleep. His vision had been blurring badly during the day, and now his eyeballs ached as though they had been seared. After his solitary evening meal he wandered about restlessly, gripping his pipe strongly between his teeth. Shortly after dark he entered his tent with the idea of turning in early; but the pain drove him out again. He remained only long enough to substitute his mosquito boots for his day boots. The Nubian, lying in the long grass beside the newly sharpened spear, settled himself to wait.
Kingozi's figure lost itself among the men of the camp. The strong, clean wind that blew every day from distant ranges, was falling with the night. A breath of coolness came with it. Chake shivered and wished he had brought his blanket. The time was very long; but back of Chake were generations of men who had lain patiently in wait. He gripped the haft of the heavy spear.
Black night descended in earnest. The little fires were dying down. Still Kingozi, tortured by his headache, wandered about. Upward of two hours passed. Then at last the crouching Nubian saw dimly the silhouette of the white man returning, caught in the glimmer of coals the colour of the khaki coat he wore. The moment was at hand. Chake arose to his knees, his spear in his right hand. As soon as his victim should lie down on the cot, it was his intention to thrust him through the canvas. It must be remembered that the cot was placed close to the wall, and that the body of the sleeper was defined against it.
But unexpectedly the wearer of the khaki coat passed the tent door and proceeded to the rear where he reached upward to the rear guy rope where hung a towel, or some such matter. This brought him to within four feet of the kneeling Nubian, the broad of his back exposed, both arms upraised. Without hesitation Chake drove the spear into his back. The sharp long blade slipped through the flesh as easily as a hot knife into butter. The murdered man choked once and pitched forward headlong on his face. Chake, leaving the weapon, glided swiftly away.
Once well beyond the chance of a fire glimmer he arose to his feet and quickly regained his own camp. This was exactly on the opposite side of the circle. The four men with whom he shared his tiny cotton tent, askaris all as beseemed his dignity, were sound asleep. He squatted on his heels, pushed together the embers of his fire, staring into the coals. His ugly face was as though carved from ebony. Only his wild savage eyes glowed and flashed with a brooding lambent flame; and his wide nostrils slowly expanded and contracted as though with some inner heaving emotion.
Thus he sat for perhaps ten minutes. Then on the opposite side of the circle a commotion began. Some one cried out, figures ran to and fro, commands were given, brands were snatched from dying fires, torches were lit. Elsewhere, all about camp, sleepers were sitting up, were asking one another what was the matter. The askaris in Chake's tent grumbled, and turned over, and asked what it was all about. Chake shook his mop of hair, staring into the fire.
From the Leopard Woman's tent came a sharp summons. The Nubian arose and stalked boldly across the open space. At the closed tent he scratched his fingernail respectfully against the canvas.
"Karibu, karibu!" summoned his mistress impatiently. He slipped between the flaps and stood inside.
The Leopard Woman was seated upright in her cot. On the tin box near the head of the bed burned a candle in a mica lantern. By its dim light her face looked paler than ever, and deep black circles seemed to have defined themselves under her eyes. The Nubian and the white woman stared at each other for a moment.
"It is done?" she asked finally, in a hoarse whisper.
"It is done, memsahib," he replied calmly.
For another pause she stared at him, her eyes widening. "You have done well. Bassi!" she enunciated at last.
The tent flaps still quivered behind the Nubian's exit, when she threw herself face downward on the cot. Her body shook with convulsive dry sobs. After a moment she twisted on her side. Both hands clutched her throat, as though she strangled for air. Her eyes were round and rolling. It was as if some mighty pent force were struggling for release. Suddenly the release came. She began to weep, the tears streaming down her face. Shortly she commenced to mutter little short disjointed phrases in her own language. She wrung her hands.
"I had to do it!" she gasped in German. "I had to do it! It was the only way! Tell me it was the only way!" she seemed to appeal to some one invisible. And then she resumed her lament in the Hungarian.
But all at once something dried this emotion as the sear of a flame would dry water over which it passed. The tears ceased, her eyes flashed, she jerked her body upright, listening. The commotion of pursuit and investigation was sweeping past her tent.
Distinctly she heard the voice of Kingozi giving commands.
An instant later Chake darted into the tent and fell to the ground. His face was the sickly gray of a negro in terror, his eyes rolled in his head, his teeth chattered, his every muscle trembled.
"Memsahib! Memsahib!" he gasped.
Her eyes were blazing with an anger the more fierce in that some of it was reaction.
"Fool!" she spat at him.
"I killed him, memsahib! I drove the shenzi spear through his back! I left him lying there! He is a god! He has come back from the dead!"
"Fool!" she repeated, and swung her feet to the floor. "Stay here! Do not go out!" she commanded, when she had assumed her mosquito boots. She slipped out between the tent flaps.
Torches were everywhere flickering about. She stopped one of the men as he passed.
"A shenzi has killed Mavrouki with a spear," the man answered her question.
She stood for some time watching the torches. Then she saw Kingozi himself take his place by the pile of loads.
"Fall in!" he commanded sharply.
She returned to her tent.
"Here!" she addressed the crouching Nubian. "It is as I said. You have been a fool. You have killed a porter by mistake. Now the bwana has ordered to fall in. He wishes to see if any are missing. Go take your place, and answer to your name."
"Oh, memsahib! Oh, memsahib!" the man was groaning.
"Go, I say!" she cried. "And hold up your head. If this is suspected of you, you will surely die."
Kingozi called the roll by the light of a replenished fire.
As each man was named, he was required to step forward to undergo Kingozi's scrutiny.
Most were uneasy, many were excited. Kingozi passed them rapidly in review. But when Chake came forward, he paused in the machine-like regularity of his inspection.
"Hullo, my bold buccaneer," said he in English, "what ails you?"
The Leopard Woman had drawn near. Kingozi glanced at her over his shoulder.
"I know these Fuzzy-Wuzzies pretty well," he remarked. "This man has the blood look in his eye."
"He's been sick all day," she ventured.
"Sick, eh? Have you had him about you all evening?"
The Leopard Woman hesitated the least appreciable portion of a second.
"No," she answered, "he was sick; I let him sleep in his own camp."
She withdrew a pace, almost as though washing her hands of the affair. Kingozi whirled and levelled his forefinger at the Nubian.
"Why did you use a shenzi spear?" he demanded.
Over Chake's face had come the blank, lifeless expression of the obstinate savage. Kingozi recognized it, and knew that further interrogation was a matter of much time and patience. His eyes and head ached cruelly.
"Very well," he answered the Nubian's unspoken opposition. "You'll keep. Simba, get me the hand irons and the leg irons. Guard this man. To-morrow we will look into it." He turned away without waiting to see his commands carried out. "I've got a beastly headache," he remarked to Bibi-ya-chui. "This affair--this whole affair--will keep. Cazi Moto, I want two men with guns--my men--to stand by my tent, one in front, one in the rear."
The Leopard Woman watched his drooping, wearied form making its way to his tent. He walked shuffling, almost stumbling. The habitual masking stare of her eyes changed. Something softer, almost yearning, crept into them. When the tent flaps had fallen behind him she threw both arms aloft in a splendid tragic gesture, careless of the staring men. Her face was convulsed by strong emotion. She turned and fled to her own tent, where she threw herself face down on her cot.
"It must be done! It must be done!" she groaned to her pillow.