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back and thighs; as the day lengthened he watched the
gradual fading of the weals left by the kurbash. She was a
fine figure of a woman, of the slender type which Loa
favored (unlike most of his fellows), with good muscles
that showed to advantage under her skin when she set her-
self to climb a slope. Yet she was eternally out of his reach.

It was obvious to Loa by the end of the day that no ordi-
nary attempt at escape would succeed; the simple precau-
tions taken by the raiders, and their centuries of experience
in the handling of newly captured slaves, made it quite im-
possible to get away. The yoke was as important an inven-
tion as the kurbash in the Arab subjugation of Central
Africa; it was by means of these two instruments that a
handful of spearmen and bowmen were able to keep a thou-
sand captives under control.

Keeping everyone stark naked was another simple means

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of maintaining dominance. A naked man or woman cannot
conceal a weapon, or a tool to assist in escape, or a food re-
serve to be used in the event of escape. It reduced to some
extent, too, the chances of infectious disease and of skin
parasites being spread through the camp; but, more than
anything else, the mere fact of nakedness was a repressive
factor; in the simple communities from which the slaves
had been taken nakedness was nothing to excite comment
in itself. Nakedness implied poverty or helplessness, for
clothing was a matter of ornament and hardly one of pro-
tection and had nothing to do with modesty. The naked
man or woman felt more useless and helpless and was there-
fore more easily kept in slavery.

Perhaps the meagerness of the rations doled out helped —
no spirit could remain high when only sustained by two
double handfuls of tapioca a day. Already Loa was hungry,
and he grew hungrier as the days passed. Nessi at the other
end of the pole wept with hunger. Never in her life had her
belly gone unfilled — usually it had been unsatisfied on a
diet exclusively of starch, but never unfilled — until now.
She wanted to joint the wistful groups hanging hopelessly
round the feeding troughs, and she was inclined to sulk
when Loa objected. Loa would rather sit on a lofty point of
the encampment and survey the scene around him. He could
force himself now to endure the unwinking gaze of the sky,
to stare across the mysterious river at the distant shore on
the other side, and he was interested in observing the be-
havior of his guards. The mumbo-jumbo of the Moslems,
their ablutions and their prostrations, interested him. He

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

was sharp enough to guess that these formalities were in
honor of some god, but he could not guess which god it was.
It was more than could be expected of his uneducated
mind that it should develop a good working theory regard-
ing comparative religion, but having been a god himself
made him something of a practical theologian. Stirring in
the dark recesses of Loa's mind there were some curious
thoughts, and there was a stern conflict going on. When a
man who has always thought of himself as a god begins to
have atheistical doubts the conflict is bound to be severe.
Loa might well have gone insane if his interest had not
been caught by his surroundings — if, for instance, Nessi's
whims and moods had not kept him busy, and if he had not
been wondering about escaping.

The majority of his fellow captives were apathetic in
their misery, content to hang round the feeding troughs
or merely sit staring at vacancy. There were a few active
spirits, but not many, and the kurbash kept them in check.
And if the kurbash did not achieve its end there was another
punishment possible. Loa never knew what was the crime of
the two of his fellow slaves who suffered the death penalty.
They may have tried to escape, or they may have gone in-
sane and struck a Moslem. No one really knew, but every-
one knew how they died, for they were perched upon stakes
of impalement in the center of the encampment, and there
they stayed, screaming throughout one long day, screaming
at first so loudly that they could be heard from one end of the
camp to the other. Later the screams died down to delirious
moans. Loa knew about inflicting death; he had killed people

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

in cold blood himself. And he knew about casual cruelty,
the result of carelessness or indifference. But deliberate
cruelty of this frightful kind was something new to him.
He sat and watched under lowering eyebrows the writh-
ings of the tortured men. It was all part of his education. He
had never had to keep men in subjugation — allegiance to
him had been voluntary, so ingrained by habit and tradition
as to be classed as instinctive — but now he knew how it
was done.

There was no attempt at organized sanitation in the
camp, and the stench and the flies were consequently appall-
ing; the deluges of tropical rain that fell were welcome in
one way, as washing away the filth that lay everywhere, but
they added to everyone's discomfort all the same. The naked
peoples of Central Africa, like naked people in most parts
of the world, detest the impact of rain upon their skin. The
slaves tried to huddle together during the storms; Nessi
would sit in close embrace with a dozen men and women
whose yokemates similarly tried to huddle together at the
other end of their poles, all whimpering in chorus, each try-
ing to shelter himself from the pitiless downpour at the ex-
pense of the others. But Loa the god sat apart and indiffer-
ent (except when Nessi's writhings, communicated through
the pole, jerked him off his balance) while the thunder of
his brother the sky raved overhead, and the thick clouds ob-
scured the face of his brother the sun so that for a time it
was as dark as twilight. He bore the unpleasant nagging of
the heavy raindrops on his skin with some kind of stoicism;
stripped of his divine dignities he was clinging to his per-

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sonal dignity — about which he had hardly thought before.

There came a day when the whole camp moved off, when
the kurbash bit into dark flesh as the raiders herded the
slaves into order, when shouts and cries and blows drove the
slaves first here and then there in obedience to their masters.
Loa and Nessi found themselves loaded again with an ele-
phant's tusk — not likely to be the one they had borne on
their first day, but one as heavy and as bulky. It was slung
to their pole in loops of cane, and then they were directed,
in the footsteps of those who had preceded them, up the
slope to the village, along the main street, and out at the
other end to a forest path well trodden already.

"Where are we going. Lord?" asked Nessi. She still called
him "Lord" and used the honorific mode of address when
she asked him questions.

"To their town, without doubt," said Loa with a bland
assumption of certitude. He wished he knew.

"And when we arrive there. Lord?"

"Some man will make you his wife."

Loa really thought it more likely that Nessi would even-
tually be eaten, for that was the fate of wanderers in the
world he knew — a few days of rest, and then the ax or
the cord and the roasting spit. But he did not reveal his
thoughts to her.

"Will a black man make me his wife. Lord?"

"Yes. You will dwell in his home, and for him you will
cook the plantains and prepare the manioc. By him you will
have children."

"Ah!" said Nessi. Such a prospect, after recent experi-

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ences, reconciled her to her fate, which was what Loa was
aiming at. He had had enough of her misery.

The forest, the dark silent friendly forest, had already
enfolded them. The tusk that swung from their pole was
heavy and hard to manage, and already the yoke and chain
were galling their shoulders. Ahead of them and behind
them serpentined the long line of yoked couples, each bear-
ing burdens, sometimes slung from the poles, sometimes car-
ried on the head. At intervals along the line walked the
guards, and at rarer intervals still were the Arabs, the few
representatives of an alien culture who by virtue of that
culture dominated this vast assembly of human beings. The
African spearmen and bowmen who were the Arabs' paid
mercenaries could be trusted to see that the slaves did not
attempt to escape, but could be trusted very little farther,
for they, too, had led the carefree life of the forest and
knew not tomorrow. They could never be impressed with
the necessity for keeping the line closed up, for hurrying the
march, for planning each day's journey from one source of
food supply to the next. In consequence the Arab leaders
were busy all the time, hastening up and down the line, up-
braiding their mercenaries, flogging the slaves forward with
their whips, and stationing themselves at different points,
where the march was necessarily checked, in order to mini-
mize delays and hurry everyone forward again as soon as
possible.

Soon Loa and Nessi were running with sweat; soon weari-
ness began to creep over them as they plodded on through
the forest, up and down its scarcely perceptible undulations,

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

over its dry leafmold, across its boggy valleys. From far, far
overhead the subdued green light filtered down, from where
the creepers tangled together, where the monkeys playe^
and the parrots shrieked. Nessi's step was shortening; a gap
was opening between her and the yoked pair next ahead.
Very soon an Arab appeared beside them.

"Go faster!" he said, and he caught Nessi a cut with his
whip that drew a yelp from her and quickened her pace.

"Faster!" he repeated, with another cut. Then the whip
burned across Loa*s shoulders so that he lunged forward
pushing Nessi ahead. Nessi half ran, half walked until she
was up to the pair in front of her, but she had hardly
reached them before her step began to shorten again. Al-
most at once the Arab — he was a man of a strange mixture
of races, with a straggling black mustache and rings in his
ears — was beside them again.

"Did I not say go faster?" he demanded, pointing to the
gap that had opened ahead of Nessi. "Faster! Faster!"

At each word the whip fell, first upon Nessi and then
upon Loa. Loa felt the sudden pain, and sprang forwards
so that Nessi stumbled and the end of the tusk struck him
in the stomach.

"Hurry!" snarled the Arab, making his kurbash sing in
the air. On this, the first day of the march of the united
column, the Arabs were determined to instill into the minds
of their captives the dire necessity for keeping closed up.

Loa learned the lesson at once, linked as it was with the
lesson that the hippopotamus-hide whip could inflict pain
upon the person of his divine majesty. He kept watch now

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

beyond Nessi to see that the gap did not open again, and
when it showed signs of doing so he pressed forward with his
neck against the yoke to compel Nessi to maintain her pace;
by tensing his throat muscles he had found that he could
bear the pressure against his windpipe for some seconds.

**You go too slowly, Nessi," he said.

"Oh Lord! Oh Lord!" wailed Nessi.

Later in the day came a blessed respite, when some delay
ahead jammed the column. Nessi found herself stumbling
against the couple ahead, who had halted — they were two
burly young women, each with a bundle on her head and
each with her lips distorted by scarring. They scowled
round at Nessi, but Nessi fell incontinently to the ground
oblivious to everything except the fact that at the moment
she did not have to walk any more. The young women low-
ered themselves into a sitting position without taking the
loads from their heads — it was less trouble to sit with stiff
necks and poised heads than to lay the heavy weights on the
ground and subsequently have to hoist them up again. Loa
squatted too so that the tusk lay along the ground. Far too
soon they heard movement ahead of them in the forest,
shouts and cries and bustle. The couples ahead of them were
getting to their feet in succession and moving on as the
Arab came down the line. The two women with the scarred
lips rose carefully to their feet, swaying gracefully as they
kept their bundles balanced, but Nessi still lay face down-
ward, sobbing. The women moved on, on the heels of the
couple ahead of them, at the same moment as the Arab ar-
rived. Loa had seen him coming, and was as much on his

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

feet as he could be — with Nessi lying on the ground and
the tusk so precariously in its slings between them. He
wanted to look ready to march, for he had learned the les-
son that the kurbash hurts. The Arab took in the situation
at a glance, and once again his whip drew a scream from
Nessi. Even then it took a second cut to get her on her feet,
although once up she hurried instantly forward. Loa de-
bated within himself the argument that Nessi had lain on
the ground for an extra period of about two breaths, at the
expense of two cuts with the kurbash. It was much too big
a price to pay, he decided. Yet it was like a woman to pay
too much for the satisfaction of having her own way — it
was the sort of thing Musini did in the old days.

Musini! Loa had hardly thought about her since the raid-
ing of the village. He knew she was not a prisoner, and he
had no reason to believe she was dead. He knew, or he almost
knew, in his half-delirious state, that Lanu his son was free,
and the obvious assumption was that Musini was free too.
Musini had had some narrow escapes. She would have been
sent to serve his ancestors if it had not been for the op-
portune arrival of the woman Delli, to whose tales of the
raiders they should have paid more attention, instead of
promptly sacrificing her as they did. Musini; his first wife,
the mother of his son, aging now, yet full of fire and person-
ality surprising in a woman well past twenty years of age.
Perhaps he never would have sent her to serve his ancestors,
even if Delli had not come, even if she had always continued
her disturbing behavior. Nessi was saying something to him
as she plodded on in front of him, but he paid little atten-

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

tion, so preoccupied was he with his thoughts of Musini.
There was Musini over there, just visible through the trees,
and a boy by her side — Lanu. It was all so matter-of-
course that for a moment Loa did not realize the startling
implications of what he saw. Musini stepped out from be-
hind a tree and waved an arm. Musini without a doubt —
Loa stared at her so hard that he did not pay attention to his
footing; he stumbled over a root and with difficulty saved
himself from falling.

"I am choked," said Nessi, peevishly, when she recovered
from the jerk of the chain against her throat. "Cannot you
walk with more care?"

It sounded as she were addressing her husband rather than
the god Loa, but Loa had no ears for her. Already the few
steps he had taken had changed all the lines of visibility be-
tween the trees of the forest; he was already doubtful about
just where he had seen Musini, and he could see nothing now
either of her or of Lanu. Loa's heart, working hard because
of the heat and the exertions of his body, was now pumping
harder than ever, seeming to fill his breast so that he could
not inflate his lungs. He stumbled again.

"What is the matter with you?" snapped Nessi. "That is
the second time you have choked me."

The complaining voice pierced through Loa's preoccu-
pation.

"May hairy devils pull oflF your arms and legs," he said.

The god Loa had never used or contemplated using
curses; in the old days he had ridden as serenely above such
earthly things as his sister the moon had ridden serenely

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

above the clouds — the expression he had just used he had
overheard at some time or other and stored in his subcon-
scious memory, and now it had come from his Hps Kke the
words used by a gently nurtured woman of our day under
an anesthetic.

"And may red ants burrow into your belly," retorted
Nessi.

Presumably all the way along the line of slaves there were
violent quarrels — no couple could spend days tied at op-
posite ends of a stick without quarreling, unless they were
utterly sunk in apathy. Loa did not continue this unseemly
exchange of ill wishes; even if he had known any more
curses he was too busy trying to look over his right shoulder
for Lanu and Musini again. But the path he was following
wound about with nothing to call attention to its windings,
and the fact that he had first seen them over his right shoul-
der did not mean at all that they were in that relative direc-
tion now.

"Oh, walk more steadily," nagged Nessi. "I am so weary.
The pole chafes my shoulders."

Loa paid no attention, and the exasperated Nessi reached
up with her hands and took hold of the ends of the fork and
gave them a maddening tug, so that the chain at Loa's end
rasped violently against the nape of his neck.

"Do not do that!" he said, roused once more to awareness
of his surroundings,

"I will do it! I want to do it!" said Nessi. "You make my
way hard for me, and I shall make yours hard for you."

And with that she tugged at the yoke again, exasperating

[ io6 ]



THE SKY AND THE FOREST

Loa so that he in his turn took hold of the pole and shook it,
battering Nessi's fork against the back of her head.

"You hurt me!" shrieked Nessi, but that was just what
Loa wanted to do. He thought darkly for a moment of
twisting the pole and strangling Nessi as she stood, until he
realized that he could not do that without strangling him-
self. So he made his neck muscles rigid and contented him-
self with poking Nessi in the back of the neck with the
fork. A frightful pain across his shoulders made him stop;
the Arab had come up beside them and was cutting at them
with his whip.

"Not that!" snarled the Arab.

He gave Loa two more cuts for good measure and then
transferred his attentions to Nessi. She screamed as the kur-
bash bit into her thighs — her back was screened by the
tusk slung trom the pole. Loa heard the screams and saw the
angry welts appear on her thighs, with intense satisfaction.

"Now go on in peace," said the Arab, with a stupid mis-
use of a forest idiom, but his meaning was clear enough.
They went on, with Nessi weeping and wailing over her
sorrows, and Loa more and more irritated by her.

In the late afternoon the march came to an end, in the
main street of a deserted village. Here there was none of the
ample space which had been available at the original en-
campment. Instead the slaves were herded into the street
and packed tight, filling the whole area between the two
rows of houses. Loa found himself jostled and surrounded
by strange men and women, some of the latter with footsore
children running at their sides. A babel of sound went up

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

around him, accompanied by the stench of sweating bodies.

"Is this their town?" asked Nessi, bewildered, through
the din.

"I do not know," said Loa, but Nessi had not waited for
a reply. She cast herself upon the ground completely ex-
hausted, and so did the other slaves — poles, arms, legs, and
bundles all jumbled together.

An hour later, with evening at hand, there was an eddy
in the crowd. Two slaves were walking through the press
with a feeding trough on their shoulders; they were escorted
by a group of Arabs and mercenaries who slashed right and
left with sticks and whips to restrain the eager mob. A dou-
ble handful of cooked plantain each; it called for many
troughs to supply even that moderate ration, but they were
correspondingly quickly emptied, and brought round again
filled with water. The slaves drank from them like animals;
and then, hunger and thirst to some extent allayed, they
could lie down again, in their own and in each others' filth,
to sleep, higgledy-piggledy, like animals, with heads pil-
lowed on bosoms or thighs; and when it rained, as it did twice
during the night, trying (as well as poles and chains and
loads permitted) to huddle together closer. Around them,
during the hours of darkness, a few of the raiders kept
guard.



[ io8 ]



CHAPTER

VIII

It was still dark when the slaves on the fringe of the
crowd were roused next day; it was hardly after dawn when
it was Nessi's and Loa's turn to move off after them. There
was a running stream at which they could kneel to drink,
at the end of the village, and there were troughs of food
prepared from which they could each take their double
handful to eat as they walked along — Loa had to rest his
hands on the pole so as to eat out of them. The same endless
march, the same heat and weariness and misery. The tor-
ment of flies and mosquitoes; the hurried mouthfuls of
water snatched as they forded the streams. The whip of the
Arabs, the sticks of their mercenaries. The same march, the
same torments, the same whips, day following day, until the
day of deliverance. No slave counted the days.

The man beside whom Loa had slept had entertained him
for a brief while with an account of something he had seen
the previous day — he talked freely to Loa, whom he was
addressing in ignorance of his status. (It might not have been
different had he known.) During the march this man had
seen a forest antelope, bewildered at the passage of so many
men and women, dashing between the trees and then com-
ing to a startled full stop. An Arab was close beside Loa's

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

informant. He had put his gun to his shoulder — the man's
pantomime was vivid — and then boom! The antelope had
fallen down dead. Dead, quite dead, with the blood running
from his side and his mouth. Dead, killed at a distance no
arrow could be impelled over, killed by the bang and the
puflF of strange-smelling smoke. The memory of the story
gave Loa something to think about as he plodded along be-
hind Nessi. It was a strange power these gray-faced men
had. With the bow and the poisoned arrow Loa had been
familiar all his life, of course. And he had killed men with
an unseen force — more than once he had told them that he
was at enmity with them, and that had been enough to
make those men waste away and die. But forest antelopes,
like parrots and monkeys and red ants, were not subject to
his power. Even a man took long days to die. He did not fall
bleeding as that forest antelope had done, according to the
narrator — as the men had done that Delli had told about.
Loa knew the limitations on his powers; these men could do
something he could not do. It was a disturbing thought; if
they were only men, then what was he?

Here, at a point where the trail made a sharp bend, was an
Arab, standing with the stream of slaves flowing past him
as he supervised the march with his kurbash flicking in his
hand. At sight of him Loa took care to pick his steps care-
fully, so as not to stumble and invite a blow — he had
learned much during these dreadful days. And as he ap-
proached he heard the high-pitched twang of a bowstring.
He did not see the flight of the missile, but he was instantly
conscious of when it reached its mark. He saw it strike, hit-

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

ting the Arab just below the jaw, where face and neck
meet; Loa was within a few yards of the Arab when it hap-
pened. The Arab did not stagger; he put up his hand with
surprise and took hold of the barbed arrow as it hung down
on his shoulder from his face. Some red blood — only a few
drops — dripped from the wound. The Arab swung round
to see who had attacked him, reaching at the same time for
the gun which hung by a strap over his shoulder. But he was
unsteady on his feet now; his knees bent under him, and al-
though he braced himself up for a moment they gave way
again, and he fell on his face moving only feebly as Nessi
and Loa reached him. Arrow poison works fast, when in-
jected into the trunk of the body rather than in a limb, and
fastest of all in the blood vessels of the neck. Two people
came leaping across the glade to where Nessi and Loa stood
by the body. One was little Lanu, his left hand grasping his
three -foot bow and an arrow; his right hand held yet another
arrow with the bowstring in the notch, ready to draw and
loose. And with him ran Musini, naked, with her long
breasts swinging in front of her; in her hand she bore
Lanu's ceremonial battle-ax, the little ax which Litti the
smith had made for him at Loa's special request. The bright


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