The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XVIII. The Leopard Woman Changes Her Spots
Kingozi washed, dressed, had his breakfast, and sat quietly in his chair. In the open he found that he had a dim consciousness of light, but that was all. There was no pain.
After a while Cazi Moto came to report that the Leopard Woman was out and about. Kingozi's message had been delivered.
"She says you shall come to her tent," concluded Cazi Moto. Kingozi considered. To insist that she should come to him might lead to a downright refusal, unless he sent her word of his condition. This he did not wish to do. His recollections of the classroom were now distinct. He knew that the pilocarpin would restore his vision within a few hours; and while the alleviation would be temporary, it might last some months, or until he could get the proper surgical aid. Therefore it would be as well not to let the men know anything was even temporarily the matter.
"Take my chair," he ordered Cazi Moto. Then when the latter started off, he followed, touching lightly the folded seat. As he felt the shade of the tree under which the Leopard Woman's tent had been pitched, he chanced a "good morning." Her reply gave him her direction, and he seated himself facing her.
"I am stupid this morning," he said. "Had a bad night. I wanted you to do something for me--read a label, as a matter of fact--and it never occurred to me that I might bring the label to you. Cazi Moto, go get my box of medicines."
"I do not quite understand," replied the Leopard Woman. "What is it you would have me do?"
"Read a label--on a bottle."
"Why is it you do not read it yourself?"
"My eyes do not focus well this morning."
"I see," she said slowly. "And you would have me indicate for you the remedy. That is it?"
"Yes, that is it. I've stupidly forgotten which the bottle is I want."
He heard her moving slightly here and there. He strained his ears to understand what she was about.
"You are blind!" she cried suddenly.
"Temporarily--until I get my remedy. How did you know?"
"The look of you; and just this moment I thrust suddenly at your face."
Cazi Moto arrived with the medicine chest which he placed at his master's feet, and opened. Kingozi extracted the three bottles.
"The table is directly in front of you," came the Leopard Woman's voice.
He reached out, and after a moment deposited the vials on the table.
"It's one of these," he said, "but I don't know which. Just read them for me."
"This remedy will cure you?"
"It will give me my sight. I have what is known as glaucoma. It is an undue expansion of the pupil. This remedy contracts it again. The only real cure is an operation."
A silence ensued.
"Well?" asked Kingozi at length.
"It interests me," came her voice. "Suppose you had not this remedy?"
"I should remain blind," replied Kingozi simply.
"Until you obtained the remedy?"
"Probably for always. One must not let glaucoma run or it becomes chronic. It's God's own luck that I have this stuff with me--it's the pilocarpin I told you of. The other stuff--atropin--would blind me for sure!"
He thrust forward the three bottles.
"Here," he urged.
"If you had not the remedy--this what-you-call--pilocarpin, what would you do?" An edge of eagerness had crept into her tones.
"Do?" said Kingozi, a little impatiently. "I'd streak it for a surgeon. I have no desire to lose my sight."
"I shall not read your labels," she decided. Her voice now was low and decided.
"What!" cried Kingozi.
He could hear the rustle of her clothes as she leaned forward.
"Listen," she said. "Why should I do this for you? You have treated me as a man treats his dog, his horse, his servant, his child--not as a man treats a woman. Do you think because I have been the meek one, the quiet one, that I have not cared?"
"But this--my sight----"
"Your sight is safe. You tell me so yourself. Go back to your surgeon. And if you suffer inconvenience on the way--or pain--or humiliation--or anger --why that is what you have made me suffer."
"You! You have treated me with scorn, with contempt, like a little child, as though I did not exist! You have--what-you-call--ridden over-- overridden what I propose, what I try to do. You and your lordly way! You are not a man--you are a fish of cold blood; a statue of iron! You have nothing but the head! You 'know nothing whatever about vegetables'--nor women! Bah! Shall I read your labels and give you your sight? Ah, no! ah, non!"
Kingozi was stunned. Idly his hand slid forward across the table. It encountered and closed upon her wrist. Instantly she struggled to be free, whereupon mechanically he tightened his clasp. She made a desperate effort to do something. His other hand sought hers. It grasped one of the three bottles, and even as he determined this fact, she tried again to hurl it to the ground. Frustrated, she relaxed her grip, and he released her.
He could hear the fling of her body as she stood upright; could catch the indrawing of her breath.
"Read them for yourself!" was her parting shot as she withdrew.
Kingozi sat very still for a long time. Then he arose abruptly and commanded Cazi Moto to return with him to his own camp. There he caused his chair to be placed in the shade.
"Cazi Moto," said he, "listen well. You are my other hands; now you must be something else. I am sick in the eyes; I can see nothing. In one of these bottles is the medicine that will cure me, and in one of them is the medicine that will make me blind forever. I do not know which it is; and I cannot read the barua because I cannot see it. And Bibi-ya-chui cannot read it. So you must be my eyes. Take a stick, and make on the ground marks exactly like those on the barua. Make them deep, so that I may feel them with my hands."
Cazi Moto sharpened a stick, smoothed out a piece of earth, and squatted beside it.
The Central African native is untrained either to express himself or to see pictorially. We have been so trained since the building blocks of our infancy, so that a photograph of a scene is to us an exact replica of that scene in miniature. As a matter of fact, it is only an arbitrary and conventional arrangement of black and white. A raw native sees nothing more than that even in a portrait of him self.
So Cazi Moto went at this task absolutely unequipped both of brain and of hand. In addition the label was rather difficult. The printed body of it contained the firm name of the chemists and their address; the drug itself was written, Kingozi remembered with exasperation, in his own not very legible script.
"Dashed fool!" he told himself aloud in his usual habit. "Deserve what you've got. Ought to have segregated the drugs--ought to have printed the labels--no use thinking of that now."
Cazi Moto worked painstakingly, his shrewd and wizened face puckered in absorption. He accomplished a legible Borroughs & Wellcome after many trials. Then he proceeded with the script. It seemed impossible to make a start; he did not even begin at the beginning, but was inclined to view the work as an entity and to begin drawing it at the top of the middle. Kingozi corrected that. At last the white man's fingers made out distinctly a capital M. He erased it with a sweep of the hand.
"That part of the barua again," he ordered.
After a time Cazi Moto repeated the feat.
This was quicker.
Kingozi dropped that bottle into his side pocket with a sigh of relief.
"Evidently the morphine," he said. "We'll try it again later to be sure. Wish I didn't scribble such a rotten hand. My capital As and Ps are something alike."
He had a new idea. For fifteen minutes he tried to get from Cazi Moto at first the number of letters on each label; and later, when the flowing script proved this impractical, an idea of the relative lengths of the words. Neither method was certain enough; another argument for printing your labels, thought Kingozi.
"We'll get it, old sportsman!" he cried aloud in English. "We'll try for the first letter."
He bent forward, but the lesson went no further.
For an hour the Leopard Woman had been watching, curious as to what these two were doing so quietly in the shade of the tree. At last she evidently made up her mind she must find out. Quietly she drew near them unnoticed, so that at last she was standing only a few feet to one side. There she witnessed the final triumph as to the morphine, and heard Kingozi's last confident speech. As he leaned forward to place another bottle for Cazi Moto to copy from, she gathered her forces, rushed forward between them, snatched the vial, and dashed it violently against a rock, where it naturally broke into innumerable pieces. Cazi Moto stared up at her, astounded into immobility. Kingozi, without a trace of emotion, leaned back in his chair.
"I think I am losing my wits," he remarked. "I have been criminally stupid through this whole affair. I might have foreseen something of the kind."
She stood there panting excitedly, her hands clinched at her sides.
"I will read your label for you now--the bottle you hold in your hand! It is atropin--atropin--" She laughed wildly.
"I thank you, madam," he said ironically.
"Now you must go back!"
"Yes. Now I must go back. I thank you."
"You may well thank me. I have saved your life!" she cried hysterically, and was gone.
Kingozi did not examine the meaning of this; indeed, it hardly registered at all as it was to him evidently the product of excitement.
He forgot even the scandalized Cazi Moto squatting at his feet. For a long time he stared sightlessly straight ahead. He could not explain this woman. The whole outburst, the complete about-face in what had been their apparent relations, overwhelmed him. He had had no idea of the slow damming back of resentments; in fact, he really had no idea that there were causes for resentment at all! He had done the direct, obvious, efficient thing in a number of instances when naturally her powers or abilities were inadequate. Characteristically, he forgot utterly the night of the full moon!
First of all, it was evident that he must turn back if he was to save his eyesight. As he remembered glaucoma, it ought to be surgically treated within two months, at most.
The second point was whether he could turn back. His mission was a simple one. Would it wait? He could not see why not. He had been sent to gain the friendship and active alliance of M'tela and his spears; and had been given carte blanche in the matters of equipment, methods, and time. Inside a year or so the International Boundary Commission would be running boundary lines through that country. Until then the Kabilagani could very well go on as they probably had gone on for the last five hundred years.
Very well; as far as his job was concerned, he could go back; as far as his eyes were concerned, he must go back.
Remained the problem of Bibi-ya-chui.
Why was she in the country? For the same purpose as himself? It seemed unlikely; she appeared to have slight qualifications for such a task. Indeed, in the candour of his own inner communings Kingozi acknowledged that he and the German, Winkleman, alone could be held really fitted for that sort of negotiation. But if she were? Why did she not say so? Their object would be the same. It was as much to Germany's interest to pacify, to make friendly this hinterland before the advent of the Boundary Commission. All this was a puzzle. But there was the indubitable secret map, and the indubitable concealment of purpose; and--to Kingozi's mind-- the indubitable attempt to make travelling so tedious that he would split safaris and permit her to go alone.
This led to another conclusion. He could not see the reason for it all, but one thing was clear: she must not even now be allowed to take her own course. Whatever she was up to, she did not intend to let him know about it; ergo it was something inimical to him, either personally or officially. Probably personally, Kingozi thought with a grim smile. He was no fool about women when his mind was sufficiently disengaged from other things; and now he remembered the inhibited promise of the tropic moon. Still he could take no chances. He could turn back; he must turn back; and as a corollary the Leopard Woman must turn back with him!