The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XXVI. Waiting
Two days passed. By the end of that time it had been borne in on the Leopard Woman that Winkleman had not yet arrived. Kingozi and M'tela circled each other warily, like two strange dogs, though all the time with an appearance of easy and intimate cordiality. As yet Kingozi had neither confided to the savage the fact of his blindness nor visited the royal palace. The latter ceremony he had evaded under one plea or another; and the infliction he had managed to conceal by the simple expedient of remaining in his canvas chair. Later would be time enough to acknowledge so great a weakness; later when the subtle and specialized diplomacy he so assiduously applied would have had time to do its work.
For M'tela was initially friendly. This was a great satisfaction to Kingozi, though none knew better than he how any chance gust of influence or passion could veer the wind. Still it was something to start on; and something more or less unexpected and unhoped for. M'tela himself supplied the reason in the course of one of their interminable conversations.
"I am pleased to see the white man," he said. "Never has the white man come to my country before; but always I knew he would come. One time long ago my brother who is king of the people near the Great Water said these words to me: 'My brother, some day white men will come to you. They will be few, and they will come with a small safari, and their wealth will look small to you. But make no mistake. Where these few white men who look poor come from are many more--like the leaves of the grass--and their wealth is great and their wonders many; and for each white man that is speared ten more come, without end, like water flowing down a hill. I know this to be so, for I am an old man, and I have fought, and of all those who fought the white man in my youth only I remain.' So I remembered these words of my brother always."
"You are a wise man, oh, King," said Kingozi, "for those words are true."
Hourly Kingozi cursed his eyes. With this man so well-disposed a day--a single hour--of the white man's miracles would have cemented his friendship. But Kingozi was deprived at a stroke of the great advantages to be gained by cutting out paper dolls, making coins disappear and appear again, and all the rest of the bag of tricks. He had not even the alternative advantage of a store of rich gifts with which to buy the chief's favour. This crude alternative to subtle diplomacy he had scorned when making out a small safari for a long journey.
To be sure he was not doing badly. A box of matches and instructions in the use thereof went far as an evidence of munificence. Sparingly he doled out his few treasures--the gaudy blankets; coils of brass, copper, and iron wires; beads; snuff; knives, and the like. They were received with every mark of appreciation. In return firewood, water, and food of all sorts came in abundantly. But these, Kingozi well knew, were only temporizing evidences of good feeling. Time would come when M'tela would ceremoniously bring in his real present--assuredly magnificent as beseeming his power. Then, Kingozi knew, he should be able to reciprocate in degree. He could not do so; he could not use his accustomed methods; he could not even exhibit his trump card--the deadly wonder of the weapon that could kill at a distance.
Nevertheless he would have awaited the outcome with serene indifference could he have been certain of a dear field. The arrival of Winkleman would, he secretly admitted, upset him completely. Winkleman--another white man, possessed of powers he did not possess, of wonders he did not own, of knowledge equal to his--would have no difficulty in taking the lead from him. Certainly Winkleman had not yet arrived, and he was long overdue. On the other hand, neither had Simba nor Mali-ya-bwana reported; and they were equally overdue. These were ticklish times; and Kingozi had great difficulty in sitting calmly in his canvas chair listening to the endless inconsequences of a savage.
The Leopard Woman could not understand how he did it. Her inner nervous tension, due as much to a conflict as to suspense, drove her nearly frantic. She knew that Winkleman's appearance spelled defeat for Kingozi; she knew that she should hope for that appearance--and deep in her heart she knew that she dreaded it! But as time went on without tangible results, she began to long for it as a relief. At least it would be over then. And Kingozi--oh, brave heart! oh, pathetic figure--if anything could make it up to him----!
The morning of the third day came. Usual camp activities carried them on until nine o'clock. Kingozi was settled in his chair awaiting what the day would bring forth. The Leopard Woman coming across from her tent to the guest house stopped short at what she saw.
Across the way, a half or three-quarters of a mile distant, beyond the green papyrus swamp, on the slope from the edge of the forest, appeared a long file of men bearing burdens on their heads. Even at this distance she made out the colour of occasional garments of khaki cloth, or the green of canvas on the packs.
She arrived at Kingozi's side simultaneously with Cazi Moto.
"A safari comes, bwana," said the latter. "It is across the swamp."
Kingozi's figure stiffened.
"What kind of a safari?" he asked quietly.
The Leopard Woman answered him. There was no note of jubilation in her voice.
"It is a white man's safari," she told him. "I can see khaki--and they are marching as a white man's safari marches."
"Get my glasses," he told Cazi Moto. Then to her, his voice vibrating with emotion too long controlled: "Look and tell me, fairly. I must know. Whatever the outcome you must tell me truth. It will not matter. I can do nothing."
"I will tell you the truth," she promised, raising the glasses.
For some moments she looked intently.
"It is Winkleman's safari," she announced sadly. "I have been able to see. It is a very large safari with many loads," she added.
Kingozi's face turned gray. He dropped his face into his hands. Gently she laid her hand on his bowed head. Thus they waited, while the safari, evidently under local guidance, plunged into some hidden path through the papyrus, and so disappeared.