C. S. (Cecil Scott) Forester.

The sky and the forest online

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len tree trunks, slippery with lichens; it wound about be-
tween jagged branches whose solidity was disguised by
greenery as a trap for an unwary person who might try to
push through. Old Indeharu toiled and stumbled along on
his stiff legs behind the advanced party, and immediately in
front of Loa; his whitening head was on a level with Loa's
chin. On the dark bronze of his back the sweat ran in great
drops like a small cascade of those incredibly rare and pre-
cious glass beads of which the town possessed a dozen or two.
The sweat-drops coursed down Indeharu's bony back until
they lost themselves in his loin girdle; the latter was of bark
cloth and was as wet as if it had been dipped in water, so
that what with the sweat and Indeharu's exertions it bade
fair to disintegrate. Loa himself, half Indeharu's age and
twice his strength, felt the burden of his leopardskin cloak;

[ i6 ]


in this undergrowth, with the sun blazing down upon it,
the heat and the humidity were intensified, and the flies bit
and annoyed with unusual vigor, while bare feet, however
liorny and insensitive, were inevitably scratched and cut as
they were dragged through the tangled vegetation.

Loa was conscious of all these irritations — no one could
not be — but he endured them without debate, for debate
was something he was unused to. This was the world as it
Jiad always been and as it always would be. His erring sister
was wandering again, and when she wandered she had to be
recalled, just as an itch had to be scratched.

Now they were through the overgrown clearing, and into
the forest, the undisturbed forest, into the twilight and the
silence. Huge tree trunks emerged from the spongy leaf-
mold, spaced out with almost mathematical regularity by
the relentless laws of nature. They soared upwards without
change or relief (save for the leafless stems of the vines) un-
til two hundred feet overhead they burst suddenly into
tranches and foliage making a thick roof through which no
direct light could penetrate. Up there lived the monkeys
and the birds, and the sun shone, and the rain fell. To be
down here in the darkness — for inevitably here it was too
dark for any vegetation to grow — was to be inside the
crust of the world, cut off from the exterior. Yet within the
forest Loa could relax and feel at home. The forest was his
brother, just as the sun was his brother and the moon was
his sister, and Loa had a feeling that the forest was a kindly,
friendly brother. The forest suited his temperament or his
physique, and he lengthened his stride until he trod on the

[ 17 ]



heels of Indeharu hobbling along in front of him. Loa poked
him in the ribs with the end of his battle-ax as a further re-
minder to quicken his step. Indeharu was very old, with
stores of knowledge as a representative of an almost obliter-
ated generation, but he was just an old man and Loa had no
regard for his feelings.

In the forest here there was no hindrance to travel save
for the bogginess underfoot; the broad spaces between the
tree trunks allowed of easy walking in any direction. So
much so that it was the easiest thing in the world to lose
oneself in the forest. Without any landmarks, without any
sight of the sun, the moment a man lost his sense of direc-
tion in the forest he lost everything. He might wander for
days, for weeks and months, seeing nothing but tree trunks
around him and the somber green roof overhead. There
were one or two people in the town who had actually had
this experience, and who had been guided home again after
a vast passage of time by blind chance and great good for-
tune. There had been plenty of others who had gone forth
on some trifling expedition and who had never returned.
They had been lost in the forest. Or they had been trapped
by the little men.

This route to the river was as clearly defined as anything
could be in the forest. Through the soggy leafmold there
wound a faint depression, which a keen eye could detect as
a footpath, and the trees on either side displayed frequent
cuts and wounds — Loa made a few new ones himself as he
walked along, casual chops with his battle-ax that sliced
into the bark of the trees, making a mark that would en-

[ i8 ]


dure for several months until the insects altered its shape so
that it did not reveal the human agency that caused it, and
until the moss and lichens grew over it and concealed it

The disadvantage about a well-marked path was that the
little men would make use of it for their own purposes.
They would place poisoned skewers of wood under the leaf-
mold, on which a man might tread; if he did, then very
probably he would be dead in half an hour for the little
men to feast on him. And they would dig pits and place
poisoned stakes in them, roofing the pits over with a frail
covering disguised by leafmold, which would give way un-
der the foot of either an antelope or a man. Vira and the
young men ahead were scanning carefully every yard of the
path, and two of them had strung their bows and fitted
broad-headed arrows to the strings, ready to draw and loose
at a moment's notice should a little man or a little woman,
or any other game, expose itself within range.

And now the trees suddenly began to be farther apart,
the leafmold underfoot suddenly became firmer, and the
path took a sharp upward slope. For a few moments it was
a steep climb. The forest ended abruptly here, where the
soil changed to naked rock on which even in that lush at-
mosphere nothing could grow. They were out of the forest
and under the sky, and a few more strides took them to the
top of the rock, looking over the vast river. Loa did not like
this. He was inclined to flinch a little as he emerged from
the forest. The sky was his brother, just as was the forest,
but an unfriendly brother, a frightening brother. He did

[ 19 ]


not like great spaces; they affected him as some people are
affected by great heights. Except here on the riverbank he
never looked out over great distances. The town street was
less than a hundred yards long, and that was the next widest
horizon he knew; in the forest the trees were close on every
hand, and that was where he felt at home. Here on this
pinnacle of rock the sky was enormous and incredibly dis-

And the river! A full mile it stretched from bank to
bank; the pinnacle of rock, constituting the bluff at the
outside curve of a shallow beach, commanded views of five
and ten miles upstream and down — terrifying distances.
Except at this outcrop of rock, the forest came to the
water's very edge; indeed so great was the pressure for light
and air that on the riverbanks the trees grew out almost
horizontally, straining out over the water to escape from
the shadow of their mightier neighbors, leading a brief pre-
carious life until flood and erosion cut the soil from their
roots and they fell into the water. One could never look at
the river for long without seeing some great tree come float-
ing down on the turbulent current, turning and rolling in
torment, lifting its arms in mute appeal to the pitiless sky as
it rolled.

In the distance the river looked blue and silver, but when
one looked down into it from the bank it was muddy and
brown, although the time of the real "brown water," when
the level rose a foot or two and the river took on a more
definite color, was still a month or two off. The surface of
the river was never still; a storm would work it up into

[ 20 ]


great rollers, and on a calm day like this, when at first sight
the surface seemed almost oily, closer observation would re-
veal great swirls and motiveless crinklings, sinister, ugly
movements as the broad water went sliding along, coming
from nowhere, going nowhere, hateful and fearsome in its
majesty. Loa watched Lanu pick up a fragment of rock and
hurl it into the river with delight in the splash and the ring.
Behavior like that made Loa a trifle uncomfortable, for it
savored of unconventionality, but it was not quite bad
enough for Loa to check Lanu — nothing ever was.

Indeharu was waiting for the ceremony to begin. Loa
stood forward.

"Sister," he said, looking down the river to the distant
reach whither his erring sister had strayed. "Come back
from under the water. Come back into the sky. The —
the — "

"The nights are dark," prompted Indeharu, as he always
had to do.

"The nights are dark, and your sons and daughters can-
not fill the sky. Come back. Grow bigger, for the nights are
very dark. Come back, my sister."

Somewhere under the surface of the river his sister was
hiding; everyone knew of the liking she had for the big yel-
low river. A few people who had been caught by darkness
away from the town and who had been forced to spend the
night beside the river had told him of how she stretched her
arms out over the water and how her spirit danced on its
surface. Every month she wandered back to it and hid her-
self in its depths, and had to be recalled by her brother.

[ 21 ]



A cloud of butterflies was flying along the river in a vast
bank, reaching from the surface nearly up to the level of
Loa's face, more than a hundred feet; stretching nearly half
a mile across the river and a quarter of a mile down it. With
the wind behind them they passed rapidly downstream, a
lavender-tinted cloudbank. Flaws of wind recoiling from
the bank whirled parts of it into little eddies, and the sun
shining down caught the millions of wings and was reflected
back in a constant succession of rosy highlights. Lanu
clapped his hands at the sight of them.

"What are they?" he asked, excitedly.

"They come from the sky,'* answered Loa, heavily.

No doubt they were beautiful, but Loa was too disturbed
mentally by the vast distances to experience more than
mixed emotions regarding them. His brother the sky was
looking down at him from all directions, and he did not like
that; it was like having an enemy at his back. Across the
river the forest was dwindled to a mere strip of blue in the
steamy atmosphere. It was frightening to see the forest so
insignificant, the sky so big. It gave Loa no doubts regard-
ing his own status as a god — the first among equals, among
sky and forest and river and sun — but it disturbed him
violently by its disruption of the usual state of affairs. It
was not respectable, it was not usual, it chafed him and irri-
tated him.

"Look! Look!" said Lanu, pointing.

Far up the river there was a dark speck to be seen. It
moved upon the surface, and as it moved reflected sunshine
winked from it. A boat, with the sunshine gleaming on the

[ 22 ]


wet paddles. That was a phenomenon to be regarded with a
dull lack of interest. There were other men in the world,
Loa knew, besides the people of the town and the little men.
Some of them went about on the river in canoes. In the
days of Nasa, Loa's father, there had been another town
near, here by the water's edge; but Nasa and his people had
fallen upon it one night and killed everybody in it and had
feasted lavishly in consequence for days afterwards. The
men of that town had used canoes, so Indeharu said. So
other men existed, and some of them used canoes on the
river. And rain fell from the sky; there was no need to
think farther about either matter. The young women and
the young men were gazing up the river at the canoe, and
talking excitedly about it, their excitement mingled with
some trepidation because they knew so little about other
people. But Loa knew no fear; there was no reason why he
should fear anything in the world.

*'I go," he said to Indeharu, for he wanted to free himself
from the irritation of thus being exposed to the sky.

"Loa goes back!" proclaimed Indeharu.

Vira hustled the young men off along the path to make
the way safe, and Indeharu followed them. As Loa left the
high point to descend again to the forest the remainder
flung themselves on their faces, their noses to the ground,
for him to walk past them, but Loa hardly spared a glance
for the row of glistening dark brown backs. He walked on
along the path, and breathed more freely and gratefully as
he left the sky behind him and entered into the steamy twi-
light of the forest. Before him Lanu capered along, full of

[ 23 ]


the joy of living. Lanu had devised a new way of walking.
Instead of taking strides with alternate feet he was trying to
step twice with each foot in turn. He poised on one foot and
skipped, and then poised on the other foot and skipped, his
arms held high as he balanced. So they went back into the
forest, Loa swinging his battle-ax and Lanu skipping in
front of him.

[ 24 ]



Some young men of the town hunting in the forest had
captured a strange woman. They brought her back with
them, and everyone assembled to look at her and to listen to
her absurd speech. Delli, her ridiculous name was, she said
— in itself that was enough to make people laugh and clap
their thighs. All her words were comical like that, with /
where r should be, and the strangest turns of speech. Every-
body in the town knew there were many ways of address-
ing people; one spoke differently, with different words, if
one were addressing one person, or two persons, or many
persons, or if the persons addressed were old or young, male
or female, married or single, important or unimportant. But
this woman muddled it all up, and spoke (when it was pos-
sible to disentangle her curious pronunciation) to the crowd
as if it were made up of three little children. Everyone
laughed uproariously at that.

They brought her to Loa where he sat on his tripod stool
with Indeharu and Vira standing behind him, and they
swarmed close round her to hear the quaint things she said.

"Who are you?" asked Loa.

"Delli," she said.

That ridiculous name again! Everyone laughed.

[ 25 ]


"Where do you come from?"

"I come from the town."

That was just as ridiculous as her name. This was the
town, and everyone knew it. She rolled her eyes from side to
side at the crowd, a very frightened woman. She held her
hand over her heart as she looked about her, naked save for
a wisp of bark cloth. She was a very puzzled woman as well,
quite unable to understand why the simple things she said
should occasion so much merriment.

*'She was in the forest eating amoma fruits," interposed
Ura, one of the young men, explaining with the proper ges-
tures how they came to catch her. "She did not hear us.
Maketu went over that way. Huva went over there. W^e
went silently forward through the trees. Then she saw
Maketu and ran. Then she saw Huva and ran the other way,
towards me. I was behind a tree, and I sprang out and I
caught her. She hit me, here, on my shoulder, and she
scratched with her nails. But still I held her. She could not
escape from Ura."

"She was eating amoma fruits?" asked Loa.


Amoma fruits were not good eating; their watery acid
pulp could not deceive a healthy stomach for a moment.
Children ate them during their games, but no sensible per-
son ever did. Loa stared harder at the strange woman. The
scar-tattooing on her cheeks and upper lip was of an odd
pattern. She was terribly thin, like a skeleton, her bones
standing out through her skin, and her breasts fallen away
to empty bags although she was a young woman, not yet the

[ 26 ]


mother of more than two children or so. And her body and
legs and arms were covered with scratches, some of them
several days old, some of them fresh, but altogether making
a complete network over her. She was calmer now, but Loa's
next question threw her into a worse panic than ever.

"Why were you in the forest?" asked Loa.

Her face distorted itself with fear.

"Bang bang," she said, and repeated herself. "Bang

That was almost too funny to bear, to see this amusing
woman shaking with fright and to hear her say "bang
bang!" She goggled round at the laughing throng and took
a grip of herself. When she spoke again the intensity of her
emotion made her voice a hoarse whisper, but silence fell on
the crowd and every word could be heard.

"Men came," she said. "Many men, at night. We were all
asleep. Bang bang. Bang bang. Men were killed, women
were killed. My man was sleeping beside me, and he woke
up and took his spear. Everyone was shouting. Other men
of the town came running into the house. Some were
wounded. We stood by the door with spears and we would
not come out although they shouted to us to come out.
Houses were burning so that we could see out. Bang bang.
Bang bang. Fire in the night, like red lightning. My man
fell down and he was dead. Still we would not come out.
Then our house burned. They were waiting for us outside
the door so I would not go out when the men did. I jumped
up and caught the roof beams of the house. Not all the
thatch was burning so I pulled the thatch aside and climbed

[ 27 ]


through the roof. I stood there and all the town was burn-
ing. Bang bang. Bang Bang. The thatch was burning beside
me and so I jumped. I jumped far, very far. The old clear-
ing was beside our house and I jumped into it, right into the
bushes. I tried to run through the bushes, but I could not go
far, not in the dark. I lay there and saw the flames and heard
them shouting. My baby — I think I heard her cry too."

Delli stopped speaking, her hand to her heart again. A
babble of talk rose from the crowd the moment it ceased to
be repressed by the dramatic nature of Delli's utterance.
The fantastic tale must be discussed. Loa waved his arm for

"What did you do?" he asked.

"I lay there," said Delli, "and daylight came while the
flames were still burning. I climbed an old tree trunk and
looked into the town. The people were gathered at one end,
with the strange men round them. Some of them were pale

"Pale men?" demanded Loa.

"They had not faces like ours," said Delli, struggling
wildly to explain something beyond all experience.

Her hands went up to her own face in feverish gestures
trying to convey an impression of features quite different
from the broad nostrils and heavy jaws which characterized
the only human faces she knew.

"They wore clothes — so."

Delli flung one arm across her breast and her hands flut-
tered as she tried to give a mental picture of an ample cloak.

"And they were pale men?" asked Loa. Clothes were
something he knew something about, for he wore a leopard-

[ 28 ]


skin himself and women often wore bark-cloth gowns, but
pale faces were something else. "Were they like the little

"No! Ohno!"saidDelli.

The forest pygmies were often of a far lighter shade than
the village-dwelling natives, inclining to pale bronze, but
they had the same kind of features as the rest of Delli's
world and Loa's world.

"They were big men. Tall men," said Delli, "with thin
noses; and their faces were — gray."

Loa shook his head in admission that this was more than
he could understand.

"What did these men do?" he asked.

"They tied the people together. With poles. They tied one
end of a pole to someone's neck, and the other end of the
pole to someone else's neck."

Loa had never heard of such a thing being done. The
whole story was of something beyond his experience, be-
yond his scanty traditions.

"What did they do next?" he asked.

"They came to the banana groves to cut fruit. And in
the old clearings there were many people hidden besides me,
people who had run into the clearings when the town
burned. They saw us, and they came after us. They had axes
and swords, and I think they caught all the other people."

That was quite probable; a man with a sword to cut a
path for himself would easily overtake an unarmed fugitive
trying to make his way through the tangled undergrowth
of an overgrown clearing.

"And you?"

[ 29 ]


**I went right through the clearing. A man was chasing
me but he did not catch me. I came into the forest and I ran
from him and then he did not chase me any more. But still I
ran, and when I stopped I did not know where I was.*'

This was something everyone could understand; there
was a murmur of agreement in the listening throng. To lose
one's way in the forest was very easy indeed; to be fifty
yards from the nearest known landmark was the same as
being fifty miles from it if once the sense of direction was
lost. Loa knew now the explanation of Delli's network of
old scars. Plunging through an abandoned clearing to escape
pursuit would tear her skin to ribbons. She must have been
streaming with blood by the time she reached the forest.
The newer scratches must have been acquired in the ordi-
nary course of life in the forest, searching for food.

"Where was your town?" he asked.

Bewilderment showed itself in Delli's face again.

"Many days. Many days away. I do not know. I looked
for it."

There was a puzzled murmur from the crowd. It was
hard enough for anyone there to realize even that other
towns existed. But everyone in the crowd knew his town so
intimately and well. Despite their knowledge of the ease
with which one could lose oneself in the forest, it was im-
possible for them to sympathize with someone who simply
could not say where her town was. They could not put
themselves in her mental situation; a woman might as well
say she did not know where her own body was. Delli's face
did not lose its look of bewilderment; her expression was
fixed and she was staring at something far away.

[ 30 ]


"I cannot stand," she said faintly, and with that she
abruptly sat down.

Still bewildered in appearance, puzzled by the strange
new feelings within her, she swayed for a moment, and then
her head came forward to her knees, and next she toppled
over on one side and lay limp and unconscious. Musini came
forward and knelt over her, and prodded the bony back and
the skinny loins. She raised one of the skeleton arms and
shook her head over it with distaste.

"Nothing there now," she said, letting the limp arm drop
to the ground. *'She has long been hungry."

"In a pen she will grow fat," said Loa, looking round at
Vira, who nodded. It was Vira who attended to the tem-
poral business of Loa's rule, as Indeharu attended to the
spiritual. Loa had to say nothing more about the pen; Vira
would attend to that. Loa looked down at the skinny limbs;
plenty of food, and some days of idleness in a pen, would
fill them out again. Even a healthy well fed human was all
the better for three or four days in a pen; idleness improved
the quality of the meat. Moreover this stranger with the
queer speech and the odd experiences might be a more wel-
come visitor to his father Nasa than some ordinary man or
woman of the town — Musini for instance — as she would
bring with her an element of novelty. She might amuse
Nasa while she served him.

"See that she has food, plenty of food," said Loa to

It was hot here in the sun, and Loa had been attending to
business for more than an hour, quite long enough for him
to feel restless and in need of a change of occupation. He

[ 31 ]


rose to his feet, and the assembled crowd instantly fell for-
ward on their faces; they had been close-packed standing
up, and now they carpeted the ground two or more deep.
He turned and walked back to the narrow strip of shade
cast by the eaves of his house. There he would doze for a
while; as the village became aware that he had retired they
began to withdraw, in proper humility. Silent at first, and
moving with constraint, they soon began to elbow each
other and to chatter as they streamed off down the street.

A few idlers dallied to watch Musini and a subordinate
wife revive Delli with food and drink, but Vira interrupted
that pastime by setting them to work on constructing a J
pen; cutting stakes, pointing them, and driving them deep
into the earth with heavy mauls, and connecting them to-
gether with many strands of creeper. Everyone else was all
agog with the fantastic story Delli had told; they were busy
discussing the gray men who wore clothes and had faces dif-
ferent from ordinary people, who killed people with a noise
and a flash, and who tied their captives together with poles.
Loa's lethargic brain was idly turning over the same matters
as he lay in the shade — later Indeharu and Vira would tell

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