Muzimo and The Spirit of Nyamwegi had departed early from the camp of the Utengas for the purpose of locating and spying upon the village of the Leopard Men, but time meant nothing to Muzimo. This thing that he had set out to do, he would do when he was ready. So it was that the morning was all but spent before Muzimo caught sight of the village.
The warriors had already departed in search of the enemies from Watenga, and Muzimo had not seen them because he had taken a circuitous route from the camp to the village. The girl had also been taken away to the temple, though even had she still been there her presence would have meant nothing to the ancestral spirit of Orando, who was no more concerned with the fate of whites than he was with the fate of Negroes.
The village upon which he looked from the concealing verdure of a nearby tree differed little from the quiet native village of Tumbai except that its palisade was taller and stronger. There were a few men and women in its single main street, the former lolling in the shade of trees, the latter busy with the endless duties of their sex, which they lightened by the world-wide medium of gossip.
Muzimo was not much interested in what he saw, at least at first. There was no great concourse of warriors. A hundred Utengas, if they could surprise the village, could wreak vengeance upon it easily. He noted, however, that the gates were thick and high, that they were closed, and that a guard of warriors squatted near them in the shade of the palisade. Perhaps, he thought, it would be better to take the place by night when a few agile men might scale the palisade undetected and open the gates for their fellows. He finally decided that he would do that himself without assistance. For Muzimo it would be a simple matter to enter the village undetected.
Suddenly his eyes were arrested by a group before a large hut. There was a large man, whom he intuitively knew to be the chief, and there were several others with whom he was conversing; but it was not the chief who arrested his attention. It was one of the others. Instantly Muzimo recognized him, and his grey eyes narrowed. What was Lupingu doing in the village of the Leopard Men? It was evident that he was not a prisoner, for it was plainly to be seen that the conversation between the men was amicable.
Muzimo waited. Presently he saw Lupingu leave the party before the chief’s hut and approach the gates. He saw the warriors on guard open them, and he saw Lupingu pass through them and disappear into the forest in the direction of the camp of the Utengas. Muzimo was puzzled. What was Lupingu going to do? What had he already done? Perhaps he had gone to spy upon the Leopard Men and was returning with information for Orando.
Silently Muzimo slipped from the tree in which he had been hiding, and swung through the trees upon the trail of Lupingu, who, ignorant of the presence of the Nemesis hovering above him, trotted briskly in the direction of the camp of the tribesmen he had betrayed.
Presently from a distance, far ahead, Muzimo heard sounds, sounds that the ears of Lupingu could not hear. They told him that many people were coming through the forest in his direction. Later he interpreted them as the sounds made by warriors marching hurriedly. They were almost upon him before Lupingu heard them. When he did he went off from the trail a short distance and hid in the underbrush.
Muzimo waited among the foliage above the trees. He had caught the scent of the oncoming men and had recognized none that was familiar to him. It was the scent of warriors, and mixed with it was the scent of fresh blood. Some of them wounded. They had been in battle.
Presently they came in sight; and he saw that they were not the Utengas, as his nostrils had already told him. He guessed that they were from the village of the Leopard Men, and that they were returning to it. This accounted for the small number of warriors that he had seen in the village. Where had they been? Had they been in battle with Orando’s little force?
He counted them, roughly, as they passed below him. There were nearly three hundred of them, and Orando had but a hundred warriors. Yet he was sure that Orando had not been badly defeated, for he saw no prisoners nor were they bringing any dead warriors with them, not even their own dead, as they would have, if they were Leopard Men and had been victorious.
Evidently, whoever they had fought, and it must have been Orando, had repulsed them; but how bad the Utengas fared? Their losses must have been great in battle with a force that so greatly outnumbered them. But all this was only surmise. Presently he would find the Utengas and learn the truth. In the meantime he must keep an eye on Lupingu who was still hiding at one side of the trail.
When the Leopard Men had passed, Lupingu came from his concealment, and continued on in the direction he had been going, while above him and a little in his rear swung Muzimo and The Spirit of Nyamwegi.
When they came at last to the place where the Utengas had camped, they found only grim reminders of the recent battle; the Utengas were not there. Lupingu looked about him, a pleased smile on his crafty face. His efforts had not been in vain; the Leopard Men had at least driven the Utengas away, even though it had been as evident to him as it had been to Muzimo that their victory had been far from decisive.
For a moment he hesitated, of two minds as to whether to follow his former companions, or return to the village and take part in the ceremonies at the temple at the installation of the white priestess; but at last he decided that the safer plan was to rejoin the Utengas, lest a prolonged absence should arouse their suspicions as to his loyalty. He did not know that the matter was not in his hands at all, or that a power far greater than his own lurked above him, all but reading his mind, a power that would have frustrated an attempt to return to the village of Gato Mgungu and carried him by force to the new camp of Orando.
Lupingu had jogged on along the plain trail of the retreating Utengas for a couple of miles when he was halted by a sentry whom he recognized at once as the brother of the girl whose affections Nyamwegi had stolen from him. When the sentry saw that it was Lupingu, the traitor was permitted to pass; and a moment later he entered the camp, which he found bristling with spears, the nerve-shaken warriors having leaped to arms at the challenge of the sentry.
There were wounded men groaning upon the ground, and ten of the Utenga dead were stretched out at one side of the camp, where a burial party was digging a shallow trench in which to inter them.
A volley of questions was hurled at Lupingu as he sought out Orando, and the angry or suspicious looks that accompanied them warned him that his story must be a most convincing one if it were to avail him.
Orando greeted him with a questioning scowl. “Where have you been, Lupingu, while we were fighting?” he demanded.
“I, too, have been fighting,” replied Lupingu glibly.
“I did not see you,” countered Orando. “You were not there. You were not in camp this morning. Where were you? See that your tongue speaks no lies.”
“My tongue speaks only true words,” insisted Lupingu. “Last night I said to myself: ‘Orando does not like Lupingu. There are many who do not like Lupingu. Because he advised them not to make war against the Leopard Men they do not like him. Now he must do something to show them that he is a brave warrior. He must do something to save them from the Leopard Men.’
“And so I went out from camp while it was still dark to search for the village of the Leopard Men, that I might spy upon them and bring word to Orando. But I did not find the village. I became lost, and while I was searching for it I met many warriors. I did not run. I stood and fought with them until I had killed three. Then some came from behind and seized me. They made me prisoner, and I learned that I was in the hands of the Leopard Men.
“Later they fought with you. I could not see the battle, as their guards held me far behind the fighting men; but after a while the Leopard Men ran away, and I knew that the Utengas had been victorious. In the excitement I escaped and hid. When they had all gone I came at once to the camp of Orando.”
The son of Lobongo, the chief, was no fool. He did not believe Lupingu’s story, but he did not guess the truth. The worst interpretation that he put on Lupingu’s desertion was cowardice in the face of an impending battle; but that was something to be punished by the contempt of his fellow warriors and the ridicule of the women of his village when he returned to Kibbu.
Orando shrugged. He had other, more important matters to occupy his thoughts. “If you want to win the praise of warriors,” he advised, “remain and fight beside them.” Then he turned away.
With startling suddenness that shocked the frayed nerves of the Utengas, Muzimo and The Spirit of Nyamwegi dropped unexpectedly into their midst from the overhanging branches of a tree. Once again three score spears danced nervously, their owners ready to fight or fly as the first man set the example; but when they saw who it was their fears were calmed; and perhaps they felt a little more confidence, for the presence of two friendly spirits is most reassuring to a body of half defeated warriors fearful of the return of the enemy.
“You have had a battle,” said Muzimo to Orando. “I saw the Leopard Men running away; but your men act as though they, too, had been defeated. I do not understand.”
“They came to our camp and fell upon us while we were unprepared,” explained Orando. “Many of our men were killed or wounded in their first charge, but the Utengas were brave. They rallied and fought the Leopard Men off, killing many, wounding many; then the Leopard Men ran away, for we were fighting more bravely than they.
“We did not pursue them, because they greatly outnumbered us. After the battle my men were afraid they might return in still greater numbers. They did not wish to fight any more. They said that we had won, and that now Nyamwegi was fully avenged. They want to go home. Therefore we fell back to this new camp. Here we bury our dead. Tomorrow we do what the gods decide. I do not know.
“What I should like to know, though, is how the Leopard Men knew we were here. They shouted at us and told us that the god of the Leopard Men had sent them to our camp to get much flesh for a great feast. They said that tonight they would eat us all. It was those words that frightened the Utengas and made them want to go home.”
“Would you like to know who told the Leopard Men that you were coming and where your camp was?” asked Muzimo.
Lupingu’s eyes reflected a sudden fear. He edged off toward the jungle. “Watch Lupingu,” directed Muzimo, “lest he go again to ‘spy upon the Leopard Men.’” The words were scarcely uttered before Lupingu bolted; but a dozen warriors blocked his way; and presently he was dragged back, struggling and protesting. “It was not a god that told the Leopard Men that the Utengas were coming,” continued Muzimo. “I crouched in a tree above their village, and saw the one who told them talking to their chief. Very friendly were they, as though both were Leopard Men. I followed him when he left the village. I saw him hide when the retreating warriors passed in the jungle. I followed him to the camp of the Utengas. I heard his tongue speak lies to Orando. I am Muzimo. I have spoken.”
Instantly hoarse cries for vengeance arose. Men fell upon Lupingu and knocked him about. He would have been killed at once had not Muzimo interfered. He seized the wretched man and shielded him with his great body, while The Spirit of Nyamwegi fled to the branches of a tree and screamed excitedly as he danced up and down in a perfect frenzy of rage, though what it was all about he did not know.
“Do not kill him,” commanded Muzimo, sternly. “Leave him to me.”
“The traitor must die,” shouted a warrior.
“Leave him to me,” reiterated Muzimo.
“Leave him to Muzimo,” commanded Orando; and at last, disgruntled, the warriors desisted from their attempts to lay hands upon the wretch.
“Bring ropes,” directed Muzimo, “and bind his wrists and his ankles.”
When eager hands had done as Muzimo bid, the warriors formed a half circle before him and Lupingu, waiting expectantly to witness the death of the prisoner, which they believed would take the form of some supernatural and particularly atrocious manifestation.
They saw Muzimo lift the man to one broad shoulder. They saw him take a few running steps, leap as lightly into the air as though he bore no burden whatsoever, seize a low-hanging limb as he swung himself upward, and disappear amidst the foliage above, melting into the shadows of the coming dusk.