Chapter XXVIII. Simba's Adventure

In the course of the evening Winkleman, conceiving that the right moment had come, set himself seriously to establishing a dominance over these members of an inferior race. He was a skilled man at this, none more so; nevertheless he failed. For in the persons of Simba and Mali-ya-bwana he was dealing not with natives, but with another white man as shrewd and experienced as himself. Kingozi had from the abundance of his knowledge foreseen exactly what methods and arguments the Bavarian would use, and in his final instructions he had dramatized almost exactly the scene that was now taking place. Simba had his replies ready made for him. When an unexpected argument caught him unaware, he merely fingered surreptitiously his magic bone, and remained serenely silent. Winkleman might as well have talked at a stone wall. He soon recognized this, as also that the man had been coached minutely.

"Who is your bwana?" he asked at length.

"He is a very great bwana," Simba replied.

"His name?"

"He has many names among many people."

"What name do you call him?"

"I call him bwana m'kubwa (great master)," replied Simba blandly.

Winkleman gave up this tack and tried another.

"What is his business? What does he do here?"

"His business is to fight."

"Ah!" ejaculated Winkleman. "To fight!"

"Yes. His business is to fight the elephant."

Winkleman swore. He could get at nothing this way. He must give his mind to escape.

Early the next morning Simba started. He took with him, of course, his magic bone; but, like a canny general, he carried also the rifle. Mali-ya- bwana was left sufficiently armed by Winkleman's weapon and the sixteen cartridges captured on his person.

By the water-hole Simba found the safari encamped. At sight of his khaki- clad figure several men ran to meet him. Their countenances were of a cast unfamiliar to Simba. He looked at them calmly.

"Does some one speak Swahili?" he inquired.

"N'dio!" they assented in chorus.

Simba looked about him. This was indeed a great safari, and a rich bwana. The tent, of green canvas, was what is known as a "four-man tent"; that is, it took four men to carry it. The pile of loads in the centre of the cleared space was high. There were three tin boxes and many chop boxes among them.

The group moved slowly across the open space, stared at by curious eyes, and came to a halt before a drill tent slightly larger than the little kennels assigned to the ordinary porters. Here over a fire bubbled a sufuria, the African cooking pot, tended by a naked small boy. A clean mat woven in bright colours carpeted the ground; on this all seated themselves.

It would be tedious to relate each step of the ensuing negotiations. These simple Africans would have needed no instruction from civilization to carry on the most long-winded submarine controversy in the most approved and circuitous manner. At the end of one solid hour of grave and polite exchange it developed that the white man was not at present in camp. Somewhat later Simba permitted it to be understood that his own white man was not in the immediate neighbourhood. These gems of knowledge were separated by much leisurely chatter, and occasional and liberal dippings into the sufuria. And thus was the beginning and the end of the first day.

At noon of the second day, after a refreshing night's sleep, Simba moved up his forces.

"Your white man is known to me," said he.

Some one remarked appropriately.

"He is a prisoner in my camp."

"In the camp of your white man."

"In my camp. I myself have taken him prisoner," insisted Simba.

"You are telling lies," said the headman of the safari.

Simba took this calmly. In Africa to call a man a liar is no insult.

"It is the truth," said he. "With my own hands I took him; and he lies bound in my camp."

"These are lies," persisted the headman. "How can such things be? That you took a white man, a great bwana? That is foolishness. That has never been and could never be. How could you accomplish such a feat?"

"I have a magic."

"Ho!" cried the headman derisively. "Everybody knows that a magic is not good against the white man. That has been tried many times!"

"This is a white man's magic."

The statement made a visible impression.

"Let us see it," they demanded.

But Simba refused. He was entirely at ease. In his ordinary habit he would have become excited over being doubted, he would have wrangled, have shouted--in short, would have been but one unit among many equals. But the possession of the magic bone gave him a confidence from outside himself. For the time being he slipped genuinely into the attitude of the white man; became a super-Simba, as it were. This dignity and sureness commenced to have its effect. Almost they began to believe that Simba's words might be true!

At three o'clock the battle closed in.

"My men need potio" said Simba. "Let ten loads be put aside, and let ten of these shenzis be told to carry them where I shall say."

But the headman leaped to his feet.

"Who are you to give orders?" he cried. "These things belong to my white man."

"Your white man is my property," replied Simba superbly; and with no further parley he shot the headman dead.

Here indeed showed the super-Simba. The dispute might in the ordinary course of events have come to shooting; but only after hours of excited wrangling, and as a climax worked up to in a crescendo of emotion. This expeditious nipping in the bud was a thoroughly white-manly proceeding.

The headman whirled about under the impact of the high-power bullet at so close a range, and collapsed face down. Simba sat calmly in his place. He did not even trouble to place himself in a better defensive attitude against possible attack. His confidence in his magic bone was growing to sublimity as he noted how efficiently it carried him through every crisis. All over the camp the porters, startled, leaped to their feet. But at the headmen's fire no one moved. They would ordinarily have been afraid neither of Simba nor Simba's weapons. Firearms were familiar to them. The usual sequence to Simba's deed would have been an immediately defunct Simba. But his serene confidence in his magic caught their credulity.

The white man's prestige and privileges were invested in him.

"Yours is undoubtedly a great magic," said Winkleman's gun bearer politely. "Let us talk."

They talked at great length, without bothering to remove the dead headman. The result was finally a continued respect for Simba, his magic bone, and his ready rifle; but a lingering though polite incredulity as to the matter of Winkleman--Bwana Nyele. It was possible that Simba had killed the latter, of course. But to have taken him alive--and to be holding him prisoner----

It was suggested that the various upper men of this safari accompany Simba to the place of incarceration. Declined for obvious reasons. Proposition modified to exclude all visitors but one. Still declined.

The debate summarized in the above short paragraph consumed six hours. What is time in the face of an African eternity? And in Africa, as every one knows, the feeling of eternity is an accompaniment of every-day life.

After some refreshments the sitting rose. Simba did not spend the night in camp. That did not seem to him wise. Instead he withdrew to a place he had already marked, deftly built himself a withe platform in the spread of an acacia, and slept soundly above the danger line.

Next morning the discussion was resumed. It was all on an amicable basis. A bystander would have seen merely a group of lazy native servants gossiping idly. And, indeed, for one word of relevance were a dozen of sheer chatter. That is the African way.

Since it was impossible to visit Bwana Nyele, why could not Bwana Nyele be brought to within sight? Simba considered this; but finally rejected it. The risk was too great, magic bone or no magic bone.

"It is probable you speak lies," said the gun bearer at last. "You say you want potio and that you hold Bwana Nyele prisoner. But you do not bring us orders from Bwana Nyele for potio. Nor do you give us proof. We must have proof before we believe or before we obey."

"I will bring you Bwana Nyele's gun; or his coat; or anything that is his that you may see that I hold him prisoner."

"Those things prove nothing," the gun bearer pointed out. "They might have been taken from a dead man."

They negotiated further. One gifted with the power of seeing only essential things would have found here a strange parallel. For these two men, talking cautiously, clinging with tenacity to single points, yielding grudgingly, would have been the same to him as two shrewd business men coming together on the phrases of a contract, or two diplomats framing the terms of a treaty.

Thus well into the third day. By that time an agreement had been reached. It was very simple and direct and practical, when one thinks of it; covered the situation fully; involved few compromises; and gained each man his point.

Simba demanded potio and obedience because he held the mighty m'zungu prisoner. The gun bearer wanted indubitable proof not only that Simba held the white man, but that he held him alive.

It was agreed that Simba was to return to his own camp, was to procure the proof agreed upon, and was promptly to return. The said proof was to be one of Bwana Nyele's fingers, which all agreed would be easily recognizable both as to identity and freshness!

The divulgence of this simple little plan by a Simba quite in earnest dissipated Winkleman's last hope of doing anything by means of persuasion. He knew his African well enough to realize that this fantastic method of identification seemed quite a matter of course. In fact, Simba was at the moment sharpening his hunting knife in preparation. Winkleman swore heartily and fluently, then grinned. He was at heart a good soul, Winkleman, with a sense of amusement if not of humour, and a philosophy of life denied most of his inexperienced and theoretical countrymen. And also he realized that he had his work cut out to prevent the program being carried through. The African is slow to come to a definite conclusion, but once it is arrived at it is apt to look to him like a permanent structure. It was a wonderful tribute to Winkleman that it took him only four hours to persuade Simba that there might be another way; and two hours more to convince him that there might even be a better way. When Simba reluctantly and a little doubtfully sheathed his knife, the big Bavarian wiped his brow with genuine thankfulness.

The reader need not be wearied by a detailed report of the interminable conferences that led up to the substitute plan. It would be a picture of a big bearded man smoking slowly--for until affairs were decided he could get no more of his own tobacco--leaning on his elbow beneath the roof of the banda. Before him squatted on their heels in the posture white men find so trying Mali-ya-bwana and Simba, entirely respectful, their shining black eyes fixed on the white man. The open ends of the banda gave out on a dry boulder-strewn wash and the parched side of a hill. All else was sky. Morning coolness was succeeded by the blaze of midday, when the very surface of the ground danced in the shimmer; then slowly the shadows crept out, the veils of mirage sank to earth, a coolness wandered in from some blessed region; darkness came suddenly; over the parched hill--now looming mysterious in black garments--the tropic stars blazed out. Then outside some one lighted a fire. The flames cast lights and shadows within the banda where still the white man leaned on his elbow, the black men squatted on their heels, and the murmur of talk went on and on.

But Winkleman got his way. At an appointed hour and at an appointed place Winkleman, Mali-ya-bwana, and two of the carriers met Simba conducting the gun bearer from the other camp. The interview was very short. Indeed it had all been carefully rehearsed. Winkleman said only what he had agreed to say; and thereby earned his finger.

"This man holds me prisoner," he told the gun bearer. "What he says is true. Do what he asks you to do. It is my command."

"Yes, bwana," agreed the gun bearer.

Then they parted. The immediate result was five loads of potio brought by safari men to "somewhere in Africa," and thence transported by Simba's men to Simba's camp. As game was thereabout abundant and undisturbed everybody was happy.

Thus passed a week, which brought time forward to the moment when Simba, following his instructions, was to report to Kingozi at the village of M'tela. Therefore Simba set forth, taking with him, according to African custom, one of the porters as companion. He carried Kingozi's rifle, but left that belonging to Winkleman with Mali-ya-bwana.

Winkleman watched Simba go with considerable satisfaction. Mali-ya-bwana was a man much above average African intelligence, but he had not the experience, the initiative, the flaire of Simba. Nor had he Simba's magic bone. Simba took that with him. Winkleman knew nothing of the supposed virtues of that property; and in consequence entertained a respect for qualities of Simba that were not entirely inherent in that individual. He began to flatter Mali-ya-bwana; to fraternize just enough; to assume complete resignation to his plight--in short, to use just those tactics a clever man would use to lull the alertness of any bright child. Naturally he succeeded. At sundown of the second day he began to complain of the irksomeness of his bonds.

"This is foolishness, so to treat a m'zungu," said he. "Nothing is gained. I cannot sleep; and the skin of my wrists is sore. He who watches has only to keep the fire bright. I cannot go like smoke."

To Mali-ya-bwana, in his flattered and unsuspicious mood, this seemed reasonable. He was no such fool as to turn Winkleman loose to his own devices; but he compromised by untying the Bavarian's wrists, and doubling the thongs by which the latter's ankles were hitched to the larger timbers of the banda. Also he instructed the sentinel to keep the fire bright, to watch Bwana Nyele, and to stop instantly any and all movements of the hands toward the feet.

The early watches passed quietly. A second sentinel replaced the first. Up to this time Winkleman had slept quietly. Now he began to shift position often, to twist and turn, finally to groan softly. The sentinel came to the end of the banda and looked in. To him Bwana Nyele raised a face so ghastly that even the half-savage porter was startled. The man's eyes seemed to have sunk into his head, deep seams to have creased his brow and jaws. Apparently Winkleman was on the point of dissolution.

"Magi! nataka magi!"[16] he gasped.

[Footnote 16: Water! I want water!]

The sentinel took the canteen from the peg where it hung and bent over the dying man. Instantly his throat was clasped by a pair of heavy and powerful hands.

Two minutes later Winkleman rose to his feet free. The porter's knife in his hand, he looked down on that unfortunate securely bound and gagged. Treading softly Winkleman stepped through the sleeping camp into the clear. He drew a deep breath. Then unconsciously wiping from his face the mixture of grease and ashes that had constituted his "make-up," he strode grimly away toward his own safari.