Bobolo leaned toward her and whispered, “Do not be afraid. I am taking you away from the Leopard Men.”
She understood just enough of the tribal dialect that he employed to catch the sense of what he had said. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Bobolo, the chief,” he replied.
Instantly she recalled that the white man had hoped for aid from this man, for which he was to pay him in ivory. Her hopes rose. Now she could purchase safety for both of them. “Is the white man in the canoe?” she asked.
“No,” replied Bobolo.
“You promised to save him,” she reminded him.
“I could save but one,” replied Bobolo.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To my village. There you will be safe. Nothing can harm you.”
“Then you will take me on down river to my own people?” she asked.
“Maybe so after a while,” he answered. “There is no hurry. You stay with Bobolo. He will be good to you, for Bobolo is a very big chief with many huts and many warriors. You shall have lots of food; lots of slaves; no work.”
The girl shuddered, for she knew the import of his words. “No!” she cried. “Oh, please let me go. The white man said that you were his friend. He will pay you; I will pay you.”
“He will never pay,” replied Bobolo. “If he is not already dead, he will be in a few days.”
“But I can pay,” she pleaded. “Whatever you ask I will pay you if you will deliver me safely to my own people.”
“I do not want pay,” growled Bobolo; “I want you.”
She saw that her situation was without hope. In all this hideous land the only person who knew of her danger and might have helped her was either dead or about to die, and she could not help herself. But there was a way out! The idea flashed suddenly to her mind. The river!
She must not permit herself to dwell too long upon the idea—upon the cold, dark waters, upon the crocodiles, lest her strength fail her. She must act instantly, without thought. She leaped to her feet, but Bobolo was too close. Upon the instant he guessed her intention and seized her, throwing her roughly to the bottom of the canoe. He was very angry and struck her heavily across the face; then he bound her, securing her wrists and her ankles.
“You will not try that again,” he growled at her.
“I shall find some other way then,” she replied defiantly. “You shall not have me. It will be better for you to accept my offer, as otherwise you shall have neither me nor the pay.”
“Be quiet, woman,” commanded Bobolo; “I have heard enough,” and he struck her again.
For four hours the canoe sped swiftly onward; the ebon paddlers, moving in perfect rhythm, seemed tireless. The sun had risen, but from her prone position in the bottom of the craft the girl saw nothing but the swaying bodies of the paddlers nearest her, the degraded face of Bobolo, and the brazen sky above.
At last she heard the sound of voices shouting from the shore. There were answering shouts from the crew of the canoe, and a moment later she felt its prow touch the bank. Then Bobolo removed the bonds from her wrists and ankles and helped her to her feet. Before her, on the river bank, were hundreds of savages: men, women, and children. Beyond them was a village of grass-thatched, beehive huts, surrounded by a palisade of poles bound together with lianas.
When the eyes of the villagers alighted upon the white prisoner there was a volley of shouts and questions; and as she stepped ashore she was surrounded by a score of curious savages, among whom the women were the most unfriendly. She was struck and spat upon by them; and more serious harm would have been done her had not Bobolo stalked among them, striking right and left with the shaft of his spear.
Trailed by half the village, she was led into the compound to the hut of the chief, a much larger structure than any of the others, flanked by several two-room huts, all of which were enclosed by a low palisade. Here dwelt the chief and his harem with their slaves. At the entrance to the chief’s compound the rabble halted, and Kali Bwana and Bobolo entered alone. Instantly the girl was surrounded again by angry women, the wives of Bobolo. There were fully a dozen of them; and they ranged in age from a child of fourteen to an ancient, toothless hag, who, despite the infirmities of age, appeared to dominate the others.
Again Bobolo had recourse to his spear to save his captive from serious harm. He belabored the most persistent of them unmercifully until they fell back out of reach of his weapon, and then he turned to the old woman.
“Ubooga,” he said, addressing her, “this is my new wife. I place her in your care. See that no harm comes to her. Give her two women-slaves. I shall send men-slaves to build a hut for her close to mine.”
“You are a fool,” cried Ubooga. “’She is white. The women will not let her live in peace, if they let her live at all, nor will they let you live in peace until she is dead or you get rid of her. You were a fool to bring her, but then you were always a fool.”
“Hold your tongue, old woman!” cried Bobolo. “I am chief. If the women molest her I will kill them—and you, too,” he added.
“Perhaps you will kill the others,” screamed the old hag, “but you will not kill me. I will scratch out your eyes and eat your heart. You are the son of a pig. Your mother was a jackal. You, a chief! You would have been the slave of a slave had it not been for me. Who are you! Your own mother did not know who your father was. You—” But Bobolo had fled.
With her hands on her hips the old termagant turned toward Kali Bwana and surveyed her, appraising her from head to feet. She noted the fine leopard skin garment and the wealth of bracelets and anklets. “Come, you!” she screamed and seized the girl by the hair.
It was the last straw. Far better to die now than to prolong the agony through brutal abuse and bitter insult. Kali Bwana swung a blow to the side of Ubooga’s head that sent her reeling. The other women broke into loud laughter. The girl expected that the old woman would fall upon her and kill her, but she did nothing of the kind. Instead she stood looking at her; her lower jaw dropped, her eyes wide in astonishment. For a moment she stood thus, and then she appeared to notice the laughter and taunts of the other women for the first time. With a maniacal scream she seized a stick and charged them. They scattered like frightened rabbits seeking their burrows, but not before the stick had fallen heavily upon a couple of them as Ubooga, screaming curses, threatened them with the anger of Bobolo.
When she returned to the white girl she merely nodded her head in the direction of one of the huts and said “Come” again, but this time in a less peremptory tone; in other ways, too, her attitude seemed changed and far less unfriendly, or perhaps it would be better to say less threatening. That the terrible old woman could be friendly to any one seemed wholly beyond the range of possibility.
Having installed the girl in her own hut, under the protection of two women slaves, Ubooga hobbled to the main entrance of the chief’s compound, possibly in the hope of catching a glimpse of Bobolo, concerning whom she had left a number of things unsaid; but Bobolo was nowhere to be seen. There was, however, a warrior who had returned with the chief from up river squatting before a nearby hut while his wife prepared food for him.
Ubooga, being a privileged character and thus permitted to leave the sacred precincts of the harem, crossed over and squatted down near the warrior.
“Who is the white girl?” demanded the old woman.
The warrior was a very stupid fellow, and the fact that he had recently been very drunk and had had no sleep for two nights lent him no greater acumen. Furthermore, he was terribly afraid of Ubooga, as who was not? He looked up dully out of red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes.
“She is the new white priestess of the Leopard God,” he said.
“Where did Bobolo get her?” persisted Ubooga.
“We had come from the battle at Gato Mgungu’s village, where we were defeated, and were on our way with Gato Mgungu back to the temp—” He stopped suddenly. “I don’t know where Bobolo got her,” he ended sullenly.
A wicked, toothless grin wrinkled Ubooga’s unlovely features. “I thought so,” she cackled enigmatically and, rising, hobbled back to the chief’s compound.
The wife of the warrior looked at him with disgust. “So you are a Leopard Man!” she whispered accusingly.
“It is a lie,” he cried; “I said nothing of the sort.”
“You did,” contradicted his wife, “and you told Ubooga that Bobolo is a Leopard Man. This will not be well for Bobolo or for you.”
“Women who talk too much sometimes have their tongues cut out,” he reminded her.
“It is you who have talked too much,” she retorted. “I have said nothing. I shall say nothing. Do you think that I want the village to know that my man is a Leopard Man?” There was deep disgust in her tone.
The order of Leopard Men is a secret order. There are few villages and no entire tribes composed wholly of Leopard Men, who are looked upon with disgust and horror by all who are not members of the feared order. Their rites and practices are viewed with contempt by even the most degraded of tribes, and to be proved a Leopard Man is equivalent to the passing of a sentence of exile or death in practically any community.
Ubooga nursed the knowledge she had gained, metaphorically cuddling it to her breast. Squatting down before her hut, she mumbled to herself; and the other women of the harem who saw her were frightened, for they saw that Ubooga smiled, and when Ubooga smiled they knew that something unpleasant was going to happen to some one. When Bobolo entered the compound they saw that she smiled more broadly, and they were relieved, knowing that it was Bobolo and not they who was to be the victim.
“Where is the white girl?” demanded Bobolo as he halted before Ubooga. “Has any harm befallen her?”
“Your priestess is quite safe, Leopard Man,” hissed Ubooga, but in a voice so low that only Bobolo might hear.
“What do you mean, you old she-devil?” Bobolo’s face turned a livid blue from rage.
“For a long time I have suspected it,” cackled Ubooga. “Now I know it.”
Bobolo seized his knife and grasped the woman by the hair, dragging her across one knee. “You said I did not dare to kill you,” he growled.
“Nor do you. Listen. I have told another, who will say nothing unless I command it, or unless I die. If I die the whole village will know it, and you will be torn to pieces. Now kill me, if you dare!”
Bobolo let her fall to the ground. He did not know that Ubooga had lied to him, that she had told no one. He may have surmised as much; but he dared not take the chance, for he knew that Ubooga was right. His people would tear him to pieces should they discover he was a Leopard Man, nor would the other culprits in the tribe dare come to his defense. To divert suspicion from themselves they would join his executioners. Bobolo was very much worried.
“Who told you?” he demanded. “It is a lie, whoever told you.”
“The girl is high priestess of the Leopard God,” taunted Ubooga. “After you left the village of Gato Mgungu, following the fight in which you were defeated, you returned to the temple with Gato Mgungu who all men know is the chief of the Leopard Men. There you got the girl.”
“It is a lie. I stole her from the Leopard Men. I am no Leopard Man.”
“Then return her to the Leopard Men, and I will say nothing about the matter. I will tell no one that you are such a good friend of Gato Mgungu that you fight with him against his enemies, for then everyone will know that you must be a Leopard Man.”
“It is a lie,” repeated Bobolo, who could think of nothing else to say.
“Lie or no lie, will you get rid of her?”
“Very well,” said Bobolo; “in a few days.”
“Today,” demanded Ubooga. “Today, or I will kill her tonight.”
“Today,” assented Bobolo. He turned away.
“Where are you going?”
“To get someone to take her back where the Leopard Men can find her.”
“Why don’t you kill her?”
“The Leopard Men would kill me if I did. They would kill many of my people. First of all they would kill my women if I killed theirs.”
“Go and get someone to take her away,” said Ubooga, “but see that there is no trickery, you son of a wart hog, you pig, you——”
Bobolo heard no more. He had fled into the village. He was very angry, but he was more afraid. He knew that what Ubooga had said was true; but, on the other hand, his passion still ran high for the white girl. He must try to find some means to preserve her for himself; in case he failed, however, there were other uses to which she could be put. Such were the thoughts which occupied his mind as he walked the length of the village street toward the hut of his old crony Kapopa, the witch-doctor, upon more than one occasion a valuable ally.
He found the old man engaged with a customer who desired a charm that would kill the mother of one of his wives, for which Kapopa had demanded three goats—in advance. There was considerable haggling, the customer insisting that his mother-in-law was not worth one goat, alive, which, he argued, would reduce her value when dead to not more than a single chicken; but Kapopa was obdurate, and finally the man departed to give the matter further thought.
Bobolo plunged immediately into the matter that had brought him to the witch-doctor. “Kapopa knows,” he commenced, “that when I returned from up the river I brought a white wife with me.”
Kapopa nodded. “Who in the village does not?”
“Already she has brought me much trouble,” continued Bobolo.
“And you wish to be rid of her.”
“I do not. It is Ubooga who wishes to rid me of her.”
“You wish a charm to kill Ubooga?”
“I have already paid you for three such charms,” Bobolo reminded him, “and Ubooga still lives. I do not wish another. Your medicine is not so strong as Ubooga.”
“What do you wish?”
“I will tell you. Because the white girl is a priestess of the Leopard God, Ubooga says that I must be a Leopard Man, but that is a lie. I stole her from the Leopard Men. Everyone knows that I am not a Leopard Man.”
“Of course,” assented Kapopa.
“But Ubooga says that she will tell everyone that I am a Leopard Man if I do not kill the girl or send her away. What can I do?”
Kapopa sat in silence for a moment; then he rummaged in a bag that lay beside him. Bobolo fidgeted. He knew that when Kapopa rummaged in that bag it was always expensive. Finally the witch-doctor drew forth a little bundle wrapped in dirty cloth. Very carefully he untied the strings and spread the cloth upon the ground, revealing its contents, a few short twigs and a figurine carved from bone. Kapopa set the figurine in an upright position facing him, shook the twigs between his two palms, and cast them before the idol. He examined the position of the twigs carefully, scratched his head for a moment, then gathered them up, cast them again. Once more he studied the situation in silence. Presently he looked up.
“I now have a plan,” he announced.
“How much will it cost?” demanded Bobolo. “Tell me that first.”
“You have a daughter,” said Kapopa.
“I have many of them,” rejoined Bobolo.
“I do not want them all.”
“You may have your choice if you will tell me how I may keep the white girl without Ubooga knowing it.”
“It can be done,” announced Kapopa. “In the village of the little men there is no witch-doctor. For a long time they have been coming to Kapopa for their medicine. They will do whatever Kapopa asks.”
“I do not understand,” said Bobolo.
“The village of the little men is not far from the village of Bobolo. We shall take the white girl there. For a small payment of meal and a few fish at times they will keep her there for Bobolo until Ubooga dies. Some day she must die. Already she has lived far too long. In the meantime Bobolo can visit his wife in the village of the little men.”
“You can arrange this with the little men?”
“Yes. I shall go with you and the white girl, and I will arrange everything.”
“Good,” exclaimed Bobolo. “We will start now; when we return you may go to the harem of Bobolo and select any of his daughters that you choose.”
Kapopa wrapped up the twigs and the idol and replaced them in his pouch; then he got his spear and shield. “Fetch the white girl,” he said.