The trails were narrow and little used and in places very low, for the little men do not have to clear their trails to the same height that others must.
Kapopa went ahead, for he knew the little men better than Bobolo knew them; though both knew their methods, knew how they hid in the underbrush and speared unwary passersby or sped poisoned arrows from the trees above. They would recognize Kapopa and not molest them. Behind Kapopa came Kali Bwana. There was a fiber rope around her fair neck. Behind her was Bobolo, holding the rope’s end.
The girl was in total ignorance of their destination or of what fate awaited her there. She moved in a dumb lethargy of despair. She was without hope, and her only regret was that she was also without the means of ending her tragic sufferings. She saw the knife at the hip of Kapopa as he walked ahead of her and coveted it. She thought of the dark river and the crocodiles and regretted them. In all respects her situation appeared to her worse than it had ever been before. Perhaps it was the depressing influence of the somber forest or the mystery of the unknown into which she was being led like some dumb beast to the slaughter. Slaughter! The word fascinated her. She knew that Bobolo was a cannibal. Perhaps they were taking her somewhere into the depths of the grim wood to slaughter and devour her. She wondered why the idea no longer revolted her, and then she guessed the truth—it postulated death. Death! Above all things now she craved death.
How long they plodded that seemingly endless trail she did not know, but after an eternity of dull misery a voice hailed them. Kapopa halted.
“What do you want in the country of Rebega?” demanded the voice.
“I am Kapopa, the witch-doctor,” replied Kapopa. “With me are Bobolo, the chief, and his wife. We come to visit Rebega.”
“I know you, Kapopa,” replied the voice, and a second later a diminutive warrior stepped into the trail ahead of them from the underbrush at its side. He was about four feet tall and stark naked except for a necklace and some anklets and arm bands of copper and iron.
His eyes were small and close set, giving his unpleasant countenance a crafty appearance. His expression denoted surprise and curiosity as he regarded the white girl, but he asked no questions. Motioning them to follow him, he continued along the crooked trail. Almost immediately two other warriors, apparently materializing from thin air, fell in behind them; and thus they were escorted to the village of Rebega, the chief.
It was a squalid village of low huts, bisected ovals with a door two or three feet in height at each end. The huts were arranged about the periphery of an ellipse, in the center of which was the chief’s hut. Surrounding the village was a crude boma of pointed sticks and felled timber with an opening at either end to give ingress and egress.
Rebega was an old, wrinkled man. He squatted on his haunches just outside one of the entrances to his hut, surrounded by his women and children. As the visitors approached him he gave no sign of recognition, his small, beady eyes regarding them with apparent suspicion and malice. His was indeed a most repellent visage.
Kapopa and Bobolo greeted him, but he only nodded once and grunted. To the girl his whole attitude appeared antagonistic, and when she saw the little warriors closing in about them from every hut she believed that Kapopa and Bobolo had placed themselves in a trap from which they might have difficulty in escaping. The thought rather pleased her. What the result would be for her was immaterial; nothing could be worse than the fate that Bobolo had intended for her. She had never seen pygmies before; and, notwithstanding her mental perturbation, her normally active mind found interest in observing them. The women were smaller than the men, few of them being over three feet in height; while the children seemed incredibly tiny. Among them all, however, there was not a prepossessing countenance nor a stitch of clothing, and they were obviously filthy and degraded.
There was a moment’s silence as they halted before Rebega, and then Kapopa addressed him. “You know us, Rebega—Kapopa, the witch-doctor, and Bobolo, the chief!”
Rebega nodded. “What do you want here?” he demanded.
“We are friends of Rebega,” continued Kapopa, ingratiatingly.
“Your hands are empty,” observed the pygmy; “I see no presents for Rebega.”
“You shall have presents if you will do what we ask,” promised Bobolo.
“What do you want Rebega to do?”
“Bobolo has brought his white wife to you,” explained Kapopa. “Keep her here in your village for him in safety; let no one see her; let no one know that she is here.”
“What are the presents?”
“Meal, plantain, fish; every moon enough for a feast for all in your village,” replied Bobolo.
“It is not enough,” grunted Rebega. “We do not want a white woman in our village. Our own women make us enough trouble.”
Kapopa stepped close to the chief and whispered rapidly into his ear. The sullen expression on Rebega’s countenance deepened, but he appeared suddenly nervous and fearful. Perhaps Kapopa, the witch-doctor, had threatened him with the malign attentions of ghosts and demons if he did not accede to their request. At last he capitulated.
“Send the food at once,” he said. “Even now we have not enough for ourselves, and this woman will need as much food as two of us.”
“It shall be sent tomorrow,” promised Bobolo. “I shall come with it myself and remain over night. Now I must return to my village. It is getting late, and it is not well to be out after night has fallen. The Leopard Men are everywhere.”
“Yes,” agreed Rebega, “the Leopard Men are everywhere. I shall keep your white woman for you if you bring food. If you do not I shall send her back to your village.”
“Do not do that!” exclaimed Bobolo. “The food shall be sent you.”
It was with a feeling of relief that Kali Bwana saw Bobolo and Kapopa depart. During the interview with Rebega no one had once addressed her, just as no one would have addressed a cow he was arranging to stable. She recalled the plaints of American Negroes that they were not treated with equality by the whites. Now that conditions were reversed, she could not see that the Negroes were more magnanimous than the whites. Evidently it all depended upon which was the more powerful and had nothing whatsoever to do with innate gentleness of spirit or charity.
When Bobolo and Kapopa had disappeared in the forest, Rebega called to a woman who had been among the interested spectators during the brief interview between him and his visitors. “Take the white woman to your hut,” he commanded. “See that no harm befalls her. Let no stranger see her. I have spoken.”
“What shall I feed her?” demanded the woman. “My man was killed by a buffalo while hunting, and I have not enough food for myself.”
“Let her go hungry, then, until Bobolo brings the food he has promised. Take her away.”
The woman seized Kali Bwana by the wrist and led her toward a miserable hut at the far end of the village. It seemed to the girl to be the meanest hut of all the squalid village. Filth and refuse were piled and strewn about the doorway through which she was conducted into its gloomy, windowless interior.
A number of other women had followed her guardian, and now all these crowded into the hut after them. They jabbered excitedly and pawed her roughly in their efforts to examine and finger her garments and her ornaments. She could understand a little of their language, for she had been long enough now with the natives to have picked up many words, and the pygmies of this district used a dialect similar to that spoken in the villages of Gato Mgungu and Bobolo. One of them, feeling of her body, remarked that she was tender and that her flesh should be good to eat, at which they all laughed, exposing their sharp-filed, yellow teeth.
“If Bobolo does not bring food for her, she will be too thin,” observed Wlala, the woman who was her guardian.
“If he does not bring food, we should eat her before she becomes too thin,” advised another. “Our men hunt, but they bring little meat. They say the game has gone away. We must have meat.”
They remained in the small, ill-smelling hut until it was time to go and prepare the evening meal for their men. The girl, exhausted by physical exertion and nervous strain, sickened by the close air and the stench of the hut’s interior, had lain down in an effort to secure the peace of oblivion in sleep; but they had prodded her with sticks, and some of them had struck her in mere wanton cruelty. When they had gone she lay down again, but immediately Wlala struck her a sharp blow.
“You cannot sleep while I work, white woman,” she cried. “Get to work!” She pressed a stone pestle into the girl’s hand and indicated a large stone at one side of the hut. In a hollow worn in the stone was some corn. Kali Bwana could not understand all that the woman said, but enough to know that she was to grind the corn. Wearily she commenced the work, while Wlala, just outside the hut, built her cooking fire and prepared her supper. When it was ready the woman gobbled it hungrily, offering none to the girl. Then she came back into the hut.
“I am hungry,” said Kali Bwana. “Will you not give me food?”
Wlala flew into a frenzy of rage. “Give you food!” she screamed. “I have not enough food for myself. You are the wife of Bobolo; let him bring you food.”
“I am not his wife,” replied the girl. “I am his prisoner. When my friends discover how you have treated me, you will all be punished.”
Wlala laughed. “Your friends will never know,” she taunted. “No one comes to the country of the Betetes. In my life I have seen only two other white-skinned people; those two we ate. No one came and punished us. No one will punish us after we have eaten you. Why did Bobolo not keep you in his own village? Were his women angry? Did they drive you out?”
“I guess so,” replied the girl.
“Then he will never take you back. It is a long way from the village of Bobolo to the village of Rebega. Bobolo will soon tire of coming so far to see you while he has plenty of wives in his own village; then he will give you to us.” Wlala licked her thick lips.
The girl sat dejectedly before the stone mortar. She was very tired. Her hands had dropped to her sides. “Get to work, you lazy sow!” cried Wlala and struck her across the head with the stick she kept ever ready at hand. Wearily, Kali Bwana resumed her monotonous chore. “And see that you grind it fine,” added Wlala; then she went out to gossip with the other women of the village.
As soon as she was gone the girl stopped working. She was so tired that she could scarcely raise the stone pestle, and she was very hungry. Glancing fearfully through the doorway of the hut, she saw that no one was near enough to see her, and then, quickly, she gathered a handful of the raw meal and ate it. She dared not eat too much, lest Wlala discover the theft; but even that little was better than nothing. Then she added some fresh corn to the meal in the mortar and ground that to the same consistency as the other.
When Wlala returned to the hut, the girl was fast asleep beside the mortar. The woman kicked her into wakefulness; but as by now it was too dark to work and the woman herself lay down to sleep, Kali Bwana was at last permitted undisturbed slumber.
Bobolo did not return the following day, nor the second day, nor the third; neither did he send food. The pygmies were very angry. They had been anticipating a feast. Perhaps Wlala was the angriest, for she was the hungriest; also, she had commenced to suspect the theft of her meal. Not being positive, but to be on the safe side, she had beaten Kali Bwana unmercifully while she accused her of it. At least she started to beat her; then suddenly something quite unexpected had happened. The white girl, leaping to her feet, had seized the pygmy, torn the stick from her hand, and struck her repeatedly with it before Wlala could run from the hut. After that Wlala did not again strike Kali Bwana. In fact, she treated her with something approximating respect, but her voice was raised loudly in the village against the hated alien and against Bobolo.
In front of Rebega’s hut was a concourse of women and warriors. They were all angry and hungry. “Bobolo has not brought the food,” cried one, repeating for the hundredth time what had been said by each.
“What do we want of meal, or plantain, or fish when we have flesh here for all?” The speaker jerked a thumb meaningly in the direction of Wlala’s hut.
“Bobolo would bring warriors and kill us if we harmed his white wife,” cautioned another.
“Kapopa would cast a spell upon us, and many of us would die.”
“He said he would come back with food the next day.”
“Now it has been three days, and he has not returned.”
“The flesh of the white girl is good now,” argued Wlala. “She has been eating my meal, but I have stopped that. I have taken the meal from the hut and hidden it. If she does not have food soon, her flesh will not be so good as now. Let us eat her.”
“I am afraid of Kapopa and Bobolo,” admitted Rebega.
“We do not have to tell them that we ate her,” urged Wlala.
“They will guess it,” insisted Rebega.
“We can tell them that the Leopard Men came and took her away,” suggested a rat-faced little fighting man; “and if they do not believe us we can go away. The hunting is not good here, anyway. We should go elsewhere and hunt.”
For a long time Rebega’s fears outweighed his natural inclination for human flesh, but at last he told them that if the food Bobolo had promised did not arrive before dark they would have a dance and a feast that night.
In the hut of Wlala, Kali Bwana heard the loud shouts of approval that greeted Rebega’s announcement and thought that the food Bobolo had promised had arrived. She hoped that they would give her some of it, for she was weak from hunger. When Wlala came she asked her if the food had arrived.
“Bobolo has sent no food, but we shall eat tonight,” replied the woman, grinning. “We shall eat all that we wish; but it will not be meal, nor plantain, nor fish.” She came over to the girl then and felt of her body, pinching the flesh slightly between her fingers. “Yes, we shall eat,” she concluded.
To Kali Bwana the inference was obvious, but the strange chemistry of emotion had fortunately robbed her of the power to feel repugnance for the idea that would have so horribly revolted her a few short weeks ago. She did not think of the grisly aftermath; she thought only of death, and welcomed it.
The food from Bobolo did not come, and that night the Betetes gathered in the compound before Rebega’s hut. The women dragged cooking pots to the scene and built many fires. The men danced a little; but only for a short time, for they had been too long on short rations. Their energy was at low ebb.
At last a few of them went to the hut of Wlala and dragged Kali Bwana to the scene of the festivities. There was some dispute as to who was to kill her. Rebega was frankly afraid of the wrath of Kapopa, though he was not so much concerned about Bobolo. Bobolo could only follow them with warriors whom they could see and kill; but Kapopa could remain in his village and send demons and ghosts after them. At last it was decided that the women should kill her; and Wlala, remembering the blows that the white girl had struck her, volunteered to do the work herself.
“Tie her hands and feet,” she said, “and I will kill her.” She did not care to risk a repetition of the scene in her hut at the time she had attempted to beat the girl.
Kali Bwana understood, and as the warriors prepared to bind her she crossed her hands to facilitate their work. They threw her to the ground and secured her feet; then she closed her eyes and breathed a prayer. It was for those she had left behind in that far away country and for “Jerry.”