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05



THE WHITE GAMBIT



Turn to the end of this volume

for list of
UNCONVENTIONAL and APHRODITE BOOKS.



AN UNCONVENTIONAL BOOK



THE WHITE GAMBIT




author of
WITCH DOCTORS, etc.




THE PALAIS-ROYAL PRESS

9 Rue de Beaujolais

PARIS



COPYRIGHT
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



CHARACTERS



CHWA, prince of the Lion Clan and brother of
MATANGA, King of the Wajojo.
MTESA, the Black Baboon, court jester.
SINOJA, priest of the Temple of Tchoon.
TAPAKWE, son of the King.
TANKA, son of Chwa.

TSABI, temple vestal.
KANANI, Chwa's first wife.
NKOBI, his second wife.
BATOMBA, his third wife.

THE BRASS-EATER, a whice trader.

THE SCOLDING MONKEY, another white trader.

THE STORK, a missionary.

THE EGG-EATER, his wife.

THE WHITE APE, another missionary.

THE VAT, the same.

MALIKO, a native evangelist.

TCHOON, god of earth and ancestors.
BUTARO, goddess of souls.

TAKWA, the night.

TANAZI, the dawn.

TULILI, the sun.

BANONDA, the moon.

NAMZA, the waters (rainy season).



2043828



CHAPTER I



The dregs of the King's beer are scattered
in the market place.



Kanani, first wife of Chwa, prince of the Lion
Clan, was entertaining some of her relations from the
country. Around a smouldering fire, amid yeasty
odours of beer, of food and sweat, sat twelve of her
guests whose bodies, nude save for bead embroidered
aprons of hide as small as a child's hand, worn behind
to guard the womb from the flower spirits while the
hoeing is being done, were carven in ancient ivory
and mouldy jet. Round were their faces and as
sheeny as a bird's breast, and others were as shrunken
and lined as withered fronds. Eyes and teeth fluttered
like butterflies in the dawn-mist of a swamp. A large
globular object loomed densely amidst the figures
against the grass walls and grimy bamboos of a partition
a huge calabash of native beer. The hostess
was seated upon her ankles. Ivory bracelets gleamed
dully upon her full arms. A heavy brass ring encir-
cling a plump neck mounted a face touched by the
first caress of maternity with a bridged nose of ebony
and broad lips of a bluish tint. Opposite to her



ii



were two younger women : one, more bronze in
complexion, with fuller lips and adolescent bosom,
Batomba, the youngest wife ; and Nkobi, roundest
of face and squattest of nostrils whose yearning breasts
were eloquent of the infant slumbering within the folds
of her smooth body. In the pauses of a distant male
voice chanting in a minor key to the repetitive notes
of a ten-stringed lyre, dominating the rhythmic chorus
of the frogs, filtered through the hum of mosquitoes
the shrilling of a cricket and a distant yapping of a cur.

"Eh," Kanani, the hostess, was remarking, "thus
he said to me ; and, sisters, laughed I muchly for are we
of the huts of Chwa wearers of the white man's cloth ?"

A ripple of giggles testified appreciation of the joke.

"Ehh, cousin," responded a woman whose face
was lined like a lizard's belly, "but what thinkest thou
Tayani, the wife of Barali, she who wears the white
priest's amulet, would have said to the Brass-Eater ?"

"Nought would she have said or say," retorted
Kanani, "for she hath done taking fifty times as
much wire from the store as he gave at his market!
Weareth she not the white man's cloth? Sayeth she
a white man's wire is not so stiff as a black's!"

"Tee hee!" spluttered the company.

Said a woman of plum nose : "What thinkest thou
then, O Kanani, of the Stork ? Is he also a seller of wires ?"

"Know I not," replied Kanani, "but mayhap his
wife, the Egg-Eater, also buys from the Brass-Eater!"

A gust of laughter crushed the chant as the whirl-
wind before the rain-storm stills the crickets.

"How then can they be true words," said another,
"that whites have but one woman ?"



12



"Mayhap," said Kanani, "wives cost more in their
country than brass wire. Doth not a man profit by a
cheap market ?"

"But then," continued the enquirer, "doth not
the polite husband provide the fraternal guest with
courtesy ?"

"Mayhap," suggested Nkobi timidly, "he offereth
her to him?"

"Ehh! who would give the only dish to another ?"
scoffed another country matron. "They have strange
gods and stranger ways, these whites, making magic
with blood and light and yet starving the very bowels."

"Know we not these men, we of the gardens,
O Kanani," interposed the latter's sister- wife. "What
sayeth the Black Baboon?"

"Aie!" returned Kanani importantly, "did he
not tell the father of Lions that the whites have found
their souls and lost their manhood!"

Once more shrill giggles blended with the distant
chant in applause at the court jester's latest quip.

"Aie," put in one of the country cousins, "doth
not the dung-eater of the Vat say that their god com-
manded that men of his clan should take all women as
mothers-in-law, shielding their faces when she passeth
by?"

"Ehh!" tittered Nkobi, "from whence then come
the mothers of the tribe ?"

"And they say," persisted the other, "that their
god was born of a vestal. What need then should
woman have of man!"

"Nay!" responded Kanani severely, "in such
indeed do they talk wisdom, for is it not well known



that women may well be taken with child by the
spirits ? Was not Tsabi, the vestal, born of a banana
flower which fell upon her mother's back when hoeing ?' '
In the ensuing silence caused by the admonition
of the hostess and chief wife soared the voice of the
troubadour above the insectile anthem :

Dwelleth he within the sacred gates :
Guarding the relics of birth and life!
CHWA ! . . . prince of the blood of Lions !

And in belly tones came the chorus :

Ow! Weballi Ow!

Speaketh he with the holy spirits,
Offspring of Tchoon, father of him !
CHWA ! . . . prince of the blood of Lions !

Ow! Weballi Ow!

Lifted he high the shield of pure white :
Fleeth the enemy! Warriors, hail!
CHWA ! . . . prince of the blood of Lions !

; Ow! Weballi Ow!

Bloweth he shrill on the horn of the chase :
Elephants shake the earth in their fear!
CHWA ! . . . prince of the blood of Lions !

Ow! Weballi Ow!

Stampeth he once raising his spear :
Women are pregnant, virgins weep!
CHWA ! . . . prince of the blood of Lions !

Ow! .Weballi Ow!



The scattering of the lyre's notes blended into
the hum of the mosquitoes and the aquatic chant. A
sudden shrill of a cricket impinged upon a bird's harsh
call, the bass murmur of voices, and the gurgle of beer.

"Eh!" bubbled Batomba, "well may the minstrel
sing of our potent lord! Have I not hoed beneath
a hundred plantains in flower who may not help him!"

"Thy chatter is even more foolish than that of the
honey bird seeking to lure girded warriors to his
store !" snapped Nkobi to the third wife, mother of none.

"Tc-ch!" scoffed the girl rebelliously, "who is
the daughter of the plantain-eater that she should gnaw
the toes of a vestal of the temple!"

"Daughter of the reed fence, sew thy lips lest the
ants eat thy heart!" commanded Kanani.

For a moment the fumes of the potent beer welled
strongly within the head of Batomba.

"Thou girl ! of what chatterest thou ? Who art
thou to say yea or nay to the brother of the blood ?
Had it not been for me thou wouldst have never seen
his shadow any more than the lung fish in the lake!
A tongue-taste, thou, for my lord's whetting!"

Beneath this stinging reproof, reminding the
guests that she, Kanani, had brought Batomba to the
notice of her lord as merely a dainty morsel to please
him, Batomba slunk behind her neighbour's back.
A puff of warm air swirled smoke across the circle
of eyes. A gruff voice muttered commandingly and
again began the fluttering of the lyre.

The matron of the gardens absently scratched her
armpit so vigorously that the nipple of the honourably
pendent breast fluffed her thigh.

15



"Ehh !" she commented respectfully, "O Kanani,
indeed do the young trees of the town grow straighter
than those of the gardens!"

"Thou dost tickle mine ears, O mother of many!"
returned Kanani, pleasedly, after quaffing beer. Her
eyes withdrew from the direction of the recalcitrant
wife shining proudly. "Ehh!" she continued, raising
her voice against the thrumming of the troubadour,
"is it not permitted to a mighty warrior to sup from
other dishes than his own ?"

"Indeed! Indeed!" murmured the company
politely.

"Our lord is just! Who shall deny him tasty
meat ?"

"Eh!" exclaimed one, "hath not thy lord tasted
of the daughter of the Banana ?"

A subdued giggle by the other guests was echoed
by Kanani as one mouthing a piece of antelope meat.

"Hath he not tasted of all even within the big
fence (the King's palisade)," she boasted with a slight
hiccough. "Ehh! have not I, his chief wife, had the
honour to aid him by these very shoulders to climb the
fence of the vestals' enclosure, listening joyfully to
the slap of his feet as he slid down the pole she had
placed for him and she sighing her greetings! Eh!
who shall say him nay except young rats of the
reed fence," she added vindictively catching sight of
Batomba's timid eyes peering over a shoulder.

"Indeed! Indeed!" murmured the company.

"Say they not," interposed a country girl, "that
on the swelling of the moon she shall be given in mar-
riage to the chosen of the god ?"

16



"Teh!" retorted Kanani, "he who hath the shells
buyeth 'the voice' of the god."

"Ehh! Ehh!" ejaculated several shocked by the
drunken impiety.

"We of the capital have not our thatches tied by
the priests," continued Kanani aggressively. "And
what should he do, 'the voice', but slink before the
prince of the blood lest he "

She ceased abruptly at the strangled crow of a
rooster.

"Eh!" she mumbled agitatedly in the general
abashed silence of the women, "when the cock flappeth
his wings before the false dawn he dieth ere the setting."

"Nay," responded quickly the country woman
with the lizard skin, " 'twas but a hen chirkling at a
snake in the thatch."

"Aye, it was so indeed," assented Kanani, grateful
for the native wit which she considered to have averted
the evil omen referring to indiscreet braggarts. Yet
eyes fluttered like moths to the door and the smoky
obscurity of the roof where ghostly eavesdroppers are
known to lurk. The cock crowed not again. The
chanting without continued. The embarrassed immobil-
ity of the group was broken by a convulsive clutch at the
beer ladle. Thirsty supping followed, yet hastily, as if de-
sirous to wash the flavour of blasphemy from guilty lips.

"Are the words true," demanded a woman with
pendulous breasts and the scarified forehead of the
western tribe, "that the white men of the strange god
have but one wife knowing no other ?"

"Indeed are they white words, mother of many,"
replied Kanani politely, but nervously.



"But," murmured the woman doubtfully, "they
say that no white hath more than one woman."

"They say!" echoed Kanani loudly, as if she were
strenuously directing an unseen listener's attention
to another subject. "Thou hast given thine ears to a
dung-eater! Doth not the cock say likewise to the
hen, and she content ?"

"Our men," added another woman with a provin-
cial accent, emboldened by the words of her hostess,
"prefer the words of the Promiser of Delights (Mo-
hammed) - - women as they are in this world, and in
ghostland to the good thrice as many, sleek and tender !"

"Ehh!" confirmed a third, pear-breasted, proudly,
"to the warriors the prime bearers of men-children.
And doth not my man carry the white shield ? Ehh !"

"Teh!" sneered Kanani, "the calf ever belloweth
the loudest foretelling disaster to the owner."

The young braggart drooped her head, clutching
furtively at the amulet about her bronze neck and spoke
no further words.

"And thou, Batabi, hath the Promiser of Delights
passed the eye upon many of thy men-folk ?"

"Nay, nay," denied that woman flurriedly, "there
are but few who have given ear to him and his kind ;
our men sacrifice and offer presents only to Tchoon,
god of our ancestors." She paused a second as if
summoning courage. "But many of thy folk, Kanani,"
she added defensively, "are said to have hearkened to
the gods of the white men."

"None of the Lion (her husband's clan)," declared
Kanani sharply, "have eaten of the bread of the whites.
They of the Lung Fish have become dung-eaters;

18



others of the Rat listen to the rustling of the leaves in
the wind of the Stork and the shivering of the blades of
grass of the White Ape and the chattering of the Vat !
And ask of them how many have withered in the wrath
of Mukwenda and Tchoon ! Eh ! ask of the priests ! ask
of the Black Baboon, the wise, who knoweth all things !"

The ribald tone of Kanani's voice shrilled as one
insisting upon her faith which was reflected in the
carven countenances of her guests. The low hum
of male voices carried through the concert of frogs,
crickets, and mosquitoes.

"Thou, Batabi, provincial!" she hiccoughed and
recommenced abusively : "the pigeon hath mucked thy
head in the fields ! Thou wast blind when the banana-
eater eyed thee before the noon ! the tree where dwelleth
thy twin soul hath been soiled by a white ! Thou hast
gazed upon thy man's mother! Thy children "

"May Tchoon seize thy man for a scapegoat,
O Kanani!" shrilled Batabi, exasperated by the last
insult and the potent beer. "Wherefore talkest thou
of my folk ? Are there not those of thy people sacrific-
ing to the gods of the whites, dung-eaters all ! What
of their gods ? Doth not the Vat carry the fetish of
his god upon two sticks of wood even as the White
Ape, each crying that he hath greater magic than the
other? And doth not the Stork say that both their
gods are but wind- whisperings ? And doth not the
Brass-Eater laugh in his beard saying that all their
words are but lies? The Brass-Eater!" she added
scornfully, "had not the grey rat crossed thy path
thou wouldst have taken of his wares! And of the
sacred 'voice' to be bought for shells thou didst say "

19



Her excited words were cut as a plantain shoot is
severed by a knife by a shaking of bamboo and a
choking sob. As the women gazed with distended
eyes, the stars peered through the top side of the door
and a small dark form dived head forward, sprawling
amid the company. They scrambled away hastily,
blood spattering them. As they stared, clucking with
fright, the man partly raised himself and horror came
into his glazing eyes.

"Women!" he gasped and strove to rise as if to
flee, but fell again sideways, revealing dark negroid
features and a gash welling blood in his left ribs.

"'Tis butTanaka!" whispered Kanani relievedly,
recognizing the man as a slave.

The fellow made another effort to whisper some
intelligible words; and, as he collapsed, something
dropped from his right hand.

The object rolled into the embers of the fire a
dull looking pebble about the size of a cowrie shell.

"Go!" commanded Kanani to Batomba, shrinking
farther away from the newly dead, "tell thy master
and summon Panta, the sorceror, lest the place be
bewitched!"



2
Before the flowering the sap runs fast.

In another hut within the sound of the feasting
and the music were seven girls. The small fire glowed
on tints ranging from a coppery sheen to the blue high



20



lights of black flesh; on slender limbs, and breasts
varying from the breaking mould of a fungus to the
full ripeness of a wild orange. The heads of all
were shaven to the apex; and upon the crowns, like
lone trees in a forest clearing, were two sheaves of
wool bound with fibre the insignia of the vestals of
the temple of Tchoon, the god of earth. About the
floor of trodden cow dung were scattered small gourds
and piles of ragged plantain fronds the remnants of
the evening meal.

Upon the naked bodies were no ornaments save
rings of ivory the thickness of a warrior's wrist which
had been placed upon their limbs above elbows and
ankles when they were weaned. The nails of their
fingers were long and pointed like talons a fashion
only permissible to female royalty and those in divine
employ. From crushed plum noses in chubby faces
as round as a melon with pouting lips like rinds, they
grew to the aquiline lure of the eldest whose breasts
like green gourds bespoke her flowering into woman's
state.

Twin black moles peeped beneath buttocks as
smooth as a bladder richly swollen with palm wine;
flesh with the texture of the fruit of the young banana
shone like the polished ebony of the stick of office of
the guardian of the god; like the ridge-pole of the
King's house was the tiny nose, and the nostrils were
those of a run-spent doe ; the proud swell of the belly
resembled the black rock beneath the Kiyuma falls
worn smooth and round by the tumbling of waters
since the days of Tchoon, the father of the tribe;
the ears of her were like to cowrie shells and nigh as



21



small, and they were curled as snugly as a forest orchid
upon a bark against a head growing on a neck reared
as haughtily as a palm; the teeth, whiter than those of
a crocodile, outflashed eyes which, clouded with
charcoal lashes, were like to spears seen against a
thunderstorm. Such was Tsabi, daughter of the Banana.
On the warm air, salted by sweat and smoke,
glided the words of the distant chanter :

Stampeth he, once raising his spear :
Women are pregnant, virgins weep !
CHWA ! . . . prince of the blood of Lions !

"Ehh!" gasped the vestals in admiration, rolling
eyes like reeling moons ; and the youngest giggled.

"Thou, O Kani, wouldst have thy belly knotted
by a demon," exclaimed a girl indignantly, "that thou
fearest not the magic of him!"

The giggles ceased and the features of the child
puckered to the point of weeping. She shrank down
emitting hysterical sobs as her companions turned their
backs.

"Ehh!" shrilled contemptuously a girl of copper
breasts like to bulbs bursting through mould, "she is but
a plantain shoot yet unwarmed by the rays of Tulili."

"Nay," protested a third, "is it not well known
that even a shoot may be withered by the sun ? Was
not the belly of the second wife of Kanomba knotted
by a demon before the tying of the apron and she,
barren to him, sold as a slave ?"

"Eh ! ' ' concurred yet another , "that is so , truly. Let
us make presents to Tchoon that we be not cursed too !"

Renewed sobs trickled from the huddled figure.

22



"Drive her out!" cried a girl excitedly, "until she
be purified."

"Aye! Aye! get hence, little rat! Go, denier!"
screamed three of them.

As they leaped to their feet seizing gourds and
faggots, the child, shrieking, dashed through the fire
and out of the hut.

" 'Tis good! She shall pay a hundred shells
for medicine!" exulted one of her companions as,
giggling delightedly, they sank back upon their heels.

"Ye are as foolish as the dung-eaters," said Tsabi
soberly. "Think ye that the magic of demons may
enter the precincts of Tchoon!"

"Aye!" assented one, Zana, admiringly. "Thou
art as wise, O Tsabi, as the Banana! but they have but
the wisdom of the peasant mothers from whom they
sprang! Ye fools!" she added, laughing derisively.
"Who is stronger than Sinoja, 'the voice' of him?"

"Teh!" exclaimed Tsabi in sudden wrath, "what
is thy ancient snuff box from which the snuff is long
since spilled to the eater of enemies who is mightier
than elephants, father of Lions next to the royal one!"

The lithe body loomed in the smoky air like a
palm tree in a gale and her eyes and teeth gleamed like
stars through the morning mist. The other girls,
crouching, watched the dispute as jackals watch a
feasting lion.

"His thighs are like to Mbuli trees ! and the back
of him to an elephant's trunk ! Teh ! But thy wizard
hath thighs that are as charred sticks and a belly
rougher than the pebbles of the river and more wrinkled
than an ill brayed shield! Ehh! Chwa is mighty,

23



fuller of sap than a two year old plantain tree ! What
art thou that thou shouldst drink of him ?"

"Teh!" screamed Zana, her brown back curved
like the barrel of a war drum. "What matter that to
thee, O Tsabi ? Thou art come to the time to take
the woman's flap! Then shall the god give thee to
a tree-cutter to wife! and shall I be the favourite of
Sinoja the wise! Teh!"

At a half -stifled exclamation from another girl she
ceased. Every pair of eyes fluttered fearfully towards
the creaking of the reed door. Through the aperture
appeared a wrinkled shaven skull on the crown of
which were two clumps of wool similar to those worn
by the vestals of the temple. Save for Tsabi the girls
shrank in obeisance before this figure which in the
smoky gloom resembled a hairless baboon. Ivory
rings tinkled faintly as he moved half erect.

"Lord!" murmured Zana, but as she half rose
he struck her expectant face.

He bent lower, peering around the faces. The
head of one was averted and she shrank as if desiring
to efface herself upon the ground.

"Thou, Tsabi!" he commanded and, turning,
walked to the farther end of the hut just beyond the
circle and sank upon a couch of skins. Trembling
in every limb Tsabi rose slowly. In the glow of the
fire her eyes seemed veiled by rain. Moaning like
a tortured and angry wild cat, Zana huddled on the
floor ; and about her, as silent as the fire stones, sat
the circle of children.

Between the chanting and the anthem of the forest
glided like snakes through grass the rhythmic fluffing

24



of flesh. Once when the throbbing lyre was silent
the deep voice of Chwa floated on the sultry air. Came
a sudden flurry and the squeaks of some birds dis-
turbed, and again the wailing of the chant. Several
girls giggled and Zana snarled.

When the harmony of the forest was king, again
emerged into the fire-glow the same hairless figure
and silently passed out. A girl laughed. Instantly
broke out a spate of chatter. Slowly appeared the
form of Tsabi from the gloom. The eyes glowed
sullenly. She squatted among her fellows ignoring
the patter of their questions, indifferent to the crouch-
ing figure of Zana watching her as a wild dog watches
a feasting leopard.

Then once again a sudden hush darted upon them
and eyes fluttered towards the door. A form blocked
the stars and grew into a man, the splendour of
whose body was clothed in the blackness of a stormy
night. As the girls made obeisance his teeth and
eyes gleamed high above the fire as he picked up the
frondlike body of Tsabi, whose eyes were as stars
breaking through a cloud.



3
Shall an elephant slay a crocodile or capture a bird?



As if at the wave of a magic wand the sun changed
the blue darkling of a rustling lake of plantain tops
into myriads of spikes of bright emerald in which,

25



like sand-shoals, were clusters of peaked thatches.
Two large oblong roofs, that of the King and the
Council House, formed the hub of a circle of conical
huts the royal household containing the many wives,
children, officers, guards and slaves. Smoke filtering
through hundreds of thatches swayed gauzily in the
glare, suggesting groups of ghosts dancing. The
lowing of cattle, the bleat of goats, the crowing of
cocks, blended with the yap of dogs and the cries of
boys. Away beyond the rim of the vast plantation
near the bank of a mirrored river was the residence of
Chwa, who, the previous evening, had been entertain-
ing the near relatives of his first wife Kanani, the
men-folk in his quarters and the women, as befitted
them, in hers.

The sun had sped scarcely a hand's span above
the fronds when he arose from the low door of the
solitary large hut within the innermost palisade a
stalwart figure clad solely in a lion's skin knotted over
his left shoulder, symbol of his blood and clan ; his
body newly laved and oiled by Nkobi, the second wife,
rippled and gleamed as he strode away with the
carriage of a buck in the rutting season, as blackly as
the ebony stick he carried in his left hand.

Immediately in front of his house (behind which
rose the incantations of the medicine-men exorcising
the ghost of the dead slave from Kanani' s hut) was a
narrow gate in the high fence leading into a path
between stout fences wide enough to admit the passing
of one man only the sacred way to the temple of
Tchoon, god of earth, of whose vast property in land
and cattle Prince Chwa was the secular guardian, an

26



office sometimes held by the surviving brother of the
king who, upon his accession, usually put to death
by fire (for royal blood may not be spilled) the others.

One hundred man's paces down appeared on
either side of the lane a group of hut roofs. These
were the quarters of the vestals of the temple whose


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