Chapter IX: The Gorilla's Scream
I came slowly back to consciousness, feeling weak and giddy. I essayed to move and found I could not. I opened my eyes. Despite the gathering darkness, I discovered that I was seated in a chair in the large room of the casa. A second attempt to move disclosed the fact that I was tied tightly.
Alicia stared at me dumbly from an opposite chair, and Mrs. Braymore sat in one corner, her face white and set and her eyes full of horror. Evan was standing at his ease by the doorway, smoking with evident enjoyment.
In one of his hands he held a shaggy object that for some seconds held, weakly, my half-focused attention. It was a baglike object, that yet seemed to contain a framework. Not yet awake to full consciousness, I saw that it was strangely animal. It was a mask in the perfect, horrible likeness of a gorilla.
Evan turned and saw my eyes open. “Well, Murray, old top,” he said amiably. “You caught me, didn’t you?”
My throat was dry and parched, and my shoulder ached abominably. “What the devil?” I croaked weakly.
“Give him some water, Alicia,” said Evan cheerfully. “He’s thirsty.”
Alicia gave me water. “He has my pistol,” she whispered despairingly as she bent over me.
Full consciousness returned with a jerk. Evan had shot me. Evan had snarled at me as he fired. Evan--why Evan must have killed Arthur! He grinned approvingly as he saw me straighten in an instinctive effort to break my bonds.
“Ah, feeling better,” he commented. “I’m sorry you caught me. I’d have liked to take you back to Ticao and hear you tell the tale of this week’s work of ours. You always were a great one for telling tales, Murray.”
He puffed luxuriously at his cigarette and looked at the gathering darkness outside.
“You’re a connoisseur of tales, Murray, so I think I’ll tell you one. I’m going off to get in touch with my natives in a little while, as soon as it’s dark, but I’ve a few minutes to spare and might as well be pleasant during that little while. I’m afraid I’ll have to be unpleasant later on, you know.”
“I didn’t know.”
I have never found that losing one’s head is an advantage under any circumstances, so I prepared to make an effort to keep mine. Evan waved his hand airily.
“Oh, I’m going to be put to the unpleasant necessity of disposing of you and Mrs. Braymore. No one could regret it more than I do, but the necessity is there. You see, I was the gorilla.” He indicated the gorilla mask. “And it wouldn’t do for you to tell that story about.”
“I can believe it,” I admitted. My head was spinning, but I tried to follow what he was saying in the hope of finding something therein to my own advantage.
“You understand, of course,” said Evan cheerfully, “that I don’t mean that I was the beast whose mate Arthur so inconsiderately shot, or the one who followed his caravan all the way here from the Kongo. That was another gorilla altogether. I simply happen to be the one that hung about the house here. Arthur shot the other one two weeks before you came. It got away, but he must have wounded it fatally. Otherwise it would have turned up long before. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about the animal at first, but I soon realized that it must be dead. I saw to it that Arthur was not similarly convinced, however. I had already made more or less of a plan. You know about my slaves?”
“No,” I said rather weakly. I had lost a lot of blood.
“I’d knocked about the West Coast for quite a while before I came here.” Evan stopped and drew up a chair. He sat down comfortably. “I had learned the secret of controlling natives. As you know, that secret is fear. I knew that if I could get, say, a village full of them thoroughly afraid of me, they would be to all practical purposes my slaves. Normal means of frightening them would have the disadvantage of not frightening them too much to invoke juju to get rid of me. And juju, invoked against a white man, means poison. The obvious solution was to frighten them by means of the very juju they would use against me.”
“Poison?” I asked. My head was spinning, but I tried not to show it.
“No.” Evan puffed casually upon his cigarette. “Poison would be the result of the juju. I went at the fountain head. Kongo natives are deadly afraid of gorillas, but just a little way from gorilla country, the natives fear them vastly more than where familiarity has had time to breed, if not contempt, at least some measure of accustomedness. The natives here would be horribly afraid of them. I made my preparations accordingly. Having bribed his excellency the colonial governor, and having had this mask made and learned how to imitate to a fair degree of perfection the cries of the beasts, I came out here. Have you seen my mask?”
He held it out for me to see, even going so far as to strike a light so that I might examine the thing more closely. He held it before my eyes and turned it about. It was an amazingly perfect bit of work, perhaps larger than a normal skull of one of the beasts would be. For all their size, their skulls are comparatively small. It was lifelike to a surprising degree. The disgustingly human, and yet unhuman ears stuck out against the skull. The jaw protruded in truly simian fashion, and the caked, black lips were drawn back from discolored fangs in a grimace of almost unimaginable ferocity. The broad, flat nostrils were distended in rage, and the eyeholes of the mask sank deep back below the low and beetling forehead. If small, glittering eyes had shone evilly from those now blank holes, I would have been tempted to believe that a live beast was before me.
“Good work, isn’t it?” asked Evan. “I came out here with my four overseers, wandered into the village, and metamorphosed myself before the villagers’ eyes into a gorilla clad as a man, which at one moment spoke with the voice of a man, ordering them to obey, and the next screamed at them in tones of one of the monstrous apes of which they were in such dread. I built myself this casa, demanded tribute of gums and produce, started a small juju house off in a small clearing, and in a couple of weeks had established myself as a deity, demanding to be worshiped and sacrificed to, exacting all sorts of tribute, and so on. Very profitable, I assure you.
“They soon believed that I could change myself into a gorilla at will and respected me immensely. I took care to throw a few scares into them. In Japan, some years ago, I learned a small and very elemental jujutsu trick which requires very little strength to break a man’s neck. A few broken necks, a few snarls, a scream or so of rage, and they’d no more think of crossing my will than they’d think of jumping into the fires of hell.”
“They attacked the house,” I remarked, trying behind my back to wriggle one of my hands free from the bonds that held it fast.
“They’ll suffer for that.” Evan was smiling, but there was something in his tone that made me feel slightly cold. “They’ll suffer for that. I told my juju priests to take the people off into the woods and keep them busy with a juju council until I had finished my business with you. They forced your boys to go with them. They simply got out of hand, that’s all. The witch doctor you and Arthur shot was coming to tell me that they were out of control. If I had gone and appeared among them, wearing my gorilla mask, and snarled at them once, they would have been like lambs. I simply couldn’t, get away from you people without making you suspicious.”
“But what was the object of it all?” I demanded. I had found it impossible to free even one hand.
“Arthur was my elder brother,” said Evan amiably. “Consequently, being English, he had all the money in the family. I do not like West Africa. If I disposed of Arthur, I could go back to England and live with some comfort. I thought of shooting him and calling it an accident, but people would talk, you know. When he came here with his tale of being followed by a gorilla, I saw the possibilities. When I heard you people were coming up, I saw I would have witnesses. My idea was to convince you of the presence of a gorilla, break Arthur’s neck precisely as I did this afternoon, and return to England. I rather thought I would be able to comfort Alicia, in time.”
Alicia shuddered. Evan grinned at her.
“I shall comfort you, Alicia, but presently. My people will return, Murray and your estimable chaperon will be disposed of, and you and I will escape precariously to Ticao, telling the tale of hairbreadth escapes during the uprising of my natives and during the trip.”
“Never!” said Alicia desperately.
“Oh, yes.” Evan was polite, but there was evil determination in his tone. “You never cared much for Arthur, and I more than suspect you’re in love with Murray. You’ll do as I say for his sake.”
There was mute interrogation in my expression.