The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XIX. The Trial
He remembered Cazi Moto squatting, undoubtedly horrified to the core.
"Cazi Moto, are you there?"
"Where has the memsahib gone?"
"Into her tent, bwana."
"Listen well to me. She has destroyed the medicine. Now we must go back to where Bwana Marefu can come to fix my eyes. We shall go with all the men as far as the people of the sultani. There we will leave many porters and many loads. With a few men we will go to Bwana Marefu. When he has fixed my eyes, then we will come back. I will fix a barua for Bwana. This must be sent on ahead of us so he can come to meet us. Pick two good men for messengers. Is all that understood?"
"Tell me, then, what is to be done?"
Cazi Moto repeated the gist of what had been said. Kingozi nodded.
"That is it."
"Bwana?" Cazi Moto hesitated.
"That woman. Shall she be kibokoed or killed?"
Kingozi caught back a chuckle.
"No," he said gravely. "That will wait for later. But see that she is watched; do not permit her to talk to her men; take all her guns and pistols, and bring them to me."
"And this Chake?"
"Of course." Kingozi had really forgotten the man in the concentrations of the past few hours. "Let him be brought before me an hour before sundown."
He found himself all at once overcome with sleep. Hardly was he able to stagger to his cot before he fell into a deep, refreshing slumber.
At the appointed hour Cazi Moto scratched on his tent door. Kingozi arose and walked confidently into the opening. Cazi Moto deftly indicated the location of the chair. Kingozi sat down.
Although he could not see, he visualized the scene well enough. Immediately in front of him, and ten feet away, stood the manacled Nubian, with an armed man at either elbow. Behind them, in turn, were grouped silently all the combined safaris. At his own elbows stood Cazi Moto and Simba--possibly Mali-ya-bwana.
He allowed an impressive wait to ensue. Then abruptly he began his interrogation. He had been thinking over the circumstances, off and on, since last night, and had determined on his line. Ordinarily he would have called for witnesses of various sorts, but this would have been not at all for the purpose of piling up evidence against the accused. That is the civilized fashion; and is superfluous among savages. Kingozi's witnesses would have been called solely for the purpose of furnishing information to himself. He needed only one piece of information here, and that only one witness could furnish him--the man before him.
"Why did you kill Mavrouki?" he demanded.
"I did not kill Mavrouki, bwana."
"That is a lie," rejoined Kingozi calmly.
Chake became voluble.
"All night I sat by my fire cooking potio and meat," he protested. "This the askaris will tell you. And my spear lay in the tent with the askaris," he went on at great length, repeating these two points, babbling, protesting, pleading. Kingozi listened to him in dead silence until he had quite run down.
"Listen," said he impressively, "all these words are lies. This is what happened: from one of the shenzis you traded a spear, or a spear was given you. Your own spear you left in the tent. All day you sat in the grass and sharpened the shenzi spear." This was a wild guess, based on probabilities, but by the uneasy stir in the throng Kingozi knew he had scored. "Then at night you waited, and you speared Mavrouki with the shenzi spear, and you left it in his back, for you said to yourself, 'men will think a shenzi has done this thing.' Then you went quietly to your fire, and cooked potio, and your own spear was all the time where the askaris were lying."
Kingozi paused. He knew without Cazi Moto's whispered assurance that every shot had told. It was a simple bit of deduction, but to these simpler minds it seemed miraculous.
"Why did you wish to kill me?" he demanded.
The Nubian, taken completely by surprise, began to chatter with fright.
"I did not wish to kill you, bwana. I wished to kill Mavrouki."
"That is a lie," said Kingozi equably. "Why should you wait for Mavrouki near my tent? Was Mavrouki my gun bearer, or even my cook, that he should come to my tent? Mavrouki was a porter, and if you wished to kill Mavrouki you would wait by the porters' camp."
He said these words slowly, without emphasis, in almost a detached manner. By the murmur he knew that this amazing reasoning had, as usual, struck the men with deep astonishment. The African native is a simple creature. He waited a full minute.
"Mavrouki wore a khaki coat. He and I were the only people of all the safari who had khaki coats. That is why in the darkness you mistook Mavrouki for me. That is why you killed Mavrouki."
He said this in a firm voice, as though making an indisputable statement. The buzz of low-voiced comment increased. This time he did not pause.
"Why did you wish to kill me?" he repeated.
But again he sensed the fact that Chake had taken refuge in the dull stupidity that is an acknowledgment of defeat. He knew that he would get no more replies. After waiting a few moments he went on. His voice had become weighty with authority and measured with doom.
"You will not tell. Let it be so. And now listen; and you other safari men listen also. Because you have wished to kill me, you shall have two hundred lashes with the kiboko; and then you shall be hanged."
A moment of horror was followed by a low murmur of comment. Not a man there but realized that the unfortunate Nubian would never live to be hanged. A punishment of twenty-five is as much as the most stoical can stand in silence; fifty as much as can be absorbed without permanent injury; seventy-five an extreme resorted to on a very few desperately rare occasions. Beyond that no experience taught the result. Kingozi's sentence was equivalent to death by torture.
He leaned forward in his chair, listening intently. He heard his victim's gasp, the mutter of the crowd. They passed him by. Then he sank back, a half smile on his lips. He had caught the rustle of silks, the indignant breathing of a woman. He knew that Bibi-ya-chui stood before him.
"But this is atrocious!" she cried. "This cannot go on!"
"It shall go on," he replied steadily. "Why not?"
"He is my man. I forbid it!"
"He is my man to punish when he attempts my life."
"I shall prevent this--this--oh, this outrage!"
"How?" he asked calmly.
She turned to the men and began to talk to them in Swahili, repeating emphatically what she had just said to Kingozi in English, uttering her commands. They were received in a dead silence.
"You have heard the memsahib speak, you men of the memsahib's safari," remarked Kingozi; then: "You, Jack, whom I made chief of askaris, you speak."
"What does the bwana say of this?" came Jack's deep voice after a moment.
"You have heard."
"What the bwana says is law."
"Does any man of you think differently? Speak!"
No voice answered. Kingozi turned to where, he knew, the Leopard Woman stood.
He heard only a choked sob of rage and impotence. After waiting a minute he resumed:
"Do my command. Let three men, in turn, give the kiboko. You, Simba, see that they strike hard."
A faint clink of manacles indicated that the guards had laid hands on their victim.
"Wait!" cried the Leopard Woman in a strangled voice.
Kingozi raised his hand.
"You--you brute!" she cried. "You shall not do this! Chake is not to blame! It is I--I, who speak. I did this. I ordered him to kill you. I alone should be punished!"
He drew a deep breath.
"I thought so," he said softly; then in Swahili: "These are my orders. Let this man be well guarded. Let him be treated well, and given potio and meat. He shall be punished later. And now," he turned to Bibi-ya-chui in English again, "let us drop the excitement and the hysterics. Let us sit down calmly and discuss the matter. Perhaps you are now ready to tell me why you have lied to me; why you have concealed your possession of a secret map and other information; why you have deliberately delayed my march; and, above all, why you have refused to aid my blindness and have attempted to kill me."