Chapter X: At the Padre's
We passed through the night somehow. Alicia, half dead with terror, managed clumsily to release me, but weak as I was from loss of blood, we dared attempt nothing that night.
In the morning the great ape was gone. I might as well say now that I believe that it was the same animal that had trailed Arthur, and which Arthur had gravely wounded some two weeks before our arrival.
For three weeks it had hidden while the wound healed, and then came cautiously toward the casa again. It heard Evan’s first beastlike cries, and its response was probably the queer echo I had thought I heard from the bush. It crept forward, and when Evan derisively uttered the challenge cry of the monster anthropoids, it had leaped to the attack.
Limited as is the intelligence of the creatures, it would never distinguish between white men. A white man had killed its mate. It had killed a white man. With the blood lust sated, by now the shaggy brute was doubtless swinging rapidly through the treetops toward its Kongo hunting grounds.
That is my explanation. I know I never saw any other sign of the huge gorilla either then or at any later time. I have told the tale on different occasions to many different people, and my surmise has always been accepted as correct.
Our predicament was not entirely done away with by the disappearance of the gorilla that had come to our deliverance so unexpectedly. We were still a hundred and fifty miles from another white man or woman, absolutely without carriers, and I was abominably weak from the wound Evan had inflicted. Our chances looked slight indeed until nearly noon of the next day.
A very much ashamed, and a very apologetic black figure emerged from the bush on the side farthest from the village. It was followed by about forty other similarly ashamed and apologetic figures. I recognized Mboka, my gun-bearer in the lead and had to struggle to restrain an impulse to jump up and shout aloud to Alicia that we were all right at last.
Instead, I sat impassively on the veranda until Mboka stopped humbly in the courtyard before me. I paid absolutely no attention, but smoked indifferently as if his presence or absence were a matter in which I had no concern. He waited and fidgeted, scraping his bare feet embarrassedly on the ground, until at last I looked down and inspected him impersonally. I looked away again. Presently, looking off through the bush as if he were the most insignificant atom in the universe, I remarked:
Mboka beamed. It is the custom in West Africa for the lower in rank, the inferior, to speak first, but Mboka was too ashamed to presume. He stood there uneasily and tried to look apologetic while I informed him that he had put me to some inconvenience, that he was to go and never dare appear before me again. I added that I would see to it that no other trader ever dreamed of employing him for any purpose whatever.
It does not do for a white man to admit himself in any degree dependent on a black. I told him that he need never come to me again and resumed my stare into the bush. He may have had some idea of trying to bargain with me, but my attitude put him back. He hesitatingly and humbly told me what I already knew quite well, that he and the others had been forced to accompany Evan’s natives off into the bush.
One or two of the carriers had been swept away by the fervor of the juju council and had joined Evan’s folk in their attack on us, but the others had now fled to put themselves under my protection. They begged that I would receive them again and assured me of their undivided loyalty, if I would take them again into my service.
I kept them waiting for an hour while I went indoors and ate a leisurely breakfast. When I came outside again, I seemed to have forgotten them. My indifference completed their subjugation. They were abject in their pleadings for me to take them back. When I finally consented, it was with the scornful statement that I was going to take them to Ticao and discharge them from my service forever.
They burdened themselves joyfully with the loads they had brought up from Ticao and waited anxiously for me to announce my readiness to start. Alicia and Mrs. Braymore would have to walk, as their ox-cart was useless. I began the journey on foot, but could not keep up. I was too weak.
The second day I had to be carried in an improvised hammock, and the third or fourth day I found myself in a raging fever. Alicia worked over me bravely, but I lapsed into semidelirious feverishness in which I was of no use whatever.
I must credit Mboka with a great deal more faithfulness than I had expected of him. He kept the carriers under an iron rule, and Alicia told me later that the length of the journeys was stretched to the greatest possible distance every day. With nothing but the scantiest of medicines--as my own drug chest had been accidentally left behind at Evan’s deserted casa--she fought off the fever, but when we arrived at the Padre Silvestre’s mission, I was in very bad shape. The padre doctored me, however, and in two weeks I had not only ceased my delirium, but could move about a little. I remember the first evening I was allowed to sit up.
The padre, Alicia, and Mrs. Braymore had celebrated my recovery at dinner that night, the padre making one of his graceful little speeches on the subject. I am not of the padre’s faith, but we are great friends, and after dinner he announced that I might sit up. With great ceremony they got me into a chair and made a great to-do over me. Then they helped me to a chair on the little screened-in veranda of the padre’s house, where I could look out at the perfect African night and see the small mission church, and farther off the village in which the padre’s converts live.