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   Chapter 6 EIGHT

The Ivory Trail By Talbot Mundy Characters: 28520

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


IPSOS CUSTODES

We were an ignorant people. Out of a gloom we came

Hungering, striving, feasting-vanishing into the same.

Came to us your foreloopers, told us the gloom was bad,

Spoke of the Light that might be-simply it could be had-

Knowledge and wealth and freedom, plenty and peace and play,

And at all the price of obedience. "Listen and learn and obey,"

We were told, "and the gloom shall be lifted. Ignorance surely

is shame."

We listened to your foreloopersy till presently Cadis* came.

We were an ignorant people. Our law was "an eye for an eye,"

And he who wronged should right the wrong, and he who stole should die-

Bad law the Cadis told us, based on the fall of man;

And they set us to building law-courts on the Pangermanic plan-

Courts where the gloom of ages should be pierced, said they, with Light

And scientific theory displace wrong views of Right.

The Cadis' law was writ in books that only they could read,

But what should we know of the strings to that? 'Twas gloom when

we agreed.

We were an ignorant people. The Offizieren came

To lend to law eye, tooth, and claw and so enforce the same.

Now nought are the tribal customs; free speech is under ban;

Displaced are misconceptions that were based on fallen man,

And our gloom has gone in darkness of the risen German's night,

Nor is there salt of mercy lest it sap the hold of Might.

They strike-we may not answer, nor dare we ask them why.

We sold ourselves to supermen. If we rebel, we die.

--------- * Cadi-judge. ---------

I sat down once more on the hospital steps, and listened while Fred and Will relieved themselves of their opinions about German manners. Nothing seemed likely to relieve me. I had marched a hundred miles, endured the sickening pain, and waited an extra night at the end of it all simply on the strength of anticipation. Now that the surgeon would not see me, hope seemed gone. I could think of nothing but to go and hide somewhere, like a wounded animal.

But there were two more swift shocks in store, and no hiding-place. The path to the water-front led past us directly along the southern boma wall. Before Fred and Will had come to an end of swearing they saw something that struck them silent so suddenly that I looked up and saw, too. Not that I cared very much. To me it seemed merely one last super-added piece of evidence that life was not worth while.

Plainly the launch had come from British East, of which Schubert had spoken. Hand in hand from the water-front, followed by the obsequious Schubert, all smiles and long black whip (for the chain-gang trailed after with the luggage, and needed to be overawed), walked Professor Schillingschen and Lady Isobel Saffren Waldon. They seemed in love-or at any rate the professor did, for he ogled and smirked like a bearded gargoyle; and she made such play of being charmed by his grimaces that the Syrian maid fell behind to hide her face.

None of us spoke. We watched them. Personally I did not mind the feeling that the worst had happened at last. I was incapable of sounding further depths of gloom-too full of pain bodily to suffer mentally from threats of what might yet be. But the other two looked miserable-more so because Fred's bearded chin perked up so bravely, and Will set his jaw like a rock.

Not one of us had said a word when the biggest askari we had seen yet strode up to us-saluted-and gave Fred a sealed envelope. It was written in English, addressed to us three by name (although our names were wrongly spelled). We were required to present ourselves at the court-house at once, reason not given. The letter was signed "Liebenkrantz,-Lieutenant."

The askari waited for us. I suppose it would not be correct to say we were under arrest, but the enormous black man made it sufficiently obvious that he did not intend returning to the court without us. The court-house was not more than two hundred yards away. As we turned toward it we saw Lady Saffren Waldon being helped into the commandant's litter, borne by four men, the commandant himself superintending the ceremony with a vast deal of bowing and chatter, and Professor Schillingschen looking on with an air of owning litter, porters, township, boma, and all. As we turned our backs on them they started off toward the neat white dwelling on the hill.

The court was a round, grass-roofed affair, with white-washed walls of sun-dried brick. For about four-fifths of the circumference the wall was barely breast-high, the roof being supported on wooden pillars bricked into the wall, as well as by the huge pole that propped it up umbrella-wise in the center.

The remaining fifth of the wall continued up as high as the roof, forming a back to the platform. Facing the platform was the entrance, and on either side benches arranged in rows followed the curve of the wall. There was a long table on the platform, at which sat the lieutenant who had summoned us, with a sergeant seated on either hand. The sergeants were acting as court clerks, scribbling busily on sheets of blue paper, and in books.

Behind the lieutenant, in a great gilt frame on the white-washed wall, was a full-length portrait of the Kaiser in general's uniform. The Kaiser was depicted scowling, his gloved hands resting on a saber almost as ferocious-looking as the one the lieutenant kept winding his leg around.

All the benches were crowded with spectators, prisoners, witnesses, and litigants. Outside, at least two hundred Arabs, Indians, and natives leaned with elbows on the wall and gazed at the scene within. The lieutenant glared, but otherwise took no notice of our entry; he gave no order, but one of the two sergeants came down from the platform and kicked half a dozen natives off the front bench to make room for us.

We were mistaken in supposing our case would be called first, or even among the first. The floor in the midst of the court was clear except for a long single line of natives and six askari corporals, each with a whip in his hand. It was evident at once that these natives were all ahead of us, even if those on the benches were not to be heard and dealt with before our turn came.

"Look at the far end of the line!" whispered Fred.

Lo and behold Kazimoto, looking rather drawn and gray, but standing bravely, looking neither to the right nor left. I judged he knew we were in court-he could hardly have failed to notice our coming in-but he sturdily refused to turn his head and see us.

"What has he done?" I wondered.

"Nothing more than told some Heinie to go to hell-you can bet your boots!" said Will.

The lieutenant was in no hurry to enlighten us. Our boy stood at the wrong end of the line to be taken first. The lieutenant called a name, and two great askaris pounced on the trembling native at the other end and dragged him forward, leaving him standing alone before the desk.

"Silence!" the lieutenant shouted, and the court became still as death.

He had a voice as mean as a hyena's-a voice that matched his face. The insolent, upturned twist of his fair mustache showed both corners of a thin-lipped mouth. He had the Prussian head, shaped square whichever way you viewed it. There was strength in the jaw-bones-strength in the deep-set bright eyes-strength in the shoulders that were square as box-corners without any padding-strength in the lean lithe figure; but it was always brute strength. There was no moral strength whatever in the restless fidgeting-the savage winding and unwinding of his left foot around the saber scabbard, or the attitude, leaning forward over the table, of petulant pugnacity. And the cruel voice was as weak as the hand was strong with which he rapped on the table.

He questioned the boy in front of him sharply-told him he stood charged with theft-and demanded an answer.

"With theft of what thing, and whose thing?"

The answer was bold. The trembling had ceased. Now that he faced nemesis the strength of native fatalism came to his rescue, bolstering up the pride that every uncontaminated Nyamwezi owns. He was not more than seventeen years old, but he stood there at last like a veteran at bay.

"Put him down and beat him!" ordered the lieutenant.

"Impudent answers to this court shall always be soundly punished! Call the next case while that one is being taught good manners."

A woman was stood in front of the line, fidgety with fear, in doubt whether to lay her suckling baby on the bench before she faced military justice. She laid it on the floor at her feet, hesitated, and then picked it up again and wrapped it in a corner of the red blanket that constituted her only dress.

"Take that brat away from her!" the lieutenant ordered. "She must pay attention to me. With that in her arms she will only think of mothering!"

An askari seized the baby by the arm and leg and gave it with a laugh to another woman to hold, its mother whimpering with fright until she saw it safely nestled.

"Quick, now! What about this one?"

It seemed there was no charge against her. The two sergeants searched through the piles of blue sheets in vain.

"Then what the devil is she here for? What do you want, you?"

The trembling woman pointed to her baby, but was dumb. It needed courage to answer that lieutenant, and the crack-crack-crack of a thick kiboko descending at measured intervals on the naked back of the boy who had answered boldly was no help toward reassurance.

"Speak!" the lieutenant ordered, "or I shall have you compelled to speak!"

She burst into sudden volubility. The dam once down, she poured forth a catalogue of wrongs that seemed endless, switching off from one dialect to another and at intervals inserting, apropos apparently of nothing, the few words of German she had picked up. The lieutenant yelled for an interpreter, and a Nyamwezi who knew German rose from the front bench and came and stood beside her.

"That baby is a white man's," he explained.

"What does she want?"

"She says the white man is the bwana dakitari (the doctor!)."

"Oh! Then I am glad she came here. It is time these loose women were taught a lesson! They tell the same tale. They say a white man passed through the village, gave their father a present, and carried them off. Is that her tale, too?"

"Yes."

"Well-what of it? The father agreed at the time when he accepted the present, didn't he? The consequence is a baby-not for the first time! Instead of going back to her village, she comes here and tries to blackmail the officer! She is young. It's the first time she has been in this court. This time I will be lenient. One hundred lashes!"

The interpreter translated, and the woman screamed. An askari seized her by the shoulders. She clung to him, but he threw her to the ground, and another one tore off the blanket that would have deadened the blows to some extent. She begged, and clung to their feet, but the blows began to rain on her, and presently she lay still, her breasts flattened against the earth floor, her mouth full of dust, and her naked body paralyzed by fear of the descending lash.

"Now bring up number one again!" the lieutenant ordered.

The askaris ceased from flogging him. One of them kicked him to his feet, and he resumed his stand in front of the lieutenant, looking up at him as proudly as ever, for all that his back was bruised and bloody.

"Did you steal or did you not?" asked the lieutenant.

"Steal what from whom?"

"Oh, go on beating him! Next case!"

The next man escaped the whip, but his witnesses were less fortunate. He brought two men and a woman with him to prove an alibi on a charge of attempted theft, and the glibness of their answers convinced the lieutenant they were lying. In the absence of all evidence for the prosecution except the unsupported word of a police askari who admitted a personal grudge against the defendant, the lieutenant resorted to the whip to change the witnesses' convictions, but without avail.

The woman yelled under the lash like a demented thing, but, far from withdrawing her statements, tried to spit in the lieutenant's face when jerked to her feet and stood again before him-an impossible feat because the platform on which he sat at the table was too high. He had her beaten a second time for spitting.

The next man was a fat Baganda from British territory, charged with trading without a license. He pleaded ignorance of the law, and denied having traded. He was flogged for telling lies in court, and changed his testimony under the lash, whereat he was promptly sentenced to a hundred and fifty lashes and a month on the chain-gang. Under the lash a second time, he recanted-swore that his first statements had been true and that he had done no trading-a mistake in tactics that only caused the tale of lashes to be increased by fifty and the term on the chain-gang to be doubled.

"You must learn that the methods taught you on British territory are of no use here!" remarked the lieutenant.

By the time Kazimoto was called and stood out alone in front of him the lieutenant was in a boiling rage, and the floor of the court was actually crowded by prone natives being beaten. Extra askaris had been sent for in order that proceedings might not be delayed, and the audience could scarcely hear the evidence and sentences because of the crack of whips and the moans of victims. (Not that they all moaned by any means. By far the most of them submitted to the torture in grim proud silence: but the few who did make a noise-especially the women-made lots of it.)

As Kazimoto faced the lieutenant he turned once and looked at us. His eyes sought Fred's.

"Oh, bwana!" he said-and now for the first time we learned why he had chosen Fred to be his particular master. "I have been faithful! Stroke, then, that beard of yours as Bwana Courtney, my former master, used to stroke his. Then we shall both know what to do!"

Fred stroked his beard promptly, for the man needed comfort, not ridicule: but the concession to his superstition did none of us any good.

"Face this way!" the lieutenant shouted at him. "You are charged with being a deserter from German service. Al

so with giving information to foreigners. Also with serving foreigners in their effort to exploit the country, and with refusing to give proper answers when questioned by those in authority. Do you understand?"

"No," said Kazimoto in the most melancholy tone I ever heard from him.

"Are you a Nyamwezi? Now don't dare to lie to me!"

"Yes."

"You were born in this country?"

"Yes."

"Then you belong in this country!"

"I belong where my master takes me. My spirit is good. I am a true man," Kazimoto answered.

"Your spirit is rotten! You are a traitor! What do you mean by talking to me of your master, you reptile! Your master is the German government, of which His Majesty the Kaiser is supreme overlord! There is a picture of your master!" He pointed with a thumb over his shoulder to the full-length atrocity in oils behind him. "Salute it!"

The boy obeyed.

"Answer now! Who is your master?"

Kazimoto hesitated.

"Answer, I order you!"

He turned and pointed a finger at Fred, who nodded.

"That English bwana is my master," he said stoutly. It was a forlorn hope, though. He did not seem to believe that the statement of fact would do him any good.

Fred jumped to his feet.

"That is perfectly correct," he said in English. "The boy is my servant, engaged on British territory, under a contract for wages to be paid in English money. He is to be paid off in British East at the end of my journey."

"Who asked you to speak?" demanded the lieutenant angrily, sitting up like a startled scorpion. "Do you not know this is a court?"

"It looks like a shambles!" Fred answered, glancing to right and left and indicating the victims of the whip writhing in the name of German justice.

"Shut up, you fool!" counseled Will in a stage whisper, but either Fred did not hear him, or was too worked up to care.

"Silence! Sit down!"

"I warn you!" Fred answered. "That boy has claimed British protection.

I shall see he has it!"

Then he sat down. The lieutenant glared at Kazimoto, the glare changing to a cold grin as he realized how fully we were all at his mercy for the moment.

"You are sentenced," he said, "to two hundred lashes for making impudent answers to the court, and to six months on the chain-gang for deserting from this country and entering foreign service. Further evidence against you will be assembled in the meanwhile, and other charges against you will be tried on completion of the chain-gang sentence!"

"I protest!" shouted Fred, jumping up again. "I give notice of appeal to whatever higher court there is. I am ready to give bonds!"

"What does this delay mean?" snapped the lieutenant. "Put him down at once and lay the lashes on!"

The unfortunate Kazimoto was pounced on by two askaris and thrown face-downward on the floor. One of them tore off his clothes, ripping up his good English jacket.

"Did you hear my protest?" shouted Fred. "Did you hear my notice of appeal?"

"I did," said the lieutenant. "Appeals are heard at the coast. You must give notice by mail, and receive an acknowledgment from the higher military court before I grant stay of execution. Lay on the lashes!"

"I will hold you personally liable for this outrage," Fred told him, "if it costs me all my money and all the rest of my years! I defy you to continue!"

"You have yourself to blame!" the lieutenant grinned. "But for your uninvited interruption the Nyamwezi would have had a better hearing! Lay those lashes on harder and more slowly!"

Kazimoto was taking his gruel like a man. Two askaris were beating him. The blows fell at random anywhere below the neck and above the heels, raising a great welt where they did not actually cut the skin. He had buried his face in his forearms, and Will had gone to stand near him, stooping down to encourage him with any words at all that might seem to serve.

"Stick it out, Kazi! We'll stand by! We won't leave you down here!

Remember you've got friends who won't desert you!"

Probably in his agony Kazimoto did not understand a word of it, but the lieutenant did,-and swiftly took steps to interfere.

"Call the Europeans' cases next!" he shouted, and promptly the German sergeants stepped down from the platform to marshal us in line. The lieutenant went through the form of studying the blue papers, and called out our names. That of Brown was included, but Brown was not in court and we were kept standing there until he had been fetched from his tent. He had retired immediately after the hanging to sleep off the effects of his debauch, and being now deprived of that luxury arrived between two askaris in a volcanic temper. He insulted the lieutenant to begin with.

"A diet o' beer an' sausage don't seem to have filled you full o' good manners, do it?"

The lieutenant scowled, but for the moment chose to ignore the pleasantry.

"You people are charged," he said, "with entering German territory otherwise than by a regular road and without reporting at a customs station. Further, with intending to defraud the customs-with carrying and possessing arms without a license-with being in possession of ammunition without a permit-with shooting game without a license-with filibustering-with intentional homicide, in that you shot and killed certain men of the Masai tribe within German territory-with wandering at large without permits and with felonious intent; and last, and this is the most serious charge, with being spies within the military meaning of that term. Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"

We were dumb. Even the crack of the heavy whips on poor Kazimoto's skin ceased to make impression on us. Suffering already from my wound to the point of nausea, I actually reeled before this new deluge of trouble, and had to hold on to Fred and Will. They each put an arm under mine. It was Brown who spoke and stole from our sails what little wind there might have been.

"Decline to plead!" he shouted boisterously. "You're no judge, you're a pirate! You're not fit to try natives, let alone white men! You're a disgrace, that's what you are! All you're fit for is to make a decent fellow glad he needn't know you!"

"Silence!" roared the lieutenant, banging on the table with his open palm-then with his fist-then with a mallet.

"Silence yourself!" retorted Brown as soon as the hammering ceased. "You ought to be ashamed o' yourself! Your court's a bally disgrace, an' you're the worst thing in it! You and your Kaiser can go to hell, and be damned to both of you!"

"One month in jail for contempt of court and Majestaets-beleidigung!" snapped the lieutenant. "Take him away!"

Quite clearly that was not the first time that a white man had been imprisoned in Muanza. There was no hesitation about the way in which an askari seized Brown's wrists or a sergeant snapped the handcuffs. He was hustled out expostulating, kicked on the shins by the sergeant when he faced about to argue, and shoved into a run by both sergeant and askari.

"You others would better be careful what you say!" said the lieutenant.

"I've a mind to share Brown's cell!" said Will, but the lieutenant affected not to hear that.

"Since you refuse to plead in this court, you shall be held until the arrival of Major Schunck from the coast. Your arms and ammunition are to be handed over to the askaris, who will be sent to the rest-camp to receive them. The askaris will search your belongings thoroughly to make sure they have all your weapons. You are ordered confined within the limits of this township, and if you are detected making any attempt to trespass outside township limits you will be confined as the Greeks are within the rest-camp under observation. The porters you brought into the country are all to be paid their full wages by you until Major Schunck shall have dealt with you; the porters are refused permission to leave Muanza, being needed as witnesses. Next case!"

He scrawled his signature at the foot of each sheet of blue paper, and made a motion with his arm that we should leave court. But we sat down and waited until the two Nubian giants had finished flogging Kazimoto, and when they dragged him to his feet Will and Fred walked over to give him a few words of comfort. That act of ordinary kindness threw the lieutenant into another fury.

"Bring the Nyamwezi here!" he ordered, and the askaris hustled him up in front of the table.

"What do you do? Have you no manners? Return proper thanks for the lesson you have received!"

Kazimoto stood silent.

"For God's sake-" Will began.

"Say 'Thank you' to him, Kazimoto!" Fred whispered.

There is no native word for "Thank you"-only a bastard thing introduced by tyrants from Europe who never understood the African contention that the giver rewards himself if his gift is worth anything at all.

"Asente," said Kazimoto meekly.

"Why don't you salute? Don't you know where you are?"

"For the love of God salute him!" Will almost shouted.

Kazimoto obeyed.

"Take him and put him on the chain-gang!" ordered the lieutenant. "You

Europeans leave the court!"

"I'm no European!" Will shouted back. "Thank the Lord I was born in a country you'll never set foot in!"

"Take them away before I have to make an example of them!" the lieutenant ordered.

Obediently the askaris gathered about us and hustled us out into the open, poking at my bandaged wound to get swifter action, and going as far as to threaten us with their hippo-hide whips. I trod on the naked toe of one of them with sufficient suddenness and weight to deprive him of the use of it for all time, and luckily for me he did not see who did it. The askari next to him had boots on, and got the blame.

The black men who were to search our belongings tried to induce us to hurry, but we insisted on seeing the iron ring riveted to Kazimoto's neck. The ring had a shackle on it, and through that they passed the long chain that held him prisoner in the midst of a gang of forty men. Nobody washed the wounds on his back. We bought water from a woman who was passing with a great jar on her head, and did that much for him. He was naked. His clothes that the askaris had torn from him had been thrown outside the court, and some one had stolen them. Later they gave him a piece of cheap calico to bind round his waist, but during all that hot afternoon he had nothing to keep the sun from his tortured back; nor would they permit us to give him anything.

The mortification of having one's private belongings gone through by black men in uniform was made more exasperating still by the fact that Coutlass and the other Greek and the Goanese were spectators, amusing themselves with comments that came nearer to causing murder than they guessed.

The real motive of the search was evident within two minutes from the commencement. The askaris could not read, but they showed a most remarkable affinity for paper that had been written on. They took the guns and ammunition first, but after that they emptied everything from our bags and boxes on to the sand, and confiscated every scrap of paper, shaking our books to make sure nothing was left between the leaves.

They even took away our writing material in their zeal to find information likely to prove useful to their masters. But they forgot to search our pockets, so that they overlooked the letter we had written in code to Monty and had not yet sent away by messenger.

That letter became our most besetting problem. How to find a runner who would take it to British East and mail it for us up there without betraying us first to the Germans was something we could not guess. Even Fred grew gloomy when we realized there was probably not a native on the whole countryside with sufficient manhood left in him to dare make the attempt. The first overture we might make would almost certainly be reported to the commandant at once.

"What fools we were not to send Kazimoto with it when he begged us to!"

"What worse than fools!"

"What brutes! Think what we might have saved him!"

We were unanimous as to that, but unanimity brought no comfort, until we all together hit on a notion that did ease our feelings a trifle. Coutlass and his two friends were sitting on camp-stools in the open where they could have a full view of our doings. Assuming the camping-ground to be equally divided between their party and ours, they were well within our portion. We decided their curiosity was insolent, declared inexorable war, and there and then felt better.

Fred went out with a tent-peg and scored in the sand a deep line to denote our boundary, the Greeks watching, all eyes and guesswork.

"Over the other side with you!" Fred ordered when he had finished.

They refused. He charged at them, and they ran.

"Whichever of you, man or servant, sets foot on our side of that line shall be a dead-sure hospital case!" Fred announced. "We'll reciprocate by leaving your side of the camp to you!"

"Who made you men rulers of this rest-camp?" Coutlass demanded.

"We did," Fred answered. "We've lost our rifles just as you have.

We'll fight you with bare hands and skin you alive if you trespass!"

"Gassharamminy!" shouted Coutlass. "By hell and Waterloo, you mistake me for a weakling! Wait and see!"

We had to wait a very long and weary time, but we did see. In the days that followed, when my wound festered and I grew too ill to drag myself about, Fred and Will were able to leave me alone in the camp without any fear of a visit from the Greeks. It was not that there was much left worth stealing, but a mere visit from them might have had consequences we could never have offset. Alone, unable to rise, I could not have forced them to leave, and their lingering would surely have been interpreted by the guard, who always watched them from the corner of the road, as evidence of collusion of some sort between them and us.

Just at that time Coutlass, as it happened, would have liked nothing better in the world than the chance to persuade the Germans that he was in our councils. Fred's mere irritable determination to divide the camp in halves saved us in all human probability from a trap out of which there would have been no escape.

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