A LOW SUN pointed long shadows toward the east; the tired day was preparing to lay aside its burdens. Far away, a lion roared. It was the prelude to another African night, majestic as the king of beasts and as savage.
A party of eight men laid down their few belongings and made camp beside a water hole. Two of the men were white. Like their black companions they were armed with bows and arrows and short spears; there was not a firearm among them all.
Some of the men carried meat from the last kill, and there were two packages wrapped in skins. Beside their weapons, that was all. It was a poorly equipped safari, if it could be said to have been equipped at all.
The blacks were quiet, speaking in whispers as they cooked the meat for their evening meal. The white men were glum and scowling.
One of them nodded toward the blacks. “The beggars are scairt stiff.”
The other nodded. “Cannibal country, and they know it.”
His companion sat scowling down at the two skin wrapped packages for a long period of silence. “I’m a-scairt myself, Troll,” he said finally. “Scairt o’ these things. I think they’s a curse on ’em.”
Troll shrugged. “I could take a lot o’ cursin’ for six million pun.”
“Yeh; if we get out alive.”
“I ain’t worrit about that. What I’m worrit about is runnin’ into that bloke, Clayton. He’ll take the rocks away from us.”
“He went north.”
“But he said he was comin’ back, an’ he said he’d know if we’d pulled anything crooked. I don’t like that bloke.”
They lapsed into silence, chewing on the half cooked meat of a tough old boar the blacks had killed the day before. From the forest, a spur of which ran down almost to the water hole, eyes watched them. Again the lion roared.
“The beggar’s gettin’ closer,” remarked Spike. “I hopes he ain’t no man-eater.”
Troll fidgeted. “Shut up!” he growled. “Can’t you think of somethin’ pleasant for a change?”
“Bein’ way out here without no gun’d make any bloke nervous. Look at them damn things!” He kicked his bow and bundle of arrows that lay at his feet. “I might kill a rabbit with ’em—if I could hit ’im; but I couldn’t hit a elephant if he stood still at ten paces—and you know wot kind of a target a lion makes when he charges.”
“Oh, fer cripe’s sake, shut up!”
Again they lapsed into silence. The shadow of the forest covered them and stretched out across the plain, for the sun had all but set. Suddenly there was a frightened cry of, “Bwana! Look!” One of the blacks was pointing toward the forest.
The white men wheeled as they rose to their feet. Coming toward them were a dozen black warriors. Spike stooped to pick up his bow and arrows.
“Lay off!” warned Troll. “They ain’t enough of us—an’ anyways they may be friendly.” Spike stood erect again with empty hands. One by one the blacks of their party rose slowly to their feet.
The strangers were approaching cautiously, their weapons ready. They halted a dozen paces from the camp, their grim visaged leader in advance of the others. He surveyed the two white men and their six bearers arrogantly, contemptuously. Troll made the sign of peace.
The leader strode forward followed by his warriors. “What you do here in the country of the Bantango?” he demanded.
“We look for guides,” replied Troll in the same dialect. “Big safari behind us—many guns—they come soon; then we go. We wait here they come.”
“You lie,” said the chief. “My man one he follow you two days; then he come me. No big safari. No guns. You lie.”
“Wot did I tell you?” demanded Spike. “They’s a curse on us—an’ look at them filed teeth. You know what them filed teeth mean.”
“I told you it was cannibal country,” observed Troll, lamely.
“Gawdamighty, I’d give both them rocks for a gun,” moaned Spike.
“The rocks!” exclaimed Troll. “That’s it! Why didn’t we think o’ that before?”
“Think o’ what?”
“The Gonfal. We can use it like old Mafka did, just put a hand on it an’ make any bloke do wotever you wants him to do.”
“Slime! That’s a idea. Make ’em get out o’ here.” He stopped and started to unwrap the Gonfal, the great diamond of the Kaji.
The chief took a step forward. “What you got?” he demanded.
“Big medicine,” said Troll. “You like see?”
The chief nodded. “Me like, me take.”
The swift equatorial night had fallen. Only the cooking fires of the little camp illuminated the tense scene. From the deep shadows a great lion watched.
Spike undid the thongs that bound the wrappings to the Gonfal, and with trembling hands threw back the skin revealing the great stone shimmering and scintillating in the dancing lights of the cooking fires. The chief recoiled with a short gasp of astonishment. He did not know what the stone was, but its brilliance awed him.
Troll dropped to one knee beside the Gonfal and laid a hand on it. “Go away!” he said to the chief. “Lay down your weapons, all of you; and go away!”
The chief and his warriors stood looking at the Gonfal and at Troll. They did not lay down their weapons and they did not go away. As nothing happened, they regained confidence.
“No lay down weapons; no go away,” said the chief. “We stay. Me take.” He pointed at Gonfal. “You come our village. You b’long me.”
“You better go away,” insisted Troll. He tried to make his voice sound commanding, but it did not.
“Wot’s wrong with the Gonfal?” demanded Spike.
“It won’t work.”
“Le’me try it.” Spike stooped and placed a palm on the stone. “You blokes drop your weapons an’ beat it before our big medicine kills you,” he shouted threateningly.
The chief stepped forward and kicked Spike in the face, bowling him over on his back. His warriors rushed in with loud war cries, brandishing their weapons. And then from the outer darkness came a thunderous roar that shook the earth, and a great lion charged into the savage melee.
He leaped over the prostrate Spike and brushed past Troll, falling upon the terrified chief and his warriors.
Troll was quick to grasp the opportunity for escape. He gathered up the great diamond, and shouted to Spike and the bearers to follow him and bring the other stone; then he ran for the forest.
A few screams, mingled with savage growls, rang in their ears for brief moments; then silence.
All night they followed close to the edge of the forest, nor did they stop until they came upon a small stream shortly after daylight. Then they threw themselves upon the ground, exhausted.
As they chewed once more upon the flesh of the old boar their spirits revived, and they spoke for the first time for hours.
“I guess we don’t know how to work the rock,” ventured Troll.
“Who says ‘we’?” demanded Spike. “I worked it.”
“Sure. Didn’t I tell ’em they’d get killed if they didn’t beat it? And wot happens? The Gonfal calls the old maneater. You remember that lamp that bloke used to rub—I forget his name—but this works just the same for me. I rubs it and wishes—and there you are!”
“A’right; didn’t I do it?”
“No. That lion was comin’ long before you touched the rock. He smelled meat—that was wot brought him, not you and your bloody rock.”
“I’ll show you. Here, give it to me.”
Spike took the diamond from Troll, uncovered it, and placed a palm on its gleaming surface. He glowered fixedly at his companion.
“Sit down!” he commanded.
Troll grinned derisively and advised Spike to “Go to ’ell.” The latter scratched his head in momentary confusion; then he brightened. “’Ere,” he exclaimed; “I got a better idea.” He scratched a line on the ground with a bit of stick. “I says now that you can’t cross that line—and you can’t.”
“Who says I can’t?” demanded Troll, stepping across the line.
“I guess maybe there’s something I don’t understand about this,” admitted Spike. “That Clayton bloke worked it on the Kaji and the Zuli. You seen him yourself.”
“Gonfala was there,” reminded Troll. “Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe it won’t work without her.”
“Maybe,” admitted Spike; “but the Zuli medicine man done the same work with the emerald, an’ he didn’t have no Gonfala.”
“Well, try the emerald, then.”
“Le’me have it.”
“I ain’t got it.”
“One of the boys must have it.”
“I told you to bring it.”
“One of the boys always carries it,” insisted Spike turning to the bearers sprawled on the ground. “Hey, you! W’ich one o’ you ‘s got the green rock?” They looked at him blankly; then they looked at one another.
“No got,” said one. “No bring.”
“Hell!” ejaculated Troll. “You’re a rare un, you are, aleavin’ maybe a three million pun stone back there in the cannibal country!”