The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XXXI. Light Again
Three hours later Kingozi stepped into the open, his vision cleared. Such is often the marvellous--though temporary--effect of the proper remedies in this disease. He looked about him with a thankfulness not to be understood save by one whose sight has been thus unexpectedly restored. Winkleman followed him full of deep sympathy.
"But I understand," he repeated over and over, "but it is like water on a weary march, nicht wahr. But this is bad, very bad! You say it has been going on for a month? And a month back! Too late. Ach, schrecklich! It is so much a pity! You have, the youth, the strength, the knowledge! You could so far go! But you must learn the dictation; the great book, the magnum opus, it is there. Cheer up, my boy! Work, much work! That is what will cure your sick courage even if it cannot cure your sick eyes. Now, while we have the sight--see--the bone--this curve clearly indicates to me----"
Winkleman produced the saurian bone. And for the first time Kingozi noticed Simba hovering anxiously near. Request and blandishments had proved of no avail in getting the magic bone from Bwana Nyele.
"It is all right," Kingozi reassured him. "We but use the magic for a little while. See; it has given me back my eyes."
"A-a-a-a!" ejaculated Simba, deeply astonished.
"We will use it but a little while longer," Kingozi concluded. "Then you shall have it again."
"But to give this specimen to a gun bearer!" cried Winkleman in English. "That is craziness! It is a museum piece."
"It belongs to him; and I have promised," said Kingozi.
Winkleman subsided with deep rumblings. After a moment he renewed his discussion.
Kingozi only half heard him. His mind was occupied by another, more human problem. The discovery that the atropin and not the pilocarpin had been destroyed agitated him profoundly; not, as might be believed, because it enabled him at a critical time to regain the use of his sight, but because it threw before him an insistent question. Did, or did not, Bibi-ya-chui know? He recalled the incident in all its little details--himself in his chair and Cazi Moto squatting before the three bottles set up before them, carefully tracing in the sand with a stick the characters on the labels; the Leopard Woman's sudden dash forward; the tinkle of smashed glass, and her voice panting with excitement: "I will read your labels for you now-- the bottle you hold in your hand! It is atropin, atropin"--and her wild laugh.
Did she know, or was she guessing or bluffing?
It hurt him, hurt him inconceivably to think that she might have deceived him thus; might have broken the wrong bottle, and then deliberately have kept him in darkness with the very remedy at hand. That would seem the refinement of cruelty.
But he must be fair. She was then fighting, fighting with all her power against odds, for her sworn duty. Deceit was her natural weapon. And at that time such deceit seemed very likely to win for her her point. No, he could not blame her there; he could not consistently even feel hurt. The few moments' reasoning brought him to the point where he did not feel hurt. After a little he even admired the quickness of wit.
The instinctive depression vanished before this reasoning. He suddenly became light-hearted.
But immediately the dark mood returned. Granted all this; how about the last two days? Before that it might well be that her sense of duty to her country, her firmness of spirit, her honour itself would impel her to cling to the last hope of gaining her end. Until his influence over M'tela was quite assured, Winkleman's arrival would probably turn the scale. She had not prevented Kingozi's arriving before the Bavarian; but she might hold the Englishman comparatively powerless. That was understandable. Kingozi felt he might even love her the more for this evidence of a faithful spirit. But the last few days! It must have become evident to her that her cause was lost; that M'tela's friendship had been gained for the English. If she had cared for him the least in the world would not she have hastened to produce the pilocarpin for his relief? What could she hope to gain by concealing it? And then the other words insisted on his recollection, bitter words--when, first blinded, he had asked her to read the labels on the bottle that would have given him sight. "Why should I do this for you? You have treated me as a man treats his dog, his horse, his servant, his child--not as a man treats a woman!" What real reason-- besides his hopes--had he for thinking she did not still hate him, or at least remain indifferent to him? So indifferent that even after her chance had passed she still neglected to inform him that the pilocarpin was not destroyed after all.
Winkleman talked on and on about his saurian. Would he never stop and go away?
"I agree with you; you are probably right," said Kingozi at last, driven by sheer desperation to the endorsement of he knew not what scientific heresy. Winkleman snorted heavily in triumph, and returned the bone to a vastly relieved Simba. Kingozi interposed in haste before the introduction of a new topic.
"Undoubtedly you will wish to see the palace of M'tela," said he with deep wile. "Of course you are supposed to be my prisoner, so I must send you under guard. You might take a small present to M'tela from me. I have not yet visited his place of course. This might be considered a preliminary to my first visit. Does it appeal to you?"
"But yes! And I shall behave. I have given my parole. I shall be the good boy!"
"Of course. I understand that. Do you eat at noon? No? Well, good luck. Cazi Moto, take Mali-ya-bwana and two askari guns, and go with Bwana Nyele to the palace of M'tela."
Scarcely had the group disappeared down the forest path when Kingozi was at the tent door of the Leopard Woman.
"Hodie?" he pronounced the native word of one desiring entrance.
"Who is there?" she asked in Swahili.
A slight pause; then her voice:
He drew aside the tent flaps and entered. She was half reclining on the cot, her back raised by pillows stuffed with sweet grass. Her silk garment, carelessly arranged, had fallen partly open, so that the gleam of her flesh showed tantalizingly here and there. The blood leaped to Kingozi's forehead. She did not alter her pose. Suddenly he realized: of course, she thought him blind!
The embarrassment met his sterner mood in a head-on collision, so that for a moment the impulsive speech failed him. She spoke first.
"That was Winkleman, I suppose," she said. "I did not want to appear. What is decided?"
"Decided?" he stammered, not knowing where to look, but unable to keep his eyes from straying.
"Yes. Is it too late? Can he prevail with this M'tela after all?"
"He is my prisoner; he has given his parole."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, raising herself on her elbow in excitement. The abrupt movement dropped the robe from her shoulder. "You can see!" she cried; and huddled the garment about her in a panic. "You can see!" she repeated amazedly. "How is that? What has happened?"
The words brought him to himself and to his need for definite knowledge.
"Winkleman read the labels on my bottles," he said sternly. "I have simply used the pilocarpin."
"The pilocarpin! But that was destroyed!"
So unmistakably genuine was her cry of amazement that Kingozi's heart leaped with joy. She had not known! He took a step toward the couch.
But at this moment a wild hullabaloo broke out in the camp. Men yelled and shouted. Some one began to blow a horn. There came the sound of many running to and fro. "Damn!" ejaculated Kingozi fervently; and ran out of the tent.