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   Chapter 1 No.1

The Ivory Trail By Talbot Mundy Characters: 42712

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Remains to be seen," said Monty. "If the German government's very special reasons were legal or righteous they'd be announced with a fanfare of trumpets."

"Where's all this leading us?" demanded Fred.

"To a slight change of plan," said Monty.

"Thank the lord! That means you don't go to Brussels-stay with us!"

"Nothing of the sort, Fred. But you three keep together. They're going to watch you. You watch them. Watch Schillingschen particularly closely, if you find him. The closer they watch you, the more likely they are to lose sight of me. I'll take care to have several red herrings drawn across my trail after I reach London. Perhaps I'll return down the west coast and travel up the Congo River. At any rate, when I do come, and whichever way I come, I'll have everything legal, in writing. Let your game be to seem mysterious. Seem to know more than you do, but don't tell anybody anything. Above all, listen!"

Fred leaned back in his chair and laughed.

"Didums!" he said. "This is the idioticest wild goose chase we ever started on! I admit I nosed it. I gave tongue first. But think of it-here we are-four sensible men-hitherto sensible-off after ivory that nobody can really prove exists, said to be buried somewhere in a tract of half-explored country more than a thousand miles each way-and the German government, and half the criminals in Africa already on our idiotic heels!"

"Yet the German government and the crooks seem convinced, too, that there's something worth looking for!" laughed Monty. And none of us could answer that.

For that matter, none of us would have been willing to withdraw from the search, however dim the prospect of success might seem in the intervals when cold reason shed its comfortless rays on us. Intuition, or whatever it is that has proved superior so often to worldly wisdom (temptation, Fred calls it!) outweighed reason, and Fred himself would have been last to agree to forego the search.

The voyage is short between Zanzibar and Mombasa, but there was incident. We were spied on after very thorough fashion, Lady Saffren Waldon's title and gracious bearing (when that suited her) being practical weapons. The purser was Goanese-beside himself with the fumes of flattery. He had a pass-key, so the Syrian maid went through our cabins and searched thoroughly everything except the wallet of important papers that Monty kept under his shirt. The first and second officers were rather young, unmarried men possessed of limitless ignorance of the wiles of such as Lady Waldon. It was they who signed a paper recommending Coutlass to the B. I. agents and a lot of other reputable people in Mombasa and elsewhere, thus offsetting the possibility that the authorities might not let him land. (Had we known all that at the time, Monty's word against him might have caused him to be shipped back whence he came, but we did not find it out until afterward; nor did we know the law.)

And at Mombasa we made our first united, serious mistake. It was put to the vote. We all agreed.

"I can come ashore," said Monty, "introduce you to officialdom, get you put up for the club, and be useful generally. That, though, 'll lend color to the theory that you're in league with me-whereas, if I leave you to your own resources, that may help lose my scent. When they pick it up again we'll be knowing better where we stand."

"If you came ashore for a few hours we'd have the benefit of your prestige," said I.

"I admit it."

"I suspect a title's mighty near as useful on British territory as in

N'York or Boston," said Will. "We'd bask in smiles."

"Not wholly," said Monty. "There's another side to that. There's an English official element that would rather be rude to some poor devil with a title than draw pay (and it loves its pay, you may believe me!). You'd have friends in high places, but make enemies, too, if I go ashore with you."

"What's your own proposal?" Fred demanded.

"I've stated it. I want you fellows to choose. There's no need of me ashore-that's to say, I've a draft to bearer for the amount you three have in the common fund-here, take it. If you think you'll need more than that, then I'll have to go to the bank with you and cash some of my own draft. I think you'll have enough."

"Plenty," said Will.

"Let's send him home!" proposed Fred.

"How about communications?" We had contrived a code already with the aid of a pocket Portuguese-English dictionary, of which Fred and Monty each possessed a similar edition.

"The Mombasa Bank, Will. You keep them posted as to your whereabouts.

When I write the bank manager I'll ask him to keep my address a secret."

So we said good-by to Monty and left him on board, and wished we hadn't a dozen times before noon next day, and a hundred times within the week. The last sight we had of him was as the shore boat came alongside the wharf and the half-breed customs officials pounced smiling on us. My eyes were keenest. I could see Monty pacing the upper deck, too rapidly for evidence of peace of mind-a straight-standing, handsome figure of a man. I pointed him out to the others, and we joked about him. Then the gloom of the customs shed swallowed us, and there was a new earth and, for the present, no more sea.

The island of Mombasa is so close to the cocoanut-fringed mainland that a railway bridge connects them. Like Zanzibar, it is a place of strange delights, and bridled lawlessness controlled by the veriest handful of Englishmen. There are strange hotels-strange dwellings-streets-stores-tongues and faces. The great grim fort that brave da Gama built, and held against all comers, dominates the sea front and the lower town. The brass-lunged boys who pounce on baggage, fight for it, and tout for the grandly named hotels are of as many tribes as sizes, as many tongues as tribes.

Everything is different-everything strange-everything, except the heat, delightful. And as Fred said, "some folk would grumble in hell!" Trees, flowers, birds, costumes of the women, sheen of the sea, glint of sun on bare skins of every shade from ivory to ebony, dazzling coral roadway and colored coral walls, babel of tongues, sack-saddled donkeys sleepily bearing loads of coral for new buildings, and-winding in and out among it all-the narrow-gauge tramway on which trolleys pushed by stocky little black men carry officialdom gratis, and the rest of the world and his wife according to tariff; all those things are the alphabet of Mombasa's charm. Arranged, and rearranged-by chance, by individual perspective, and by point of view-they spell fascination, attractiveness, glamour, mystery. And no acquaintance with Mombasa, however intimate or old, dispels the charm to the man not guilty of cynicism. To the cynic (and for him) there are sin-as Africa alone knows how to sin-disease, of the dread zymotic types-and death; death peering through the doors of godowns, where the ivory tusks are piled; death in the dark back-streets of the bazaar, where tired policemen wage lop-sided warfare against insanitary habits and a quite impracticable legal code; death on the beach, where cannibal crabs parade in thousands and devour all helpless things; death in the scrub (all green and beautiful) where the tiny streets leave off and snakes claim heritage; death in the grim red desert beyond the coast-line, where lean, hopeless jackals crack today men's dry bones left fifty years ago by the slave caravans-marrowless bones long since stripped clean by the ants. But we are not all cynics.

Last to be cynic or pessimist was Louis McGregor Abraham, proprietor of the Imperial Hotel-Syrian by birth, Jew by creed, Englishman by nationality, and admirer first, last and all the time of all things prosperous and promising, except his rival, the Hotel Royal.

"You came to the right place," he assured us when the last hot porter had dumped the last of our belongings on the porch, had ceased from chattering to watch Fred's financial methods, had been paid double the customary price, and had gone away grumbling (to laugh at us behind our backs). "They'd have rooked you at the other hole-underfed you, overcharged you, and filled you full of lies. I tell the truth to folk who come to my hotel."

And he did, some of it. He was inexhaustible, unconquerable, tireless, an optimist always. He had a store that was part of the hotel, in which he claimed to sell "everything the mind of man could wish for in East Africa"; and the boast was true. He even sold American dime novels.

"East Africa's a great country!" he kept assuring us. "Some day we'll all be rich! Have to get ready for it! Have to be prepared! Have to stock everything the mind of man can want, to encourage new arrivals and make the old ones feel at home. Lose a little money, but why grumble? Get it back when the boom comes. As it will, mind you. As it will. Can't help it. Richest country in the world-grow anything-find anything-game-climate-elevation-scenery-natives by the million to do the work-all good! Only waiting for white men with energy, and capital to start things really moving!"

But there were other points of view. We went to the bank, and found its manager conservative. The amount of the draft we placed to our credit insured politeness.

"Be cautious," he advised us. "Take a good look round before you commit yourselves!"

He agreed to manage the interchange of messages between us and Monty, and invited us all to dinner that evening at the club; so we left the bank feeling friendly and more confident. Later, a chance-met English official showed us over the old fort (now jail) where men of more breeds and sorts than Noah knew, better clothed and fed than ever in their lives, drew endless supplies of water in buckets from da Gama's well.

"Some of them have to be kicked out when their sentences expire!" he told us. "See you at the club tonight. Glad to help welcome you."

But there was a shock in store, and as time passed the shocks increased in number and intensity. Our guns had not been surrendered to us by the customs people. We had paid duty on them second-hand at the rate for new ones, and had then been told to apply for them at the collector's office, where our names and the guns' numbers would be entered on the register-for a fee.

We now went to claim them, and on the way down inquired at a store about ammunition. We were told that before we could buy cartridges we would need a permit from the collector specifying how many, and of what bore we might buy. There was an Arab in the store ahead of us. He was buying Martini Henry cartridges. I asked whether he had a permit, and was told he did not need one.

"Being an Arab?" I asked.

"Being well known to the government," was the answer.

We left the store feeling neither quite so confident nor friendly. And the collector's Goanese assistant did the rest of the disillusioning.

No, we could not have our guns. No, we could have no permit for ammunition. No, the collector was not in the office. No, he would not be there that afternoon. It was provided in regulations that we could have neither guns, sporting licenses, nor permits for ammunition. The guns were perfectly safe in the government godown-would not be tampered with-would be returned to us when we chose to leave the country.

"But, good God, we've paid duty on them!" Oakes protested.

"You should not have brought the guns with you unless you desired to pay duty," said the Goanese.

"But where's the collector?" Yerkes demanded.

"I am only assistant," was the answer. "How should I know?"

The man's insolence, of demeanor and words, was unveiled, and the more we argued with him the more sullen and evasive he grew, until at last he ordered us out of the office. At that we took chairs and announced our intention of staying until the collector should come or be fetched. We were informed that the collector was the most important government official in Mombasa-information that so delighted Fred that he grew almost good tempered again.

"I'd rather twist a big tail than a little one!" he announced. "Shall we sing to pass the time?"

The Goanese called for the askari,* half-soldier, half-police-man, who drowsed in meek solitude outside the office door.

-------- * Askari, soldier. --------

"Remove these people, please!" he said in English, and then repeated it in Kiswahili.

The askari eyed us, shifted his bare feet uncomfortably, screwed up his courage, tried to look stern, and said something in his own tongue.

"Put them out, I said!" said the Goanese.

"He orders you to put us out!" grinned Fred.

"The office closes at three," said the Goanese, glancing at the clock in a half-hearted effort to moderate his own daring.

"Not unless the collector comes and closes it himself, it doesn't!"

Fred announced with folded arms.

Will pulled out two rupees and offered them to the sentry.

"Go and bring us some food," he said. "We intend to stay in here until your bwana makubwa* comes."

------- * Bwana makubwa, lit. big master, senior government officer. -------

The sentry refused the money, waving it aside with the air of a Caesar declining a crown.

"Gee!" exclaimed Will. "You've got to hand it to the British if they train colored police to refuse money."

The askari, it seemed, was a man of more than one kind of discretion. Without another word to the Goanese he saluted the lot of us with a sweep of his arm, turned on his heel and vanished-not stopping in his hurry to put on the sandals that lay on the door-step. We amused ourselves while he was gone by flying questions at the Goanese, calculated to disturb what might be left of his equanimity without giving him ground for lawsuits.

"How old are you?"-"How much pay do you get?"-"How long have you held your job?"-"Do you ever get drunk?"-"Are you married?"-"Does your wife love you?"-"Do you keep white mice?"-"Is your life insured?"-"How often have you been in jail?"-"Are you honest?"-"Are you vaccinated against the jim-jams?"-"Why is your name Fernandez and not Braganza?"

The man was about distracted, for he had been unwise enough to try to answer, when suddenly the collector came in great haste and stalked through the office into the inner room.

"Fernandez!" he called as he passed, and the Goanese hurried after him, hugely relieved. There was five minute's consultation behind the partition in tones too low for us to catch more than a word or two, and then Fernandez came out again with a "Now wait and see, my hearties!" smile on his face. He was actually rubbing his palms together, sure of a swift revenge.

"He says you are to go in there," he announced.

So we filed in, Fred Oakes first, and it seemed to me the moment I saw the collector's face that the outlook was not so depressing. He looked neither young nor incompetent. His jaw was neither receding nor too prominent. His neck sat on his shoulders with the air of full responsibility, unsought but not refused. And his eyes looked straight into those of each of us in turn with a frank challenge no honest fellow could resent.

"Take seats, won't you," he said. "Your names, please?"

We told him, and he wrote them down.

"My clerk tells me you tried to bribe the askari. You shouldn't do that. We are at great pains to keep the police dependable. It's too bad to put temptation in their way."

Will, with cold precision, told him the exact facts. He listened to the end, and then laughed.

"One more Goanese mistake!" he said. "We have to employ them. They mean well. The country has no money to spend on European office assistants. Well-what can I do for you?"

At that Fred cut loose.

"We want our guns before dark!" he said. "It's the first time my character has been questioned by any government, and I say the same for my friends!"

"Oh?" said the collector, eying us strangely.

"Yes!" said Fred.

"That is so," said I.

"Entirely so," said Will.

"I have information," said the collector, tapping with a pencil on his blotter, "that you men are ivory hunters. That you left Portuguese territory because the German consul there had to request the Portuguese government to expel you."

"All easily disproved," said Fred. "Confront us, please, with our accusers."

"And that Lord Montdidier, with whom you have been traveling, became so disgusted with your conduct that he refused to land with you at this port as he at first intended!"

We all three gasped. The first thing that occurred to me, and I suppose to all of us, was to send for Monty. His steamer was not supposed to sail for an hour yet. But the thought had hardly flashed in mind when we heard the roar of steam and clanking as the anchor chain came home. The sound traveled over water and across roofs like the knell of good luck-the clanking of the fetters of ill fate.

"Where's her next stop?" said I.

"Suez," Fred answered.

Simultaneously then to all three the thought came too that this interpretation of Monty's remaining on board was exactly what we wanted. The more people suspected us of acting independently of him the better.

"Confront us with our accusers!" Fred insisted.

"You are not accused-at least not legally," said the collector. "You are refused rifle and ammunition permits, that is all."

"On the ground of being ivory hunters?"

"Suspected persons-not known to the government-something rather stronger than rumor to your discredit, and nothing known in your favor."

"What recourse have we?" Fred demanded.

"Well-what proof can you offer that you are bona fide travelers or intending settlers? Are you ivory hunters or not?"

"I'll answer that," said Fred-dexterously I thought, "when I've seen a copy of the game laws. We're law-abiding men."

The collector handed us a well thumbed copy of the Red Book.

"They're all in that," he said. "I'll lend it to you, or you can buy one almost anywhere in town. If you decide after reading that to go farther up country I'm willing to issue provisional game licenses, subject to confirmation after I've looked into any evidence you care to submit on your own behalf. You can have your guns against a cash deposit-"

"How big?"

"Two hundred rupees for each gun!"

Fred laughed. The demand was intended to be away over our heads. The collector bridled.

"But no ammunition," he went on, "until your claim to respectability has been confirmed. By the way, the only claim you've made to me is for the guns. You've told me nothing about yourselves."

"Two hundred a gun?" said Fred. "Counting a pistol or revolver as one? Three guns apiece-nine guns-eighteen hundred rupees' deposit?"

The collector nodded with a sort of grim pleasure in his own unreasonableness. Fred drew out our new check book.

"You fellows agreeable?" he asked, and we nodded.

"Here's a check on the Mombasa Bank for ten thousand, and your government can have as much more again if it wants it," he said. "Make me out a receipt please, and write on it what it's for."

The collector wrote. He was confused, for he had to tear up more than one blank.

"I suppose we get interest on the money at the legal local rate?" asked

Fred maliciously.

"I'll inquire about that," said the collector.

"Excuse me," said Fred, "but I'm going to give you some advice. While you're inquiring, look into the antecedents of Lady Isobel Saffren Waldon! It's she who gave out the tip against us. Her tip's a bad one. So is she."

"She hasn't applied for guns or a license," the collector answered tartly. "It's people who want to carry firearms-people able and likely to make trouble whom we keep an eye on."

"She's more likely to make trouble for you than a burning house!" put in Will Yerkes. "If my partner hadn't paid you that check I'd be all for having this business out! I'm going to let them know in the States what sort of welcome people receive at this port!"

"You came of your own accord. You weren't invited," the collector answered.

"That's a straight-out lie!" snapped Will. "You know it's a lie! Why, there isn't a newspaper in South Africa that hasn't been carrying ads of this country for months past. Even papers I've had sent me from the States have carried press-agent dope about it. Why, you've been yelling for settlers like a kid squalling for milk-and you say we're not invited now we've come here! I'm going to write and tell the U. S. papers what that dope is worth!"

"Ivory hunters are not settlers," the collector interjected.

"Who said we're ivory hunters?" Will was in a fine rage, and Fred and I leaned back to enjoy the official's discomfort. "Besides, your ads bragged about the big game as one of the chief attractions! All the information you can possibly have against us must have come from a female crook in the pay of the German government! You're not behaving the way gentlemen do where I was raised!"

"There is no intention to offend," said the collector.

"Intention is good!" said Will, laughing in spite of himself. "There's another thing I want to know. What about ammunition? We're to have our guns. They're useless without cartridges. What about it?"

"The guns shall be sent to your hotel tonight. The provisional sporting licenses-if you want them-will be

ready tomorrow morning-seven hundred and fifty rupees apiece-I'll charge them against your deposit. If the licenses should be confirmed after inquiry, I will send you permits through the post for fifty rounds of ammunition each."

Will snorted. Fred Oakes yelled with laughter, and I gaped with indignation.

"I'm going into this to the hilt!" spluttered Fred. "I wouldn't have missed it for a fortune! We three are going to constitute ourselves a committee of inspection. We're going to wander the country over and report home to the newspapers-South African-British-U. S. A.-and any other part of the world that's interested! We won't worry about ammunition. Send us permits for whatever quantity seems to you proper, and we'll note it all down in our diaries!"

We all stood up, the collector obviously uncomfortable and we, if not at ease, at least happier than we had been.

Fred nodded to the collector genially, and we all walked out.

Mombasa is a fairly large island, but the built-over part of it is small, so it was not surprising that we should emerge from the office face to face with Lady Saffren Waldon. She was the one surprised, not we. She probably thought she had spiked our guns in that part of the world forever, and the sight of us coming laughing from the very office where we should have been made glum must have been disconcerting.

She was riding on one of the little trolley-cars, pushed by two boys in white official uniform, dressed in her flimsiest best, a lace parasol across her knee, and beside her an obvious member of the government-young, and so recently from home as not to have lost his pink cheeks yet.

Had there not been an awning over the trolley-car she might have used the parasol to make believe she had not seen us. But the awning precluded that, and we were not more than two or three yards away.

"Laugh!" whispered Fred.

So we crossed the track laughing and the trolley had to pause to let us by. We laughed as we raised our helmets to her-laughed both at her and at the pink and white puppy she had taken in leash. And then the sort of thing happened that nearly always does when men with a reasonable faith in their own integrity make up their minds to see opprobrium through. Fate stepped hard on our arm of the balance.

If built-over Mombasa is a small place, so is Africa. So is the world. Striding down the hill from the other hotel, the rival one, the Royal, came a man so well known in so many lands that they talk of naming a tenth of a continent after him-the mightiest hunter since Nimrod, and very likely mightier than he; surely more looked-up to and respected-a little, wiry-looking, freckled, wizened man whose beard had once been red, who walked with a decided limp and blinked genially from under the brim of a very neat khaki helmet.

"Why, bless my soul if it isn't Fred Oakes!" he exclaimed, in a squeaky, worn-out voice that is as well known as his face, and quickened his pace down-hill.

"Courtney!" said Fred. "There's only one man I'd rather meet!"

The little man laughed. "Oh, you and your Montdidier are still inseparable, I suppose! How are you, Fred? I'm glad to see you. Who are your friends?"

At that minute out came the collector from his office-stood on the step, and stared. Fred introduced us to Courtney, and I experienced the thrill of shaking hands with the man accounts of whose exploits had fired my schoolboy imagination and made stay-at-home life forever after an impossibility.

"I missed the steamer, Fred. Not another for a week. Going down now to see about a passage to Somaliland. I suppose you'll be at the club after dinner?"

"No" said Fred. "We've an invitation, but I think we'll send a note and say we can't come. We'll dine at our hotel and sit on the veranda afterward."

I wondered what Fred was driving at, and so did the collector who was headed across the street and listening with all ears.

"That so? Not a bad idea. They've very kindly made me an honorary member of the club, but I rather expect there's a string to that-eh, Fred, don't you? They'll expect stories,-stories. I get tired of telling the same tales so many times over. Suppose I join you fellows, eh? I'm at the Royal. You at the other place? Suppose I join you after dinner, and we have a pipe together on the veranda?"

"Nothing I'd like better," said Fred, and I felt too pleased with the prospect to say anything at all. Growing old is a foolish and unnecessary business, but there is no need to forego while young the thrills of unashamed hero-worship; in fact, that is one of the ways of continuing young. It is only the disillusioned (poor deceived ones) and the cynics, who grow old ungracefully.

We went upstreet, through the shadow of the great grim fort. The trolley-car trundled down among the din, smells and colors of the business-end of town. Looking over my shoulder I saw Courtney talking to the collector.

"We're getting absolution, Fred!" said I.

"I'm not sure we need it," Fred answered. "I hope Courtney won't tell too much!" So quickly does a man jump from praying for friends at court to fearing them!

"Courtney looked to me," said Will, "like a man who would give no games away."

"Glad you think that of him," said Fred.

"Why?"

"Tell you later, maybe."

But he did not tell until after dinner. (It was a good dinner for East Africa. Shark steak figured in it, under a more respectable name; and there was zebu hump, guinea-fowl, and more different kinds of fruit than a man could well remember.) When it was over we sat in deep armchairs on the long wide veranda that fronts the whole hotel. The evening sea-breeze came and wafted in on us the very scents of Araby; the night sounds that whisper of wilderness gave the lie to a tinkling guitar that somewhere in the distance spoke of civilized delights. The surf crooned on coral half a mile away, and very good cigar smoke (from a box that Monty had sent ashore with our belongings) supplemented coffee and the other aids to physical contentment. Then, limping between the armchairs, and ashamed that we should rise to greet him-motioning us down again with a little nervous laugh-Courtney came to us. Within five minutes of his coming the world, and the clock, and the laws of men might have all reversed themselves for aught we cared. Without really being conscious he was doing it Courtney plunged into our problem, grasped it, sized it up, advised us, flooded us with priceless, wonderful advice, and did it with such almost feminine sympathy that I believe we would have been telling him our love-affairs at last, if a glance at the watch he wore in a case at his belt had not told him it was three A. M.

"There's trouble" he began when he had filled his pipe. "You boys are in trouble. What is it?" he asked, shifting and twitching in his seat-refusing an armchair-refusing a drink.

"Tell us first what's the matter with you," said Fred.

"Oh, nothing. An old wound. A lion once dragged me by this shoulder half a mile or so. At this time of year I get pains. They last a day or two, then pass-Go on, tell me!"

He never sat really still once that whole evening, yet never once complained or made a gesture of impatience.

"I propose," said Fred, with a glance at Yerkes and me, "to tell

Courtney everything without reserve."

The little old hunter nodded, watching us with bright blue eyes. I received the impression that he knew more secrets than he could tell should he talk down all the years that might be left him. He was the sort of man in whom nearly every one confides.

"We're after Tippoo Tib's ivory!" said Fred, plunging into the middle of things. "Monty has gone to drive a bargain with the King of Belgium. Do you think it's a wild goose chase?"

Courtney chuckled. "No," he said. "I wouldn't call it that. They've been killing elephants in Africa ever since the flood. Ivory must have accumulated. It's somewhere. Some of it must be so old and well seasoned as to be practically priceless, unless rats have spoiled it. Rats play old Harry with ivory, you know."

"Have you a notion where it is?" demanded Fred.

Courtney laughed. "Behold me leaving the country!" he said.

"If I knew I'd look. If I saw I'd take!"

"Can you give us a hint?"

"There are caves near the summit of Mount Elgon that would hold the world's revenues. None of them have ever been thoroughly explored. Cannibals live in some of them. Cannibals and caverns is a combination that might appeal to Tippoo Tib, but there's no likelihood that he buried all that ivory in one place, you know. I suspect the greater part is in the Congo, and that the Germans know its whereabouts within a mile or two."

"How did they discover it?"

"Why don't they dig it out?"

"What keeps 'em from turning their knowledge into money?"

We had forgotten our own troubles. Courtney, too, seemed to forget for the moment that he had began by asking us a question.

"Remember Emin Pasha? When was it-'87-'88-'89 that Stanley went and rescued him? Perhaps you recall what was then described as Emin's ingratitude after the event? British government offered him a billet. Khedive of Egypt cabled him the promise of a job, all on Stanley's recommendation. Emin turned 'em all down and accepted a job from the Germans. Nobody understood it at the time. My own idea is that Emin thought he knew more or less where that hoard is. He didn't really want to come away with Stanley, you know. Being a German, I suppose he preferred to share his secret with his own crowd. I dare say he thought of telling Stanley but judged that the 'Rock breaker' might demand a too large share. The value of the stuff must be so enormous that it's almost worth going to war about, from the point of view of a nation hungry for new colonies. Emin is dead, and it's likely he left no exact particulars behind him. To my personal knowledge the Germans have had a swarm of spies for a long time operating beyond the Congo border."

"Were you looking for the stuff yourself?" I asked.

"Oh, no," he laughed. "But when I'm hunting I look about me. I'll tell you where the stuff may possibly be. There's a section of country called the Bahr el Gazal that the Congo people claim, but that I believe will eventually prove to lie on the British side of the boundary. It was good elephant country-which is to say bad living and traveling for man-since the earth took shape out of ooze. Awful swampy, malarious, densely wooded, dangerous country, sparsely inhabited by savages not averse to cannibalism when they've opportunity. The ivory may be there. If the Germans know it's there they're naturally afraid the British government would claim the whole district the minute the secret was out. Their plan may possibly be to wait until a boundary dispute arises in the ordinary course of time (keeping a cautious eye on the cache meanwhile, of course) and then take the Congo government side. If they can contrive to have it acknowledged as Congo territory, they might then pick a quarrel with the Congo government-or come to some sort of terms with them."

"They've patience," I said, "if they're playing that game!"

Courtney raised his eyebrows until his forehead was a mass of deep wrinkles. Then he blew a dozen smoke rings.

"Patient-perhaps. It's my impression they're as remorseless and persistent as white ants-undermining, digging, devouring everywhere while the rest of the world sleeps. Do you remember there was a mutiny of native troops in Uganda not many years ago? Some said that was because the troops were being paid in truck instead of money, and like most current excuses that one had some truth in it. But the men themselves vowed they were going to set up an African Muhammedan empire."

"What had that to do with Germans?" asked Fred.

"Nothing that I can personally prove" said Courtney. "But I've a broad acquaintance among natives, and considerable knowledge of their tongues. Muhammedanism is spreading among them very rapidly. Over and over again, beside camp-fires, and in the dark when they thought I was not listening, I have heard them talk of missionaries from German territory who spread a doctrine of what you might call pan-Islam for lack of a better name. I said at the time of the Uganda mutiny that I believed Germans were behind it. I've seen no reason to change my opinion since. It's obvious that if the mutiny had by some ill chance succeeded Uganda would have been an easy prey for Karl Peters and his Germans. If that ivory of Tippoo Tib's is really in the Bahr el Gazal at the back of Uganda, then the German motive for stirring up the Uganda mutiny would be obvious."

"But doesn't our government know all this?" demanded Fred.

"That depends on what you mean by the word know," answered Courtney.

"I've made no secret of my own opinion!"

"But they wouldn't listen?"

"Some did, some didn't. The Home government-which was the India Office in those days-took no notice whatever. One or two men out here believed, but I think they're dead. When the Foreign Office took the country over I don't suppose they overhauled old reports very carefully. I dare say my letters on the subject lie inches deep in dust."

"England doesn't deserve to keep her colonies!" vowed Fred, caught in a sudden flood of indignation.

Courtney laughed.

"When you've seen as many of the other nations' colonies as I have you'll qualify that verdict! We do our best. God gave us our work to do, and the devil came and made us stupid! Take this country, for instance."

"Yes!" agreed Fred. "Take this country! We came ashore today-left Monty on board ship on his way to Europe. Nobody knew a thing about us. A female woman, known to the police in Zanzibar and so notorious in Europe that she's in no hurry to go home-said, too, on every hand to be in the pay of the German government-chose to tell lies about us to the chuckle-headed puppies in charge of Mombasa. Net result-what do you suppose?"

"I know," said Courtney. "I've been told this evening." His eyes changed, and his voice took on the almost feminine note of appeal that came strangely from a big game hunter. "You boys must overlook things. These boys you're angry with are younger than you, Fred. That collector you've contrived to pick a quarrel with has fought Arabs and cannibal troops-odds against him of fifty or a hundred to one, mind you-all across the Congo and back again. He fought in the Uganda mutiny. He's a man. He's a merchant, though, with a merchant's education. He was taken over with the rest of the clerks when the British government superseded the British East Africa Trading Company. He has never had the advantage of legal training. Went to a common school. No advantages of any kind. Poorly paid and overworked. There's no money in the country yet. Nobody to tax. Salaries-expenses and so on come from home, voted by Parliament. As long as that condition lasts they're all going to feel nervous. They know they'll get the blame for everything that goes wrong, and precious little credit in any case. Parliament advertised the country in answer to their complaints of no revenue. Parliament called for settlers. But they're not ready for settlers. They don't know how to handle them. They've no troops-nothing but a handful of black police. How shall they keep in order colonials armed with repeating rifles? They're not ready. The Uganda Railway isn't finished yet; trains get through to Victoria Nyanza once a week, but there's endless work to be done yet on the line, and Parliament grudges them every penny they spend on it. Yet the railway was rushed through by order of Parliament to prevent Doctor Karl Peters and the Germans from claiming occupation of the head-waters of the Nile and so dominating Upper Egypt. You boys must be considerate."

"All right," said Fred. "I'll grant all that."

"But what gets me" Will interrupted, "is that they should condemn us out-of-hand-on sight-untried-on the say-so of this Lady Saffren Waldon. She carries German letters of credit. She's so notoriously in league with Germans that you'd think even these little Napoleons 'ud know it. I'm American myself, thank God, but these two men are their own kith and kin. Why should they judge their own countrymen unheard on the say-so of a woman like that? That's what rattles me!"

Courtney blew six smoke rings.

"You'll have to forgive them, lad. Too many of the Englishmen who have come here were bad bats from the South, so hot-footed that they burned the grass. Then-don't forget that the Germans have a military government to the south of us-all experienced men-a great many of them unmitigated rascals, but nearly all of them clever-students of strategy and psychology and tactics-some of them brilliant men who have had to apply for colonial service because of debt or scandal. They're overmanned where we are under-manned-backed up from home where our boys are only blamed and neglected-well supplied with troops and ammunition, where our police are kept down to the danger point and now and then even without cartridges. The Germans have no railway yet, but they've a policy and they keep it secret. We have a railway, and no policy except retrenchment and economy. I'm convinced the German government has no scruples. We have. So you must sympathize with our young men, not quarrel with them."

"Believe me," I said, "we didn't start out to quarrel with anybody. That woman lied about us. There's no excuse for believing her without giving us a hearing."

"Oh, yes there is. I spoke with her myself this evening," said Courtney. "She's staying at my hotel, you know. She's a match for much more experienced men than our young officials. They've been fighting Arabs, not flirting. She had the impudence to try to flatter me. I don't doubt she's telling a crowd of men tonight that I'm in love with her-perhaps not exactly telling them that, but giving them to understand it. Why don't I stroll down to the club and deny it? For the same reason that you don't openly denounce her! It's semi- or wholly-sentimental chivalry-rank stupidity, if you like to call it that, but it's national, I'm glad to say, and I'm as proud of it as any one."

"Doesn't it look to you," said Fred, "that if she and the German government are so infernally anxious to spoil our chances-and they suspect what we're after, you know-doesn't it look to you as if there may really be something in this quest of ours?"

"Undoubtedly," said Courtney. "There's ivory in it, tons and tons and tons of ivory. Somebody will find it some day."

"Join us then!" said Fred. "Cancel your trip to Somaliland and come with us! I can speak for Monty. I know he'll welcome you into the partnership!"

"I believe I could almost speak for Monty, too," laughed Courtney. "He and I were at Eton together, and we've never ceased being friends. But I can't come with you. No. I'm making a sort of semi-official trip. I shall hunt, of course, but there are observations to be made. The pan-Islamic theory is said to be making headway also in Somaliland."

"Do you feel you have any lien on the Elgon Caves and Bahr el Gazal clues?" Fred asked.

"No. I make you a present of those ideas. I'm sure I hope you find the stuff. I'm wondering, though-I'm wondering."

"I'll bet you a dollar I'm thinking of the same thing," said Will.

"Out with it, then."

"What's to prevent the Germans from making their own dicker with the King of the Belgians or with the Congo government, and rifling the hoard on a fifty-fifty or some such basis?"

"Correct," said Courtney. "I confess myself puzzled about that. But I know no European politics. There may be a thousand reasons. And then, you know, the King of the Belgians has the name of being a grasping dealer. The management of his private zone on the Congo is unspeakable. It's possible the Germans may prefer not to risk putting His Majesty on the scent."

"Well, we've our work cut out," said Fred, laughing and yawning. "That woman has started us off with a bad name."

"That is one thing I can really do for you," Courtney answered. "I've no official standing, but the boys all listen to me. I'll tell them-"

"For the love of God don't tell them too much!" Fred exclaimed.

"I'll tell them you're friends of mine," he went on. "I believe that will solve the sporting license and ammunition problem. As for the woman-if I were in your shoes I would steal a march on her. I wouldn't be surprised if your licenses and ammunition permits were here at the hotel by ten tomorrow morning. I see they've sent your guns already. Well, there's a train for Nairobi tomorrow noon, and not another for three days. I'd take tomorrow's train if I were you. I always find in going anywhere the start's the principal thing. You'll go?"

"We will," we answered, one after the other.

"Good night, then, boys; I'll be going."

But we walked with him down to his hotel-I, and I think the others, full to the teeth with the pleasure of knowing him, as well as of envy of his scars, his five or six South African campaigns, his adventures, and (by no means least) his unblemished record as a gentleman. Merely a little bit of a man with a limp, but better than a thousand men who lacked his gentleness.

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