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   Chapter 18 EIGHTEEN

The Ivory Trail By Talbot Mundy Characters: 5698

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


L'ENVOI

The dry death-rattle of the streets

Asserts a joyless goal-

Re-echoed clang where traffic meets,

And drab monotony repeats

The hour-encumbered role.

Tinsel and glare, twin tawdry shams

Outshine the evening star

Where puppet-show and printed lie,

Victim and trapper and trap, deny

Old truths that always are.

So fare ye, fare ye well, old roofs!

The syren warns the shore,

The flowing tide sings overside

Of far-off beaches where abide

The joys ye know no more!

The salt sea spray shall kiss our lips-

Kiss clean from the fumes that were,

And gulls shall herald waking days

With news of far-seen water-ways

All warm, and passing fair.

They've cast the shore-lines loose at last

And coiled the wet hemp down-

Cut picket-ropes of Kedar's tents,

Of time-clock task and square-foot rents!

Good luck to you, old town!

Oh, Africa is calling back

Alluringly and low

And few they be who hear the voice,

But they obey-Lot's wife's the choice,

And we must surely go!

So fare ye, fare ye well, old roofs!

The stars and clouds and trees

In place of you! The heaped thorn fire-

Delight for the town's two-edged desire-

For thrice-breathed breath the breeze!

For rumble of wheels the lion's roar,

Glad green for trodden brown

For potted plant and measured lawn

The view of the velvet veld at dawn!

Good-by to you, old town!

If all is well that ends well, and only that is well, then this story fails at the finish, for we never caught the cannibals, so never taught them the lesson in housekeeping and economics that they needed. But there is no other shortcoming to record.

It is no business of any one's what terms we made in the end with the Protectorate Government; but thanks to Monty's tact and influence, and to their sense of fair play, we were treated generously. And if, when the world war at last broke out and the Germans undertook to put in practise the treachery they had so long planned, there was a secret fund of hugely welcome money at the disposal of the out-numbered defenders of British East, its source will no doubt be accounted for, as well as its expenditures, to the proper people, by the proper people, at the proper time and place.

But those who are curious, and are adept at unraveling statistics might learn more than a little by studying the export figures relating to ivory during the years that preceded the war. They say statistics never lie; but those who write them now and then do, and it may be that camouflage was understood and went by another name before the great war made the art notorious and popular.

Some of the ivory in that huge hole was ruined by the heat that still lives in Elgon's womb. Some of it was splintered by the fall when yoked slaves tossed it in. Rats had gnawed

some of it, to get at the soft sweet core.

But the men who keep the keys of the bursting ivory vaults by London docks could tell how much of it was good, and what huge stores of it reached them. For some strange reason they are not a very talkative breed of men.

We did not haul the ivory out ourselves. That would have been too public a proceeding. But any one who attempted during the years that followed nineteen hundred to make a trip to Elgon can truthfully inform whoever cares to know, how jealously and wakefully the Protectorate Government guarded those lonely trails. And there are folk who saw the hundred-man safaris that came down from that way every week or so, carrying old ivory, said to be acquired in the way of trade. But that is really all government business, and looks impertinent in print.

We did not make enough money to establish Monty in the homes of his ancestors at Montdidier Towers and Kirkudbrightshire Castle; for that would have been an unbelievable amount; it takes more than mere affluence to keep up an earldom in the proper style. But we all got rich.

Brown received his cattle back after a long wait, as well as a present of money that set him up handsomely for life. And certain dissatisfied Masai were fined so many cows and sheep for raiding across the border that they talked of migrating out of spite to German East-but did not do it.

A youthful red-headed assistant district superintendent of police was unaccountably alert enough to round up and bring into court more than a dozen natives who had preached sedition. And, being lucky enough to secure convictions in every case, he was promoted. The last I heard of him he was fighting in the very heart of German East in command of a whole brigade. So it is advantageous sometimes to do favors for stray noblemen, provided you are clever enough, and man enough to make good when the favors are repaid.

And while on the subject of favors, the four homesick islanders who had lent us their canoes and came with us all that journey, were sent back to their island followed by a launch towing two barges full of corn-free, gratis, and for nothing-"burre tu," as the natives say, meaning that the English are certainly crazy and giving away food without a pull-back to it simply and solely because "the people" have too much nja. Nja is the nastiest word in all those languages. It means the one thing everybody dreads-the thing that only the English seem to know charms against-want-emptiness-HUNGER.

At our expense, but by the favor of the government, there went to that island food enough in boxes and strong sacks-and seeds, treated against insects-and tools with which the wives could chop the soil up (for you can't expect the owner of a wife to work) to keep that island and its friendly folk from hunger for many a day.

THE END

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