The belly of the swamp was black. Thick stagnant pools of slime sweltered. Even the firm ground was but a mass of rotten trees and rotten undergrowth. Nothing lived here but things both obscene and deadly. A tangle of giant trees extending over thousands of square miles shut off the sun eternally from the earth. The rain falling in torrents upon this roof was caught and deflected by the vegetation so that it reached the ground in streams, as if spouted from countless myriads of gargoyles. It was impossible to see for any distance, not only because of the thickness of the forest and its abiding gloom, but because the air was misty with miasma, a foul hot sweat. Here and there it was made darker still by swarms of gnats, mosquitos and flying ants. The pools were hideous with reptile life. Malignant serpents and greedy crocodiles were masters of land and water, while the trees owned no lordship but that of the most obscene and savage gorillas.
Through this abominable morass, a path had been cut, or rather tunnelled. It was barely large enough for a man to pass his fellow. It wound inextricably among the trees, constantly seeking higher and dryer ground, and finding it not. Across the depressions it was only possible to go by taking the path to where some giant tree had fallen, and crawling across its slippery and infested trunk. Where one of the sluggish streams cut off the way from its general direction, ladders of twisted osier made a dangerous passage through the air.
In this jungle, even so simple a matter as the lighting of a fire is a serious operation. One keeps one's matches as dry as possible by enclosing them in a specially constructed air-tight receptacle. But even when you've got your flame, it is only a beginning. You must cut some wood which is not hopelessly rain-sodden, from a tree. Then you must split it into the thinnest chips, and when you have got a little heap of these alight, you must dry other wood above your tiny fire, constantly increasing the size of the pieces, until after about an hour's work, you can begin to think of cooking dinner. A big fire is necessary at night, partly on account of our First Cousin, but principally because, though the heat may be stifling, the thermometer above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, there is yet a deadly chill in the very marrow of your bones. There is also the minor consideration that it is nice to feel dry, even if one is not dry, for an hour or so in every twenty four.
By such a fire, which smoked lazily upon a small plateau which had been cleared sufficiently to allow a glimpse of sky here and there, stood a man. A man so thin and worn, that he might have sat to Rodin for a statue of Death. But of Death on a hot scent! His arms were shaking with malarial ague, so that the rifle which he held shuddered passionately in his grasp. His teeth were clenched, his eyes fiercely glinting, his ear, so to speak, cocked. The silence of the forest is the silence of an ambush. Its noises are as the sounding of the charge. Whatever noise he had heard, it stopped very suddenly. The man with the rifle did not relax his vigilance on that account. Whatever it was might have got away. But on the other hand, the sudden stillness might mean that it saw the fire, and was preparing to attack. The man turned and signalled to his servants, sixteen immense negroes hardly less simian than the gorillas he had come to hunt; to throw more wood on the fire from the great stack which they had prepared, both to dry the wood and to serve as a rough barricade. A shower of sparks roared heavenward defying the rain. The man and his servants leapt into the darkness beyond the bulwark, and crouched there in grim silence. As active as any of them was the white man's intombizann, a young woman, half Dutch, half Zulu, from the Zambezi, who travelled with her husband (as marriage laws go in Africa). She was a sturdy muscular type with a flat face, a broad grim, pig's eyes, a turned-up nose, and a shock of gold brown hair. She was slightly pitted with the small-pox, and had a scar across her forehead from the great uprising.
The surprised party had no fear of talking; the fire was sufficient evidence of their presence. They discussed the cause of the disturbance.
"It sounded to me like the scouts of a war party," said the Honourable Charles Sexton.
"No," said the head man. "This noise stopped. Scouts would have gone back to warn the war chief."
"What do you think, Bill?" said the white man.
The girl always answered to the name of Bill--it was short for Billiken, though she looked more like a regular West African idol.
"I don't think," she said, "I smell. There is a white man here."
Silence fell intense like a pass on a coffin. Then from the top of a tree rang a firm voice which said: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."
The party looked up amazed. In the branch of a tree, at the end of the clearing, they could see the face of a small, spry, active, old man wearing very ragged khaki and a smile which was not ragged at all.
"I wish you a very good evening, sir," the voice continued, and with a light leap the man sprang into the clearing. As he did so, he was joined by a slim youth, exceeding pale. Sexton ran forward to great them.
"Excuse this quiet unwarrantable intrusion, my dear sir," said the old man, "and still more the alarm which we inadvertantly caused you, but we had no means of knowing who you were. A thousand apologies to the lady," he added, as Billiken came forward, all smiles, and took him by both hands.
"Permit me to introduce myself--my name is Simon Iff; and this is Lord Juventius Mellor."
"Glad to know you," said the hunter, "my name is Charles Sexton; and this is Billiken, better known as Bill. I hope you will take food with us."
"You are very kind indeed," returned the other. "To tell the truth, we have been on quarter rations for some time."
"We have enough dried hippo meat and broiled monkey for a regiment to say nothing of tins."
They sat around the fire in a certain state, for the Honourable Charles Sexton always did himself pretty well. He gave the 'Colonel Elliot's chair' to his principal guest, while he and the rest seated themselves on such loads as had not been unpacked. Bill devoted herself to Lord Juventius, beginning a passionate flirtation by offering him a pellet of opium, which was the thing he most needed to combat his sickness and exhaustion. With this and a little more than his share of the champagne, he was soon able to sustain the combat.
"This is a most particularly fine cut of monkey," said Simon Iff. "I wish indeed that I had the secret of your cuisine."
"The secrets are two," said the hunter. "The first is Bill, who can make parrot taste like Sole Mornay, and the second is Worcester Sauce. But forgive my curiosity--where have you come from, and where are all your men?"
"We have come from Timbuctoo," answered the magician, "after crossing the Sahara with the caravan from Biskra, and we have not any men because we thought they would be more trouble than they were worth; besides, it's more exciting."
"I should say it was," returned Sexton, "but how in blazes do you find your way? Have you any idea where you are?"
"Pretty fair," answered Iff. "I have a sense of direction and a sense of distance which serve me pretty well. Besides, when we went into this delightful swamp twelve days ago, they told us that there was only one trail and that it led to the village of Mwala. They told us that Mwala was a terrible potentate, the offspring of a gorilla and a demon king, that he was cruel, treacherous, bloodthirsty, and a cannibal. As the very charming people, who gave me this information, were described in precisely the same terms by their neighbours to the North East, I expect to find Mwala a modern Old King Cole."
"We are two days' journey from Mwala," said Sexton, "but only about ten miles of it is this ungodly swamp. Beyond that there is pleasant upland park country with plenty of game. But as to Mwala, he was a pretty decent sort when I was here three years ago. Something seems to have spoilt his temper."
"Have you had any serious trouble?" asked the magician.
"Well, there's a war on, for one thing. There's another king called M'Qob--we thought at first you were scouts of a war party of his--and somehow or other they've both got guns--strictly against the law, of course--and they've been itching to use them. The old man wanted me to lead one of his armies. Did you ever hear of anything so asinine? I told him that sooner or later the French would be down on him, but of course he said he was bound to defend his people from the assassin M'Qob. I am a Gallio in these matters, but they had quite a nice battle last week, with fifty or sixty killed on either side, village raided, cattle driven off, and all that sort of thing."
"What's the war about? The usual nothing?"
"Can't make out. The two kings were as thick as thieves three years ago. They had sworn blood brotherhood, they had put down raiding, stopped human sacrifice, and generally had become the very best kind of nigger, than whom there is no more charming person alive. Now it's all upset. I hear that human sacrifice has been started again."
"What's the ostensible cause of the quarrel?"
"Naylor can tell you more about that than I can: he's the trader out here. He is at Mwala's now. I hope you will join my party. We are going straight back. I have got three gorillas, two of them alive, as you see in the cage there, and I have had enough of this poisonous darkness."
"I shall be very glad," said Simon.
"Splendid," cried the hunter. "And now I am sure you want to sleep."
"My body does," replied the magician, "and the beast has carried me so well that I begrudge it neither its oats, not even it's wild ones, nor it's straw."
But long after the rest of the party was asleep, the magician, smoking a curved black briar pipe, gazed intently upon the fire. Perhaps he saw faces there. But one may doubt whether he saw any face so strange as that of the days that were to be.
Mr. Naylor was an Englishman of the lower middle-class. He was conventional; and he was stupid; and he was cowardly; and the combination of these qualities had made him the regular British hero. One must earn one's living in the regular way. What better place than Africa? His stupidity and conventionality quite discounted his cowardice, for though he saw men dying all around him, he believed himself to be under the special protection of a deity called Jesus Christ by the Methodists, to whom he belonged, but to be carefully distinguished from a false god of the same name worshipped by Baptists, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Plymouth Brethren, Agapemonites, Lady Huntington's Connection, or other savage sects. Intelligent men, such as the French or Germans, cannot colonise. The art needs a race too stupid to understand that it is being martyred. Empire is a dream, with nightmare passages. And men must be asleep to dream.
Mr. Naylor was breakfasting in his compound at Mwala's village. The meal consisted of a little tea and a little banana and a lot of whiskey and quinine. He was too blond and too fat to thrive in West Africa. Dysentery to him was almost a hobby. He had no imagination and counted his days dull, though haemoglobinuria did its little best to add a touch of colour to his life. He cursed the mosquitoes in a way that would have shocked the Methodists of Birmingham. He was passionately devoted to Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, as a colonial administrator and empire builder.
Mr. Naylor was particularly annoyed this morning, the second after Iff's arrival at Sexton's camp, by the fact that the Rev. Moses Rose had not seen fit, as promised, to join in his not very festal festivity. The missionary was somewhat aggressively 100% American; but some people, on introduction, ventured to speculate how long it was since Rose was Rosenbaum. Mr. Naylor wanted to see him very badly, because business was wretched. His stock consisted of things desirable in peace, and the war had completely upset his calculations. Everybody had denuded himself of his substance in order to buy the instruments of death. He hoped at least to do a little business with the good man, though he knew him of old as a very shrewd hand at a bargain. But more important still, he wanted to sound him on the situation, and to bribe him by offering him a commission to "put the fear of God into the niggers" and get them to dig up enough rubber and other treasures to take the stock off his hands. But there was no Moses Rose to say Grace Before Bananas. He smoked his woodbine tremulously and determined to go around to the mission after breakfast. His meditations were disturbed by the beating of innumerable drums and a very inferno of yelling. The damn fools are going out to fight again, he thought. But no, the drums came nearer and the village itself broke into joyful clamour. Women and children ran forth gleefully.
"It is very good, sir," said Mr. Naylor's servant, a tall negro from Sierra Leone. "It is a great victory, now they will buy everything."
Naylor knew that the victory in any war is only one degree less unfortunate than the vanquished. This holds even in Africa, where the object of war is avowedly loot. However, victory was better than nothing. He walked feebly to the door of the compound to see the return of the warriors. But as the head of the procession passed, his negro Sam, informed him (for of course he would not condescend to understand a word of the language of the people with whom he was trading) that it was not victory, but peace. The two kings had met on the previous day, and talked to each other instead of fighting. The interview, it appeared, had been engineered by a Roman Catholic Missionary in M'Qob's village. Mr. Naylor had never liked this man; both because he was a wicked Papist, which is worse than any other idolatry because the sinner has sinned against the light, and because he would never play Mr. Naylor's little games for him by mising up religion and business. But this time it seemed he had done him a particularly good turn. Mr. Naylor returned to his hut. The sun was already very hot. He did not want to see Mr. rose any more, just then. He had to calculate on how much he would raise prices on him
Meanwhile the other inhabitants of the village abandoned themselves to unrestrained joy. Mr. Naylor would put in an hour or two on his accounts and sleep the mid-day sleep. In the afternoon he would see Mr. rose, and in the morning perhaps the people would be sober enough to do business. His intentions were interrupted by the Hon. Charles Sexton, who came into the compound like a leopard crying, "Get your rifle, man, and bid your caravan stand to arms, there's going to be a fuss."
Mr. Naylor's terror thrust forward the accelerator of his remarks. In less than a minute the head man of his caravan had placed a strong guard at every wall of the compound. But nothing happened. The streets of the village were deserted. Everyone had gone to the great space around the palace, to celebrate peace. About one half hour later the rest of Sexton's caravan filed in. Mr. Naylor was in the last extremity of fear; for Sexton had explained matters to him, in an off-hand way, like a man describing a costume ball. It is probable that his stupidity grasped none of the details of the explanation; for when he visualized it with the arrival of the caravan, his teeth chattered like a monkey's. On a litter, in the midst of the procession, lay Mr. Rose; and it was shockingly evident that he had lost a foot. His hands, too, were discolored and disfigured, terribly swollen, and his face was almost shapeless with mosquito bites. Fear of torture and loss of blood had rendered him a hideous lump, from which all semblence of humanity had nearly fled. Simon Iff's eyes swept round the defenders of the compound.
"How far is the nearest white force?" he asked of Sexton.
"Probably not within a week," replied the hunter.
"Then, assuming your messenger loses no time, no one can get here for a fortnight."
"Just about," said Sexton, "though my man might do it in five days--perhaps four."
"In that case," returned the magician, greatly pleased, "we have ample time for deliberation, which seems to me our chief need."
"What we need is food," said Sexton shortly, "there wasn't too much of it before the fuss started."
"I want to talk this business thoroughly over with Mwala. His ingenuity seems to me to run away with him."
"You will have your chance," said Sexton grimly, "he will be here with about one thousand men in five minutes after he hears of this."
"And M'Qob's men, too," bleated the missionary. "Pilate and Herod have made friends."
"Their guns are as good as ours," continued Sexton, "where-ever they got them. Luckily they shoot more for the noise than for result." This was a cheerful lie intended to encourage Mr. Naylor.
"Mr. Sexton," said Simon Iff sharply, "it is no use deceiving others, it teaches us to deceive ourselves. If your psychology and your facts are right, we can be stormed in an hour or starved in a week. What we need is thought. I don't see why you're so sure that this is a race riot. If it were, why didn't they get Mr. Naylor? Let me see. Are you able to answer a few questions, Mr. Rose?" The missionary nodded, with an effort.
"What time was it when they took you?"
"Just before evening service."
"And where were you then, Mr. Naylor?"
"I was dining here at home," said the trader. "I had no idea of any disturbance."
Simon Iff puffed at his pipe. He was watching the face of Billiken out of the corners of his eyes. He turned to her sharply.
"Bill, my dear," he said, "you know something. What is it?"
"I don't know anything," she replied stolidly. "I smell something."
"Well, what do you smell?"
"I smell magick."
"That's only me, my dear," smiled Iff. "I am myself something more than an amateur of the art."
"Great!" she cried, and flung her brown arms round his neck, a gesture which she followed with a hearty kiss.
"Pray, do not say such things even in jest," murmured the missionary, "you mean a conjurer, of course. But out here in Africa magic is a dreadful superstition associated with the most revolting crime. My present state, my martyrdom, if I may say it, is evidently due to the personal action of the Prince of Evil. We are in touch with the powers of darkness--it is for my faith that I suffer."
"Did they do the same to all your converts?" asked Iff.
"But they were all my converts," wailed the missionary.
"Ah, back-sliders," commented Simon.
"I can give you a terrible example of the workings of the devil. About six months after I arrived here, the tribe reverted to human sacrifice; and you will be astonished and appalled to learn that, abandoning their old method, they have blasphemously resorted to crucifixion."
"I am not very much appalled and not at all astonished," returned Iff. "You convert these people, assuring them that all their sins, past and future, are forgiven, and this by a means of a story of a crucifixion, which to them is to the highest degree exciting from a sexual point of view."
"I never thought of it in that way; but of course their morality is dreadfully low."
"Strange," said Iff, "whenever I've passsed, I have found the native code fantastically rigid. However, these people naturally want to visualize your stimulating story, and, being highly dowered with mimicry, they get busy."
"I think that's about the psychology of it," said Sexton. "I've seen similar reactions in more places than one."
"It is the Doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement that does the harm," said Iff; "despite all Paul's special pleading, it is bound to destroy moral responsibility."
"Mwala is coming," said Billiken.
Simon Iff looked at the girl again, still more intently. Neither he nor any of the others could hear a sound; and if Mwala were coming it would be with the noise of a great army. She read the question in his eye.
"He is coming for a palaver."
"Ah," said Simon Iff, reflectively, "I am more than ever convinced that you know something."
"I don't know anything," she said again. "I smell it."
"Her nose knows," murmured Lord Juventius Mellor from the background.
"While he is coming, perhaps you will tell us about the magick you smelt," said Simon Iff.
"I think there is an old custom," she said, "when a building is made, something must be killed or burned at one corner, or else it will not stand firm. So also is it when they wish to build a peace."
"But," objected Iff, "Mwala is a man of quite advanced education--that mechanical arrangement by the river..."
"I taught him mechanics," groaned the missionary, "it only goes to show that the highest intellectual attainments are not incompatible with the depths of barbarism."
"What did they actually do?" asked Mr. Naylor.
The missionary dragged himself into an easier position.
"They lured me from the mission house, upon a pretext. They took me down to the river where you found me, and then without a word of explanation they hung me by the wrists to a projecting bough with an arrangement of weights and pulleys, so that the release of part of my weight would lower my body little by little." He fell back fainting with the horrof of the recollection.
"As I told you," said Sexton, "only you were too scared to listen, his feet were about a foot out of the water and the crocodiles were jumping for him like puppies teased with a biscuit. He had been there all night. We were just in time to see the first successful dash. The curious thing is that the natives didn't stay to enjoy the effect. I'm beginning to think there is something very funny about this business."
"Here comes Mwala," cried Lord Juventius Mellor, whose quick ear had caught approaching foot-steps.
"Admit him," said Simon.
It was curious how instinctively he had taken command of the party. No one thought to question his good sense. But Mwala stood still at the gate of the compound. Behind him two men held a big umbrella over his head and on either side marched two soldiers armed with spears. But it was evidently a friendly visit.
"Now, why won't he come in?" said Simon to himself. "He isn't afraid, because we could shoot him where he stands. Some taboo, I suppose."
Closely followed by Sexton, he advanced to the gate. The king greeted him very solemnly, in good English. Simon Iff replied with similar reserve and repeated the invitation to enter.
"No," said the king, "to me you are a stranger. I will explain. I am chief in this place. You are my guests. But when I look from my house upon the hill, I see you armed, on guard. Am I then no longer king? or why do my guests distrust their host?"
"It's a trap," whispered Mr. Naylor, who had crept up behind. "Remember Cawnpore."
"I can't remember it," said Simon, "I've never heard but one side of the story."
"It is I," said the king, "who should have been arming against you. You have committed a breach of my hospitality."
"Yes," said Simon curtly, "I rather want to go into that with you." He spoke to the king rather as a college professor might speak to a student suspected of some delinquency.
"I beg you to explain," said he.
"You see, Mwala, we have a taboo in England against using men of our race...er...I mean...of...er...man, in short, in mechanical experiments."
"This was not an experiment," replied the king, with an air of one putting everything right with a word. "This was the peace sacrifice."
The magician looked at the king with extraordinary intentness. He felt sure that something was hidden behind that simple savage speech.
"Mwala," said he, "the sun is hot. By your leave I will sit down for this palaver." The king bowed gravely, and they squatted opposite each other.
"What exactly," asked Simon, "do you mean by a peace sacrifice?"
"It is an ancient custom of our nation," replied Mwala. "Peace must be bound with blood."
"I don't see why you selected Mr. Rose," said the magician.
Mwala began to assert his dignity. "I am king of this nation," he said. "I am the father of all. I rule with justice and benevolence. All that I do is part of that rule."
"Not exactly the Golden rule, in this case," remarked Lord Juventius.
"Pray be silent, my lord," said Simon, who never addressed his disciple in this way unless he was extremely angry with him.
"The Golden Rule," he continued, addressing Mwala, "interpreted in such a sense would end all human justice. When man does not do unto others as he would that they should do unto him, somebody must teach him his error by showing him that two can play at the game if he chooses to make it necessary."
"It is a true saying," answered the king. There came a pause. "But what has this to do with this matter?"
"This much," replied Simon, "that your action has aroused a reaction in us, from whom, although you are our host, you also receive benefit. The question is whether you should be unkind to anyone, even in order to secure lasting peace."
"I dispute the theory," put in Sexton, "I find myself in entire disagreement with the theory."
"It is the practice that matters after all," returned Iff. "Your majesty seems to me a person of very great intelligence; I may add, despite the facts, of excellent fine feeling. I am a stranger to you, but I have just come from the great desert in the North, and there they call me the 'Father of Justice'. May I propose then that you appoint me judge in this case?"
The king rose; and, plucking an ostrich plume from his headdress, handed it to Iff. "This Feather," he said, "is the symbol of my justice; the breath of man deflects it. I leave it in your hands."
"Do I understand, Mwala," said Simon, "that you, as king of this country, appeal to this court to deliver into your custody the body of the Rev. Moses Rose to be sacrificed to crocodiles with every circumstance of terror and bodily torture?"
"I do," said the king, with the most frigid expression of stolidity.
"Call Mr. Rose," said Simon.
They brought the missionary in on his litter.
"Swear Mr. Rose," said Simon. The sick man took the oath on a copy of the Gospels.
"Your name is Moses Rose?"
"I'm a minister of Christ. I've been sent here by the American Baptist Mission."
"Tell us your relations with King Mwala."
"We have always been on friendly terms," returned the missionary. "Only a few months after my arrival, the Lord saw fit to bless my work by touching his hard heart. In a little while, practically the whole nation became Christians, nominal Christians, I fear, most of them, merely nominal Christians."
"Did you consider Mwala's conversion sincere?"
"I did at the time. He was very friendly indeed, and has been until yesterday. He took the most active interest in our American discoveries and inventions, steam, electricity and so forth. I have rarely met anyone so eager to learn. Even at this moment I have saved him from his enemy. It is the black, bitter ingratitude of his conduct that wounds me most."
"How have you saved him from his enemy?"
"I have warned him in season and out of season against M'Qob, a black-hearted Papist who was constantly plotting treacheries. It was I that ran the guns into the country so that he might defend himself adequately against him. And now, for some utterly incomprehensible reason, he has become leagued with that arch-ruffian."
It did not escape the impromptu judge that Mwala appeared to be under the influence of some subdued emotion of a not unpleasant kind.
"Mr. Rose, is it not against the law to run guns?" asked Iff.
"I must admit that it is so," said Rose, "that is, under ordinary circumstances. But here was my convert, my patron, my friend, and all his people in utmost peril. Could I have done otherwise?"
"Where did you get the guns from?"
"It must have taken rather long to execute the order. You must have had moments of great anxiety. Surely it would have been quicker to have asked for the white garrison."
"They would not have believed us," answered Rose. "You know what colonial officials are. We had nothing on M'Qob either; it was merely my knowledge of the human heart, too terribly justified by the event."
"Were these guns then a gift to the king?"
"I am a poor sergeant of the Lord; I was obliged to receive payment."
"At a fair profit, I presume?"
"You may say, considering the risk, hardly a fair profit."
Simon Iff had seen gun trading in his time, gold weighed grain for grain against steel, gunpowder, brass, lead and nickle.
"Thank you, Mr. Rose. You should go to the house for treatment. Call..."
But he was interrupted by the arrival of a swift litter borne by six sweating runners. It contained no less a person than M'Qob himself, followed by a small chubby person in a cassock and a broad black hat, whose eyes beamed eagerly.
"Are we in time?"he cried.
"You are," said Iff, "you are. Very much in time. Call Father...I haven't your name, sir."
"I am Father Duval."
"Call Father Duval. Swear Father Duval!"
"I don't understand," said the priest.
Mwala and M'Qob had striven to outdo each other in cordiality.
"Your name?" said Iff.
"Abelard Cesar Duval."
"I am a priest."
"You live in the country of M'Qob?"
"Do you know the Rev. Moses Rose?"
"Are you on friendly terms with him?"
"I have come here to-day to save his life: the moment I heard of this atrocity I commanded M'Qob in the name of the Holy Church to add his great influence to my weak protests."
"I must beg you to answer my question."
"I am not personally well acquainted with Mr. Rose."
"No, then?" A pause.
"You disagree with him on many points?"
"He is a heretic, of course?"
"He is in error, as I believe."
"About practical policy here now. Do you differ with him about that"
"Really, the divergencies are--well, are not divergencies natural to all men? Please may I ask what this is all about?"
"But it is impossible!"
"Only if we prejudice the case," said Simon; "let us imagine it a purely abstract matter for the present. You delay, but do not divert, the purpose of my questions. Why did Mwala and M'Qob do this thing to Mr. Rose?"
The priest paled.
"My evidence would be but hearsay, and it is under the seal of confession."
"Thank you, Father Duval. Call King M'Qob."
But this was not easy. Father Duval passionately objected to the course of procedure. M'Qob refused point blank to answer anything.
"It really doesn't matter," said Simon wearily, "I have other witnesses of truth."
"Mr. Judge," implored the little priest, "I beg of you not to continue this travesty of justice."
"I commit you for contempt!" snapped Simon. "Tipstaff, take that man!" The indignant Father was taken into custody by Lord Juventius, and handed over to two of Sexton's men. He bit his lip and remained silent.
"Before I call any more witnesses," said Simon, "I will explain the case. It is simple, because we have an absolutely unspeakable atrocity committed by people who evidently think themselves within their rights. That, as Bill here says, smells like magick. Compare the whole theory of the Bible. Now we have a very frank statement from Mr. Rose, and (excuse me!) a very suspicious reticence from Father Duval. He comes running twenty miles to save Mr. Rose, but he won't open his mouth to do it when he gets here. Why? He finds the situation changed; he finds Magick, the one worthy rival of the Church, in the seat of judgment. No doubt that must be it."
A scarcely veiled sarcasm mellowed his tone.
"To proceed. The two kings are equally loathed to testify. They stand upon their right of life and death. Delightfully antiquated of them! However, the motive is evident. M'Qob has heard that Mr. Rose has warned Mwala against him, and makes it a condition of peace that Rose is offered as the scarifice. A little strange, in either Protestant or Catholic. And infamous treachery and ingratitude on the part of Mwala. Shocking thing, sometimes, human nature! So, all's explained."
Every one but Mwala seemed decidedly relieved.
"But," the magician continued, "we must be careful not to generalize on insufficient data. Call Billiken! Swear Billiken!"
The girl refused any ordinary oath. "My father was a hunter, and my man is a hunter," she said, with an extraordinary grin, "I must swear upon two rifles."
They yielded to her whim. But two ordinary rifles would not do; one must come from one side and one from the other. So one of M'Qob's men and one one of Mwala's obliged. Having been duly sworn, she refused to testify. "I have already told everything," she said with an impudent grin.
Mwala and M'Qob conferred together in agitation. Father Duval kept his lips firmly set in silence.
"The whole method of Science," said Iff, "consists in putting two similar things together, and two dissimilar things apart. We need an expert witness. Call the Honourable Charles Sexton! Swear the Honourable Charles Sexton!"
The witness claimed to be an amateur explorer, hunter, and collector.
"You are familiar with firearms of all sorts?"
"I am. I have actually worked in a factory, so as to be able to repair my own guns in case of accident; I was also in the Ordnance when I served in the army."
"What are the principal differences between these two rifles?" Iff caused them to be handed to him. The witness grinned, and was most sternly rebuked.
"My lord," said the hunter, "there is only one difference; this rifle is numbered F31876, and this one F32124."
"Thank you, Mr. Sexton; that will do. Bring Mr. Rose back; he must hear the rest."
By this time Mwala was itching to make a bolt for it. His dignity, and perhaps his sense of Fate, kept him statue-steady.
"King Mwala," said Simon sternly, "there is no justice without Truth. It is useless moreover to seek to hide from me what I already know; what every one here, even Mr. Rose, knows, unless there be some imbecile among us. And Bill, who only smells things! I tell you, King Mwala, that it is even bad policy, though you think otherwise so strongly--no doubt the cause of your stubbornness--to stick to this stupid story of the peace sacrifice. Unless you speak, I break this Feather hear and now!"
The king rose violently as if with some gigantic determination. He caught up the two rifles, and thrust them out over the head of the Baptist Missionary.
"Father of Justice," said the king solemnly, "I said Peace-Sacrifice, and spake no lie. Three years ago M'Qob and I were brothers. Then came this Rose, and warned me secretly against M'Qob, and sold me guns, and at the same time warned my brother against me, and sold him guns. These and guns came in the same consignment from America; three hundred and a score of my children, four hundred and two score of my brothers, are dead. To have a lasting peace, one must do justice on the maker of the war."
He stopped dramatically.
"Mr. Rose," said Simon Iff, "what have you to say to this?"
Not speech but inarticulate shrieks, bestrewn with hideous blasphemies, obscene curses, answered him. The missionary, in abject bodily pain, and utmost horror of soul, sounded every abyss of hell in a few minutes. Exhaustion silenced him at last.
"Your majesty," said the magician solemnly. "I restore to you your Justice." And he replaced the Feather in the King's headdress. Mwala signed to his man, who caught up the litter and began to carry it toward the river. He and M'Qob saluted the little party of whites, and walked together in the same path.
No sooner was Mwala's back turned than Father Duval cried out. "You're judge no more, and Mwala isn't here. Let me go!"
"I purge you of contempt," smiled simon. "And I wish you luck. But remember that you're a wicked Papist, worse than an idolater, in the eyes of Mr. Rose, whose pupil is a strict Baptist, very severe in his morals, though I'm glad to say he keeps to native ideas of Justice. You've no influence with Mwala; rose saw to that. The wicked are fallen into the pit that themselves digged."
"Mr. Iff, I beg you to believe that I have long known that man for a bitter enemy of myself, nay, of God and of Man also. But I am responsible for the situation; I discovered what was being done; and I felt bound to bring about a peace. But I am doing to force Mwala at the pistol's point to let him go; and I shall offer to take his place."
"You are really the most immoral person I have ever met. It's awfully sweet of you, and all that, but you never had a pistol in your life; and if Mwala accepted your offer, well, really now?" Simon Iff was quite pathetic; his speech had failed him. There was a great gulf fixed between the points of view.
"You mean, what good would it do? That a good man, as perhaps you ignorantly think me, should die to save a bad one? I can only call your remembrance to history."
"My dear sir, I have yet to see what good that did, especially as I don't think it ever happened. But without the Resurrection, the Death is wicked, as Paul showed; and with it, the Death is a farce."
"But the example! the example!" pleaded the little priest.
"Is a bad one. I admit it's made you a hero, but only because you are a better man than you are a theologian, and a stricter theologian than you are a moralist. I'm not sure that I ought not to detain you on a charge of attempted suicide. But, as you justly urge, I'm judge no more; so let me shake your hand, if I be worthy, and bid you God speed on your noble, bootless, and unethical errend."
The priest wrung Simon's hand in silence.
"It's most annoying" said Mr. Naylor. "I had counted confidently on Mr. Rose to buy at least twenty pounds worth of goods."
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