It is little wonder, then, that from thousands of potential crusaders Orando discovered but a scant hundred awaiting the call to arms the morning following the celebration and war dance at Tumbai. Even among the hundred there were several whose martial spirit had suffered eclipse over night. Perhaps this was largely due to the after effects of an over-dose of native beer. It is not pleasant to set out for war with a headache.
Orando was moving about among the warriors squatting near the numerous cooking fires. There was not much talk this morning and less laughter; the boasting of yestereve was stilled. Today war seemed a serious business; yet, their bellies once filled with warm food, they would go forth presently with loud yells, with laughter, and with song.
Orando made inquiries. “Where is Muzimo?” he asked, but no one had seen Muzimo. He and The Spirit of Nyamwegi had disappeared. This seemed an ill omen. Some one suggested that possibly Sobito had been right; Muzimo might be in league with the Leopard Men. This aroused inquiry as to the whereabouts of Sobito. No one had seen him either; which was strange, since Sobito was an early riser and not one to be missing when the cook-pots were a-boil. An old man went to his hut and questioned one of the witch-doctor’s wives. Sobito was gone! When this fact was reported conversation waxed. The enmity between Muzimo and Sobito was recalled, as was the latter’s threat that Muzimo would die before morning. There were those who suggested that perhaps it was Sobito who was dead, while others recalled the fact that there was nothing unusual in his disappearance. He had disappeared before. In fact, it was nothing unusual for him to absent himself mysteriously from the village for days at a time. Upon his return after such absences he had darkly hinted that he had been sitting in council with the spirits and demons of another world, from whom he derived his supernatural powers.
Lupingu of Kibbu thought that they should not set out upon the war trail in the face of such dire omens. He went quietly among the warriors seeking adherents to his suggestion that they disband and return to their own villages, but Orando shamed them out of desertion. The old men and the women would laugh at them, he told them. They had made too much talk about war; they had boasted too much. They would lose face forever if they failed to go through with it now.
“But who will guide us to the village of the Leopard Men now that your muzimo has deserted you?” demanded Lupingu.
“I do not believe that he has deserted me,” maintained Orando stoutly. “Doubtless he, too, has gone to take council with the spirits. He will return and lead us.”
As though in answer to his statement, which was also a prayer, a giant figure dropped lightly from the branches of a nearby tree and strode toward him. It was Muzimo. Across one of his broad shoulders rested the carcass of a buck. On top of the buck sat The Spirit of Nyamwegi, screaming shrilly to attract attention to his prowess. “We are mighty hunters,” he cried. “See what we have killed.” No one but Muzimo understood him, but that made no difference to The Spirit of Nyamwegi because he did not know that they could not understand him. He thought that he was making a fine impression, and he was quite proud of himself.
“Where have you been, Muzimo?” asked Orando. “Some said that Sobito had slain you.”
Muzimo shrugged. “Words do not kill. Sobito is full of words.”
“Have you killed Sobito?” demanded an old man.
“I have not seen Sobito since before Kudu, the sun, went to his lair last night,” replied Muzimo.
“He is gone from the village,” explained Orando. “It was thought that maybe——”
“I went to hunt. Your food is no good; you spoil it with fire.” He squatted down at the bole of a tree and cut meat from his kill, which he ate, growling. The warriors looked on terrified, giving him a wide berth.
When he had finished his meal he arose and stretched his great frame, and the action reminded them of Simba, the lion. “Muzimo is ready,” he announced. “If the Utengas are ready let us go.”
Orando gathered his warriors. He selected his captains and gave the necessary orders for the conduct of the march. This all required time, as no point could be decided without a general argument in which all participated whether the matter concerned them or not.
Muzimo stood silently aside. He was wondering about these people. He was wondering about himself. Physically he and they were much alike; yet in addition to the difference in coloration there were other differences, those he could see and those he could not see but sensed. The Spirit of Nyamwegi was like them and like him, too; yet here again was a vast difference. Muzimo knit his brows in perplexity. Vaguely, he almost recalled a fleeting memory that seemed the key to the riddle; but it eluded him. He felt dimly that he had had a past, but he could not recall it. He recalled only the things that he had seen and the experiences that had come to him since Orando had freed him from the great tree that had fallen on him; yet he appreciated the fact that when he had seen each seemingly new thing he had instantly recognized it for what it was—man, the okapi, the buck, each and every animal and bird that had come within the range of his vision or his sensitive ears or nostrils. Nor had he been at a loss to meet each new emergency of life as it confronted him.
He had thought much upon this subject (so much that at times the effort of sustained thought tired him), and he had come to the conclusion that somewhere, sometime he must have experienced many things. He had questioned Orando casually as to the young man’s past, and learned that he could recall events in clear detail as far back as his early childhood. Muzimo could recall but a couple of yesterdays. Finally he came to the conclusion that his mental state must be the natural state of spirits, and because it was so different from that of man he found in it almost irrefutable proof of his spirithood. With a feeling of detachment he viewed the antics of man, viewed them contemptuously. With folded arms he stood apart in silence, apparently as oblivious to the noisy bickerings as to the chattering and scolding of The Spirit of Nyamwegi perched upon his shoulder.
But at last the noisy horde was herded into something approximating order; and, followed by laughing, screaming women and children, started upon its march toward high adventure. Not, however, until the latter turned back did the men settle down to serious marching, though Lupingu’s croakings of eventual disaster had never permitted them to forget the seriousness of their undertaking.
For three days they marched, led by Orando and guided by Muzimo. The spirits of the warriors were high as they approached their goal. Lupingu had been silenced by ridicule. All seemed well. Muzimo had told them that the village of the Leopard Men lay near at hand and that upon the following morning he would go ahead alone and reconnoiter.
With the dawning of the fourth day all were eager, for Orando had never ceased to incite them to anger against the murderers of Nyamwegi. Constantly he had impressed them with the fact that The Spirit of Nyamwegi was with them to watch over and protect them, that his own muzimo was there to insure them victory.
It was while they were squatting about their breakfast fires that some one discovered that Lupingu was missing. A careful search of the camp failed to locate him; and it was at once assumed that, nearing the enemy, he had deserted through fear. Loud was the condemnation, bitter the scorn that this cowardly defection aroused. It was still the topic of angry discussion as Muzimo and The Spirit of Nyamwegi slipped silently away through the trees toward the village of the Leopard Men.
The girl could understand little that they said. She had no idea as to the fate that was destined for her. As yet they had not injured her, but she could anticipate nothing other than a horrible termination of this hideous adventure. The young man who led her was occasionally rough when she stumbled or faltered, but he had not been actually brutal. Their appearance, however, was sufficient to arouse the direst forebodings in her mind; and she had always the recollection of the horrid butchery of the faithful Negro who had been left to guard her.
Thoughts of him reminded her of the white man who had left him to protect her. She had feared and mistrusted him; she had wanted to be rid of him. Now she wished that she were back in his camp. She did not admire him any more than she had. It was merely that she considered him the lesser of two evils. As she recalled him she thought of him only as an ill-mannered boor, as quite the most disagreeable person she had ever seen. Yet there was that about him which aroused her curiosity. His English suggested anything other than illiteracy. His clothes and his attitude toward her placed him upon the lowest rung of the social scale. He occupied her thoughts to a considerable extent, but he still remained an inexplicable enigma.
For two days her captors followed obscure trails. They passed no villages, saw no other human beings than them selves. Then, toward the close of the second day they came suddenly upon a large, palisaded village beside a river. The heavy gates that barred the entrance were closed, although the sun had not yet set; but when they had approached closely enough to be recognized they were admitted following a short parlay between the old man and the keepers of the gate.
The stronghold of the Leopard Men was the village of Gato Mgungu, chief of a once powerful tribe that had dwindled in numbers until now it boasted but this single village. But Gato Mgungu was also chief of the Leopard Men, a position which carried with it a sinister power far above that of many a chief whose villages were more numerous and whose tribes were numerically far stronger. This was true largely because of the fact that the secret order whose affairs he administered was recruited from unrelated clans and villages; and, because of the allegiance enforced by its strict and merciless code, Gato Mgungu demanded the first loyalty of its members, even above their loyalty to their own tribes or families. Thus, in nearly every village within a radius of a hundred miles Gato Mgungu had followers who kept him informed as to the plans of other chiefs, followers who must even slay their own kin if the chief of the Leopard Men so decreed.
In the village of Gato Mgungu alone were all the inhabitants members of the secret order; in the other villages his adherents were unknown, or, at most, only suspected of membership in the feared and hated order. To be positively identified as a Leopard Man, in most villages, would have been to meet sudden, mysterious death; for so loathed were they a son would kill his own father if he knew that he was a member of the sect, and so feared that no man dared destroy one except in secret lest the wrath and terrible vengeance of the order fall upon him.
In secret places, deep hidden in impenetrable jungle, the Leopard Men of outlying districts performed the abhorrent rites of the order except upon those occasions when they gathered at the village of Gato Mgungu, near which was located their temple. Such was the reason for the gathering that now filled the village with warriors and for the relatively small number of women and children that the girl noticed as she was dragged through the gateway into the main street.
Here the women, degraded, hideous, filed-toothed harpies, would have set upon her and torn her to pieces but for the interference of her captors, who laid about them with the hafts of their spears, driving the creatures off until the old man could make himself heard. He spoke angrily with a voice of authority; and immediately the women withdrew, though they cast angry, venomous glances at the captive that boded no good for her should she fall into their hands.
Guarding her closely, her three captors led her through a horde of milling warriors to a large hut before which was seated an old, wrinkled Negro, with a huge belly. This was Gato Mgungu, chief of the Leopard Men. As the four approached he looked up, and at sight of the white girl a sudden interest momentarily lighted his blood-shot eyes that ordinarily gazed dully from between red and swollen lids. Then he recognized the old man and addressed him.
“You have brought me a present, Lulimi?” he demanded.
“Lulimi has brought a present,” replied the old man, “but not for Gato Mgungu alone.”
“What do you mean?” The chief scowled now.
“I have brought a present for the whole clan and for the Leopard God.”
“Gato Mgungu does not share his slaves with others,” the chief growled.
“I have brought no slave,” snapped Lulimi. It was evident that he did not greatly fear Gato Mgungu. And why should he, who was high in the priesthood of the Leopard Clan?
“Then why have you brought this white woman to my village?”
By now there was a dense half-circle of interested auditors craning their necks to view the prisoner and straining their ears to catch all that was passing between these two great men of their little world. For this audience Lulimi was grateful, for he was never so happy as when he held the center of the stage, surrounded by credulous and ignorant listeners. Lulimi was a priest.
“Three nights ago we lay in the forest far from the village of Gato Mgungu, far from the temple of the Leopard God.” Already he could see his auditors pricking up their ears. “It was a dark night. The lion was abroad, and the leopard. We kept a large fire burning to frighten them away. It was my turn to watch. The others slept. Suddenly I saw two green eyes shining just beyond the fire. They blazed like living coals. They came closer, and I was afraid; but I could not move. I could not call out. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. My jaws would not open. Closer and closer they came, those terrible eyes, until, just beyond the fire, I saw a great leopard, the largest leopard that I have ever seen. I thought that the end of my days had come and that I was about to die.
“I waited for him to spring upon me, but he did not spring. Instead he opened his mouth and spoke to me.” Gasps of astonishment greeted this statement while Lulimi paused for effect.
“What did he say to you?” demanded Gato Mgungu.
“He said, ‘I am the brother of the Leopard God. He sent me to find Lulimi, because he trusts Lulimi. Lulimi is a great man. He is very brave and wise. There is no one knows as much as Lulimi.’”
Gato Mgungu looked bored. “Did the Leopard God send his brother three marches to tell you that?”
“He told me other things, many things. Some of them I can repeat, but others I may never speak of. Only the Leopard God, and his brother, and Lulimi know these things.”
“What has all this to do with the white woman?” demanded Gato Mgungu.
“I am getting to that,” replied Lulimi sourly. He did not relish these interruptions. “Then, when the brother of the Leopard God had asked after my health, he told me that I was to go to a certain place the next day and that there I should find a white woman. She would be alone in the jungle with one man. He commanded me to kill the black man and bring the woman to his temple to be high priestess of the Leopard Clan. This Lulimi will do. Tonight Lulimi takes the white high priestess to the great temple. I have spoken.”
For a moment there was awed silence. Gato Mgungu did not seem pleased; but Lulimi was a powerful priest to whom the rank and file looked up, and he had greatly increased his prestige by this weird tale. Gato Mgungu was sufficiently a judge of men to know that. Furthermore, he was an astute old politician with an eye to the future. He knew that lmigeg, the high priest, was a very old man who could not live much longer and that Lulimi, who had been laying his plans to that end for years, would doubtless succeed him.
Now a high priest friendly to Gato Mgungu could do much to increase the power and prestige of the chief and, incidentally, his revenues; while one who was inimical might threaten his ascendancy. Therefore, reading thus plainly the handwriting on the wall, Gato Mgungu seized this opportunity to lay the foundations of future friendship and understanding between them though he knew that Lulimi was an old fraud and his story doubtless a canard.
Many of the warriors, having sensed in the chief’s former attitude a certain antagonism to Lulimi, were evidently waiting a cue from their leader. As Gato Mgungu jumped, so would the majority of the fighting men; but when the day came that a successor to Imigeg must be chosen it would be the priests who would make the selection, and Gato Mgungu knew that Lulimi had a long memory.
All eyes were upon the chief as he cleared his royal throat. “We have heard the story of Lulimi,” he said. “We all know Lulimi. In his own village he is a great witch-doctor. In the temple of the Leopard God there is no greater priest after Imigeg. It is not strange that the brother of the Leopard God should speak to Lulimi—Gato Mgungu is only a fighting man. He does not talk with gods and demons. This is not a matter for warriors. It is a matter for priests. All that Lulimi has said we believe, but let us take the white woman to the temple. The Leopard God and Imigeg will know whether the jungle leopard spoke true words to Lulimi or not. Has not my tongue spoken wise words, Lulimi?”
“The tongue of Gato Mgungu, the chief, always speaks wise words,” replied the priest, who was inwardly delighted that the chief’s attitude had not been, as he had feared, antagonistic. And thus the girl’s fate was decided by the greed of corrupt politicians, temporal and ecclesiastical, suggesting that the benighted of central Africa are in some respects quite as civilized as we.
As preparations were being made to conduct the girl to the temple, a lone warrior, sweat-streaked and breathless, approached the gates of the village. Here he was halted, but when he had given the secret sign of the Leopard Clan he was admitted. There was much excited jabbering at the gate way; but to all questions the newcomer insisted that he must speak to Gato Mgungu immediately upon a matter of urgent importance, and presently he was brought before the chief.
Again he gave the secret sign of the Leopard Clan as he faced Gato Mgungu.
“What message do you bring?” demanded the chief.
“A few hours’ march from here a hundred Utenga warriors led by Orando, the son of Lobongo, the chief, are waiting to attack your village. They come to avenge Nyamwegi of Kibbu, who was killed by members of the clan. If you send warriors at once to hide beside the trail they can ambush the Utengas and kill them all.”
“Where lies their camp?”
The messenger described the location minutely; and when he had finished, Gato Mgungu ordered a sub-chief to gather three hundred warriors and march against the invaders; then he turned to the messenger. “We shall feast tonight upon our enemies,” he growled, “and you shall sit beside Gato Mgungu and have the choicest morsels.”
“I may not remain,” replied the messenger. “I must return from whence I came lest I be suspected of carrying word to you.”
“Who are you?” demanded Gato Mgungu.
“I am Lupingu of Kibbu, in the Watenga country,” replied the messenger.