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Chapter 40


We delayed at V.'s boma three days, waiting for C. to turn up. He maintained a little force of Wakamba, as the Masai would not take service. The Wakamba are a hunting tribe, using both the spear and the poisoned arrow to kill their game. Their bows are short and powerful, and the arrows exceedingly well fashioned. The poison is made from the wood of a certain fat tree, with fruit like gigantic bologna sausages. It is cut fine, boiled, and the product evaporated away until only a black sticky substance remains. Into this the point of the arrow is dipped; and the head is then protected until required by a narrow strip of buckskin wound around and around it. I have never witnessed the effects of this poison; but V. told me he had seen an eland die in twenty-two minutes from so slight a wound in the shoulder that it ran barely a hundred yards before stopping. The poison more or less loses its efficiency, however, after the sticky, tarlike substance has dried out.

I offered a half-rupee as a prize for an archery competition, for I was curious to get a view of their marksmanship. The bull's-eye was a piece of typewriter paper at thirty paces.[27] This they managed to puncture only once out of fifteen tries, though they never missed it very widely. V. seemed quite put out at this poor showing, so I suppose they can ordinarily do better; but I imagine they are a good deal like our hunting Indians--poor shots, but very skilful at stalking close to a beast.

Our missing porter, with the tent, was brought in next afternoon by Kongoni, who had gone in search of him. The man was a big, strong Kavirondo. He was sullen, and merely explained that he was "tired." This excuse for a five hours' march after eight days' rest! I fined him eight rupees, which I gave Kongoni, and ordered him twenty-five lashes. Six weeks later he did the same trick. C. allotted him fifty lashes, and had him led thereafter by a short rope around the neck. He was probably addicted to opium. This was the only man to be formally kibokoed on the whole trip--a good testimony at once to C.'s management, the discrimination we had used in picking them out, and the settled reputations we had by now acquired.

After C.'s return we prepared to penetrate straight back through the great rampart of mountains to the south and west.

We crossed the bush-grown plains, and entered a gently rising long caņon flanked on either side by towering ranges that grew higher and higher the farther we proceeded. In the very centre of the mountains, apparently, this caņon ended in a small round valley. There appeared to be no possible exit, save by the way we had come, or over the almost perpendicular ridges a thousand feet or more above. Nevertheless, we discovered a narrow ravine that slanted up into the hills to the left. Following it we found ourselves very shortly in a great forest on the side of a mountain. Hanging creepers brushed our faces, tangled vines hung across our view, strange and unexpected openings offered themselves as a means through which we could see a little closer into the heart of mystery. The air was cool and damp and dark. The occasional shafts of sunlight or glimpses of blue sky served merely to accentuate the soft gloom. Save that we climbed always, we could not tell where we were going.

The ascent occupied a little over an hour. Then through the tree trunks and undergrowth we caught the sky-line of the crest. When we topped this we took a breath, and prepared ourselves for a corresponding descent. But in a hundred yards we popped out of the forest to find ourselves on a new level. The Fourth Bench had been attained.

It was a grass country of many low, rounded hills and dipping valleys, with fine isolated oaklike trees here and there in the depressions, and compact, beautiful oaklike groves thrown over the hills like blankets. Well-kept, green, trim, intimate, it should have had church spires and gray roofs in appropriate spots. It was a refreshment to the eye after the great and austere spaces among which we had been dwelling, repose to the spirit after the alert and dangerous lands. The dark-curtained forest seemed, fancifully, an enchantment through which we had gained to this remote smiling land, nearest of all to the blue sky.

We continued south for two days; and then, as the narrative will show, were forced to return. We found it always the same type; pleasant sleepy little valleys winding around and between low hills crowned with soft groves and forests. It was for all the world like northern Surrey, or like some of the live oak country of California. Only this we soon discovered: in spite of the enchantment of the magic-protecting forest, the upper benches too were subject to the spell that lies over all Africa. These apparently little valleys were in reality the matter of an hour's journey to cross; these rounded hills, to all seeming only two good golf strokes from bottom to top, were matters of serious climbing; these compact, squared groves of oaklike trees were actually great forests of giants in which one could lose one's self for days, in which roamed herds of elephant and buffalo. It looked compact because we could see all its constituent elements. As a matter of fact, it was neat and tidy; only we were, as usual, too small for it.

At the end of two hours' fast marching we had made the distance, say, from the clubhouse to the second hole. Then we camped in a genuinely little grove of really small trees overlooking a green valley bordered with wooded hills. The prospect was indescribably delightful; a sort of Sunday-morning landscape of groves and green grass and a feeling of church bells.

Only down the valley, diminished by distance, all afternoon Masai warriors, in twos and threes, trooped by, mincing along so that their own ostrich feathers would bob up and down, their spears held aslant.

We began to realize that we were indeed in a new country when our noon thermometer registered only 66 degrees, and when at sunrise the following morning it stood at 44 degrees. To us, after eight months under the equator, this was bitter weather!


[27] Eight by ten and a half inches.

Stewart Edward White

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