Chapter XXVII. The Magic Bone

Let us now follow Simba, Mali-ya-bwana, and their six men and the two strange shenzis who were to act as guides.

They started off across the veldt at about four o'clock of the afternoon and travelled rapidly until dark. The gait they took was not a run, but it got them over the ground at four and a half to five miles an hour. Shortly after sundown they stopped for an hour, ate, drank, and lay flat on their backs. Then they arose, lighted a candle end in the mica lantern, and resumed their journey. Thus they travelled day and night for three days. There seemed to be neither plan nor regularity to their journeying. Whenever they became tired enough to sleep, they lay down and slept for a little while; whenever they became hungry, they ate; and whenever they thirsted, they drank, paying no attention whatever to the time of day, the state of their larder, or the distance to more water. No ideas of conservation hampered them in the least. If the water gave out, they argued, they would be thirsty; but it was as well to be thirsty later from lack of water than to be thirsty now from some silly idea of abstention. No white man could have travelled successfully under that system. Nevertheless, the little band held together and arrived in the fringe of hills fit and comparatively fresh.

Here they encountered people belonging to M'tela's tribes; but their guides seemed to vouch for them, and they passed without trouble. Indeed they were here enabled to get more food, and to waste no time hunting. At noon of another day, surmounting a ridge, they looked down on a marching safari. The two shenzi guides pointed and grinned, much pleased with themselves. Their pleasure was short lived; for they were promptly seized, disarmed, and tied together. The grieved astonishment of their expressions almost immediately faded into fatalistic stolidity. So many things happen in Africa!

Mali-ya-bwana and one of the other men proceeded rapidly ahead on the general line of march. The rest paralleled the safari below. After an hour the scouts returned with news of a water-hole where, undoubtedly, the strange safari would camp. All then hurried on.

Concealed in a thicket Simba proceeded with great zest to make himself over into a shenzi. In every savage is a good deal of the small boy; so this disguising himself pleased him immensely. Taking the spear in one hand and the "sacred bone" reverently in the other, he set out to intercept the safari.

It came within the hour. Simba almost unremarked regarded it curiously. There were over a hundred men, all of tribes unknown to him with the exception of a dozen who evidently performed the higher offices. The common porters were indeed shenzis--wild men--picked up from jungle and veldt as they were needed; and not at all of the professional porter class to be had at Mombasa; Nairobi, Dar-es-salaam, or Zanzibar. Simba's eyes passed over them contemptuously, but rested with more interest on the smaller body of askaris, headmen, and gun bearers. These also were of tribes strange to him; but of East African types with which he was familiar. They were all dressed in a sort of uniform of khaki, wore caps with a curtain hanging behind, and arm bands gayly emblazoned with imperial eagles. All this was very impressive. Simba conceived a respect for this white man's importance. Evidently he was a bwana m'kubwa. The supposed savage experienced a growing excitement over the task he had undertaken. All his training had taught him to respect the white man, as such; and now he was called upon to abduct forcibly one of the sacred breed--and such a specimen! Only Simba's undoubted force of character, and the veneration his long association with Kingozi had inculcated, sustained him.

For Winkleman was a big man in every way: tall, broad, thick, with a massive head, large features, and such a tremendous black beard! Well had he deserved his native name of Bwana Nyele--the master with the mane.

Simba awaited the moment of greatest confusion in the placing and pitching of the camp, and then advanced timidly, holding out the bone Kingozi had given him. His courage and faith were very low. They revived instantly as he saw the immediate effect. It was just as Kingozi had told him it would be; and as there was nothing on earth in a bit of dry bone that could accomplish such an effect except magic, Simba thenceforward went on with his adventure in completed confidence.

For at sight of the bone Bwana Nyele's eyes lit up, he uttered an astonishing bellow of delight, and sprang forward with such agility for so large a man that he almost succeeded in snatching the talisman from Simba's hands. Acting precisely on his instructions the latter backed away, pointing over the hill.

"Where did you get that?" Winkleman demanded.

Simba continued to point.

"Give it me."

Simba started away, still pointing. Winkleman followed a few steps.

"There is more?" he asked. "Do you speak Swahili?"

"Many more, bwana," Simba replied in the atrocious Swahili Kingozi had ordered. "Over there only a little distance."

Everything turned out as Kingozi had promised. Bwana Nyele asked several more questions, received no replies, finally bellowed:

"But lead me there, m'buzi! I would see!"

Simba guided him up the hill. At the appointed spot they fell upon him and bore him to the earth in spite of his strength, and bound his hands behind his back. Then Simba wrapped the magic bone reverently in its cloth. Certainly it was wonderful magic.

Winkleman put up a good fight, but once he felt himself definitely overpowered he ceased his struggles. He was helped to his feet. A glance at his captors taught him that these were safari men and not savages of the country; and, with full knowledge of the general situation, he was not long in guessing out his present plight. But now was not the time for talk.

A half-hour's walk took the party to a second water-hole, the indications for which Simba had already noted on his little scouting tour. There they proceeded to make camp. The six porters began with their swordlike pangas to cut poles and wattles, to peel off long strips of inner bark from the thorn trees which would serve as withes. Then they began the construction of a banda, one of the quickly built little thatched sheds, open at both ends. At sight of this Winkleman swore deeply. He was fairly trapped, and knew it; but the banda indicated that he was to be held prisoner in this one spot for at least some days. However, wise man in native ways, he said nothing and made no objection. But his keen wide eyes took in every detail.

When the banda was finished and a big pile of the dried hay had been spread as a couch Simba approached respectfully but firmly, took Bwana Nyele's helmet from his head, his spine-pad from his back, and his shoes from his feet. In this strategy Winkleman with reluctance admired the white man's hands. Without head and spine covering of some sort he could not travel a mile under the tropic sun; without foot covering or a light he would be helpless at night. Of course these things could be improvised; but not easily. He stretched himself on the hay and awaited events.

The men built a fire and gathered around it. They were cooking, but at the same time the two whom Winkleman recognized as leaders conferred earnestly and at great length. Had he been at their elbows he would have heard the following:

"The magic of this bone is a very great magic," Simba was saying. "All happened exactly as Bwana Kingozi told us. Now is the fifth day. There remain now nine days to wait until we must bring this m'zungu to Bwana Kingozi at the manyatta of M'tela."

"It is indeed great magic," agreed Mali-ya-bwana. "How many days is the manyatta?"

"I do not know. These shenzis should know; but they talk only monkey talk. Here, let us try." He drew one of the prisoners one side. "M'tela," he enunciated slowly.

The savage nodded, and pointed the direction with his protruded lower lip.

Simba indicated the sun, and swept his hand across the arc of the heavens. Then he looked inquiringly at the other and held up in rapid success first one, then two, then three fingers. The savage was puzzled. Simba went through the movements of a man walking, pronounced the name of M'tela, pointed out the direction, and then repeated his previous pantomime. A light broke on the shenzi. He held up four fingers.

Simba next called to Mali-ya-bwana to interrogate the other prisoner apart. As the latter also reported M'tela four days distant--when he understood--this was accepted as the truth.

"Then we remain in camp five days," they concluded, after working out the subtraction.

"But," intervened one of the porters, "we have no more potio."

"I have the bwana's gun," Simba pointed out, "and also the gun of this m'zungu. There is here plenty of game."

"To eat meat always is not well," grumbled the porter.

"To eat kiboko (whip) is always possible," replied Simba grimly.

"Nevertheless," said Mali-ya-bwana, who as co-leader was privileged to more open speech, "potio and meat are better than meat only."

Simba looked at him inquiringly.

"You have a thought?"

Mali-ya-bwana leaned forward.

"It is this: If the bone has such great magic that thus we can take prisoner a mighty bwana like this, surely it is powerful enough to fight also against safari men."

Simba pondered this.

"Every one knows that a white man is a great Lord," urged Mali-ya-bwana, "and that it is useless for the black man to fight against him. This is true always. Every man knows this."

"Black men have killed white men," Simba objected.

"Only when the numbers were many. Even then many more black men also have died, so that the painting for mourning went through many tribes. Never before have men like us taken a white man thus easily."

"That is true."

"Then since this magic bone can subdue for us a great lord of a m'zungu, surely it will also subdue for us a safari of black men like ourselves, a safari that the m'zungu has held in his hand."

"That is true."

"And that safari must have much potio"

"That also is true."

"Let you--or me, it does not matter--take the magic bone, and with it take also this safari and its potio."

"I will do it," assented Simba after a moment. "You will stay here to carry out the bwana's orders."