"Beyond the Banyans"
Of an explorer into a forbidden Eden, who was his own angel with the flaming sword
The grizzled African blew into the air a tiny cloud of smoke.
"Death!" he repeated, as his broad palm swept the air, dissipating the wreath of vapor. "That is death."
"Then, since there is naught to fear from death," suggested Tom Loring, "why, this refusal?"
Bomoni smiled pityingly.
"Much there is that is worse than death that lurks in the mountains," he began slowly. "There is mighty Obeah; more mighty than aught anyone will ever know.
"Once one of my tribe sought the secrets that the mountain locks. One year he was gone, and three months more. Then he came --- alone and silent --- for his life was nigh spent. A little he dabbled of Obeah and of the men-monkeys and of the mighty magic, but this and that we might not put together to make whole speech. He died the second day, glad that death had come, for death is welcome when one would think no more, and too much had this man seen.
"I was but twenty then," added the chief reminiscently, "and that was full forty-years ago, but even now I see his face as it was then. Naught on earth can put such fear into the heart and eyes of strong men."
"And because one man had failed to gain a path forty years ago, you are afraid to let us have bearers?" asked Loring patiently. "Our men were of the coast. Their hearts longed for Boma, and they would not stay on.
"From here it is but a few hundred miles to Nyanza. In three months they will be at home again and rich men. Many cattle may they buy, and with the cattle buy also wives from the best in the tribe."
"Those who go come not back again," persisted Bomoni. "Some there are who have gone but a little way, to come back hurriedly and with tales of horrors. Others have kept on. They came not back, for in the land of the man-monkeys there is death for all. Not for any price will my men go, for what are many herds of cattle to a man who is dead?"
Loring looked from the white-haired Congo, chieftain to the remnants of his little party, the two white men and the coal-black Kassonga. Carlin and Brailey looked as disconsolate as their leader, but Kassonga spat contemptuously into the fire of green wood that mitigated the plague of winged insects.
"The lion roars," he grunted, "but the lion runs. I, too, have heard of the men-monkeys. Even on the coast I have heard, but I am not afraid. The magic, even the magic of the Obeah, is not as the magic of the white man. Is there game in this land of the monkey-men, O chief with the chicken- heart?"
"Much game, man who talks loud to hide the beating of his heart," replied the offended chief.
"Then we four may get through where these ignorant blacks fear to travel," suggested Kassonga, ignoring his own black skin. "Look, Big Boss. It is but a few hundred miles. On the map less than three hundred miles it is to Albert Lake. Before then we shall find bearers. With guns and ammunition and medicines alone we shall travel fast. In two weeks we shall be where there are white people. Shall we try it?"
Loring looked at the others. Brailey nodded his grave assent, and Carlin smiled broadly.
"We might as well be eaten in a lump by the monkey-men as grain by grain by Brailey's bugs," he assented. "We'll be well done on both sides if we stick here. Look here, Tom, the next time you take a trip make it the north pole. Then you can write a book, 'Fried and Frappé, or from the Equator to the Pole,' which will be a great seller."
"Kassonga makes a good suggestion," assented Loring. "It is better to push ahead than to remain here. As he says, it is only a few hundred miles, and we can do it in a couple of weeks. If we can reach Albert Edward Nyanza the rest will be simple."
Kassonga nodded proudly toward the chief.
Educated in one of the mission schools in the French Congo, he was an odd mixture of European and Congo ideas. In his heart he was miserably afraid of the Obeah, even though time and again he had been shown that the Obeah-worship was fanaticism. He was proud to be of the party that feared nothing. It raised himself in his own esteem and in the eyes of the natives, and he would have gone willingly enough to certain death to go a hero.
Once before he had guided Thomas Loring, the "Big Boss," whom he worshiped, and though this trip up the Congo had been little to his liking, he had followed blindly even after the other natives of the party had fled from the unnamed terrors which beset the path on every side.
It was partly this talk of the men-monkeys that had determined Loring to push ahead toward the lakes. He did not believe the tales, but he wished to disprove them.
Orphaned in his boyhood, he had spent his lonesome youth with tales of travel, and with the independence of legal maturity he had headed for Africa to realize those youthful dreams.
He was disappointed at first, for along the beaten routes there was no excitement, and civilization had penetrated well inland. With Dick Carlin and William Brailey, classmates of his at college, he had come up the Congo well beyond Stanley Falls, and had struck off up one of the feeders to find himself away from the beaten path, and in the face of a very apparent mystery. Two days before the last of the bearers had fled from the tales they heard, and only Kassonga remained faithful.
Bomoni, the native chief, refused flatly to furnish bearers, though Loring offered extravagant pay, and Loring had caught the fancy of the old man in the last couple of days.
Now, Bomoni was genuinely distressed at the announcement that they would keep on, and his anxious glance traveled about the circle.
Loring was tall and fair, though now his skin was as brown as a berry, and his rudely cut beard faded by the fierce sun.
Brailey, who was already famous as a naturalist, was short and spare, his intensely black hair and eyes suggesting a Spanish rather than his New England ancestry; but Carlin frankly betrayed his Teutonic strain in the clear skin and blue eyes, to say nothing of a tendency toward stoutness that did not, as a rule, hamper the rapidity of his locomotion.
All three were alert and reliant, and Bomoni nodded approvingly, though he scowled when his glance rested on Kassonga, the last of this oddly assorted quartet.
In the mission school Kassonga had been educated with especial care in the hope that he would become a native missionary. He had learned English and French and the Congo dialects at the same time; but, after a brief service as a missionary, he had become a backslider, and he turned his knowledge of the explored Congo to good use as a guide. He was boastful and overbearing to his own people; but he was reliable and faithful, and Loring trusted much to him.
"At least you will rest before you start this trip," pleaded Bomoni. "Two or three days will not matter much, and meanwhile you can gain the strength you may need."
Loring turned to his companions for their opinions. No word was said, but glances spoke, and in a moment he turned to the chief.
"We appreciate your hospitality," he said quietly, "and some day I hope that we may be able to avail ourselves of it, but now we are anxious to get ahead. We have heard of a tribe called Mongoba that lives far to the northeast. Perhaps it is they who you mean. They are not bad fellows, but hairy men and tall."
"You shall hear," declared Bomoni as he called to the guard who stood a little distance away.
The man darted off, and presently others began to arrive at the circle --- the men who had seen, or who at least had been in the territory of the monkey-men. They were agreed that the country was held by men little better than ourangs, who ruthlessly slayed all who crossed their path, and each spoke shudderingly of the man who after fifteen months had returned to die, too stricken by his experiences to give a coherent story, and. able only to utter raving cries of warning against tresspass [sic] in the land where terrible things were done.
"It must be a pretty able bunch to shock these natives," Carlin declared, summing up the opinion of the rest. "If we do get through, we'll have an interesting tale to tell. What was that you said about the white Obeah, Bomoni?"
"He spoke only of the great white god, who made strange sacrifice," explained Bomoni.
I wonder if some renegade explorer is mixed up in this," mused Carlin. "The obeah worship is really the voodoo of the Southern States. Perhaps some chap who had a reason for hiding picked out Central Africa long years ago and set up shop as a god.
"Down on the coast they were telling something about a threatened voodoo uprising. Perhaps our white friend is at the bottom of all that. A clever conjurer, for instance, could give some mighty interesting kinks to the voodoo worship."
"If there is a white man at the bottom of this, we'll see presently.
"Let's turn in. We will make an early start in the morning."
The three white men nodded a pleasant "Good night" to the aged chief, and went off toward the hut which he had assigned them, but Kassonga lingered long at the fire, talking with the natives, for there were many things about the journey that he wished to know. He seemed scarcely to have slept at all, when he was awakened by a cry from Loring, and sprang up to make his rapid toilet.
Loring had apportioned the ammunition into three parcels, leaving but one gun and a revolver apiece, and giving the rest to Bomoni. Some salt and hardtack and a few simple medicines completed the outfit, and even the tent was left behind.
Bomoni headed the crowd of grateful natives, who accompanied them as far as the edge of the jungle, and there the last farewells were said, and the four pushed into the tangled undergrowth that surrounded the place.
As they were lost in the brush there came the sound of a monotonous chant, and Loring turned to Kassonga.
"What is that?" he asked curiously.
"Only a good-by song," was the prompt response, and Carlin eyed the native curiously.
He alone of the whites' knew that Kassonga knew --- that it was the death-song that is chanted over the brave warriors who die in battle. It was evident that Bomoni was sincere in his belief that danger lay ahead.
All through the day the party pressed on through the tangle of jungle undergrowth, keeping when possible to the river- bank, but frequently making a short cut that materially aided their progress.
It was well past noon when the first stop was made, for the thick growth of forest formed, an almost impenetrable canopy overhead, and tempered the fierce heat of the equatorial sun.
Kassonga had brought down half a dozen small birds, and Carlin declared some wild yams to be of the edible species, so at the halt they made a meal; and, after a rest and a dip in the stream, they pushed on again, anxious to press forward as rapidly as possible.
To Carlin it seemed as though the murmur of the river over its rocky bed, the sighing of the occasional gust of wind through the trees, the very sound of their footfalls repeated the dreary dirge that had been their farewell; and he, above all of them, was anxious to leave behind the gloomy forest, even though it facilitated their progress.
From the reports of the various survivors of exploring expeditions from Bomoni's tribe it was apparent that, once the jungle was passed, there was a mountain-chain to be scaled, and Kassonga's aim was to reach a point where the passage of the barrier would offer the least impediment to their progress.
No mountains were charted on the maps, but Kassonga put small faith in maps, and hurried the party ahead as rapidly as possible, though at best their progress was slow through the tangled brush. They found none of the native paths, such as exist between towns, and which the feet of countless generations have beaten into permanent ways.
For full five days they traveled without discovering a trace of human habitation, though from all accounts of the natives there were less than fifty miles of neutral territory, and the expedition had averaged fifteen miles a day. It was in the morning of the sixth day that Kassonga turned sharply aside from the path and clambered into a tree, from which he presently descended, bearing a fragment of cloth, rude in texture, but unmistakably of European origin.
"I have said nothing," he explained, "but for two days past we have been followed. We see none, and none we hear, but always they are there. Last night on my watch I could swear that I saw a figure move among the trees, but though with the light I searched through the soft earth, not a trace of footprints could I find. Here, too, there are no footprints but the cloth. It is not the native cloth."
"Our friends, messieurs the monkeys?" asked Carlin laughingly.
There was no laughter in Kassonga's face as he nodded assent.
"They do not strike" he murmured uneasily. "Perhaps they delay that they may be saved the trouble of carrying us. They make us prisoners only when we are close to their great town."
"Then there is a great town?" asked Loring.
"Where is the great white Obeah," explained Kassonga. "No man has seen, but --- it is the way of Obeah."
"Kind of funny if we should fall into the headquarters of this new obeah movement we heard of on the coast," suggested Brailey. "Professor Smolak, at Boma, assured me that the entire center of Africa would some day rise in revolt against the intrusion of the railroad and civilization."
"You said you wanted excitement," reminded Carlin. "You are liable to have it delivered in wholesale quantities."
"Nothing to it," insisted Loring; "but if they are waiting to get us in the open, it looks as though they would not have long to wait. The open spaces are growing more frequent."
Kassonga nodded. "By evening we should be out of the jungle," he assented. "We camp to-night in the open."
Carlin brightened up at the announcement. The gloom of the jungle was depressing, and he would be glad even for the equatorial heat after the dank, unwholesome coolness of the shade. In his eagerness he pressed forward beside Kassonga, instead of lagging behind to examine the new growths he found.
Kassonga proved a true prophet, for just before the tropical night set in, with but the briefest interval of twilight, they passed the last of the thick growth, and stood on the edge of a vast plain that led to the foot of the uncharted range.
From northeast to southwest, as far as the eye could reach, the range stood like an impenetrable wall, and a little to the north of their position there rose a single peak fully two thousand feet above the rest.
"Here's a chance to chart Central Africa," declared Loring, as he threw down his gun and pack. "From the top of that peak we can make a map of this section that will add whole pages to the geographies."
"I'm more interested in supper," declared Carlin with a yawn, as he threw himself upon the turf. "It will be a terrific climb, Tom, and you won't see much when you get to the top. Take it easy, man. It's a long walk to Albert Edward still. Don't let's get away on any 'Seeing Africa' trips, unless we can get the automobile that goes with it."
Loring laughed at the suggestion, but the firm lips met over the white, even teeth, and Carlin groaned. There was little to interest a botanist on the top of a mountain, and he hated climbing, as all stout men do, but he knew that Loring would go, and that it would be well to acquiesce.
All that night they kept double watch --- Brailey and Kassonga, Loring and Carlin. The finding of the cotton cloth so far in the interior, the trackers who left no prints, combined with the stories they had heard at Boma and in the interior, left them restless and uncertain.
It was the time of the full moon, and as they sat back to back they could sweep the horizon. The watchers were far enough away from the sleepers to be able to converse in low tones, and to Carlin, Loring in their watch confided his plans.
"We can't hope to meet force with force," he continued, "but we may be able to learn something and pass it along to the authorities. The best way is to keep on in our rôles of travelers and leave definite investigating alone."
"Including that mountain inquisition?" he asked hopefully, but Carlin laughed.
"That fits our incognito as travelers," he explained. "We'll be on top of that peak day after to-morrow. Come on, old man, it's our turn to sleep." And he led the way to the sleepers to rouse Brailey and Kassonga.
Loring did not quite make good his promise, for the end of the second day found them no farther than the foot of the range whence Mount Loring, as Brailey insisted it should be charted, towered majestically against the evening sky.
Game was plentiful, and there was an abundance of fish in the clear stream that evidently was one of the feeders of the river that led to the Congo. Loring assented to the suggestion that they rest for a day, and even he appreciated the luxury of inaction after their arduous trip, but on the following morning he roused to action, and insisted upon a start even before the sun was up.
It took but a moment to break camp, and presently they were clambering over the rocks, which Brailey, too, who was something of a geologist, declared to be of volcanic origin.
The ascent was a task of far greater difficulty than they had anticipated, and night fell with but two-thirds of the journey made. They had passed beyond the source of the stream which gushed out of the side of the mountain, and Kassonga was sent back to fill the water-bottles, while Carlin set about building a fire from the scanty stock of wood, and Loring and Brailey gathered brush for beds on the hard rock.
"Lucky it's the dry season," grunted Carlin to himself, as he built the tiny fire. "I shouldn't fancy camping out here without a tent in the rain."
"It will be easier going down," suggested Loring, who came up in time to hear the remark. "Brailey and I think we have found a sort of track more to the north. We'll be at the top by noon to-morrow."
"Let's hope so," assented Carlin devoutly, as he glanced at his shoes, torn and cut by contact with the trap- rock. "Next time I travel on a trip like this you'll have to build a funicular."
"Think of what's at the top," reminded Loring, alluding to the probability of their being able to see their goal from the peak.
The speech came back to him the next morning as he gained the crest, to find it the rim of an ancient crater.
"Hurry up, boys," he called back, as he unslung his glasses. "We've climbed over Africa into Louisiana."
The others hurried forward, and presently stood beside their leader on the edge of the long extinct crater.
They looked down into a valley roughly circular in outline, and some twelve miles in diameter, the upper part of which was covered by a dense growth of trees, from which emerged a broad stream, evidently the same which they found gushing out of the side of the mountain, for there was no break in the rocky wall.
The sides of the hill were thickly timbered, but the center formed a level valley, part of which was covered by fields of cotton, while an artificial marsh formed a broad rice-field.
In the center the stream broadened into a lake, and on the shores of this were rows of huts similar to the slave barracks of ante-bellum days, while in front stood the "big house," a low, rambling structure that might have been transplanted bodily from some Mississippi bayou.
Kassonga glanced inquiringly at Loring, who nodded, and presently they were descending the steep slope, tearing their way over the loose stones, utterly unconscious of the falls they were sustaining.
It was better when they reached the timber for the fallen leaves provided a surer footing; and a little later they encountered a rude path, apparently an equestrian road, for the beaten earth was marked by hoof-prints, and even as they bent over these the thud of an approaching animal was heard.
The four faced the direction of the sound, with their guns ready for action, but dropped their weapons shamefacedly when round a turn in the road there cantered a girl riding upon a powerful black. She reined her mount in as she came upon the four.
"How come you here?" gasped the girl when she had recovered from her first shock of surprise.
Loring's sweeping gesture appeared to take in the entire continent.
"From all over;" he explained. "We came up the Congo by boat, but our bearers would not continue when they heard that we were to cross to the sources of the Nile.
"We could not replace them from the other tribes, for it was told that there was mighty magic in the path. We did not "anticipate" that the mighty magic would take the guise of an American plantation presided over by a fairy goddess."
"It would have been well if you had shared the terror of the natives," she said seriously. "There is some blight upon the land."
"We are in search of adventure," reminded Loring. "Since there are Europeans so far inland, we would be discourteous indeed did we fail to pay our respects."
"There is but my father and myself. I am Mona Carroll," announced the girl simply.
She did not offer her hand, and Loring had to content himself with a low bow.
"I am Thomas Loring," he introduced, "amateur explorer and seeker after excitement. Mr. Richard Carlin is the botanist of the expedition, and keeps us from eating poisonous plants. Mr. William Brailey is the naturalist. Kassonga is the sole guide, philosopher, and friend left us."
The girl acknowledged with quaint, old-fashioned courtesy the introduction and wheeled her horse.
"If you will follow, I will take you to my father," she invited. "It is many years since he has seen white visitors."
Loring stepped beside the horse and chatted with their hostess, while Brailey and Carlin followed with Kassonga.
"Looks as though Tommy was pretty hard hit between his lungs and his diaphragm," suggested Carlin with a chuckle. "That's where the heart is," he interpreted for the benefit of the serious-minded Brailey.
"One cannot blame him," was the grave response, as Brailey's eyes rested approvingly upon the trim, rounded figure.
Mona Carroll was a type of the Southern girl before the Northern invasion and Northern conquests had spoiled their charm of simplicity.
"She is a very attractive girl," continued Brailey. "Were it not for a little woman in Boston --- "
"I know all about her," broke in Carlin with a chuckle. The little woman in Boston was a favorite allusion of Brailey's, but as mythical as John Doe.
Brailey, shrugged his shoulders, and Carlin lagged behind. The girl and the man in front seemed to have forgotten their companions. Loring's stride carried him quickly over the ground, but Carlin's shorter legs refused to keep pace, and presently his distant hail halted them for a moment until he caught up.
When Carlin hurried up they set out again, but the jolly acceptance of the jokes about the shortness of his stride gave place to a look of concern as he took his place beside Brailey.
"Drop back a bit and keep your eyes open," he whispered. "No. I won't say why."
Much amazed, Brailey lingered behind under pretense of examining some plants, and his face, too, was grave as he again caught up with Carlin.
"We are being tracked," he said in an undertone. "I saw nothing, but there are some animals or persons paralleling our path. Send Kassonga back."
Carlin whispered instructions to the black, but the Congo shook his head.
"I know," he muttered. "I have heard and seen. They are the men-monkeys. The old chief spoke the truth. We are in a land of enchantment."
"So it seems." muttered Carlin.
Yet his eyes were not for the side of the road where the fantom [sic] trailers were, but ahead, where Loring seemed engrossed with the queenly girl who bent in her saddle to catch his remarks.
"The sooner we trek on the better," he murmured to himself. "We're 1iable to stay here for weeks."
His gloomy train of thought was interrupted by their emergence from the forest. It was still a long walk to the house; but with the goal in sight, they all quickened their pace, and even Carlin hurried forward, happy in the thought that he was to sleep in a bed, and forgetting the dark forebodings in the near presence of creature comforts.
A wide veranda ran round the four sides of the house, and on the porch stood a man, who looked as though he might have stepped from between the covers of some romance of ante- bellum days,
He was spare and thin, and the slightly gray hair was worn long enough to touch the rolling collar of his immaculate shirt. The gray suit, with frock coat and wide-brimmed soft hat, the flowing mustache and imperial, were all a part of the picture, and fitted well into the background of the old Southern homestead.
He came forward to swing Mona to the ground as she galloped up in advance of the travelers and was ready to greet each with a hearty hand-clasp, while he patted Kassonga's shoulder with the air of paternalism that marked the attitude of the old- time planter toward his slaves.
"I make you welcome, gentlemen," he said in the soft Southern drawl. "It has been many years since I saw white faces other than those of my own family. I look forward with pleasure to a long visit."
"I am afraid you will find us but birds of passage," demurred Loring. "We are hurrying toward Albert Nyanza and the Nile."
"I am sure that we shall find means to induce you to prolong your visit," declared the colonel with his slow smile. "Meanwhile, I would suggest that, perhaps --- "
He motioned with his head toward the wide French windows to the dining room, where white napery and shining glassware looked most inviting to men who had been roughing it for months, He led the way, the others trooping after; and presently he was busy with the preparation of all old-fashioned appetizer.
Carlin's face grew ecstatic as he listened to the tinkle of ice in the glass.
"I didn't know that there was an ice plant this side of Boma," he cried.
"I had it brought up the river by carriers," explained the colonel. "It is a great convenience. I was here when the Congo Company was in its infancy. As a matter of fact, the existence of this place is not known to the Congo Company. I settled here in 1859. I foresaw that the war must come sooner or later, and sold my plantation on the Yazoo at a handsome profit.
"One of my slaves, Unonyi, had been a king in his own country, and it was he who guided us here. It took long years to bring this volcanic crater to the fine state of cultivation in which you find it; but I was young then --- but thirty-five --- and work was welcome. It enabled me to forget what was happening in my own country.
"I suppose that the march of progress will reach me in the course of time, but I shall be ready for the invasion then."To your- good healths, sirs --- and a long visit."
They drained their glasses, and, as they placed them on the table, an elderly negro entered.
"Andy will take you to your room," announced the colonel. "He will look well to your wants, for he was trained in a good school. I regret that for the night we shall have to put you in a single room. On the morrow others will be opened, but we have no visitors, and were unprepared."
"We are sorry to put you to this trouble," said Loring with grave courtesy. "We are old campaigners, and can be comfortable anywhere. To-morrow we must push on, so do not trouble. We are anxious to get along."
"Not a bit of it," denied the colonel. "You'll remain here for a week --- at least. You must humor an old man who has not seen his kind for years --- but I must not detain you now. Supper soon will be ready, and Mona will scold if we are late."
He hurried the three from the room with genial haste, but Carlin, despite the ice and the cocktail, was suspicious still. It seemed as though the colonel sought to avoid debate on the length of their stay.
The body-servant led them through a wide hall, up the broad staircase, and into a large room at the extreme end of the hall. He had borrowed liberally from his master's possessions, and presently the three men were enjoying the luxury of sponge-baths and shaves, while Andy, with a stiff brush and a needle, made their khaki suits more presentable.
Presently he slipped from the room for more hot water. Carlin looked up suddenly.
"I say, fellows!" he cried. "How old do you take our courteous host to be?"
"About fifty," hazarded Brailey.
"Nearer fifty-five," corrected Loring.
"Not more than that?" demanded Carlin, and both men shook their heads.
"To the contrary," said Brailey, "I think I am nearer the truth than Tom."
"Yet he was thirty-five when he came here in 1859," mused Carlin. "That makes him eighty-five now. Either he is a gifted liar, or the mighty Obeah himself."
"It simply speaks well for the African climate," suggested Loring. "It's absurd to imagine that the fine old gentleman is a votary of the voodoo cult."
"Yet he comes from the home of voodooism in America," persisted Carlin. "I tell you, Tom, the sooner we get out of here the better."
"Even if there is ice?" asked Loring with a grin. "I'll bet that by the time dinner is over, you'll feel differently about it. There's no magic here, except the magic of hearty welcome."
"You didn't see the escort," began Carlin: but the entrance of Andy put a stop to the talk, and they hurried to complete their limited toilets.
Dinner was a delight to men who for days had lived on what game they could shoot, baked yams, and fruit. The table was as perfectly served as though the resources of a metropolitan market were at the disposal of the host, and the picture was completed and made more perfect by the appearance of Mona Carroll, standing at the head of the table.
She had exchanged her riding-habit for the ample skirts and low-cut bodice of the early sixties. The rounded shoulders and slender neck rose gleamingly from the décolletage, the ivory white shading softly to the darker tan of the face. The full skirts set off the slender waist, and she suggested some old painting in which the colors were still fresh and new.
She smiled slightly at the astonishment of the trio, and indicated that Loring was to have the place at her right, while Brailey sat at her left and Carlin was placed at the colonel's left. The well-trained house-servants moved quietly and skilfully about their tasks under the imposing direction of Andy. The travelers were sorry when, all too soon, the cigars and decanters were set forth and Mona rose to leave them.
Loring sprang to hold the door open for her, and her shoulders grew as rosy red as her cheeks at the look of open admiration in his eyes as she passed him. When he returned to the table the blacks had left the room, and Colonel Carroll looked up.
"I was asking Mr. Carlin," he explained, "to be good enough to refrain from discussing the matter of slavery. With the exception of Andy and Unonyi, my people do not know that slavery has been abolished, and they are entirely content as they are.
"To free them would only be to invite disaster. Paying wages might tempt them to look outside for better pay, and the Congo Company is worse than any slavery that ever existed."
"Do none ever seek to escape?" asked Brailey.
"Some few have sought to escape," admitted the colonel. "The result has acted as a deterrent to the others."
"You track them with hounds?" asked Carlin, recalling that he had not heard a dog bark since he had come into the valley.
"We track them --- but not with hounds," explained the colonel with slow emphasis.
Carlin stirred uneasily in his seat. Mystery was something abhorrent to his care-free nature, and, in spite of the peaceful comfort of the place, he felt that the valley masked some horrid secret.
He was glad when at last they rose and sought the veranda, Loring already had slipped away, and he and Mona had sought the lake, Carlin and Brailey gave their attention to the colonel, who stretched himself in one of the wicker porch-chairs and gave himself over to reminiscence, The soft Southern drawl became more pronounced, until the fine head dropped gently back against the chair, and he slept.
"Let's slip away and take a walk, too," suggested Brailey. "We can go to the lake and turn the other way, so we will not interrupt Loring. I guess you were right in what you said about his being hard hit. If it wasn't for a little woman in Boston—"
"We'll take that walk --- and forget the little woman in Boston," urged Carlin. "Still, it's better to be in love with a woman in Boston than one in Central Africa. That is, if you want to get back to civilization quickly."
Carlin laughingly led the way down the steps, and they turned in the direction of the lake, heading toward the north, where the stream which fed the artificial pond entered from the thick grove of banyan-trees that virtually cut the valley into two unequal sections.
"Let's walk up to the banyans," suggested Carlin. "I don't remember ever having seen a more remarkable growth."
"I wish we could get Kassonga for a guide," said Brailey, "I wonder what has become of him."
"Andy tells me that he is in the servants' quarters," was the careless reply. "What's the trouble?"
"I feel that we are being followed," explained Brailey. "It gives you an uncanny feeling to be tracked."
"I've had an uncanny feeling ever since we got here," retorted Carlin. "I'm getting used to it now, Those men-monkeys are everywhere. You remember what the colonel said about not using hounds to track the slaves. These monkey- police do the work. I wish I could see one of them."
"We probably shall before the visit is over," Brailey assured with gloomy foreboding. "I wish that we were out of this, Dick."
"We'll be ready if it comes," was the cheerful response. "I have an idea that we are going to stay here longer than we expect. The colonel lays great stress on the importance of keeping his retreat concealed from the knowledge of the rest of the world. Is it to be expected that he will turn us loose to blab round about the wonderful place in the heart of Africa with an ice-plant and electric lights, and all that sort of thing?"
"We must win through somehow," declared Brailey. "Tom will lead the way."
"Tom!" Carlin's emphasis was scornful. "Tom is perfectly willing to stay here the rest of his life, and even be assistant Obeah, for the sake of Miss Mona. I don't know that I blame him. We'll have to win through ourselves, Billy. Tom is out of the running, I'm afraid."
As they spoke they drew within the shade of the banyans, and for a moment both were silent. The huge Indian fig trees grew so close together that it was impossible to distinguish between their interlaced trunks. Some of the trees had sent down from fifty to one hundred false trunks, and the effect was that of miles of a single tree.
"I never saw anything like this," cried Carlin. "The banyan is not often seen in Africa; and not even in India have I seen such specimens. Let's push in a ways."
Brailey nodded, though he did not like the aspect of the place. The dense shade had precluded all undergrowth, and only the bare trunks checked the passage of the explorers.
They had not progressed fifty feet before there came a rustling in the branches overhead, and before they could look up, a score of hairy forms had dropped down and closed in around them.
Neither monkey nor human they seemed, but an odd mixture of both; and as they uttered their shrill cries, both Carlin and Brailey turned and fled for the open.
The shock of surprise had unnerved the seasoned hunters, and not until they had reached the edge of the banyan grove did they think of their revolvers.
The blued steel gleamed in the moonlight as they turned to retaliate, but a fresh surprise awaited them.
Where an instant before the woods had been full of the screaming horde, now there was no trace of life.
The dusky aisles were deserted, and only a slight rustling in the tree-tops gave a clue to their disappearance.
White and shaken, they made their way to the house. The colonel had just been roused from his sleep by the arrival of Loring and Mona, and he listened with a quiet smile to the tale that Carlin had to tell.
"The banyan-grove is infested by apes," he said. "I did not know that your walk would take you that way, or I would have warned you. I would suggest that you do not venture near the banyans unless some one of us is with you. We they know and do not molest; but when new slaves are brought in, there is sometimes trouble with them.
"Will you gentlemen have a nightcap?" he added, as his tones lost their seriousness.
There was a murmur of assent, and the three followed their host into the dining-room.
"To a long and pleasant visit," he cried, as he raised his glass and smiled at Loring."
"I thought that we were to press on to- morrow," protested Brailey.
"I think we had better rest up," explained Loring awkwardly. "The colonel suggests that if we wait a couple of weeks, he can let us have bearers to Albert Lake. It will be better to wait and rest up."
Loring spoke with a finality that checked discussion, even after they went to the room which for that night they shared in common.
Of the three he was the only one who slept well that night, for Brailey and Carlin were apprehensive of a danger the more terrible because they did not know what it might he.
Carlin tossed restlessly on the bed which was nearest the window, and had just succeeded in dropping off into a doze, when a shrill cry awoke him, and, springing from the bed, he rushed to the window.
Down by the shore of the lake two forms were running across the turf. One seemed to be a monkey-man, but the other was white, though his hair was long and matted, and the body was partly covered with a hairy growth.
The white man was in the advance, and the other seemed to be his pursuer. As he looked, they sprang into the branches of a shaddock-tree, and Carlin whistled in surprise.
It was a good twenty feet to the lower branches, for he had admired that very tree in the journey to the house. To reach the lowest branch required a clean spring of not less than fifteen feet, yet both white and black swung themselves into the tree without an instant pause.
Carlin stepped out on the roof of the porch, the better to follow the race, when from the shadows of the vine-covered wall there sprang out another hairy form that raised him from his feet as though he had been a child and flung him violently into the room.
The shock of his fall roused the others; and while Loring bent to his assistance, Brailey rushed to the window, presently to report that he could see nothing.
"It's a nightmare, and you've been walking in your sleep," declared Loring laughingly.
"If it's a nightmare, the stable is beyond the banyans," declared Carlin. "I tell you, Dick, we're going to suffer a lot from nightmares while we stay here."
All three thought it strange that the colonel took no notice of the commotion in their room, but he did not make allusion to it in the morning, nor did he ask how they had slept.
It was Carlin who introduced the subject, describing what he had seen.
"I could have sworn that it was a wild white man," he insisted earnestly, but the colonel laughed away the suggestion.
"Probably a gray ape," he declared. "They are very frisky on moonlight nights. I am afraid that I shall have to set a guard. Sometimes they do considerable damage to the flower-beds. What do you gentlemen propose to do this morning?"
"I have suggested to Mr. Loring that he might like a gallop," announced Mona. "There are plenty of horses for all, if you would like to come," she added.
She looked inquiringly at Carlin and Brailey, but Carlin was looking at Loring, and promptly shook his head as he saw the disappointment in his friend's face.
"I think I'll go fishing," he announced. "It won't do to get used to a horse and then have to walk when we start to trek again. How about you, Brailey?"
"I'll go with you," was the prompt reply. "You know you always fall overboard when you get a bite."
"There is plenty of good fishing," interposed the colonel. "I have had the lake stocked, and you will have good sport. I have some good flies in my library."
Loring was gone long before the others were ready to depart for the lake. Carlin insisted that they did not need a man to row, but the colonel, with an allusion to the heat, insisted, and they put off with a burly Congon in the bow at the oars.
Carlin's fishing had been in part an effort to get where he could talk over the events of the night before with the naturalist. He had become thoroughly imbued with the belief that he was in a land of magic, and he feared to speak openly where there was any chance of being overheard.
The presence of the black prevented freedom of speech, and he could only turn his attention to the fishing. The colonel had spoken truly when he declared that they would have good sport, for the lake was filled with gamey fish, and Carlin almost forgot his apprehensions in his appreciation of' the battles royal with five and six pounders as good fighters as the mountain trout.
He had almost decided that his experience was all a chimera, when there was a loud outcry from the far side of the lake.
As they turned, from the very top of one of the highest banyans a figure sprang far out over the lake, and fell into the water with scarcely a splash.
Brailey gasped with astonishment.
"That is no ape. It is a white man," he cried, and Carlin nodded.
"The same that I saw last night," he declared. "Funniest white ape I ever saw. Row over there, boy, and we'll see about it."
As he spoke a dozen darker figures sprang out from the banyans and into the lake, apparently seeking to head off the white swimmer, who was making a course toward the house. At the sight of the blacks, the rower turned and made rapidly for shore, nor did the shouts of the two men have the slightest effect.
His face was ashen with terror, and as he bent to his task, fear lent strength to the powerful arms, and sent the boat along at a pace that rapidly drew them away from the swimmers.
Brailey rose in the boat and slipped off his coat, but Carlin drew him down upon the seat.
"You'd have no chance with those chaps," he declared. "They've almost headed him."
Even as he spoke the blacks had surrounded the white swimmer, who turned and headed again for the banyan grove. As he dashed up the bank, his body gleaming from the water, he sprang upward and vanished among the branches.
Immediately the blacks followed him into the trees, and only the ruffled surface of the lake remained to remind them of the strange sight.
The boy with the fishermen still pulled for the shore, and presently the boat swung against the landing, and Brailey and Carlin stepped ashore, leaving the native to bring the fish and tackle to the house.
Andy hurried out to receive them with cooling drinks. The colonel, he explained, had been called away to look after some trouble with the electric light plant, and would not be back until lunch-time.
The two men were only too glad to sit on the veranda and rest, for the incident of the chase had shaken them both.
They sat close together and chatted in low tones. Brailey sought to argue himself into the belief that it was an albino ape that they had seen, but Carlin would have none of it.
"Either something in his heathenish rites turn[s] men to monkeys," he declared, "or else the colonel is a scientist trying to prove the Darwinian theory by working backward.
"I tell you, Bill, this is the home of enchantment, and that Island of Dr. Moreau; where they grafted halves of different animals, isn't in it with this place. They use human beings here. I'll swear that those beasts were partly human, and Kassonga declares that he heard them speak. It's not right. We ought to be getting away from here."
"It will not be easy," declared Brailey, as he pointed to where Loring and Mona had just emerged from the forest.
Their horses walked slowly side by side, the reins hanging loosely upon their necks, and it was evident that Tom Loring had well employed his time. Carlin slipped off to wash up before they should arrive, and in the upper hall he met Andy, who had just completed the task of changing their rooms. Loring retained the room they had occupied the night before, and Brailey had the room next to him. Carlin's room was across the hall and at the rear of the house, overlooking the servants' quarters and the distant banyans.
As he stood at the window, drying his hands, the colonel emerged from the grove and came toward the house. Carlin, whose eyesight was uncommonly good, started as he caught sight of the face, for it was drawn and haggard, filled with a mute misery that, even at the distance, caused Carlin to cry aloud.
He quickly stepped back from the window, and as quickly completed his toilet, hurrying down-stairs to join the others just as Loring and Mona rode up and the colonel came forward from the dining-room.
Carlin stared incredulously at the placid, smiling face. Not a trace remained of the mortal anguish which showed so clearly but a few minutes before. The colonel was again the ideal Southern gentleman, with never a trace of care; and as he stood chatting with the fishermen, while Mona and Loring made ready for lunch, his voice was light and steady, even when Carlin spoke of the incident of the apes.
"It probably is an albino," he declared, echoing Brailey's thoughts. "I shall have to tell the boys to thin them out, if they keep on. There is a sort of tacit understanding that they are to stick to the banyan-grove. The field-hands are mortally afraid of them. That is why Joe headed straight for shore.
"It is a good thing in one way that the blacks are afraid, for it keeps them this side of the banyans and away from the power-plant. One inquisitive black can do a lot of damage to my generators and dynamos, and it cost many hundred yards of cotton cloth to get that machinery from the coast."
"I could swear that this was a white man," persisted Carlin.
The colonel turned toward his guest.
"I have lived here for nearly fifty years," he said slowly. "Surely you will allow my authority on the fauna of the country."
He turned toward the dining-room as though that put an end to discussion, and a moment later he was chatting as pleasantly as ever.
Carlin was far from satisfied, but there was nothing to be said; and he ate his lunch in moody silence.
Loring, on the other hand, was more than ordinarily gay, and he laughed and chatted continually. His gaiety only served to make Carlin more quiet, for he felt that Loring and Mona had arrived at an understanding which meant that the start for civilization would be further delayed.
He made an excuse to leave the others when the meal was done, and, while Loring and Brailey walked with Mona to the fruit- plantations, Carlin, under pretense of needing a nap, slipped up to his room and tried to figure out the meaning of the mystery.
On the coast he had been told of a supposed plot to make a holy war against Belgian rule, and, by an appeal to all followers of voodooism, upset the white government. He knew that a successful issue was impossible, but the uprising might retard the settlement of the interior, and that was exactly what Colonel Carroll seemed to desire.
It was not illogical to reason that he was preying upon the superstition of the natives to bring about his own ends, but he could not reconcile Mona in the scheme of things. It could not be that she was implicated in such a plot, nor was it reasonable to believe that she could remain in ignorance of the strange rites that must be practised if voodooism prevailed.
As he sat at the open window, giving free rein to his thoughts, he saw a commotion in the banyans.
The fruit-plantations were well to the east of the house and close to the banyan-grove. With a powerful glass, he could see that the men-monkeys were gathering along the edge of the grove, hiding themselves well among the trees, but not so well that the searcher could not locate them.
Fearful that they had designs on his two friends, Carlin hurried to get his gun. The range was too far, but he could at least give an alarm. He had raised the gun to his shoulder and was about to fire, when he dropped the weapon and reached again for his glasses.
Through the trees he could see the white skin of the fugitive of the morning, and now the other apes were closing in upon him.
It was evident that an ambush had been planned, but the ruse was unsuccessful.
Even as he watched, the white fugitive dropped through the banyans to the ground, and was running across the open toward the house.
Carlin sprang out on the roof of the veranda, the better to follow the progress of the uneven race. He still carried his gun with him, and, as he perceived that the blacks were gaining on the white, he raised it to his shoulder.
Before he could fire, Colonel Carroll sprang through another window and threw up the muzzle of the gun, at the same time catching at the trigger and preventing a discharge.
His thumb was caught between the hammer and the shell, and badly torn, but he did not seem to notice the accident in his excitement.
"If you want hunting, I shall be glad to provide it," he said as he returned the gun to Carlin; "but I must insist that you do not fire upon the apes."
"But they have been chasing that albino all last night and all to-day," pleaded Carlin. "You said that you wanted them thinned out."
"In a proper manner," conceded the colonel, "but not with rifles. A shot would bring them all about the house."
There was truth in the speech, and Carlin rather shamefacedly returned to his room, the colonel following. He replaced the gun in its case, and turned to the window to see what progress had been made. More than a hundred black apes had swarmed from the grove, and surrounding the white one had driven him into the banyans again.
"They'll get him before night," declared Carlin, and he could have sworn that the colonel's eyes lighted, at the thought. Together, they descended the stairs, and the colonel led the way to the dining-room.
"Let us have a tiny drop," he suggested smilingly. "Shall we drink to the success of the chase?
His voice was light, but there seemed an undercurrent of eagerness; and Carlin noticed that the rather stiff drink was swallowed at a gulp, though usually the colonel drank little, and that very fastidiously.
The arrival of the others, laden down with fruit and blossoms, prevented further speech, and Carlin turned to the doorway.
"I'd rather drink to Miss Mona," he said gallantly elevating his glass.
Loring looked curiously from Carlin to the colonel, but the grave, unruffled demeanor of the latter dispelled any lurking suspicion that there had been an argument. He turned again to Mona.
Brailey slipped up-stairs to his room, and Carlin went out on the veranda to wait the coming of the others.
He was in no mood for conversation. He could not rid himself of the idea that the fugitive who had engaged his interest was a white man metamorphosed through some cruel process into an ape, and even when Brailey came down, he did not discuss the matter.
Brailey took things lightly, though, as a rule, he was far more serious than Carlin. He was ready to accept the theory of the albino ape; he had even declared that it was natural that the others should pick upon one of their species so plainly marked as apart from the rest; then he had seemed content to let the matter drop.
It was more than Carlin could do, and he was but poor company through dinner. Afterward, he smoked his cigar apart from the rest. He welcomed the early dispersal of the company and quickly sought his room.
He did not sleep well, and finally decided to get up and smoke a cigar.
He lighted the roll of fragrant tobacco, and took a chair by the open window, watching the smoke drift out and become silvered in the moonlight.
To his surprise, he saw his host crossing the lawn and making for the path that led toward the banyans. For an instant he was tempted to follow, but abandoned the idea. Already he had trespassed on the colonel's courtesy, and until he was more certain that evil was being wrought, he would not further tax his host's forbearance.
The cigar was finished, but Carlin continued to sit by the window, enjoying the light breeze that had swung up. He was not conscious of being sleepy, but presently his head fell forward on his chest, and he did not waken until he felt someone cautiously moving past him, and he looked up to see a white apparition standing over him.
There was no question but that it was a white man --- a white man sadly brutalized, but none the less a Caucasian, and apparently au American.
The body was covered by a fine growth of hair, while the face and head were a mass of matted locks from which the eyes shone with feverish glance.
As Carlin roused himself, the figure clutched at his throat, and the long, lean fingers closed about his neck with a tenacity that he could not break, struggle as he might.
He could not cry out for aid, and he felt his strength rapidly leaving him.
Then came a patter of feet on the veranda-roof, and a score of black bodies sprang through the window.
There was a short, sharp struggle; and as Carlin collapsed in his chair, he was conscious that the intruder was being hustled through the window, struggling fiercely, but prevented from making any outcry.
By the time Carlin could rise to his feet and stagger to the window, the little party were almost at the edge of the banyan- grove.
With a sudden determination to see the mystery through to the end, Carlin slipped through the window and dropped to the lawn below.
By the time he reached the banyans the little party had disappeared, but he could hear them crashing through the mass of trunks as their captive still fought them, and he followed the sound. For some fifteen minutes he kept the trail, though he noted with dismay that the sounds were growing fainter.
At last they ceased altogether.
There was nothing to be done but to follow on, and Carlin stumbled blindly forward. The impenetrable mass of leaves overhead made it impossible to guide his course by the stars, and, he began to fear that he was traveling in a circle when there was a thud, behind him and two hairy arms encircled his chest.
The struggle was short, and presently Carlin found himself pushed rapidly ahead until he emerged from the grove and at last stood on the other side of the barrier of banyans.
A short distance ahead, there was a long, one-story building, and; from the whirring that came from the end which was lighted, Carlin knew that it was the power-plant operated by the river which fed the lake in the valley.
He was hurried up a flight of steps into an office to one side of the plant, and found himself face to face with Colonel Carroll.
As he entered the place, Carlin, for the first time, had a good look at the monkey police. The man was speaking in his native tongue to Colonel Carroll, and stood within the circle of light cast by the electrolier over the colonel's desk.
At close range Carlin could see the broad African features that from a distance might be mistaken for the face of an ape, but it was the body that was most deceptive.
The man stood at least seven feet, and the lean but powerfully muscled limbs were covered with a thick growth of soft hair, very unlike the wool of the Congo natives. The feet were large, but longer in proportion, than the foot of the native; and both toes and. fingers were extraordinarily developed, suggesting claws rather than hands and feet.
A breech-clout of black was the sole garment.
Carlin stood silent while the native spoke, and watched eagerly the face of his host. When the colonel spoke it was slowly and with evident pain.
"I regret, Mr. Carlin, that you have sought to unveil my secret. You suspected from the start that there was a secret. I had hoped that the vigilance of my watchers would prevent you from penetrating the banyan-grove.
"On your: first day you were turned back, as you would have been turned back to night had it not been that the Mongobas were unable to be on guard."
"I followed; because I saw that your so-called albino monkey was a white man," protested Carlin. "A crowd of them caught him in my room, and I could not see a white man mistreated by a crowd of blacks.
"Of, course, you had not told me that these monkey- looking men were your own people; but, even at that --- the other was a white man, though sadly tortured and distorted by some unholy rite."
"Even in your own country --- our country --- " reminded the colonel, "the insane are kept under restraint. This poor soul escaped the day of your arrival, and his freedom very seriously complicated the plans I had made for your entertainment.
"It was my desire that you should see only the beautiful side of this valley. It was not to be, and I am afraid, Mr. Carlin, that curiosity will cost you dear."
"You want another victim to torture and make insane?" demanded Carlin, stung to bitterness by the realization that it was curiosity, rather than chivalrous defense of another, which had led him into the quest.
"Not to torture and make insane," repeated the colonel sadly. "If I should let you go back into the world, Mr. Carlin, the unsolved mystery would act ever as a lodestone to bring you back.
"It is easy to account for your absence to your friends. These men-monkey people will serve as an excuse to them. Your party will grieve over your death, but they will go on their way. I am selfish enough to be rather glad that you force me to keep you here. It will be very lonesome when Mona is gone."
"Gone!" echoed Carlin. "Then Loring has --- "
"Mr. Loring has claimed her hand," explained the colonel. "I admit that it was with the idea that one of you three might fall in love with her that I gave orders for your safe conduct when word was brought that you were about to traverse the country held by Unonyi, my old slave,
Had you not scaled the peak you would have been made captive and brought to me.
"It is but seldom that white men have penetrated this region, and mostly they were of the Congo Company and deserved the death that visited them. With you it was different.
"I realized that Mona was being sacrificed to my selfishness. I determined to let her go out into the world --- to find the happiness to which she was entitled. They three will go; and, once they are gone, you will have the freedom of the valley, Mr. Carlin."
"But do you think Miss Mona will be happy?" asked Carlin. "You look at it from a narrow point of view, Colonel Carroll. We came here with weird tales of a mighty Obeah who ruled a tribe of monkeys.
"We find instead a fine old Southern gentleman and a very beautiful girl. Loring is in love --- very much in love --- just now; but in years to come, when the blood cools and the intoxication of love is past, there will be this dread secret between them. Suppose that doubt comes to Loring's mind, even as it had to mine. What explanation can Miss Mona give?"
"Nothing," cried the colonel. "I pray Heaven that she never may know the dread secrets of this place."
"That will not do," said Carlin gravely. "Her ignorance will be thought to be concealment, and doubt and suspicion will arise that will prove fatal to the happiness you plan. There would also rise up the fact of my death to stand between your daughter and complete happiness. It will be difficult to explain my disappearance, colonel."
Colonel Carroll's head bowed over the desk, and for a few moments he was lost in thought. Carlin, ill at ease, glanced curiously about the room; an odd combination of library, laboratory, and office. At last the colonel raised his head.
"I believe that you are right, Mr. Carlin," he said slowly. "I thank you for bringing the matter to my attention. I have lived too far apart from the world to face problems such as this intelligently. It is best that your friends should know. May I have your promise that you will not mention this matter until I speak?"
"My promise and my apology," cried Carlin sincerely. "I am ashamed of my curiosity, colonel"
"It was for the best," was the weary reply. "Sam will see you safely to the house. Good night, Mr. Cardin."
Carlin woke in the morning with a heavy head. In his dreams he had conjured all sorts of visions, fantastic explanations of the mystery beyond the banyans. He was just in time for breakfast, and found the others in high good humor.
The colonel had not yet come downstairs, and Mona apologized for his absence, saying that he had returned from the power-station very late and wanted to sleep late.
"But he sends word that this fore-noon he will take us out to his power plant and show us round."
"And is that the reason for this smiling gathering?" asked Carlin.
"That's another story," announced Loring with a laugh. "Mona has promised that when we start for Albert Edward Nyanza she will come with us, and the first missionary we meet up with is going to make her Mrs. Loring."
Carlin added his congratulations with a heavy heart. There was a presage of misfortune that weighed heavily upon him, and which he could not shake off.
A bit of toast and a cup of coffee sufficed him, and he was smoking on the veranda when the others came out with Colonel Carroll.
The colonel greeted Carlin with no trace of embarrassment; evidently he wished the meeting of the night before to remain a secret between them.
"We are going out to my power-plant to show modernism in the midst of barbarism," he explained. "Are you ready to come with us, or will you finish your cigar?"
Carlin's answer was to throw away his cigar and put on his pith helmet. The colonel kissed Mona with unwonted tenderness and stepped briskly toward the path that led through the banyans. There was no path visible; but he threaded his way through the myriad trunks with a certainty that showed his familiarity and in half an hour they had passed the grove.
In the light of day the power-station did not look as mysterious as it had to Carlin the night before.
It was a long, low structure of sun-burned brick, with a roof of burned tiles. To the right was Colonel Carroll's office, and behind this a separate building with barred windows; strongly suggestive of a jail.
The colonel led the way into his office and motioned them to take seats, and himself took the chair at the head of the table.
"Mr. Loring does me the honor to ask my daughter's hand in marriage," he began abruptly. "I will admit that I anticipated some such result from your visit, else you would have shared the fate of many blacks and some few whites who have invaded Unonyi's territory.
"A conversation I had last night with Mr. Carlin leads me to the belief that before I give Mr. Loring his answer it would be well to explain certain mysteries."
"I don't care about mysteries," began Loring, but the colonel checked him.
"Mr. Carlin makes it plain that perhaps this question may rise later. When you leave here you leave this place forever, and what is said must be said now.
"Perhaps you have heard of Dr. Charles Montgomery Carroll?"
He looked inquiringly about the table, but saw no gleam of recognition --- and he sighed.
"He was my father," explained the colonel, "and in the early forties he was an authority on nervous complaints. So runs the world. He is long forgotten. Attention is now turned to the man who claims to have weighed the soul, and that other who from a soap-bubble produced the lowest form of animal life.
"My father was the son of a planter, and completed his medical education in Paris. On his return he sent me there to study, and when I, too, came back he admitted me to his experiments.
"He had found that the essence of life is a form of electricity --- the soul --- the animating spark that vivifies the inert body. He sought to locate and isolate this particular form of the electrical fluid, but he made slow progress.
"He did find that the electrical current restored low vitality, and that this current was more effective if administered through the hand of the operator. The mechanical current seemed to carry with it a portion of the life current of the person.
"Elaborating on this idea, he applied the principle of electroplating, in which, by means of a current of electricity, a portion of a metal attached to one pole of the battery is deposited upon an object attached to the opposite pole.
"He constructed huge batteries, and soon he had succeeded in making the weakly strong. We owned hundreds of slaves, and subjects were ready to hand; but my father foresaw the war that was presently to result in the freeing of the blacks, and we knew that soon our experiments would have to come to a close for want of subjects.
"One of my boys --- Tom he was called --- aided me in my experiments and knew of our anxieties, and it was at his suggestion that we sold our plantation and announced that we would not only manumit our slaves, but return them to Africa.
"I had just married Mona Gourdain, one of the belles of New Orleans, and she brought with her a considerable fortune, which, added to our own, enabled us to charter a steamer and land near the Congo.
"Here Tom resumed his native title of Unonyi, and under his direction we came to this extinct crater, the existence of which he knew.
"With the aid of some cheap magical tricks, he not only regained the supremacy over the king who had replaced him in his tribe, but he became a sort of voodoo demigod; and his word was law, not alone in his own tribe, but in the near-by tribes whose kings acknowledged him as their superior.
"With his assistance we soon converted the crater into the semblance of our old plantation. The growth of banyans formed a natural barrier between the placid plantation life and the scene of our experiments.
"There was a natural water-power that permitted the manufacture of cotton cloth and other things the natives prized; and; best of all, Unonyi kept us supplied with material for our experiments --- huge giants from the tribe of the Mongoba to the north of our country.
"These Mongobas were little better than orangs in intelligence, but their splendid physiques enabled them to stand the strain of experimenting, and we made a regular practise of supplying our slaves with fresh vital fluid from the Mongobas.
"I think that first day you found it difficult to reconcile my appearance with my age, for I have regularly kept up the doses of life-fluid. Mona wonders at my eternal youth, but --- you will presently understand why I feared to give her treatment.
"My father, some twenty years ago, installed a new and larger electric plant, which not only gave power to the looms, but which enabled us to make experiments on a larger scale. Oddly enough, he had not regularly tried the transfusion of the life- fluid himself, but now failing health made it necessary to regain his strength.
"There was one Mongoba, a splendid specimen of brute strength, who had just been brought in by Unonyi's people. He was fully eight feet tall, quite the tallest I have ever seen.
"My father decided to use him for the experiment, and with infinite trouble we placed him in the tank; but not until I had numbed his senses with chloroform.
"The life-plater, as we called it, was a huge tank of glass filled with a saline solution. At either end were chairs somewhat similar to those I believe are now used in electrocutions in New York State, but these were immersed in the bath.
"My father took his place at the opposite end, and was strapped in, that perfect contact with the electrodes might be assured, and I turned on a mild current.
"The shock revived the Mongoba, and it was well that the straps were stout, else he would have burst his bonds and I would have had to shoot him.
"Almost from the first application I could see the change in my father. His sunken cheeks grew full, his eye was brighter, and at his urge I increased the strength of the current.
"The Mongoba writhed and strained at his straps, uttering wild cries of fear, until at last we had to gag him; no easy task, for the man clearly was insane from terror. He was growing weaker every moment, but so tremendous was his vitality that he still had the strength of three men.
"I suggested that we stop the experiment for the day, but my father was drunken with the new sense of strength, and insisted that the experiment proceed. Much against my will, I let it continue for a while; but the Mongoba was growing so weak that I turned to shut off the power.
"To my horror, the rheostat-switch stuck; and while I frantically struggled with the accursed thing, Unonyi uttered a cry of fear, and I turned in time to see the Mongoba's head fall upon his breast. The application of the current too long continued had drained his vitality to the very last drop. The man was dead.
"Hurriedly I released the straps that held my father in his seat and raised him from the tank. He assisted me in adjusting the rheostat, and was describing his sensations, when suddenly he sprang upon me without warning and bore me to the ground.
"The shock of the fall stunned me, and when I revived Unonyi was bending over me" and a score of blacks were holding down my father, who fought like a wild animal for his freedom.
"I spoke to him, but gained no recognition; and when at last he raised his eyes, I saw in them the fierce maniacal glare of the Mongoba. In that last instant the soul had followed the spirit.
"My father's body was tenanted by a dual personality --- his own and that of the insane Mongoba.
"Now one, now the other, was in the ascendant; and when the change would come, no man might know."
There was a moment of silence, broken only by the rhythmical hum of the machinery.
Colonel Carlin's story had been simply told, but it had gained tremendous pathos through the expression of the care-worn face.
Now he sat back in his chair, his bent form slightly quivering with emotion, and the fine eyes looking fixedly at the opposite wall.
Loring half rose, as though to offer comfort, then sank uncertainly back in his seat. He realized the futility of words in the face of such a tragedy.
Presently the colonel roused himself to continue the explanation.
"That was about eighteen years ago," he went on, "just after Mona was born. The shock was too much for my wife, and she lived but a year and a half, refusing the administration of life-electricity even through my own body.
"Mona never has known the horrors that exist here. She knows that I am conducting a series of experiments of a scientific nature, and she knows that some great mystery is hidden behind the banyans, but she never has sought to penetrate my secret, and she little guesses that her grandfather still lives.
"I have kept the dual entity alive by the use of the life-fluid, and all these years I have vainly sought some method of undoing the damage I have done.
I have created other double-souled personalities, and I have cast out one of these entities by means of the current, but herein lies the great difficulty. Alternately, the two personalities are in the ascendant, and it is this personality which leaves the body.
"The periods of change are sudden, and occur without regularity. At almost the instant of demission it might be that the change would occur, and, instead of throwing out the soul of the Mongoba, my father's soul would pass, and leave his body entirely to the tenancy of the insane Mongoba.
"Sometimes far into the night I have wrestled with the problem, but not a hair-line of progress have I made, and the discovery that I was about to give to the world eighteen years ago has been withheld until I can restore my father.
"I fear that the end draws near. The soul of the black is the stronger, and, more and more maintains possession of the body. Perhaps there will come a time when my father will be completely subjected by the black. In other words, when he will 'die,' though his body will continue to be tenanted by the Mongoba.
"I want Mona to go out into the world. If I should die, Unonyi would take her to the coast; but when word was brought that three white men, not Congo Company officers, were about to make for Albert Lake, I issued orders that they be brought here, as I have explained to Mr. Carlin, in the hope that one of you might come to love her and carry her away.
"The very morning of your arrivel [sic] the Mongoba broke from restraint and escaped into the banyans. What Mr. Carlin has called my monkey-police are picked men from Unonyi's tribe, who, by means of repeated administrations of life- electricity from the Mongobas, have gained tremendous strength and agility. They can leap incredible distances into the air or across space, and the interlaced network of banyans is their thoroughfare.
"The Mongoba with the craft of the insane eluded capture, though at times his retaking was imminent. Twice, I believe, Mr. Carlin and Mr. Brailey saw the chase and sought to interfere, and a third time --- last night --- the Mongoba reached the house and very nearly strangled Mr. Carlin before he was caught by my men. Mr. Carlin followed, and was in turn captured by my police, who patrol the banyans constantly."
"You never said anything about it, Dick," cried Loring.
"I had promised not to," explained Carlin. "The colonel wished to tell you the whole story first."
"Shortly after his capture my father's spirit gained the ascendancy," continued the colonel, "and it was an easy matter to place him under restraint again. Mr. Carlin convinced me that before I gave my consent to Mona's marriage it would be best to reveal the secrets of the banyans, that there might rise no misunderstandings at a time when explanations could not be obtained. You are still willing to take her, Mr. Loring?"
"More than ever," was the fervent response. "It is a splendid sacrifice you are making, colonel; but let us hope that presently success will attend your efforts."
Colonel Carroll shook his head in negation.
"I have a feeling that the end is near, but not a happy ending," he said wearily. "Now that Mona is provided for, I feel more at ease."
His hand clasped Loring's, and the others turned away: for a moment no word was spoken; then the colonel again broke the silence.
"Perhaps you would like to see the life-plater, as I call it," he suggested.
They gave silent assent, and the colonel led the way to the small building they had noticed. A door gave into a room about twenty feet square. On the opposite side was another door, this one heavily barred.
"For my subjects," explained the colonel. "I differentiate between my patients and my subjects. With the latter, I find that the dual personality almost always is accompanied by some manifestations of insanity. Under proper restraint, and with plenty of Unonyi's men to help, there is small danger of a mishap."
Beside the door was a huge rheostat for reducing the current from the dynamos to any desired strength, and the colonel patted the glistening brass lovingly.
"With this I can get full current or merely a vibration," he explained. "Some of the devices are my father's inventions, others I have made; but the base is the regulation switchboard and rheostat. The wires lead to the tank by means of conduits in the floor."
He turned to the tank, which stood in the center of the room. Within concrete walls was set a tub of glass several inches thick, three feet across, and about eight feet long.
At either end was a heavy chair, provided with thick straps of hippopotamus hide, and insulated wires, running over the top of the tank, led to copper bosses set into the back and seat.
"It is exactly like the electroplating apparatus," explained the colonel, "but with a human anode and a human being to be plated. Perhaps, you would like to see it work."
The three men made a gesture of dissent, but the colonel was leaning over the tank adjusting the wire. He did not see the distaste with which the suggestion was received, but chatted on, explaining the method of connecting the wires. He was holding both sets of wires in his hand when Loring gave a cry.
Unseen by any one; the Mongoba had entered the chamber, and as Loring cried out he threw the master switch that sent the current, into the board. The resistances were all thrown off, and the full current entered the colonel's body. For a moment it grew horridly stiff, then fell limply over the edge of the tank.
Carlin, who was the nearest, rushed to the switchboard to throw off the current, but before he could do so there was another cry of horror from Brailey and Loring. As he turned, Carlin saw that the Mongoba, too, lay on the floor beside the tank.
"It was the most terrible thing I ever saw," declared Loring when speech came to them again.
"You could see the change from the Mongoba to Dr. Carroll's personality, and, unthinking of the danger, he rushed to the aid of his son. He, too, received the full current just before you had time to throw it off, Dick."
"Perhaps it is better so," said Brailey softly. "I don't believe that the colonel ever would have succeeded in restoring his father; and think what it would have meant to live here alone with the blacks and this poor wreck. It is much better so."
"It will be hard to break it to Miss Mona," said Carlin. "You'll have to do that, Tom. Just tell her that there was a short circuit, and that he was showing us the machinery. You do that, while Brailey and I rout out the blacks and send a runner for this Unonyi. Do you know where Mrs. Carroll is buried?"
"In that clump of shaddock by the lake," replied Carlin. "Mona took me to it yesterday."
"We'll have the grave dug there and bury the colonel before she knows," suggested Brailey. "Then well read the burial service over the two graves. Miss Mona need never know it is a double service."
"That will be the best way," assented Carlin. "The less Mona is told, the better. I'll go and prepare her for her father's death."
Reverently he covered the still, cold face with his handkerchief, and Brailey used his to cover the face of the elder Carroll; then, while Loring went through the banyans to bear the tidings, Carlin and Brailey made arrangements for the care of the bodies and despatched [sic] a runner for Unonyi. Late that evening the chief arrived; and Carlin arranged with him for bearers to the Nile sources.
Later yet, they stood round the open grave in the shaddock-grove, and Loring read the burial service over the two men who had found death in seeking the source of life.
As the earth began to fall upon the coffin and the natives took up the long, wailing death-chant; Mona caught Loring's arm, and gently he led her to the house where Unonyi's wife waited to minister to her.
The three men spent the night going through the colonel's papers, destroying all that had bearing upon the discovery and packing for carriage those few documents that would be of use to the girl.
"I suppose that you will move in when we are gone," suggested Loring to Unonyi.
The chief shivered slightly.
"Perhaps, when the spirits of the dead have passed beyond," he said. "I shall come but for a little while, for the night draws fast for me. Those who live by magic go quickly when the magic stops. One hundred and ten years I have lived. It is well that I go.
"Miss Mona will leave to-morrow, and when she has gone, the House of Life, and all that is beyond the banyans, will be destroyed. Those for whom there is no hope also will I destroy. The others may depart into their own country. It is not well, sirs, to take liberties with life and death.
"And Kassonga?" asked Carlin. "The colonel said that he was being cared for."
"He sought to escape that first night," explained Unonyi. "My people found him."
Carlin shook his head sadly. He had grown fond of the black; but it would never have done to let him return to the coast. He moved to the window and stepped out on the piazza.
The sun was rising above the rim of the crater, turning the dewdrops to diamonds with its slanting rays.
Unonyi stepped out beside him.
"A fair scene," he said softly. "The poor old colonel would have had an earthly paradise here. All through the years when we worked to make it like his own beloved plantation, he planned that he should live here forever.
"To the eye it was a paradise, but for seventeen weary years hell lurked beyond the banyans.
"It is well that it is ended."
And Carlin, glancing in the direction of the little grove where at last the scientist lay at rest, reverently echoed:
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