C. S. (Cecil Scott) Forester.

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— .^,1,^ ,- , -^^J^-J.






By C. S. Forester

The author of the Hornblower novels re-
turns in this new hook to Africa, the
setting of an earlier and memorable story,


This is the dramatic story of a man who was
also a god. It tells how that man exchanged
heavenly omnipotence for earthly power, and how
the exchange was accompanied by the first faint
intimations of human love — -2. story as old as
Adam, and as new as sky travel.

In the beginning Loa was all-powerful in his
tiny native village, brother of the forest, his
friendly brother, and of the sky, the unfriendly
one. Into this idyllic scene came the Arab raiders,
burning, killing and enslaving the village under
the hated whip and yoke. Terror and hardship
forced Loa to realize he was only a man after all,
but the change was made bearable by his wife,
Musini, who continued to worship -him as a god
in public and perhaps let him think she did in
private, while actually discovering a new tenderness
for him as a man. Furthermore, Loa was not too
slow to learn that where a god may rule a village,
empires are man-made.

In this unusual tale the author has given the
reader an uncanny feeling for the vastness, the
strange moods and customs, of an earlier time in
a mysterious land. In Loa he has created another
man's man who, like Hornblower, is full of cdur-
age and also of conceits and misgivings and the
other human foibles which mark a Forester hero,
whether he be a commodore in His Majesty's Navy
or a chieftain in the depths of Africa.

This book has not been published as
a serial prior to book publication.

Jacket Design by Jan Doubrava

. h

♦'. »









(Originally published in the three volumes starred above)





(Rifleman Dodd was published in England under
the title Death to the French)

commodore HORNBLOWER


Ine Sky and tne Forest

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

Boston Library Consortium IVIember Libraries






e rorest








Published August 1948


Ine Sky and tnc Forest



There had been much rain during the night, and the
morning air was still saturated with moisture, heavy and
oppressive, and yet with a suspicion of chill about it, enough
to make flies sluggish and men and women slow in their
movements. But now the sun was able to look over the tops
of the trees into the town, calling out the wreaths of steam
from the puddles, and shining down upon Loa's woolly head
as he walked out into the west end of the street. Four
women, not yet gone to the banana groves, ceased their
chattering at his appearance and fell on their knees and
elbows, pressing their noses against the muddy soil. Loa ran
his eye over them as he walked past them; he was more used
to seeing the backs of men and of women than to looking
into their faces. A little boy came running round the corner
of a house — he was of an age when running was still some-
thing of a new experience for him — and stopped at sight
of the crouching women and of Loa's passing majesty. His
finger went to his mouth, but it had hardly reached it when
his mother put out her arm, without lifting her face from
the earth, and seized him and flung him down, face down-
wards as was proper, holding him there despite his struggles,
and when he had recovered from his surprise sufficiently to

[ 3 ]


^svail in protest she managed to get her hand over his mouth
and moderate the noise. That was right.

The distraction was sufficient to turn Loa from continu-
ing his way down the street. He stood and looked idly along
to the far end. The crouching women, conscious that he
was remaining near them, writhed in troubled ecstasy, the
bunched muscles along their backs standing out tensely,
while their concern communicated itself to the little boy so
that he ceased to struggle and wail, and instead lay limp and
submissive. The sun was shining brightly into Loa's eyes,
but the sun was Loa's brother and did not need to avert his
face and grovel in his presence. Loa raised his left hand —
the one that held his leafy fan — to shade his eyes as he gazed
down the street. He did not know what he was looking for
nor why he was doing this, and the realization did not come
to him even when he had made certain that nothing was
different from usual; actually it was an unrecognized feel-
ing of unrest which had stirred a faint desire that today
something should be different. Loa could not analyze nor
recognize his emotions. He was a god and always had

His brother the sun had now come tardily to recognize
the fact, as he sometimes did, and had drawn a veil of dila-
tory cloud over his face. The tribute was gratifying, and
Loa did not need to shade his eyes any longer.

"Ha!" he said, pleased with his power; and he turned, im-
mense in his dignity, and walked back to his house at the
end of the street.

Indeharu and Vira made a half-circle so as to keep behind

[ 4 ]


him and followed him back, as they had followed him out.
Indeharu's back was bent with age, but even if it had not
been he would have bent it and walked with a stoop, just as
did young Vira; it was right and proper to walk with hu-
mility when attending upon the god. Loa was free for the
moment of the unrest which had manifested itself earlier.
His right hand swung his iron battle-ax, and his iron col-
lars and bracelets jangled as he strode along, his naked toes
gripping the thin and drying mud of the street. Lanu was
playing in the small open space in front of Loa's house and
came running up with a smile; Lanu could face the god, for
Lanu was a god too, Loa's child. There were other children,
with their mothers in the banana groves or behind the
house, but they were not gods. Lanu was the first-born.
Although that was not why he was a god it was probably
the reason why Loa had been fond of him at his birth, be-
fore the birth of children became a commonplace, and had
played with him and petted him and treated him with so
much condescension and fondness that clearly he could not
be a mortal who must abase himself in the god's presence,
and consequently he had never been trained into abase-

Loa dropped his battle-ax and fan, and caught Lanu un-
der the armpits and swung him up into the air kicking and
squealing with delight, holding him there for long pleasur-
able seconds before setting him on his feet again. Loa un-
clasped his leopardskin from about his throat and put it over
the boy's shoulders, to Lanu's immense pleasure. The boy
clasped the forelegs round his neck with the brooch, draped

[ 5 ]


the skin over his left shoulder, and strutted off, very pleased
with himself, while Loa followed him fondly with his gaze.
Even a god could love his son.

Loa picked up his battle-ax and fan, and seated himself
on his stool; the latter was made merely of three curving
branches, polished, and bound together with cane fiber into
a distorted tripod. To sit on it at all called for a careful plac-
ing of the fleshy parts; to sit on it for long called for con-
stant shifting of them; but it was more dignified than
squatting on one's heels — that was what men and women
did — and the stool by raising the body above the ground
kept it out of the way of ants and other creeping creatures.
Indeharu and Vira squatted before him, and Loa swept the
flies from himself with his fan and prepared himself to
listen to their morning report.

"Uledi dies," said Vira; as much the younger man it was
his place to speak first.

"She dies?'* asked Loa.

"She does indeed. Now her head is drawn back. There is
foam on her lips. Every hour the poison shakes her. Her
arms and legs go stiff as she struggles with it, stiflf like tree
trunks although she tosses about in her battle with the
poison, and she cries out with words that mean nothing.
Then once more she ceases to struggle, and lies sleeping
again. She has slept since last there was yellow water in the


"I know that," said Loa.

"There is no flesh on her bones, and now there are sores on
her skin."

[ 6 ]


"Yes," said Loa, rubbing his chin.

This trouble was not infrequent in the town. For no
apparent reason some individual, man, woman, or child,
would suddenly become somnolent, sleeping continuously
except when roused to take food. Sometimes they slept
themselves straight into death; sometimes, as in Uledi's case,
they died more violently, but whichever way it was they
died once they began to sleep, sometimes in a short time,
sometimes in a long time.

"It is a deadly poison," commented Indeharu.

*'Yes," said Loa again.

Life could not end except by human agency. Somebody
must be poisoning Uledi, and Loa's heavy face was con-
torted into a frown as he wrestled with the problem. Face
after face flitted across the field of his mental vision, but
not one seemed to be connected with the poisoning of Uledi.
Soon he abandoned his review of the population of the
town. Seven hundred people lived in it; he did not know
how many, nor did his language contain words for the
numeral, but he knew it would take too long to think about
every one of them. The bones, the five slender rib bones
which lay in his house, would tell him if he asked them.

"Soli is her mother's brother's son," said Vira.

That was a very special relationship, conferring particu-
lar privileges in the matter of inheritance, and might sup-
ply a motive. Loa for a moment thought the problem
solved, but Vira and Indeharu were not looking at each
other, and his instincts, the sensitive instincts of an unedu-
cated man, told him there was something suspicious in the

[ 7 ]


atmosphere. He did not have to follow along the path of de-
duction and logic, from the fact that Indeharu and Vira
were carefully refraining from exchanging glances, to the
fact that their expressions were unnaturally composed, and
then on to the fact that Vira bore an old grudge against Soli
— something to do with a haunch of goat over which they
had quarreled — and from that to his knowledge of Inde-
haru's enmity towards Soli. It had never even occurred to
him that this enmity issued from the old man's fear of a pos-
sible young rival. Loa's instincts leaped all the gaps, without
any painful building of bridges, and warned him that he —
he, the god — was being subjected to influence, an indirect
influence and therefore one to be suspected.

"Soli is Uledi's mother's brother's son," he said, his voice
as expressionless as the others' features. "We know that,

The slight discomposure apparent in the faces of his two
councillors told him that his instincts had been right; Inde-
haru and Vira were disappointed. He was confirmed in his
decision to take no immediate action against Soli.

"The men are felling more trees," said Indeharu, chang-
ing the subject, and pointing into the forest towards the
area where the tree-felling was in progress.

"They may do so," said Loa. As far back as his memory
could go — Loa had been king and god since he was a little
boy younger than Lanu — Indeharu had managed the eco-
nomic details of the town's life satisfactorily. A forest tract
had to be cleared two years in advance of the time when the
plantain crop sown in the clearing began to fruit, and it was

[ 8 ]


a prodigious effort to make such plans. Loa never troubled
himself with them. Yet thinking about the plantain crop
reminded him he was hungry, and he raised his voice.

"Musini!" he called. "Bring me food."

"I hear you," replied Musini from behind the house; she
had a shrill voice with an edge to it.

"When the trees are down," went on Indeharu, "Tolo
will build a house. His father Linisinu and his father's
brothers will help him."

"Where will the house be?" asked Loa, and as Indeharu
began to reply Musini came with the wooden bowl of food.

Loa looked at the contents with disappointment.

"Baked plantain!" he said, disgustedly.

"Baked plaintain with oil. Precious oil," said Musini,,
sharply. There was never enough oil in the town, the oil',
palms being too sparing of their produce. "I have eaten no-
oil since the moon was full last. The oil is all for you."

Loa put down his battle-ax and fan, took the bowl, and
transferred a handful of the plantain soaked in oil to his

"Is it not good?" demanded Musini, aggressively. "What
better food can I provide for you than baked plantairt
and oil? Is it the heart of an elephant you would like?
Or a savory dish of the tripe of a young goat? When last
was an elephant killed? No goat has borne a kid for twa

"Say no more," said Loa, irritated. He had eaten elephant
only three or four times in his twenty-five years of life;
goat's tripe was perhaps his favorite dish, and Musini

[ 9 ]


touched him on the raw by mentioning it — which was
what she planned to do, being a bad-tempered shrew.

"Say no more!" she quoted at him. **Say no more! Then
say no more when I bring you rich red oil upon your baked
plantains. Say no more until an antelope is caught and we
eat the roast flesh!"

"Be silent, woman!" shouted Loa, beside himself with
rage. The thought of roast antelope was almost more than
he could bear. He was on his feet now, brandishing the
wooden bowl and actually dancing with passion. Musini saw
the look in his face and was frightened.

"Your servant is silent," she said hastily, and turned to
go. Yet even then before she was out of earshot she was
grumbling again.

Musini was Lanu's mother, Loa's first and chief wife, and
had been associated with Loa since his childhood. She did
not prostrate herself before him except on occasions of high
ceremonial, because little by little through the years cere-
mony between the two of them had lapsed as a matter of
practical convenience. But her habit of scolding at Loa,
of goading him to exasperation, had another origin. She
wanted to assert herself, and she felt as if she did not want
to live if she did not. She infuriated Loa as a means of self-
expression, as an artist paints or a musician composes. Be-
sides, she was drawn to this course of action by a subtle lure,
by the indescribable temptation of danger. She risked her
life every time she angered Loa. There was a fearful pleas-
ure in coming as near to destruction as possible and then
withdrawing just in time. Shuddering fear tempted her like
a drug.

[ 10 ]


Loa took another mouthful of baked plantain with grow-
ing distaste, his mind running on devious tracks. That un-
rest which had set him gazing down the street, which had
brought him to his feet at Musini's gibes, was a symptom
— although he did not express it so to himself — of his
hunger for meat, rich meat, full of proteins and fats and
mineral salts. The African forest was niggardly of its meat
supply; of all the animals domesticated by man the goat was
the only one able to live there, and even the goat did not
thrive; a high mortality among the town's herd made goat's
flesh a rarity. The plantain was the stable food, which iron-
ically the forest allowed to be produced in utter abundance
with almost no effort. A space had only to be cleared in the
forest, the suckers planted, and eighteen months later there
was a dense grove of plantain trees, each bearing its huge
hand of fruit. The crop was never known to fail and there
was no known limit to its production. Manioc was almost as
easily grown; the work of clearing had to be rather more
thorough, the planting was rather more arduous, but with
ample virgin soil for the growth a crop was assured in re-
turn for small labor. Manioc and plantains; the forest gave
these generously, so that there were always bananas and
tapioca, tapioca and bananas, on which a man could live.
Tapioca and bananas meant a continuous diet of starch; the
oil palm lived only scantily and precariously here on the
verge of the inner plateau of Africa, and its rich orange-
colored oil, so generous of fat, was almost as great a rarity
as goat's flesh.

The forest provided almost no meat. The rare forest ante-
lope sometimes fell into a pitfall or succumbed to a fortu-

[ " ]


nate arrow to provide an ounce or two for each of those en-
titled to a share; at intervals of years an elephant fell into a
similar trap. That was an occasion always to be remembered,
when every man, woman and child in the town would have
£.ve or ten pounds of meat apiece, to be eaten in a wild orgy
that same day before corruption could set in. Monkeys lived
in the treetops two hundred feet overhead; it was more un-
usual to hit a monkey with an arrow than an antelope, and
it was just as rare for an arrow to find its way through the
tangled branches and creepers to hit a parrot. The leopard
lived among the treetops and was almost as exclusively
arboreal as the monkeys which were its prey; its meat had
an unpleasant taste even for a meat-starved man, and it was
so ferocious a fighter when wounded that its skin was the
one £t garment for Loa the god. Snakes could be eaten, and
frogs could sometimes be caught in the streams, but never
in sufficient quantity to be taken into consideration in the
problem of meat supply. The best meat the forest afforded
walked on two legs; the African forest was one of the few
places in the world where cannibalism was an economic
necessity, where it was indulged in to appease an irresistible,
an insatiable hunger for meat.

Loa was thinking that his late father, Nasa (whose name,
seeing that he was dead, could be pronounced by Loa alone)
was in need of a new attendant. It was some considerable
time since anyone had been sent to serve Nasa, and it might
be fitting that Musini the mother of Lanu should be dis-
patched on that mission; certainly it would convey honor
to Nasa. Musini could be put in a wooden pen for three

[ 12 ]


days; inactivity for that length of time was desirable to
make sure that the meat would be in good condition. Then
she could be sent to attend upon Nasa, either by quiet
strangulation or by a more ceremonial beheading with Loa's
battle-ax — either way would do for it was not a point
of great importance — and then there would be smoking
joints to eat, meat in which a man could set his teeth, meat
to distend a belly that starved on bananas and tapioca. And
the irritation of Musini's constant scolding would cease
then, too.

Loa was not thinking about this logically for two very
good reasons. He had never been under the necessity of
thinking logically, and he was handicapped by his language,
which, with its clumsy complexities of construction and its
total want of abstract terms, was not an instrument adapted
to argument or for the conveyance of more than the sim-
plest ideas. His mind was much more a meeting ground for
converging impulses, which were checked just then by what
Indeharu had to say.

"Last night the moon was dark," said Indeharu. "The
river waits for you."

Loa stuffed the last handful of baked plantain into his
mouth and swallowed it down. He put the bowl to his lips
and tilted it to allow the last of the rich oil to trickle be-
tween them. He set down the bowl and called to Lanu, who
came running from behind the house, trailing the leopard-
skin behind him.

"Will you come to the river?" asked Loa.

"The river! The river!" said Lanu, delighted.

[ 13 ]


He was ready to start at once, with all the eager impetu-
osity of childhood, but first there were preparations to be
made. Indeharu and Vira turned to shout down the street,
proclaiming the fact that Loa was about to go to the river.
A few people came out from the houses, women with chil-
dren dragging at them, Litti the worker in iron, an old man
or two, some marriageable girls. Indeharu counted them on
his fingers. There had to be four hands of people present for
the ceremony to be valid, and it took a few moments to
complete the necessary total as some young men came in
from the outskirts of the town, while Loa coaxed Lanu into
returning the leopardskin cloak and clasped it about his
neck again. Indeharu counted up on his fingers again, and
shot a significant look at Loa.

"We go," said Loa.

Towards the river lay the abandoned clearings of the
past centuries; at the present time the manioc and banana
gardens of the town lay on the side of the town away from
the river. So at first the path lay through a thick belt of
felled trees, only now beginning to crumble into their na-
tive earth again. In the forest there was always going on a
silent life-and-death struggle for light and air, even for
rain. Every plant dependent on these three — as was every
one, except the funguses — pushed and aspired and strove
to outtop its neighbors, to gain elbowroom where it could
spread out in the life-giving light and air. In the virgin
forest the victors in the struggle were the trees, the vast
kings of the vegetable kingdom, two hundred feet tall, each
ruling the little area around it so completely that nothing

[ 14 ]


could grow beneath save the funguses which flourished in
the deep bed of rotting vegetable matter out of which it
rose. The kings had their hangers-on, their parasites, the
creepers and vines which the trees themselves lifted towards
the sky. These shamelessly made use of the trees in their dig-
nity; rooted in the earth below they swarmed up the unre-
sisting trunks in long slender ropes, up to the topmost
branches, by which they leaped from tree to tree, renewing
with each other at this height the same struggle for light
and air; the successful ones, hundreds of yards long, inter-
twining in a wild cat's-cradle of loops and festoons which
bound the tallest trees together and repressed the aspirations
of the smaller trees striving to push through.

But where there was a clearing the scene changed. If a big
tree paid the penalty for its very success by being selected
to be struck by lightning, or if it had died of old age, or if
a forest fire had killed trees over a larger area — and more
especially where man had cut down trees for his own pur-
poses — light and air could penetrate to earth level; and the
lowly plants had their opportunity, which they grasped
with feverish abandon. The clearing became a battleground
of vegetation, a free-for-all wherein every green thing com-
peted for the sunlight; until in a short time, measured in
days rather than in weeks, the earth was covered shoulder-
high by a tangle of vegetation through which no man could
force his way without cutting a path with ax or sword. For
months, for years, the lowly plants had their way, dominat-
ing the clearing; but steadily the sapling trees forced their
way through, to climb above and to pre-empt for them-

[ 15 ]


selves the vital light. It would be a long struggle, but as the
years passed the trees would assert their mastery more and
more forcibly; the undergrowth would die away, the fallen
trees would rot to powder, and in the end the clearing
would be indistinguishable from the rest of the forest, silent
and dark.

The abandoned clearings through which led the path to
the river were some years old now in their present existence,
and at their densest in consequence. The felled trees lay in
a frightful tangle, and over them and about them grew the
undergrowth; in the four weeks since last that path had
been trodden the feverish growth had covered it com-
pletely, so that Vira and the young men had to hack and
slash their way through. Sometimes the path lay along fal-

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Online LibraryC. S. (Cecil Scott) ForesterThe sky and the forest → online text (page 1 of 20)