C. S. (Cecil Scott) Forester.

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him what they thought about it all. And even perhaps at
some time he would hear about it from Musini or other

For the stagnation of a thousand years — of two thou-
sand years, of three thousand years — was coming to an
end. Invaders were entering into Central Africa, the first
since Loa's forebears had infiltrated into the forest among

[ 32 ]


their pygmy predecessors, all those many centuries ago.
Strangely enough, it was not the European, restless and en-
terprising though he might be, who was penetrating into
these forest fastnesses. The European was still confined to
the coastal strip, although European culture and influence
was slowly percolating inland. It was an Asiatic culture
which was at last reaching out to Central Africa, all the
way across the huge continent from the east. Mohammedan-
ism had taken no more than a hundred years after Moham-
med's death to flood along the Mediterranean coast of North
Africa, to engulf Spain, and even to cross the Pyrenees; but
it took twelve hundred years of slow advance for it to creep
up the Nile valley, to circle around the Sahara Desert, and
now to penetrate into the equatorial forest.

In twelve hundred years the original Arab stock had be-
come vastly attenuated; the invaders were often hardly
lighter in color, thanks to continual miscegenation, than the
black peoples they conquered. But most of them still showed
the aquiline profile that distinguished them from the pure
Negro, and many of them bore proof of their Arab blood
in their swarthy complexions — the "gray" color that Delli
had noticed. Yet they were marked out far more plainly in
other ways from the people they were attacking. Besides
their guns, and their clothes, and their material possessions,
they had a religion that demanded converts, a social organi-
zation that made movement possible, and a tradition of ac-
tivity more important than all.

More than one culture contributed to that tradition.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, Greek civilization had pro-

[ 33 ]


foundly influenced Arab thought. The tiny arable plains of
Greece and the Greek islands were no more conducive to
stagnation than the deserts of Arabia. It was a world where
men went — were driven — from one place to another,
where it was of the first necessity to inquire, to seek out, to
make contact with other peoples who might supply some of
life's necessities. The skeptical, the inquiring turn of mind
was the natural one, and the geniuses who arose through the
centuries found themselves in a civilization ripe for them;
they had available to them languages admirably suitable
for argument and discussion, and the invention of writing
which would perpetuate their thoughts and enable them to
influence the thinking of future generations. It may be
strange, but it is true that Plato and Aristotle as well as
Mohammed had something to do with the raiding of Delli's
village by swarthy half-castes bent merely on acquiring
slaves and ivory.

Loa and his people were the product of an entirely differ-
ent set of circumstances. They never knew what famine
was, for the plantain and the manioc provided an unfailing
source of food in return for very little effort. Sleeping sick-
ness and malaria and cannibalism combined to keep the
population small. The forest made migration — even minor
movements — almost impossible, restricting the spread of
ideas and the diffusion of inventions. The absence of writ-
ing made progress difficult, for each generation was depend-
ent on the scanty information conveyed by word of mouth,
and even if the forest people had learned to write, their
language — the clumsy, complicated, unimproved language

[ 34 ]


of the barbarian — was enough to hamper thought and im-
pede its diffusion. Thought is based on words, and Loa's
words were few and simple yet linked together — tangled
together would be a better term — by a grammar of un-
believable clumsiness. And Loa lived in a climate where
there were no seasons, where the nights were hardly less
warm than the days, where it was easy to do nothing — as
Loa was doing now; where there was no need to take thought
for the morrow — and Loa was taking none.

[ 35 ]



Delli lived in her little pen a full week. She was not ac-
tively unhappy in it, not even actively uncomfortable, for
they made it six feet long and three feet wide, so that she
could lie at full length, and three feet high so that she could
sit up in it. They thatched it roughly with big leaves so that
the rain hardly came through at all, and Musini herself gave
her another couple of armfuls of leaves on which to lie,
which was a sensible precaution, as someone as thin as Delli
was at the start, and as scratched, might have broken out
into sores had she been compelled to lie on the undisguised
earth. They interwove the palisades, and the beams of the
roof, with tough creeper stems, so that there was hardly
a place wide enough to pass through the bowls of food
which Musini saw to it were continually being provided
for her.

So for some days Delli was content to lie in her pen re-
covering from the hardships of her wanderings in the for-
est. To lie still, to sleep, to fill her belly all through the day
with good food; that was all Delli wanted at first, and a few
days of it made a great difference to her condition. The
bones of her skinny limbs were soon less apparent; her ribs
disappeared under a layer of fat, and her previously lifeless-

[ 36 ]



looking skin took on a healthy gloss. It was gratifying to
Loa, when he walked past her pen, to see how she was re-
sponding to treatment. It boded well for the future; his
meat hunger was a perfect obsession now, and all his dreams
were positive torment, full of tantalizing visions of meat.
In his dreams he could even smell the delicious stuff, and he
would wake up with the saliva running from his mouth.

It was only natural, then, that he should be moved to
wild rage when Vira pointed out to him one morning that
Delli had been trying to escape. She had gnawed through a
full dozen of the tough dried vines, and in a purposeful
manner, too.

"See," said Vira. "These she has bitten through."

He pointed to the chewed ends, all between one pair of
palisades. Then he went on:

"Soon she would chew these, where the wall meets the
roof. She would bite through this knot, and this one. And
then ..."

Vira made a gesture to show how, then, Delli would have
been able to force the two palisades apart a little way, just
wide enough, presumably, for her to slip through. And
then in the darkness she would make her way out of the vil-
lage into the forest, where she would be as inaccessible as
if she were already serving Nasa. Anger at the thought of
losing her made Loa quite frantic.

"She is a wicked woman," raved Loa. "She is a thief, an

Loa's language contained some twenty synonyms for
"adultress," each expressing a different aspect from which

[ 37 ]


the act was regarded; each word was liable to be used as a
term of opprobrium, and Loa used them all. His heavy
features were drawn together in a scowl of rage.

*'She is a devil, an ape," said Loa.

Delli was looking up at him as she crouched in her pen;
her eyes were unwinking and her face expressionless.

**Bring me that stick!" roared Loa, and someone ran and
obsequiously fetched it.

Loa snatched it from him and rushed at the pen. He could
not beat her or strike her with any advantage, thanks to
the stout palisades which surrounded her. He could only
prod her with the stick, but his prods were dangerous and
painful, delivered as they were with his full strength. Delli
screamed and rolled over, trying to protect her more vul-
nerable parts; Loa might have killed her then and there had
his rage lasted longer. But sanity came back to him, and he
let the stick fall, and wiped the sweat from his face with his

"Bring more vines!" he ordered. "Tough ones. Hard ones.
Stringy ones. Mend that hole! Put more vines all round the
pen and over the roof, and see that the knots are tight."

A fresh idea struck him, a really important one.

"What old women are there?" he asked. "Ah! There is
Nari. Come here, Nari. Vira, tie her legs with vines. Tether
her to the pen. Nari, you will watch over Delli. You can-
not go away. You will stay here all through the day and
the night. If ever Delli tries to bite through the vines you
will cry out. Loudly. Have you heard me?"

The old woman stood on her feeble legs with the sun in

[ 38 ]


her eyes. Oppressed at the same time by the majesty of Loa
and by the sunUght she Winked and squirmed.

"Have you heard me?" shouted Loa.

"I have heard you," she piped at last.

"See that it is done," said Loa to Vira. "Musini, see that
Nari is fed as well."

He glowered round at them all; he was still too moved
and excited at the moment to consider relapsing again into
torpor, and he strode off aimlessly at first. It was only when
he was on the way down the street that he remembered a
reason for going this way. From the farthest end of the
street came the regular tapping of a drum; Tali, one of the
sons of Litti, the worker in iron, was beating out a new
rhythm. He was always experimenting with such things,
perhaps to the detriment of his real work. But a good drum-
mer made an important contribution to the life of the
town, and if his father would buy him a wife or two
whether Tali worked in iron or not that was all to the

This end of the street was not nearly as quiet or as clean
as the other end where Loa's house stood. Here ran the little
swampy stream, tributary to the great river two miles away,
which supplied the town's drinking water and carried away
its trash. The stink of the rotting piles of refuse was per-
ceptible to Loa's nose where he stood, but refuse piles always
stank. Where the forest came right to the edge of the town
stood Litti's ironworks, in the shade of a group of large
trees. On the flat tops of two rocks glowed charcoal fires,
blown to a fierce heat by bellows worked by small children.

[ 39 ]


Litti was squatting beside them with his eldest son; a short
distance away Tah was tapping on his drum while round
him a little group of idlers made tentative attempts to adapt
a dance step to the rhythm. Litti and his family did not
prostrate themselves before Loa; when they were actually
engaged in the working of iron there was no need.

"What of my son's ax?'* asked Loa.

"It will be made," said Litti tranquilly.

He raised his white head to see where the sun stood.

"Now?" asked his son.

"No, not now," answered Litti.

Loa squatted down on his heels to wait; there was a deep
fascination about watching the waves of heat play over the
surface of the glowing charcoal as the bellows worked. Char-
coal burned without a flame; Litti had the secret of pre-
paring it. He would go into the forest and cut a great heap
of wood, set fire to it, and bank earth upon it. After a time
the wood would lose its fiery spirit, and change itself into
a coal-black reproduction of itself, which, when ignited,
needed the spirit of the air blown into it by bellows to make
it burn well.

Those rhythms Tali was tapping out were quite capti-
vating; time passed unnoticed.

"Now," said Litti at length.

"Hey!" called Litti's eldest son, rising to his feet, and one
of his brothers detached himself from the group of dancers
and came to help. With a pair of tongs they opened the
larger of the fires, revealing in its heart a glowing lump of
material, so hot that it was white and brilliant. They swept

[ 40 ]


the little fire from the other rock (it was only there to make
that rock hot) and, seizing the glowing lump in the tongs,
transferred it to the hot surface. Then they took heavy iron
hammers that stood near by, and began to pound it. At
every blow a fountain of sparks shot from the incandescent
lump, clearly visible in the deep shade. They struck and
they struck, turning the lump with the tongs, until its
white heat died away and it glowed only sullenly red and it
ceased to give off sparks under the blows. Litti got stiffly to
his feet and peered down at the red mass.

"It is iron," he decided. "Soon we will make the ax."

His sons lifted the lump back into the fire, piled more
charcoal upon it, and the waiting child set to work again
with the bellows. The young men's brown skins glistened
with sweat.

"It takes many days for an ax to be made," grumbled
Loa. "And after that I shall need a collar and bracelets for
my son like these."

He fingered his own ornaments, spirals of wrought iron
round his neck and arms.

"That will take longer yet," said Litti. "For that I shall
need a wife for my son Tali."

"Let him tell me which girl it is he wants," said Loa, "and
I will see."

His bare toes were playing gratefully in the thick bed of
dead sparks which covered the soil for yards round, the ac-
cumulation of a thousand years, of the labor of fifty gen-
erations of Litti's predecessors. Out in the forest, beyond
the swampy stream, was an outcrop of reddish rock — it

[ 41 ]


had once been an outcrop, but now it was a basin, for so
much of it had been dug away. Within this rock lay the
spirit of the iron. When a lump of it was heated to a white
glow and then pounded with hammers, the devils that en-
chained the iron flew off as sparks. Three or four such
poundings freed the iron completely, so that it lay in a dark
hard lump. Under the influence of fire it softened, and with
hammers it could be beaten into any shape desired, and
given an edge which would cut wood. But with fire and
water the iron could be made better yet. It was a tricky
thing to do — even old Litti often made mistakes. But an
axhead, or a billhook, or a sword, heated in the glowing
charcoal and then cooled in water, grew hard and glitter-
ing; and, when ground upon a smooth rock, became so
sharp that even the hardest woods to be found in the forest
could be cut by it.

The economy of the town was built up round the iron
axheads made by Litti and his predecessors. They had en-
abled the forest to be cleared and crops of manioc and
banana to be grown, thereby distinguishing Loa's people
from the little men and women who wandered in the forest
living on what they could catch, and on what they could
steal from the cultivated plots. Probably in the first place
the town had come to be situated where it was because of
its proximity to the outcrop of iron ore. Yet iron was still
a valuable and scarce commodity; an axhead represented
several weeks of labor on the part of several men, so that
the small axhead Loa was having made for Lanu was an
extravagant gift; while the set of ornaments for which Loa

[ 42 ]


was now negotiating was worth a wife — was worth a pen-
sion for hfe, in other words. Litti's iron tools represented
a prodigious capital investment. The few iron cooking pots
in the town were precious heirlooms, and no one ever
dreamed of using iron in arrowheads; sharpened points of
hard wood were always used for those. In fact these dwellers
among the trees naturally made use of wood for as many
purposes as possible, and iron was mostly used for the cut-
ting of wood.

Tali had now perfected the rhythm he had been striving
for. There was a neat series of beats, and then a hesitation,
like a man stumbling, a recovery, and then another stumble.
A man could hardly keep from laughing when he heard
that rhythm. It was a good joke, something really funny,
catching and captivating. The dancers were grinning with
pleasure and excitement. They had formed round Tali in
a semicircle, and the dance to suit that rhythm rapidly
evolved itself. They closed slowly in on him with mock
tenseness and dignity. Then a sudden sideways shuffle, half
in one direction and half in the other. A quick interchange
of places, a backward swirl, and they were ready in the nick
of time to begin the cycle again. It was an exciting and
stimulating dance, amusing and yet at the same time in-
tensely gratifying artistically. People came swarming from
all points to join in, and the semicircle grew wider and
wider. Soli, mother's brother's son of the dying Uledi, leaped
into the center.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Hey hey hey!"

He was up on his toes, posturing picturesquely. He reeled

[ 43 ]


to one side, he reeled to the other side, while behind him the
crowd neatly shifted in time with him, interchanging in a
geometrical pattern vastly gratifying. Tali thumped and
thundered on his drum. His eyes were staring into vacancy
over the heads of the dancers. He touched the side of the
drum with his elbow to mute it, and its tone changed from
loud mirth to subtle mockery,

"Hey!" shouted the crowd.

Tali introduced a new inflection into the rhythm. He
made no break in it; perhaps not even a metronome could
have measured the subtle variation of time. But now the
drumbeat told of high tragedy, of vivid drama. Soli in the
center caught the change of mood, and found words for it.

"The tall tree totters!" he intoned. "Run, men, run!"

The drum thundered, the dancers interchanged.

"Run, men, run!" roared the crowd, catching the final

"It hangs upon the creepers," sang Soli in his nasal mono-
tone. "Down it falls!"

Beat — beat — shuffle — shuffle.

"Down it falls!" roared the crowd.

Tali remembered the shrieking monkey which a few
months back had been brought down entangled in the vines
when a tree had been felled. He muted the drum again, and
Soli followed his line of thought.

"Silly Httle monkey!" wailed Soli. "How he cries!"

The drum fell almost silent, so that the united tread of
bare feet could be plainly heard in the dust.

"How he cries!" mocked the crowd.

[ 44 ]


Now the drum changed to a savage mood.

"Watch him as he struggles!" sang Soli.

He allowed a whole cycle of the rhythm to go by to allow
the tension to build up. The drum roared savagely.

"Watch him as he struggles," sang Soli. "Cut his throat!"

Beat — beat — shuffle — shuffle.

"Cut his throat!" shrieked the crowd.

Practically everybody in the town had come to join in
the dancing now. On one wing Indeharu's gray head was
conspicuous, bobbing about as he capered on his skinny legs
amid a group of excited girls. Loa stood alone behind Tali;
he might perhaps have capered with the crowd, for his di-
vinity was such that he need never fear for his dignity, but
the habits of a lifetime kept him by himself. Alone behind
Tali he leaped and bounded to the intoxicating rhythm.
Strange feelings were stirred up within him by it. Inwardly
he was seething; he was bursting with inexpressible emo-
tions. He sprang into the air and shook his battle-ax at the
sky above the forest, the distant, unfriendly sky, usually so
contemptuous. He felt no awe for the sky now. He waved
his battle-ax and by his actions he challenged the sky to
come down and fight it out with him, and he exulted when
the sky shrank away from him in fear.

Still the drum beat on with its maddening rhythm. Soli
or some other had introduced a variation into the dancing;
after the crossing over step everybody whirled twice round
now in wild abandon. The pace had increased slightly, too;
the mocking beat of the drum had perceptibly accelerated.
Tali was working on his drum as though possessed of a devil,

[ 45 ]


and the people were leaping and whirling and shouting in
time to it. Carried away by the wave of excitement Loa
came bounding into the semicircle. Every leap took him a
yard into the air; he swung the heavy battle-ax round his
head in a wide circle. Soli met him in front of the crowd,
and pranced to join him. The ax came whistling through
the air, and Soli saw it just in time. If he had not, he would
have gone to serve Loa*s ancestors at that very moment. But
Soli had the quickness of thought that made him such a
good extempore singer, and the deftness of balance that
made him a good dancer. He ducked under the sweep of the
glittering edge. The unexpended force of the blow carried
Loa right round, and Soli took advantage of that to bolt
into the crowd and make himself inconspicuous there,

Loa made no attempt to pursue him; indeed, he was
hardly conscious that he had struck at anyone and he could
not have named the man who had had such a narrow escape.
The blow was the merest gesture. There would have been
gratification in the feeling of the ax cleaving flesh and
bone, but there was no sense of disappointment in its ab-
sence. Loa forgot the incident immediately. He swung his
ax, rejoicing in the whistle it made as it parted the air. He
whirled faster and faster, carried round by the weight of
the blade. Tali at the drum worked up to a climax, writhing
in ecstasy as he pounded out the accelerating rhythm. Faster
and faster; no living creature could stand that pace for
long. Indeharu over at one side fell almost fainting to the
ground, and the girls among whom he was dancing stopped,
gasping. As one tree brings down another, or as fire spreads

[ 46 ]


from trunk to trunk, so the halt spread through the crowd.
Men and women fell, sobbing for breath, and yet laughing
with pleasure. Tali gave a final thump to his drum and al-
lowed himself to fall limp on top of it, as exhausted as the
others. The cessation of the music found Loa alone on his
feet; the sudden ending of it all struck him rigid, so that for
a moment he stood like an ebony statue, the ax held above
his head. Then his knees sagged and he sank to the ground
as well.

It had been a good dance, deriving additional zest from
the fact that it had been entirely spontaneous, without any
planning at all. "Whatever might be Tali's failings as a
worker in iron, he certainly made up for them by his merits
as a drummer. He deserved a wife, even though that meant
withdrawing the labors of a young woman from the com-
munal activities of the town for Tali's personal benefit. Loa
felt full of gratitude towards Tali. He might even in a
prodigal gesture have given him a wife for nothing, but he
remembered how much he wanted those iron ornaments for
Lanu. Tali would have to wait until Lanu's little ax was
finished and the iron ornaments well on the way towards
completion. It was highly convenient that Litti was willing
to put in so much labor to buy a wife for his son.

Over at the place where iron was made, the charcoal fires
had burned down to a mere heap of white ashes. Lying
within the heap presumably was the lump of iron that Litti
would fashion into an axhead for Lanu. The dance had de-
layed its completion — even old Litti and the children at
the bellows must have been drawn into the dance — but

[ 47 ]


that was the way things happened. When Loa walked back
to his house he saw DelH lying in her pen, deep in conversa-
tion with Nari, the old woman who had been left to guard
her. They were the only human beings left at this end of the
town when the dance had been in progress. They had fallen
into talk, the way women will, despite the difficulties of the
strange jargon Delli spoke; despite the fact that Delli had
not long to live.



LoA SQUATTED in his house close to the open door. It was
a dark night, and the darkness inside the house was hardly
relieved at all by the glow of the fire which his women had,
at his command, lighted outside the door. Uledi was dead
of the sleeping sickness, and Loa had to determine who it
was had ended her life. For this purpose darkness was nec-
essary, darkness and flickering firelight. Loa had taken
the bones — the half-dozen slender ribs — from their usual
resting place at the base of the grotesquely carved wooden
figure that stood against the far wall. He had set a rough
hewn table, of dark wood and with short legs, in front of
him so that the firelight flickered over it, and he had laid
the bones upon it. All round him there was a hushed silence,
for the women knew what he was doing. They were fright-
ened as well as awed. In one of the huts close by, a child
began to cry in the night, but the wailing was instantly
stilled as the child's mother caught her infant to her breast.
Loa looked up at the dark sky, and at the same time laid

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