The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XXII. The Second Messengers
The return journey began. A remarkable tribute to Kingozi's influence, not only over his own men, but over those of the new safari, might have been read from the fact that there was brought for correction not one grumble, either over the halving of the potio or the apparently endless counter- marching. As far as the white members were concerned the journey was one of doggedness and gloom. Kingozi's strong will managed to keep to the foreground the details of his immediate duty; but to do so he had to sink all other considerations whatever. The same effort required to submerge all thought of the darkened years to come carried down also every recollection of the past. The Leopard Woman ceased to exist, not because she had lost importance, but because Kingozi's mind was focussed on a single point.
And she. Perhaps she understood this; perhaps the tearing antagonism of her own purposes, duties, and desires stunned or occupied her--who knows? The outward result was the same as in the case of her companion. They walked apart, ate apart, lived each in his superb isolation, going forward like sleep-walkers to what the future might hold.
Thus they travelled for ten days. In mid-march, then, Cazi Moto came to tell Kingozi that two more messengers had arrived.
"They are not people of our country," he added. "They are shenzis such as no man here ever saw before."
"What sort of shenzis?"
"Short, square men. Very black. Hair that is long and stands out like a little tree."
"What do they say?"
"Bwana, they speak a language that no man here understands. And this is strange: that they do not come from the direction of Nairobi."
"Perhaps they are men from M'tela."
"No, bwana, that cannot be, for they carry a barua. They came from a white man."
"That is strange, very strange," said Kingozi quickly. "I do not understand. Is there water near where we stand?"
"There is the water of the place we called Campi ya Korungu when we passed before."
"Make camp there."
"The sun is at four hours, bwana."
[Footnote 13: 10:00 o'clock.]
"It makes no difference."
When camp had been pitched Kingozi caused the new messengers to be brought before him. A few moments' questioning elicited two facts: one, that there existed no medium of communication known to both parties; two, that the strangers were from some part of the Congo basin. The latter conclusion Kingozi gained from catching a few words of a language root known to him. He stretched his hand for the letter.
It was in a long linen envelope, unsealed, and unembossed.
Not from the government. He unfolded the sheets of paper and ran his fingers over the pages. Written in pencil; he could feel the indentations where the writer had borne down. Some private individual writing him from camp on the Congo side. Who could it be? Kingozi's Central African acquaintance was wide; he knew most of the gentlemen adventurers roaming through that land of fascination. A good many were not averse to ivory poaching; and the happy hunting ground of ivory poaching was at that time the French Congo. It might be any of them. But how could they know of his whereabouts in this unknown country? And how could they know he was in this country at all? These last two points seemed to him important. Suddenly he threw his head back and laughed aloud.
"Self-centred egotist!" he addressed himself. "Cazi Moto, tell Bibi-ya- chui I wish to see her."
Cazi Moto departed to return immediately with the Leopard Woman who, at this hour, was still in her marching clothes. If she felt any surprise at this early abandonment of the day's march she did not show it. Two askaris, confided with the task of guarding her, followed a few paces to the rear. She glanced curiously at the bushy savages.
"Here," said Kingozi, holding out the letter, "is a barua for you--from your friend Winkleman in the Congo."
The shock of surprise held her speechless for a moment.
"Your blindness is well! You can see!" she cried then.
Kingozi raised his head sharply, for there was a lilt of relief and gladness in her voice.
"No," he answered, "just ordinary deduction. Am I right?"
He heard her slowly unfolding the paper.
"Yes, you are right," she said in sober tones, after a moment. She uttered a happy exclamation, then another; then ran to his side and threw her arms around his neck in an impulsive hug. Kingozi remembered the waiting men and motioned them away. She was talking rapidly, almost hysterically, as people talk when relieved of a pressure.
"Yes, it is from Winkleman. He has come in from the Congo side. When this letter was written he was only ten days' march from M'tela."
"How do you know that?" interjected Kingozi sharply.
"Native information, he says. Oh, I am so glad! so glad! so glad!"
"That was the plan from the start, was it?" said Kingozi. "I don't know whether it was a good plan or that I have been thick. My head is in rather a whirl. It was Winkleman right along, was it?"
She laughed excitedly.
"Oh, such a game! Of course it was Winkleman. Did you think me one to be sent to savage kings?"
"It didn't seem credible," muttered Kingozi. "It is a humiliating question, but seems inevitable--were you actually sent out by your officials merely to delay me?"
"So that Winkleman might arrive first--surely."
"I see." Kingozi's accent was getting to be more formally polite. "But why you? Why did not your most efficient employers dispatch an ordinary assassin? I do not err in assuming that you all knew that this war was to be declared at this time."
"That is true." Her voice still sang, her high spirits unsubdued by his veiled sarcasm.
"Then since it is war, why not have me shot and done with it? Why send a woman?"
"That was arranged, truly. A man of the Germans was following you. He was as a sportsman, for it would not do to rouse suspicion. Then he had an accident. I was in Nairobi. I heard of it. I did not know you, and this German did not know you. It seemed to us very simple. I was to follow until I came up with you. Then I was to delay you until I had word that Winkleman had crossed the n'yika."
"All very simple and easy," murmured Kingozi.
"It was not simple! It was not easy!" she cried in a sudden flash of resentment. "You are a strange man. When you go toward a thing, you see down a narrow lane. What is either side does not exist." Her voice gradually raised to vehemence. "I am a woman. I am weak and helpless. Do you assist me, comfort me, sustain me in dreadful situation? No! You march on, leaving me to follow! I think to myself that you are a pig, a brute, that you have no chivalry, that you know not the word gentleman; and I hate you! Then I see that I am wrong. You have chivalry, you are a true gentleman; but before you is an object and you cannot turn your eyes away. And I think so to myself that when this object is removed, is placed one side for a time, then you will come to yourself. Then will be my chance. For I study you. I look at your eyes and the fire in them, and the lips, and the wide, proud nostril; and I see that here is no cold fish creature, but a strong man. So I wait my time. And the moon rises, and the savage drums throb, throb like hearts of passion, and the bul-buls sing in the bush--and I know I am beautiful, and I know men, and almost I think you look one side, and that I win!"
"So all that was a game!" commented Kingozi.
"A game? But yes--then!"
"For the sake of winning your point--would you--would you----"
"For the sake of winning my point did I not command to kill you--you--my friend?" she commented, her manner falling from vehemence to sadness. "If I could do that, what else would matter!" She paused; then went on in a subdued voice: "But even then your glance but wavered. You are a strong man; and you are a victim of your strength. When an idea grips hold of you, you know nothing but that. And so I saw the delaying of you was not so simple, so easy. It was not as a man to a woman, but as a man to a man. It was war. I did my best," she concluded wearily.
Kingozi was staring in her direction almost as though he could see.
"Why do you tell me all this?" he asked at length.
"I want you to know. And I am so glad!" The lilt had crept back into her voice.
"I congratulate you," he replied drily.
"Stupid! Oh, stupid!" she cried. "Do you not see why I am glad? It is you! Now you shall not sit forever in the darkness. You shall go back to your doctor, who will arrange your eyes."
"Why?" asked Kingozi.
"Why!" she repeated, astonished. "But it is 'why not!' Listen! Have you thought? Winkleman is now but a week's march from M'tela. And here, where we stand, it is perhaps twenty days, perhaps more. Winkleman would arrive nearly two weeks ahead of you. Tell me, how long would it take you to win M'tela's friendship so it would not be shaken?"
Kingozi's face lit with a grim smile.
"A week," he promised confidently.
"You see! And Herr Winkleman is equal to you; you have said so yourself. Is not it so?"
"It's so, all right."
"Then we shall go back to the doctor. Oh, do you not see it is for that I am glad--truly, truly! You must believe me that!"
"I believe you," said Kingozi. "Nevertheless, I do not think I shall go back."
"But that is madness. You cannot arrive in time. And it is to lose your eyes all for nothing, for a foolish idea that you do your duty!"
Kingozi shook his head. She wrung her hands in despair.
"Oh, I know that look of you!" she cried. "You see only down your narrow lane!"