IN THE district of the Upper Ituri where the ground begins to rise in rhythmic waves as if summoning courage for the mighty heave of the Mountains of the Moon, are patches of grass land, brown freckles on the green face of the forest whose lips are the mouth of the sun-kissed Congo.
In one of these glades at the time of the stirring of life from the noon siesta, the stagnant air was rippled as slightly as a leaf impinging on the placid waters of a lake by the breathing of a white man who sprawled at the foot of a great tree, his bare head glowing like a pumpkin against the fungoid bark. A scarlet-and-emerald lizard darted from the grass, paused by the butt of a rifle propped against the trunk, and flashed away at the quirk of the outstretched arm. A water-buck appeared like a warm shadow twenty paces distant, snuffed delicately and vanished. The yellow pall of heat beyond the blue shadows shimmered.
As the dank silence was scratched by the shriek of a parrot, rose from the grass two faint sounds resembling the softest gurgles from a water-bottle.
The white man slept on, one gaitered leg thrown across the other. Within three feet of them the stems of the rank grass were parted slowly, revealing the glimmer of eyes. Again came the liquid noises. The eyes developed into the frame of a small brown face, woolly-headed, having a squat nose which seemed to snuff the air. Stealthily followed as small a body, wrinkled and bony, holding in a claw-like hand a tiny bow and arrow. Two more raptorial beings glided in his wake.
As the sleeper stirred and emitted a choked sigh, the three were frozen into immobility But when the steady breathing recommenced the patient creep began again, suspiciously; continued until the leader peered inquisitively into the pallid face half-hidden by the red beard and hair.
The great frame twitched and the eyes opened. Then as swiftly as the dart of the lizard the rifle disappeared into the long grass. Something—perhaps the blueness of the eyes—stayed the fingers on the bowstrings as the white man heaved on to his elbow and stared at the two bronze figures poised to shoot or to flee.
"Say," he remarked quickly but amiably, "I am pleased to see you!"
The smile or the voice distracted the savages. One hopped a pace; but the leader held his ground.
"I suppose," continued the white man smiling, "that if I take my eyes off you, you'll consider it necessary to stick me with one of those ridiculous arrows? And I notice that my rifle's gone. Presumably there are others of you. Possibly many; behind me probably."
He ceased to speak. The bowstring of the younger savage tautened.
"Very good, my son," pursued the white man hastily, "as my melodious accents seem to please you I will continue—although I fail to see anything particularly humorous in the situation." He smiled largely. "Habari gani? Kusema Kiswahili? Nothing doing, eh? Now I suppose that if I attempt to pantomime my most elemental need you'll surely misconstrue my intentions? Presumably the primitive life conduces to as cynical a view of other people's motives as does civilization? Is that so?"
The steady smile deepened, but the eyes did not quaver.
"However, we'd better introduce ourselves. I'm Professor John P. O'Gorman of the American Museum of Natural History, very much—obviously—at your service! And you, I presume, are the original pigmy, n'est ce pas? Sir! I am most delighted to have made your acquaintance—having traveled some five thousand miles for that express purpose. Certainly you are most interesting. I wonder whether you would mind standing up? No? Ah well, from this elevation I should hazard a guess that you are not more than three-feet-six—at most—and I'm six-three!
"Quite a Gulliver, eh? You haven't read Swift? Evidently your educational system is as defective as the American! Ah, you don't appreciate the joke? Well, no matter! But by the way this smile is getting rather worn and my shoulder's devilish stiff. Now I wonder—— "
Cautiously he began to move his arm. Instantly came a water-bottle cluck and the fingers tautened.
"Dear me," observed Professor O'Gorman, "this is the longest lecture I've ever given—and such attentive students I've surely never had! But what in hell am I to do? Yes, yes, I will resume! Now—er—I wonder whether it would interest you to know that your skulls appear to be sub-brachycephalic? More interesting than you appear to suspect. Unfortunately I haven't got my instruments with me. However—I wish you wouldn't fiddle with that bow-string! It gets on my nerves.
"Yet I rather doubt whether the fire-hardened point of that ridiculous arrow would penetrate this cloth. Very interesting point. No, I didn't intend to pun. I'm not feeling like that just now. I've got that disagreeable sensation popularly—and most descriptively—known as pins and needles in my elbow—and my shoulder aches abominably. Now I wonder what gesture would convoy William J. Bryan to your bright, young intellects?"
He raised his right hand toward his mouth. Phtt! An arrow quivered in his coat above his heart. He remained motionless, never relaxing the intent gaze nor the fixed smile.
"That, gentlemen," he said in a quiet voice, "is distinctly an overt act!"
Very slowly he moved the arrested hand, plucked out the arrow and snapped it between two fingers. The two heads quirked in a bird-like movement as he cast the pieces on the ground. Professor O'Gorman saw indecision. In one action he sat up, bunching his knees. The savages hopped backward; and stopped to watch as he tore open his shirt, exposing a bare white chest. He grinned widely. Again came the rapid clucks.
"You forget that I always carry my note-book in that pocket—-although I'll admit that your —— arrow does penetrate!" said the professor and held out his hand.
They made no attempt to shake, but evidently understood the amicable significance of the gesture.
"Good! Now we'll try again!"
He motioned to his mouth, masticating imaginary food. They put up their bows and timidly, suspiciously, clucked at him.
"No savee!—— the Tower of Babel!"
They chattered and pointed across the glade and at their mouths.
"Good. I get you. Very hospitable!"
AS HE rose the two little men hopped to one side nervously and stared up at the giant as if paralyzed by the realization of his height.
"I hope you don't live far away," remarked the professor, "as I'm —— tired. And I wonder whether you'll think me impolite if I ask what you've done with my rifle? Ah, you devil!" as he caught a glimmer of eyes in the long grass and the blue gleam of the barrel.
The pigmy leader who, erect, looked like a hairless ape, clucked violently, pointing.
"All right, my son, lead on!"
The professor nodded vigorously; but the savage gabbled and hopped behind him. The professor hesitated; then strode on in the direction indicated.
"—— it!" he grumbled, as the pigmies trotted behind him across the glade like children herding a red ox, "this is the first time I've ever been driven!"
But in the forest the professor was not so fresh; progress was laborious. Once he stopped and thought that he had lost his escort—until a soft cluck drew his eyes to a brown face and a pipe-stem of an arm in the riot of greens, pointing the way.
"Oh, damn!" gasped the professor as he slid into green slime to his knees, "this stinks like H2SO4!"
The professor plunged on, panting and sweating, scrambling from gnarled root to root across acres of bog, wading through swamp and crashing through undergrowth. The relaxation from the strain of grinning and talking for his life had cooled the enthusiasm evoked by the meeting with any being who merited the description—however remote—of genus homo after thirty-six hours in a hot dank prison whose walls were green and clinging. He began to realize the gravity of his plight; and his temper began to fray. He swore feebly but venomously.
At last when the irritation of fatigue appeared intolerable, he suddenly became conscious of twenty pairs of eyes regarding him from the tangled screen of creepers. He stopped. Skinny arms and legs rustled the leaves. They swarmed down and clustered 'round him, a quaint band of dusky beings scarce up to his middle.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen!" said the professor, recovering his sang-froid with an effort.
The sound of his voice evoked a gust of dental chatter like a puff of wind among Autumn leaves. A wizened being whom with difficulty he recognized as the leader of his captors, so much alike were they, strutted in front of him pointing ahead. The professor obeyed, expecting to come upon a clearing or opening in the forest in which the village would be located. But twenty paces away he was halted abruptly by the sight of a strange being, head and shoulders above the little people, whose body gleamed pallidly in the half light of the forest, a being showered to the hips in amber hair.
"Pithecanthropus!" murmured the professor eagerly. "Impossible—but——"
A slender arm was upraised as she clutched a tendril; one leg was poised for flight, the foot upon a branch with a prehensile grip. She peered in Eve-like curiosity at the red-bearded giant. The evidence of his senses bewildered the professor—yet the presence of a lady brought reaction—he took off his helmet.
Amid a gale of clucks the girl appeared to glide upward, disappearing in the wall of green. Amazedly he stared at the circle of little men, each with a bow strung menacingly. Quickened by the need of conciliatory action he held out his hand. The gesture was successful. The wizened elder loosened his bowstring and shot upward into the tree, clucking violently.
"Now what the devil can this amazing person be?" grumbled the professor as footsore, black with sweat and slime he sank on to a gnarled root.
For a few moments there sounded the rustle of leaves and a faint purling as of a brook over stones. Then came a scuttling among the little men peeking at him as from the wall of green emerged the girl advancing upon a fallen log like an acrobat, her hair spread out like an amber peacock tail, each tress borne by one of the little people who strutted in a crescent behind her.
Fearful of offending again, the professor sat with the helmet upon his knee. At five paces from him the cortege halted. Her flesh, he saw, had a strange waxiness like green ivory; the abundant hair was of a very fine texture; the small oval face with wild blue eyes was poised upon a well-proportioned body—seeming like a tower of chalcedony above the dark bronze escort.
While his mind fought with a flail of questions he rose slowly and said very gently—
"Good evening, madame!"
She continued to stare silently, her small lips parted like an astonished child.
"Er—you speak English?"
She did not blink.
"H'm. Vous êtes Francaise? Non? Well—Sprechen Sie Deutsch? H'm. Habla Español? No? Nothing doing, eh?"
Pointing at him she uttered several labial syllables. A chill of horror affected the professor as he realized that she could speak no language save this—simian lingo. But how on earth had she gotten here? These people must have stolen her. She was evidently Aryan—and brought up by these monkeys. Away from all civilized environment! Terrible! But ... The professor's scientific mind and training overcame sentiment. He ejaculated—
"Really the most interesting case I've ever heard of!"
She smiled—a white smile, not a grin, exposing small, white teeth—and darting forward, the escort attached seeming to jerk forward like puppets on a wire, ludicrously, she pulled the professor's beard.
"Amazing!" ejaculated the professor, acutely interested.
He smiled at her. She laughed silently like a vastly tickled child.
She clapped her hands and chattered.
"—— it, I wish you would not do that!" exclaimed the professor. "It offends—one's sense of what a lady should do!"
Again she laughed soundlessly and paused expectantly. The professor stared. She drummed her small feet impatiently, chattered, and suddenly pulled his beard again.
"Dear me," remarked the professor, "what is it that you wish me to do? At any rate," smiling, "you seem determined to get my goat!"
As the professor guffawed she clapped her hands delightedly and began to dance.
"Ho! Ho! Ho!" roared the professor, hands on knees, tickled by the conclusion that she connected the pulling of his beard with the control of his laughter; a guffaw which startled her into a peal of clear laughter.
"He! He! He!" she squealed, capering madly in front of him, apparently intoxicated by her own vocal expression while her escort rustled about by her jerking tresses, solemnly regarded this strange rite.
The reaction from this paroxysm left him weak. He sank back on to the root. The sudden solemnity sobered the girl. She gaped as he motioned to his mouth; and turning swiftly, wrenching her hair from her absurd courtiers, beckoned and led him to a fire smoldering at the foot of a great tree. As he stood gazing 'round for their village or camp she thrust a blackened calabash pot into his hands. After pecking at the glutinous mess with a forefinger he recognized the faint sweety taste as wild cassava which he bolted, greedily regarded by the little people with as absorbing an interest as a bunch of New Yorkers watching the excavation of a drain-pipe.
The food produced an intense desire to sleep. But the girl who had squatted to regard him fascinatedly, rose eagerly.
"Oh, damn!" exclaimed the professor irritably as she plucked his beard, smiling with childish anticipation. "Nothing doing! Savee? I want to sleep! Sleep!"
But having gotten the correct reaction from the beard-baiting she began to clap delightedly. He gestured violently and posed his head upon his hand. The girl regarded him inquisitively as if demanding whether this were a new game. Then comprehending, began to swarm up a tree. The professor was nonplussed; but as he stared upward he observed what appeared to be giant nests amid the branches.
"Oh, my God!" he groaned. "Now I've got to be a bird!"
With the aid of her prehensile toes she led the band with simian ease; but for the professor with his bulk and heavy boots the way was as hard as the path of righteousness. Exhausted and panting, he crawled into a shelter formed of branches interlaced across horizontal boughs, and sprawling in a corner sank instantly to sleep amid a crowd of chattering women and children.
From a ridiculous dream in which he was in a hospital being tickled by nurses he became semiconscious. A real poke in the ribs elicited an "Ow!" and brought him wide awake to find that he was packed like a codfish in a tin of sardines between moist limbs and bodies.
A vivid realization of his environment—and the stench—impelled him to dash out of the hut, only quelled by the recollection that he could not fly. Now and again above the rhythmic breathing and the drip of the forest which sounded like eternal weeping came the dismal hoot of an owl. The professor groaned, swallowed a mouthful of fetid acrid heat, and lapsed into the slumber of the exhausted.
THE strain of thirty-six hours' wandering in the jungle, although it had not killed scientific interest in his amazing discovery, had clouded the professor's mind until the elemental needs of food and sleep had been satisfied.
But when he awoke to find himself alone in the green light of dawn he realized fully the gravity of his plight. These little people were undoubtedly the wild pigmy of the forest, seldom seen or even glimpsed by whites or negroes, a primitive shy folk who even in bartering with their comparatively tame brethren of the forest fringe, would only consent to leave skins at a tree in the darkness and return the following night to collect the sweet potatoes, or copper wire, or other produce left for them. They were nomads; neither cultivating nor fighting; living mostly on edible roots and game in the deepest recesses of the Congo forests.
The professor's camp was two hundred miles from the nearest Belgian outpost; and he was— he had no idea how far from his camp. What chance had he of being rescued? As he stared despondently at the glow of sunrise leaf-patterned on the forest roof he could hear them chattering. He listened, mechanically noting four distinct clicks—a labial, kissing sound; dental, as a monkey chatters; palatal, as a carter encourages his horse; and a lingual, a gurgling klop-klop of a water-bottle; so he concluded that their language consisted of combinations of these four clicks.
"Interesting," he mused; but how the devil was he to communicate with them, to ask aid, to offer a reward? He knew a little Kiswahili, the lingua franca of middle Africa; but they, no word. As he jotted down notes he became aware of a looseness in the waist. His belt had gone! Hence the ridiculous dream of nurses tickling! The devils had the cartridges as well as the rifle! However, there was nothing to be done but to make the best of the situation by studying the conditions. What a splendid monograph he would be able to write—if ever he got free!
As he continued to scribble the girl swung from a bough into the communal nest. Squatting on her haunches she smiled at him. He smiled. She chattered, and stretching out her hand, pulled at his beard.
"Good morning then," said he, "as evidently that's what you want, eh?"
She laughed, a loud peal of delight.
"Imitative," continued the professor. "Probably you've never laughed aloud in your life until you heard me. Savages never do. However, you seem to enjoy it thoroughly. Satisfying a repressed instinct. She gesticulated delightedly. Splendid! Now for the first thing suppose we begin a lesson? Your imitative faculty should help you some. Food! Food! Food!" he repeated, pointing to his open mouth. "Get that?"
But she chattered and pointed below.
"No; not yet. I want you to say it, my dear. Listen—foo-d! Foo-d!"
As he leaned toward her mouthing the word, she goggled and perked her head on one side like an inquisitive sparrow. After he had performed about twenty times she pursed her lips.
"Fool!" she said, blowing it at him.
"Not bad!" said the professor. "Now again—foo-ddd!"
But she persisted in counting it as a new game, blowing at him and giggling. The professor considered and pointed to his mouth and below. Immediately she swung out of the nest with the effortless ease of a monkey. He clambered after her, watched by a dozen faces. Below were the ashes of a fire. The girl proffered him a lot of the cold or tepid cassava.
"Oh, damn!" ejaculated the professor with an image of breakfast food before him.
The girl laughed delightedly.
"H'm," said he, sticking a finger in the mess. "—— of a joke, isn't it?"
While he ate—not much—he regarded the crowd of men and women. They found him a most absorbing object. The women wore no ornaments of any kind, not even the usual tribal cicatrices; the woolly hair was unkempt. On even the stoutest of them the ribs showed plainly in contrast to the white girl who although lean was well fleshed.
Evidently, mused the professor, hereditary powers of digestion and resistance—or perhaps she gets the pickings.
Overcome by a longing to know the exact conformation of the skull, he advanced to a young pigmy, judging from her breast. With a squeak she fled. Instantly the white girl chattered angrily, provoking much clucking among the tribe which was finished by the girl seizing the child and dragging her up to the professor.
She protested volubly. He hesitated, fearing to rouse their ire, but concluding that the girl had the power of a chief and guessing at their conception of his intentions, decided that it would be best to disabuse their minds. So while the girl held the terrified child he ran expert fingers over the skull, estimating shrewdly the dimensions and formation.
Then just to show that there was no favoritism he turned his attention to the white girl. She stood as still as a rock as his fingers fumbled beneath her hair. Gravely extracting his memo-book he made notes. The little folk watched the magic ritual in complete silence.
"Thanks very much," he said, bowing solemnly.
The girl laughed, seemingly eager for theexcuse to exercise her newly found vocal accomplishments, and he noticed that save for the head man, who had grinned, no facial contortion resembling mirth ever disturbed the pigmies' features—tending to the conclusion that a sense of humor only developed in ratio to the intellectual development.
The compliance of the lady suggested that he might be able to enlist her aid in recovering his rifle and cartridges. He patted her arm to emphasize approval, and pointed to his waist and peered around. The girl watched him attentively, chattered and began to make a hoarse screaming noise.
Puzzled the professor again pantomimed the missing belt, which elicited once more the bellowing as the girl pointed at him and to the forest. The noise suggested a bad imitation of a cow lowing.
"But a cow—here!" murmured the professor.
She laughed delightedly, gestured at the stolid folk still gazing and then walked away beckoning. Immediately the professor moved, the whole tribe followed him. The sight of one little man bearing a smoldering stick and of women loaded with babes and calabashes gave him an idea. They were on the march!
WHERE were they going? Probably deeper into the forest, making escape more improbable than ever. As the professor halted the tribe stopped in his wake. The wizened little captor materialized, pointing a pipe-stem arm. Two yards away the girl, waist deep in undergrowth, beckoned. The sun was merely an incandescent glow through the roof of the forest. The professor could not take his bearings and had he been able to see he was not sure in what direction he had wandered from the camp. Perforce he must obey.
As he plunged on the tribe melted away except for the girl leading him. But they were there; now and again he could catch a glimpse of a tiny brown leg or arm, a head, and hear the click-click of a conversation in the dense green.
To the professor the struggle was almost insupportable; but the little folk slid through the jungle as snakes glide through grass. Occasionally the professor was compelled to rest, panting and exhausted. Sometimes the harsh screams of a flock of parrots broke the eternal dripping of the forest and the perpetual rustle of the myriad life.
And they stuck to the "cursed" forest; forest all the time. Once when an open glade was sighted through the cavernous gloom the professor jibbed and pointed earnestly to the blinding spread of sunlight. But the girl chattered and beckoned straight ahead; and a dozen thin arms protruded through the green walls. Always was he conscious of those eyes watching, ever driving him.
Sometimes the girl would squat on the limb of a tree and watch him patiently. When the exasperated professor cursed aloud she would laugh delightedly—and the professor swore anew! Twice when he failed to curse she approached and pulled his beard and "he! he'd!" with delight at the torrent of oaths with which the professor reacted.
As they were traversing a piece of comparatively dry going she suddenly leaped a clear six feet to the right. He stopped. The girl chattered at him excitedly. At first the professor could see nothing; then a mass of brilliant green leaves and dark shadows moved. He saw the coils of a snake. The professor moved quickly.
The farther he went the more anxious grew the professor. They might be off on a week's march for all he knew. He couldn't do it; no white man could.
At last at 10:25 by his repeater the professor mutinied. He sank down on a root and refused to budge. He made signs of sleep. The whole tribe, only fragments of it visible, discussed the situation energetically. But the professor didn't care. He slept.
When he awakened from a short doze he found the girl squatting a few feet from him as motionless as a sphinx. No sign of the little folk could he see; but he had learned enough to know that they were not far off. Immediately she saw that he was awake she approached and pulled his beard.
The professor had thought this was funny at first, but now he was tired and irritable. He scowled and spoke no word. She seemed surprised, and she made a move to repeat the action; but the professor snarled fiercely, showing his teeth like a red-muzzled Irish terrier. She appeared to understand the menace and desisted. Then after a pause she pointed to her head. The professor stared. She reached and taking his hand put it in her hair. For a moment he left it there, puzzled to know what she could mean. He laughed. She wanted to have her bumps read again. The tickling sensation was pleasing.
He scratched her head. She whined. As soon as he ceased she chattered at him, but he shook his head. Smiling she plucked his beard. This time the professor felt better-tempered.
"All right, my dear," said he, "you can get the reaction this time as it's up to me to make you my friend if ever I'm to get out of this—and if you like I'll take you too. Would you like to?"
She laughed in delight and danced about.
"You're a base flatterer, you know!" he continued humoring her. "I never guessed that I had such a charming voice before. As a matter of fact, it's the music of your own kind that pleases you. I wonder who the devil your people were? How old are you? Not more than fifteen I should think by your development—allowing for the tropics."
She glided close to him and put down her head.
"Well, I'm ——!" said he. "I know dogs love to have their ears scratched, but never a human! D'you know you'd be rather a beauty if you had a wash and got dolled up a bit. What I can't get is how on earth you've gotten your color? You certainly have the most extraordinary pigmentation. Say now, wouldn't you like better to come with me and get the benefits of civilization? Eh? If I can get out of this I guess I can get you with me, and it isn't the thing to let a white stay with these friends of yours. What do you think?"
He stopped scratching and held her face up.
"What do you think?"
She smiled delightedly and put her head down to be scratched again.
"No, no! Look here!"
He held up her head and pointed to himself, to her and the vague distance. She stared, puzzled for a moment; and then arose, evidently prepared to resume the journey.
"No, no!" exclaimed the professor vigorously. "You don't get me. Come here!" he beckoned.
Obediently she came and sat beside him.
"That's it. Now let's try another lesson. Watch me! Foo-dd!"
"F-oool!" she blew at him ready for the game again.
"Oh, damn!" said the professor.
"Oh, damn!" she echoed back at him.
The professor nearly fell off the root. He stared. She seemed impressed with the effect.
"Oh, damn!" she repeated distinctly.
With an effort he repressed the impulse to laugh, aware that for some subconscious reason she had gotten the impulse to mimic.
"Foodd!" he said solemnly.
She repeated the word clearly—
"Good!" he ejaculated in triumph.
"Goodd!" she mimicked.
"Fine," said the professor. "Now—" tapping his chest—"John!"
"No good. Listen—Jo-hn!"
" 'Onn!" she repeated.
"Oh, damn!" swore the professor disappointedly. "Jo-hn."
"John—oh, damn!" exclaimed she.
"Oh! Splendid!" shouted the professor.
"John, oh, damn!" she repeated joyfully.
Peal after peal of laughter startled the little folk and fifty pairs of eyes watched from the clouds of green this strange magic of the white folk.
THAT afternoon the professor decided that the better plan was to delay their march as much as possible. Accordingly he resolutely refused to move. They chattered and clucked, but to no purpose; the professor had mutinied. For some reason that he could not fathom they finally elected to camp on the ground, swiftly making shelters of boughs and grass.
Desperately he kept on with the lessons in English. Whether from a natural or hereditary aptitude she picked up words with surprising celerity. Many she got muddled; misconnecting the sounds with the objects. Try as he would he could not dissociate the name John with "Oh damn" so that she continued to touch him on the chest with much delight saying, "John O Damn," followed by a peal of laughter.
All through the heat of the day grimly the professor played the wonderful new game. Besides the interest in teaching her and getting a little inside this strange anomaly of a mind, there lay the principal chance of escape.
One morning in the midst of a lesson she put her hands on his chest and began to pick at the fastening of his shirt. The professor almost blushed! He held her hand, wondering what on earth she was after. She chattered at him expostulatingly, saying:
"Good! Good! John oh damn!"
Then she pointed to her own breast, to his chest and at the little people.
For a while he could not imagine what she could mean. Finally out of curiosity he unbuttoned the shirt and dropped his hands to see what she would do. With a quaint gesture like a monkey opening a bag of nuts she pulled the shirt apart. The exposure of his bare chest startled a litter of clicks. A finger touching his flesh and her own acquainted him that she was pleased to observe that they were both of approximately the same color.
By the end of a week she had gotten the sense of fully a score of words into her head; and with such a vocabulary much may be done. They were all words of simple and concrete objects; verbs were limited to "go," "come," "stop," "sleep." Each attempt to invite her to escape with him was doubtful; for the most he could attain was to suggest more than one white man, the vague distance, and that she would go with him. She had assented eagerly laughing, but whether she had understood or not he could not determine, only could he await an opportunity.
Evidently the savages had thoroughly established the identity of race or godhood, whichever it was, between the two, for now a separate shelter was erected for each of them and his primitive behests were obeyed without question except—the return of his rifle and cartridges. For even gods were not to be trusted in their estimation.
On one day the tribe did not make any attempt to persuade him to march and were very excited. The girl in explanation made the cow-like noise again, which was explained later by the bellowing of an elephant.
"Come! Come!" said the professor.
"Come!" echoed the girl.
She led him through the jungle to a swamp where an elephant, hamstrung by the little people, lay wallowing and trumpeting in death agony with half a dozen tiny arrows in the soft of the joints.
The professor demanded his rifle. But the girl replied that the beast would "sleep." When the elephant did "sleep" the little folk were soon crawling over and in the vast carcass like ants over a chunk of meat. They camped immediately and forthwith gorged themselves to repletion—to sleep, to wake, to eat again. The professor was in despair; yet he was weak and thin and the meat food was strengthening. He noticed that the girl ate moderately—instinctively apparently.
On the fourth day, amid much chatter, they began to move. Although the greater part of the carcass remained they made no attempt to carry any away with them, perhaps knowing no method, as did more civilized tribes, of preserving meat; but they did remove the tusks. This made the professor think hard. He decided that hope of escape lay in the fact that as ivory is of value all over Africa that even these peoples would desire to realize something upon it and would consequently approach nearer to a more civilized tribe to barter for wire or implements.
In the dank cavern of the jungle all ways were the same to the professor, so that he could not surmise whether they had changed their direction or not. However, in desperate hope he no longer tried to delay progress, but marched as long and as hard as he could. On the third day they came to an open glade about a mile across and halted. A terrific discussion broke out. Evidently like apes they feared to leave the trees, for they waited on the fringe until scouts had returned from the long grass and the tops of high trees.
Then came another commotion. The girl refused to enter the open, chattered, violently gestured. The professor was puzzled at her fear until she pointed to the blazing sun and at her body.
"Ot!" she said persistently. "Ot! Ot!" using her English vocabulary.
Then the professor understood why she had retained her color, acquiring the greeny pallor in the stewing atmosphere of the jungle. But this refusal to leave the shelter might mean a serious bar to their escape, he reflected.
"Good—good!" said he, patting her. And taking off his coat he put it upon her. She made no resistance. By her smiles and "oh, damns" she seemed to consider it a great joke and without further ado capered on ahead into the sunshine, laughing.
Evidently she decided that the coat was "good medicine," for on entering the forest on the other side she made no attempt to return it. The professor acquiesced, saying, "Good! good!" and she laughed, crying, "Oh, damn! John oh damn!" delightedly.
But the glimpse of the sun had informed the professor that they were going north—which meant toward the Boma Masindi trail from Uganda.
THAT evening there was much excitement in the tribe which the professor mistakenly translated as being near to an alien people. They camped high in a tree, which indicated that some danger was apprehended. For the first time since he had lost it the professor saw his rifle—being dragged into a nest on an opposite bough. He drew the girl's attention, energetically making the most of their vocabulary. To his surprise she assented, saying—
"Come—John oh damn!"
She chattered across the tree which resulted in two pigmies bringing the rifle.
Eagerly he opened the breech—to find that somehow they had contrived to work the ejector, for the cartridge had gone; and upon examination he discovered the barrel to be full of slime. He managed to clear it after a fashion, but the rifling was rusted from breech to muzzle. However, the professor attempted to conjure some cartridges. Cursing, the professor went to bed.
At the hour of the monkey he was awakened by the girl. He sat up abruptly at her "no good—oh damns." The moon was full and high. Around in the tree the little folk were clicking away as softly as a Spring shower upon a roof. Then his ear caught a peculiar sound—a distinct drumming as of native tom-toms.
A village must be near, he thought joyfully. But the girl kept whispering:
"No good, oh damn! No good, oh damn!"
She pushed a cartridge into his hand as she tugged at his shirt sleeve. He crawled to the edge of the nest platform noticing that her eyes registered extreme terror as she pointed downward.
A glimpse in a patch of spattered moonlight made him catch his breath—a gorilla half-erect was pounding its hands on the enormous hairy chest.
As the brute vanished into the blue shadows another appeared moving sideways like a gigantic crab—and another.
Now the professor comprehended why they had restored the rifle. Evidently not understanding how to use it they desired him to defend them. But one cartridge! He held up the cartridge, saying, "No good—five!" and lifted both hands, for as he had learned the little folk could only count to four, five: two hands upraised conveyed plurality generally.
The girl brought him two more.
"Oh, damn!" he whispered.
"Oh, damn!" she murmured encouragingly.
Hastily he attempted to ram home a cartridge; but try as he would to manipulate the ejector the cartridge would not enter the rusted breech. He scraped at it in the gloom with a penknife. The cartridge jammed half-way and would neither go in nor come out. He peered below again.
The gorillas were still around the tree. They were cornered. There was nothing to do but wait and trust that the brutes would not be moved to attack.
As the girl lay beside him along the great bough she pointed down and at herself, whispering:
The professor pondered and imagined that she meant that these brutes were her parents.
"No good," he murmured, "your biology's all wrong, my dear!"
"Yes, yes," she insisted, pointing at the great apes below, at the pigmies and then at her breasts, muttering persistently: "Me! Me!"
The professor grasped the fact that she knew that she had been stolen from her people by gorillas as the orang-outang steal native children in Borneo; and probably, he surmised, rescued by the little folk.
The rhythmic thrum of the beasts continued to the rustle and squelch of the undergrowth. The green pallor of the moonlight above was warming to the glow of dawn. Save for an occasional click as soft as rain-patter the pigmies were silent.
Peering as far over the branch as he dared the professor strained to see more of this strange rite of the great apes. Only as they passed in the spattered patch of moonlight could he catch a glimpse of each performer whose terrible teeth were bared in a snarl of ecstasy, the hairy paws pounding rhythmically upon the mighty chests. As far as the professor could determine they were moving, shuffling sideways, in the most primitive dance in the world, 'round and 'round the tree as if it were a maypole.
Just as he was wondering whether the beasts were given to this social amusement when the mood took them or whether, as with all savage tribes, the moon was the instigator, there came a squawk, the crack of a branch breaking and the rustling of leaves in the passage of a heavy body falling to the accompaniment of a terrified—
"Eh! Eh! Eh!"
Instantly the rhythm of the great apes ceased. There was a momentary silence. Then one of them seemed to bark a command, answered by grunts of rage from all sides. A hail of chatter broke out among the pigmies; the girl dragged at the professor's shirt, hissing:
"No good! Oh damn! No good—oh damn!" mixed with excited monosyllables.
He heard the phtt of arrows and much rustling of undergrowth from which arose savage grunts. Then immediately beneath him appeared a dim face with small, vicious eyes, black holes of nostrils and a cavern of a mouth set with wolf's teeth. Clicking violently the girl tugged at his shirt anew; but the professor, realizing that he could not compete with a gorilla in speed at the top of a tree, clutched the bough with his legs as he swung the useless rifle by the muzzle at a hairy squat body propelled upward with the ease and swiftness of an elevator.
The rifle-butt crashed on the shoulder muscles beside the conical head and as swift as the riposte of a skilled duellist a paw shot out, plucked the weapon from the professor's grasp, and holding by his prehensile feet, the great beast buckled the rifle in half as easily as a child would bend a reed.
A clutch at the professor's boot toe hastened his movements. As he turned he saw the slim leg of the girl disappear into the foliage above him; but as he stood up on the bough in a desperate attempt to follow her, his boots slipped. He grabbed at a small branch which tore away in his hand, was conscious of the gorilla yawning beneath him and clutching wildly—fell.
WHEN he grew conscious again he was aware of some one tugging at his arms. He began to kick and struggle, imagining that he was in the hands of the gorilla. Then a familiar "Oh damn! No good! Oh damn!" reassured him.
He was lying half-submerged in a morass beneath the great tree from which the girl was trying to drag him. The sun was incandescent through the patterned roof. He lumbered heavily out of the slough, covered in green slime from head to foot—but slime which had broken his fall and saved his bones. Around him was the gentle rustle and drip of the jungle.
"Good!" said he, sitting on a root, "but what's happened?"
He peered about. Near at hand was the elephant tusk sticking upright in the swamp; but there was no sign of the pigmies nor the apes. He sighed and wiped some more slime out of his eyes. Bending forward she pulled his green beard and laughed delightedly as he smiled.
"Good for you," he commented, "but where are your friends? Friends—where—no good—here," he translated with appropriate gestures.
"Good!" said she. "Go—go—go!" And pointing to the forest mimicked with both hands and feet suggesting climbing and running.
"Yes, yes! I get you!" assented the professor, "but——"
He made faces, beat upon his chest and grunted fiercely. She clapped her hands delightedly and pointed in the direction which the tribe had taken.
"I see. The gorillas have followed the tribe, eh? Lucky for us—or rather me. Good, brave girl! You stuck to me! Good!"
She appeared to comprehend for she laughed pleasedly.
"But what are we going to do? You—" gesturing—"me—many me—" tapping his chest and holding up two hands—"go—find—huh?"
Again she clapped delightedly.
"Splendid! Come along!"
He arose eagerly. But he dared not go without his hat or some covering. She understood after a while and mounting the tree with effortless ease, fetched his helmet from the nest.
"Good! Go! Go!"
But she started off toward the recesses of the forest. Immediately the professor sat down, saying, "No—no—no!" vigorously. Back she came and pulled his beard.
"Oh, Lord!" groaned the professor exasperatedly.
"Oh, Lord!" she mimicked, and danced about laughing.
"Come on!" he exclaimed, starting up once more. But as he turned one way she went off on the pigmy trail again. The professor stopped and considered. The situation seemed more hopeless than ever. Apparently she did not understand; or if she did, did not wish to assist him to leave her tribe. Natural, after all, he reflected. He thought of exploring on his own, leaving her to follow or not as she wished; but—in what direction was he to go? If he could find an open glade he might be able to work out some idea of direction.
The girl had halted, watching, as if waiting for him to follow when—the report of a rifle startled him. He listened intently, fearful that his ears or his imagination had misled him, for a rifle meant either a white man or at least a semi-civilized native. Again came a report close at hand.
With a wave of the hand and a shouted, "Come on!" the professor plunged forward slipping and scrambling toward the sound quite regardless mirabile dictu of whether the girl was following or not, crazy at the call of environment which that shot symbolized.
Fifty yards beyond he was wading in swamp to his waist toward the silver of sunlight upon open water. Just as he hesitated again another shot rang out, directing the professor's attention to a canoe beyond the trees in which, like the gleam of the sun upon a house window, was a white helmet, sending him floundering on regardless of crocodiles or any beast or lady, yelling hoarsely.
The uncouth noises had attracted the occupants of the canoe. The paddlers stopped. The blessed figure in the helmet turned 'round to stare. The canoe began to approach the shadows of the overhanging forest. The professor ceased to yell; climbed into the handiest tree and waited. Not until the canoe was within hailing distance did the professor think of the girl. He peered around. She was close to him, but high up in a tree staring open-mouthed at the strange vision of the canoe. The professor laughed with relief and waved a hand to her, crying:
"Good! Good! Come! Come!"
But she did not seem to hear him. She stared—stared.
"Qui est là?" came a voice from the bright sunlight.
"Oh, God, me!" yelled the professor in his tremendous relief and recovering his sense of reality added—"Americain!"
"Nom de Dieu!" echoed the voice over the still water.
The canoe shot forward more swiftly under the branches into the swamp grass. A small, black-bearded man in the helmet gazed curiously at the gaunt figure of the red-headed giant with a green beard and slimed clothes. As the paddlers poled their way the two white men exchanged explanations. The little man was an Italian in the Belgian Congo service upon a shooting-trip upon the Semliki River. He had heard by runner of the loss of an American professor very distinguished, etc., and bade him welcome and congratulations.
"But," said the professor as the canoe was forced through the grass beneath him, "I demand a thousand pardons, but I have here;—-what would you call him—an extraordinary phenomenon—a lady white who has been brought up among these—your pigmies—very charming—and whom I wish to bring with me. She is, I assure you, the most interesting case I have ever encountered in my life."
"Enchanted!" assented the Italian.
"Come! Good!" began the professor, hanging on to a branch as he looked up toward the girl. But she was not there.
Then in the spattered sunlight beneath the forest roof he saw her cloud of amber hair upon the khaki coat, and one slim leg which blended with the green of the forest leaves as it vanished in the distance.
"Oh, damn—she's returning to the tribe," exclaimed the professor, and added: "Yet—we are only creatures of environment after all!"