Tarzan and the Leopard Men

Chapter 4

Sobito, the Witch-Doctor

Edgar Rice Burroughs


TWO WHITE MEN sat before a much patched, weatherworn tent. They sat upon the ground, for they had no chairs. Their clothing was, if possible, more patched and weatherworn than their tent. Five natives squatted about a cook-fire at a little distance from them. Another native was preparing food for the white men at a small fire near the tent.

“I’m sure fed up on this,” remarked the older man.

“Then why don’t you beat it?” demanded the other, a young man of twenty-one or twenty-two.

His companion shrugged. “Where? I’d be just another dirty bum, back in the States. Here, I at least have the satisfaction of servants, even though I know damn well they don’t respect me. It gives me a certain sense of class to be waited upon. There, I’d have to wait on somebody else. But you—I can’t see why you want to hang around this lousy Godforsaken country, fighting bugs and fever. You’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and the whole world to carve it out of any way you want.”

“Hell!” exclaimed the younger man. “You talk as though you were a hundred. You aren’t thirty yet. You told me your age, you know, right after we threw in together.”

“Thirty’s old,” observed the other. “A guy’s got to get a start long before thirty. Why, I know fellows who made theirs and retired by the time they were thirty. Take my dad for instance-” He went silent then, quite suddenly. The other urged no confidences.

“I guess we’d be a couple of bums back there,” he remarked laughing.

“You wouldn’t be a bum anywhere, Kid,” remonstrated his companion. He broke into sudden laughter.

“What you laughing about?”

“I was thinking about the time we met; it’s just about a year now. You tried to make me think you were a tough guy from the slums. You were a pretty good actor—while you were thinking about it.”

The Kid grinned. “It was a hell of a strain on my histrionic abilities,” he admitted; “but, say, Old Timer, you didn’t fool anybody much, yourself. To listen to you talk one would have imagined that you were born in the jungle and brought up by apes, but I tumbled to you in a hurry. I said to myself, ‘Kid, it’s either Yale or Princeton; more likely Yale.’”

“But you didn’t ask any questions. That’s what I liked about you.”

“And you didn’t ask any. Perhaps that’s why we’ve gotten along together so well. People who ask questions should be taken gently, but firmly, by the hand, led out behind the barn and shot. It would be a better world to live in.”

“Oke, Kid; but still it’s rather odd, at that, that two fellows should pal together for a year, as we have, and not know the first damn thing about one another—as though neither trusted the other.”

“It isn’t that with me,” said the Kid; “but there are some things that a fellow just can’t talk about—to any one.”

“I know,” agreed Old Timer. “The thing each of us can’t talk about probably explains why he is here. It was a woman with me; that’s why I hate ’em.”

“Hooey!” scoffed the younger man. “I’d bet you fall for the first skirt you see—if I had anything to bet.”

“We won’t have anything to eat or any one to cook it for us if we don’t have a little luck pronto,” observed the other. “It commences to look as though all the elephants in Africa had beat it for parts unknown.”

“Old Bobolo swore we’d find ’em here, but I think old Bobolo is a liar.”

“I have suspected that for some time,” admitted Old Timer.

The Kid rolled a cigarette. “All he wanted was to get rid of us, or, to state the matter more accurately, to get rid of you.”

“Why me?”

“He didn’t like the goo-goo eyes his lovely daughter was making at you. You’ve sure got a way with the women, Old Timer.”

“It’s because I haven’t that I’m here,” the older man assured him.

“Says you.”

“Kid, I think you are the one who is girl-crazy. You can’t get your mind off the subject. Forget ’em for a while, and let’s get down to business. I tell you we’ve got to do something and do it damn sudden. If these loyal retainers of ours don’t see a little ivory around the diggings pretty soon they’ll quit us. They know as well as we do that it’s a case of no ivory, no pay.”

“Well, what are we going to do about it; manufacture elephants?”

“Go out and find ’em. Thar’s elephants in them thar hills, men; but they aren’t going to come trotting into camp to be shot. The natives won’t help us; so we’ve got to get out and scout for them ourselves. We’ll each take a couple of men and a few days’ rations; then we’ll head in different directions, and if one of us doesn’t find elephant tracks I’m a zebra.”

“How much longer do you suppose we’ll be able to work this racket without getting caught?” demanded The Kid.

“I’ve been working it for two years, and I haven’t been nabbed yet,” replied Old Timer; “and, believe me, I don’t want to be nabbed. Have you ever seen their lousy jail?”

“They wouldn’t put white men in that, would they?” The Kid looked worried.

“They might. Ivory poachin’ makes ’em sorer than Billy Hell.”

“I don’t blame ’em,” said The Kid. “It’s a lousy racket.”

“Don’t I know it?” Old Timer spat vehemently. “But a man’s got to eat, hasn’t he? If I knew a better way to eat I wouldn’t be an ivory poacher. Don’t think for a minute that I’m stuck on the job or proud of myself. I’m not. I just try not to think of the ethics of the thing, just like I try to forget that I was ever decent. I’m a bum, I tell you, a dirty, low down bum; but even bums cling to life—though God only knows why. I’ve never dodged the chance of kicking off, but somehow I always manage to wiggle through. If I’d been any good on earth; or if any one had cared whether I croaked or not, I’d have been dead long ago. It seems as though the Devil watches over things like me and protects them, so that they can suffer as long as possible in this life before he forks them into eternal hell-fire and brimstone in the next.”

“Don’t brag,” advised The Kid. “I’m just as big a bum as you. Likewise, I have to eat. Let’s forget ethics and get busy.”

“We’ll start tomorrow,” agreed Old Timer.

.     .     .     .     .

Muzimo stood silent with folded arms, the center of a chattering horde of natives in the village of Tumbai. Upon his shoulders squatted The Spirit of Nyamwegi. He, too, chattered. It was fortunate, perhaps, that the villagers of Tumbai could not understand what The Spirit of Nyamwegi said. He was hurling the vilest of jungle invective at them, nor was there in all the jungle another such master of diatribe. Also, from the safety of Muzimo’s shoulder, he challenged them to battle, telling them what he would do to them if he ever got hold of them. He challenged them single and en masse. It made no difference to The Spirit of Nyamwegi how they came, just so they came.

If the villagers were not impressed by The Spirit of Nyamwegi, the same is not true of the effect that the presence of Muzimo had upon them after they had heard Orando’s story, even after the first telling. By the seventh or eighth telling their awe was prodigious. It kept them at a safe distance from this mysterious creature of another world.

There was one skeptic, however. It was the village witch-doctor, who doubtless felt that it was not good business to admit too much credence in a miracle not of his own making. Whatever he felt, and it is quite possible that he was as much in awe as the others, he hid it under a mask of indifference, for he must always impress the laity with his own importance.

The attention bestowed upon this stranger irked him; it also pushed him entirely out of the limelight. This nettled him greatly. Therefore, to call attention to himself, as well as to reestablish his importance, he strode boldly up to Muzimo. Whereupon The Spirit of Nyamwegi screamed shrilly and took refuge behind the back of his patron. The attention of the villagers was now attracted to the witch-doctor, which was precisely what he desired. The chattering ceased. All eyes were on the two. This was the moment the witch-doctor had awaited. He puffed himself to his full height and girth. He swaggered before the spirit of Orando’s ancestor. Then he addressed him in a loud tone.

“You say that you are the muzimo of Orando, the son of Lobongo; but how do we know that your words are true words? You say that the little monkey is the ghost of Nyamwegi. How do we know that, either?”

“Who are you, old man, who asks me these questions?” demanded Muzimo.

“I am Sobito, the witch-doctor.”

“You say that you are Sobito, the witch-doctor; but how do I know that your words are true words?”

“Every one knows that I am Sobito, the witch-doctor.” The old man was becoming excited. He discovered that he had been suddenly put upon the defensive, which was not at all what he had intended. “Ask any one. They all know me.”

“Very well, then,” said Muzimo; “ask Orando who I am. He, alone, knows me. I have not said that I am his muzimo. I have not said that the little monkey is the ghost of Nyamwegi. I have not said who I am. I have not said anything. It does not make any difference to me who you think I am; but if it makes a difference to you, ask Orando,” whereupon he turned about and walked away, leaving Sobito to feel that he had been made to appear ridiculous in the eyes of his clansmen.

Fanatical, egotistical, and unscrupulous, the old witch-doctor was a power in the village of Tumbai. For years he had exercised his influence, sometimes for good and sometimes for evil, upon the villagers. Even Lobongo, the chief, was not as powerful as Sobito, who played upon the superstitions and fears of his ignorant followers until they dared not disobey his slightest wish.

Tradition and affection bound them to Lobongo, their hereditary chief; fear held them in the power of Sobito, whom they hated. Inwardly they were pleased that Orando’s muzimo had flaunted him; but when the witch-doctor came among them and spoke disparagingly of the muzimo they only listened in sullen silence, daring not to express their belief in him.

Later, the warriors gathered before the hut of Lobono to listen to the formal telling of the story of Orando. It was immaterial that they had heard it several times already. It must be told again in elaborate detail before a council of the chief and his warriors; and so once more Orando retold the oft-told tale, nor did it lose anything in the telling. More and more courageous became the deeds of Orando, more and more miraculous those of Muzimo; and when he closed his oration it was with an appeal to the chief and his warriors to gather the Utengas from all the villages of the tribe and go forth to avenge Nyamwegi. Muzimo, he told them, would lead them to the village of the Leopard Men.

There were shouts of approval from the younger men, but the majority of the older men sat in silence. It is always thus; the younger men for war, the older for peace. Lobongo was an old man. He was proud that his son should be warlike. That was the reaction of the father, but the reaction of age was all against war. So he, too, remained silent. Not so, Sobito. To his personal grievance against Muzimo were added other considerations that inclined him against this contemplated foray; at least one of which (and the most potent) was a secret he might not divulge with impunity. Scowling forbiddingly he leaped to his feet.

“Who makes this foolish talk of war?” he demanded. “Young men. What do young men know of war? They think only of victory. They forget defeat. They forget that if they make war upon a village the warriors of that village will come some day and make war upon us. What is to be gained by making war upon the Leopard Men? Who knows where their village lies? It must be very far away. Why should our warriors go far from their own country to make war upon the Leopard Men? Because Nyamwegi has been killed? Nyamwegi has already been avenged. This is foolish talk, this war-talk. Who started it? Perhaps it is a stranger among us who wishes to make trouble for us.” He looked at Muzimo. “Who knows why? Perhaps the Leopard Men have sent one of their own people to lure us into making war upon them. Then all our warriors will be ambushed and killed. That is what will happen. Make no more foolish talk about war.”

As Sobito concluded his harangue and again squatted upon his heels Orando arose. He was disturbed by what the old witch-doctor had said; and he was angry, too; angry because Sobito had impugned the integrity of his muzimo. But his anger was leashed by his fear of the powerful old man; for who dares openly oppose one in league with the forces of darkness, one whose enmity can spell disaster and death? Yet Orando was a brave warrior and a loyal friend, as befitted one in whose views flowed the blood of hereditary chieftainship; and so he could not permit the innuendoes of Sobito to go entirely unchallenged.

“Sobito has spoken against war,” he began. “Old men always speak against war, which is right if one is an old man. Orando is a young man yet he, too, would speak against war if it were only the foolish talk of young men who wished to appear brave in the eyes of women; but now there is a reason for war. Nyamwegi has been killed. He was a brave warrior. He was a good friend. Because we have killed three of those who killed Nyamwegi we cannot say that he is avenged. We must go and make war upon the chief who sent these murderers into the Watenga country, or he will think that the Utengas are all old women. He will think that whenever his people wish to eat the flesh of man they have only to come to the Watenga country to get it.

“Sobito has said that perhaps the Leopard Men sent a stranger among us to lure us into ambush. There is only one stranger among us—Muzimo. But Muzimo cannot be a friend of the Leopard Men. With his own eyes Orando saw him kill two of the Leopard Men; he saw the fourth run away very fast when his eyes discovered the might of Muzimo. Had Muzimo been his friend he would not have run away.

“I am Orando, the son of Lobongo. Some day I shall be chief. I would not lead the warriors of Lobongo into a foolish war. I am going to the village of the Leopard Men and make war upon them, that they may know that not all the Utenga warriors are old women. Muzimo is going with me. Perhaps there are a few brave men who will accompany us. I have spoken.”

Several of the younger warriors leaped from their haunches and stamped their feet in approval. They raised their voices in the war-cry of their clan and brandished their spears. One of them danced in a circle, leaping high and jabbing with his spear.

“Thus will I kill the Leopard Men!” he cried.

Another leaped about, slashing with his knife. “I cut the heart from the chief of the Leopard Men!” He pretended to tear at something with his teeth, while he held it tightly in his hands. “I eat the heart of the chief of the Leopard Men!”

“War! War!” cried others, until there were a dozen howling savages dancing in the sunlight, their sleek hides glistening with sweat, their features contorted by hideous grimaces.

The Lobongo arose. His deep voice boomed above the howling of the dancers as he commanded them to silence. One by one they ceased their howling, but they gathered together in a little knot behind Orando.

“A few of the young men have spoken for war,” he announced, “but we do not make war lightly because a few young men wish to fight. There are times for war and times for peace. We must find out if this is the time for war; otherwise we shall find only defeat and death at the end of the war-trail. Before undertaking war we must consult the ghosts of our dead chiefs.”

“They are waiting to speak to us,” cried Sobito. “Let there be silence while I speak with the spirits of the chiefs who are gone.”

As he spoke there was the gradual beginning of a movement among the tribesmen that presently formed a circle in the center of which squatted the witch-doctor. From a pouch he withdrew a number of articles which he spread upon the ground before him. Then he called for some dry twigs and fresh leaves, and when these were brought he built a tiny fire. With the fresh leaves he partially smothered it, so that it threw off a quantity of smoke. Stooping, half doubled, the witch-doctor moved cautiously around the fire, describing a small circle, his eyes constantly fixed upon the thin column of smoke spiraling upward in the quiet air of the drowsy afternoon. In one hand Sobito held a small pouch made of the skin of a rodent, in the other the tail of a hyaena, the root bound with copper wire to form a handle.

Gradually the old man increased his pace until at last, he was circling the fire rapidly in prodigious leaps and bounds; but always his eyes remained fixed upon the spiraling smoke column. As he danced he intoned a weird jargon, a combination of meaningless syllables interspersed with an occasional shrill scream that brought terror to the eyes of his spell-bound audience.

Suddenly he halted, and stooping low tossed some powder from his pouch upon the fire; then with the root of the hyaena tail he drew a rude geometric figure in the dust before the blaze. Stiffening, he closed his eyes and appeared to be listening intently, his face turned partially upward.

In awestruck silence the warriors leaned forward, waiting. It was a tense moment and quite effective. Sobito prolonged it to the utmost. At last he opened his eyes and let them move solemnly about the circle of expectant faces, waiting again before he spoke.

“There are many ghosts about us,” he announced. “They all speak against war. Those who go to battle with the Leopard Men will die. None will return. The ghosts are angry with Orando. The true muzimo of Orando spoke to me; it is very angry with Orando. Let Orando beware. That is all; the young men will not go to war against the Leopard Men.”

The warriors gathered behind Orando looked questioningly at him and at Muzimo. Doubt was written plainly upon every face. Gradually they began to move, drifting imperceptibly away from Orando. Then the son of the chief looked at Muzimo questioningly. “If Sobito has spoken true words,” he said, “you are not my muzimo.” The words seemed a challenge.

“What does Sobito know about it?” demanded Muzimo. “I could build a fire and wave the tail of Dango. I could make marks in the dirt and throw powders on the fire. Then I could tell you whatever I wanted to tell you, just as Sobito has told you what he wanted you to believe; but such things prove nothing. The only way you can know if a war against the Leopard Men will succeed is to send warriors to fight them. Sobito knows nothing about it.”

The witch-doctor trembled from anger. Never before had a creature dared voice a doubt as to his powers. So abjectly had the members of his clan acknowledged his infallibility that he had almost come to believe in it himself. He shook a withered finger at Muzimo.

“You speak with a lying tongue,” he cried. “You have angered my fetish. Nothing can save you. You are lost. You will die.” He paused as a new idea was born in his cunning brain. “Unless,” he added, “you go away, and do not come back.”

Having no idea as to his true identity, Muzimo had had to accept Orando’s word that he was the ancestral spirit of the chief’s son; and having heard himself described as such innumerable times he had come to accept it as fact. He felt no fear of Sobito, the man, and when Sobito, the witchdoctor, threatened him he recalled that he was a muzimo and, as such, immortal. How, therefore, he reasoned, could the fetish of Sobito kill him? Nothing could kill a spirit.

“I shall not go away,” he announced. “I am not afraid of Sobito.”

The villagers were aghast. Never had they heard a witchdoctor flouted and defied as Muzimo had flouted and defied Sobito. They expected to see the rash creature destroyed before their eyes, but nothing happened. They looked at Sobito, questioningly, and that wily old fraud, sensing the critical turn of the event and fearing for his prestige, overcame his physical fear of the strange, white giant in the hope of regaining his dignity by a single bold stroke.

Brandishing his hyaena tail, he leaped toward Muzimo. “Die!” he screamed. “Nothing can save you now. Before the moon has risen the third time you will be dead. My fetish has spoken!” He waved the hyaena tail in the face of Muzimo.

The white man stood with folded arms, a sneer upon his lips. “I am Muzimo,” he said; “I am the spirit of the ancestor of Orando. Sobito is only a man; his fetish is only the tail of Dango.” As he ceased speaking his hand shot out and snatched the fetish from the grasp of the witch-doctor. “Thus does Muzimo with the fetish of Sobito!” he cried, tossing the tail into the fire to the consternation of the astonished villagers.

Seized by the unreasoning rage of fanaticism Sobito threw caution to the winds and leaped for Muzimo, a naked blade in his upraised hand. There was the froth of madness upon his bared lips. His yellow fangs gleamed in a hideous snarl. He was the personification of hatred and maniacal fury. But swift and vicious as was his attack it did not find Muzimo unprepared. A bronzed hand seized the wrist of the witch-doctor in a grip of steel; another tore the knife from his grasp. Then Muzimo picked him up and held him high above his head as though Sobito were some incorporeal thing without substance or weight.

Terror was writ large upon the countenances of the astounded onlookers; an idol was in the clutches of an iconoclast. The situation had passed beyond the scope of their simple minds, leaving them dazed. Perhaps it was well for Muzimo that Sobito was far from being a beloved idol.

Muzimo looked at Orando. “Shall I kill him?” he asked, almost casually.

Orando was as shocked and terrified as his fellows. A lifetime of unquestioning belief in the supernatural powers of witch-doctors could not be overcome in an instant. Yet there was another force working upon the son of the chief. He was only human. Muzimo was his muzimo, and being very human he could not but feel a certain justifiable pride in the fearlessness and prowess of this splendid enigma whom he had enthusiastically accepted as the spirit of his dead ancestor. However, witch-doctors were witch-doctors. Their powers were well known to all men. There was, therefore, no wisdom in tempting fate too far.

Orando ran forward. “No!” he cried. “Do not kill him.”

Upon the branch of a tree a little monkey danced, screaming and scolding. “Kill him!” he shrieked. “Kill him!” He was a very blood-thirsty little monkey, was The Spirit of Nyamwegi. Muzimo tossed Sobito to the ground in an ignominious heap.

“He is no good,” he announced. “No witch-doctor is any good. His fetish was not good. If it had been, why did it not protect Sobito? Sobito did not know what he was talking about. If there are any brave warriors among the Utengas they will come with Orando and Muzimo and make war on the Leopard Men.”

A low cry, growing in volume, rose among the younger warriors; and in the momentary confusion Sobito crawled to his feet and sneaked away toward his hut. When he was safely out of reach of Muzimo he halted and faced about. “I go,” he called back, “to make powerful medicine. To-night the white man who calls himself Muzimo dies.”

The white giant took a few steps in the direction of Sobito, and the witch-doctor turned and fled. The young men, seeing the waning of Sobito’s power, talked loudly now of war. The older men talked no more of peace. One and all, they feared and hated Sobito. They were relieved to see his power broken. Tomorrow they might be afraid again, but today they were free from the domination of a witch-doctor for the first time in their lives.

Lobongo, the chief, would not sanction war; but, influenced by the demands of Orando and other young men, he at last grudgingly gave his approval to the formation of a small raiding party. Immediately runners were dispatched to other villages to seek recruits, and preparations were begun for a dance to be held that night.

Because of Lobongo’s refusal to make general war against the Leopard Men there was no booming of war-drums; but news travels fast in the jungle; and night had scarcely closed down upon the village of Tumbai before warriors from the nearer villages commenced coming in to Tumbai by ones and twos to join the twenty volunteers from Loblongo’s village, who swaggered and strutted before the admiring eyes of the dusky belles preparing the food and native beer that would form an important part of the night’s festivities.

From Kibbu came ten young warriors, among them the brother of the girl Nyamwegi had been courting and one Lupingu, from whom the murdered warrior had stolen her heart. That Lupingu should volunteer to risk his life for the purpose of avenging Nyamwegi passed unnoticed, since already thoughts of vengeance had been submerged by lust for glory and poor Nyamwegi practically forgotten by all but Orando.

There was much talk of war and of brave deeds that would be accomplished; but the discomfiture of Sobito, being still fresh in every mind, also had an important part in the conversations. The village gossips found it a choice morsel with which to regale the warriors from other villages, with the result that Muzimo became an outstanding figure that reflected more glory upon the village of Tumbai than ever Sobito had. The visiting warriors regarded him with awe and some misgivings. They were accustomed to spirits that no one ever saw; the air was full of them. It was quite another matter to behold one standing in their midst.

Lupingu, especially, was perturbed. Recently he had purchased a love charm from Sobito. He was wondering now if he had thrown away, uselessly, the little treasure he had paid for it. He decided to seek out the witch-doctor and make inquiries; perhaps there was not so much truth in what he had heard. There was also another reason why he wished to consult Sobito, a reason of far greater importance than a love charm.

When he could do so unnoticed, Lupingu withdrew from the crowd milling in the village street and sneaked away to Sobito’s hut. Here he found the old witch-doctor squatting upon the floor surrounded by charms and fetishes. A small fire burning beneath a pot fitfully lighted his sinister features, which were contorted by so hideous a scowl that Lupingu almost turned and fled before the old man looked up and recognized him.

For a long time Lupingu sat in the hut of the witchdoctor. They spoke in whispers, their heads close together. When Lupingu left he carried with him an amulet of such prodigious potency that no enemy could inflict injury upon him, and in his head he carried a plan that caused him both elation and terror.


Tarzan and the Leopard Men - Contents    |     Chapter 5 - “Unspeakable Boor!”


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