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- Allan and the Holy Flower - 4/64 -
poisons, some it swallows and they do not harm it. Others it will not touch. Moreover, no black man can do it hurt. It is white, and it has been known from of old that if it dies at all, it must be by the hand of one who is white.'
"'A very strange animal,' I began, suspiciously, for I felt sure that he was lying to me. But just at that moment I heard the sound of my men's voices. They were advancing towards me through the giant grass, singing as they came, but as yet a long way off. The Kalubi heard it also and sprang up.
"'I must be gone,' he said. 'None must see me here. What fee, O Lord of medicine, what fee?'
"'I take no payment for my medicine,' I said. 'Yet--stay. A wonderful flower grows in your country, does it not? A flower with wings and a cup beneath. I would have that flower.'
"'Who told you of the Flower?' he asked. 'The Flower is holy. Still, O White Lord, still for you it shall be risked. Oh, return and bring with you one who can kill the beast and I will make you rich. Return and call to the reeds for the Kalubi, and the Kalubi will hear and come to you.'
"Then he ran to his spear, snatched it from the ground and vanished among the reeds. That was the last I saw, or am ever likely to see, of him."
"But, Brother John, you got the flower somehow."
"Yes, Allan. About a week later when I came out of my tent one morning, there it was standing in a narrow-mouthed, earthenware pot filled with water. Of course I meant that he was to send me the plant, roots and all, but I suppose he understood that I wanted a bloom. Or perhaps he dared not send the plant. Anyhow, it is better than nothing."
"Why did you not go into the country and get it for yourself?"
"For several reasons, Allan, of which the best is that it was impossible. The Mazitu swear that if anyone sees that flower he is put to death. Indeed, when they found that I had a bloom of it, they forced me to move to the other side of the country seventy miles away. So I thought that I would wait till I met with some companions who would accompany me. Indeed, to be frank, Allan, it occurred to me that you were the sort of man who would like to interview this wonderful beast that bites off people's fingers and frightens them to death," and Brother John stroked his long, white beard and smiled, adding, "Odd that we should have met so soon afterwards, isn't it?"
"Did you?" I replied, "now did you indeed? Brother John, people say all sorts of things about you, but I have come to the conclusion that there's nothing the matter with your wits."
Again he smiled and stroked his long, white beard.
THE AUCTION ROOM
I do not think that this conversion about the Pongo savages who were said to worship a Gorilla and a Golden Flower was renewed until we reached my house at Durban. Thither of course I took Mr. Charles Scroope, and thither also came Brother John who, as bedroom accommodation was lacking, pitched his tent in the garden.
One night we sat on the step smoking; Brother John's only concession to human weakness was that he smoked. He drank no wine or spirits; he never ate meat unless he was obliged, but I rejoice to say that he smoked cigars, like most Americans, when he could get them.
"John," said I, "I have been thinking over that yarn of yours and have come to one or two conclusions."
"What may they be, Allan?"
"The first is that you were a great donkey not to get more out of the Kalubi when you had the chance."
"Agreed, Allan, but, amongst other things, I am a doctor and the operation was uppermost in my mind."
"The second is that I believe this Kalubi had charge of the gorilla- god, as no doubt you've guessed; also that it was the gorilla which bit off his finger."
"Because I have heard of great monkeys called /sokos/ that live in Central East Africa which are said to bite off men's toes and fingers. I have heard too that they are very like gorillas."
"Now you mention it, so have I, Allan. Indeed, once I saw a /soko/, though some way off, a huge, brown ape which stood on its hind legs and drummed upon its chest with its fists. I didn't see it for long because I ran away."
"The third is that this yellow orchid would be worth a great deal of money if one could dig it up and take it to England."
"I think I told you, Allan, that I valued it at £20,000, so that conclusion of yours is not original."
"The fourth is that I should like to dig up that orchid and get a share of the £20,000."
Brother John became intensely interested.
"Ah!" he said, "now we are getting to the point. I have been wondering how long it would take you to see it, Allan, but if you are slow, you are sure."
"The fifth is," I went on, "that such an expedition to succeed would need a great deal of money, more than you or I could find. Partners would be wanted, active or sleeping, but partners with cash."
Brother John looked towards the window of the room in which Charlie Scroope was in bed, for being still weak he went to rest early.
"No," I said, "he's had enough of Africa, and you told me yourself that it will be two years before he is really strong again. Also there's a lady in this case. Now listen. I have taken it on myself to write to that lady, whose address I found out while he didn't know what he was saying. I have said that he was dying, but that I hoped he might live. Meanwhile, I added, I thought she would like to know that he did nothing but rave of her; also that he was a hero, with a big H twice underlined. My word! I did lay it on about the hero business with a spoon, a real hotel gravy spoon. If Charlie Scroope knows himself again when he sees my description of him, well, I'm a Dutchman, that's all. The letter caught the last mail and will, I hope, reach the lady in due course. Now listen again. Scroope wants me to go to England with him to look after him on the voyage--that's what he says. What he means is that he hopes I might put in a word for him with the lady, if I should chance to be introduced to her. He offers to pay all my expenses and to give me something for my loss of time. So, as I haven't seen England since I was three years old, I think I'll take the chance."
Brother John's face fell. "Then how about the expedition, Allan?" he asked.
"This is the first of November," I answered, "and the wet season in those parts begins about now and lasts till April. So it would be no use trying to visit your Pongo friends till then, which gives me plenty of time to go to England and come out again. If you'll trust that flower to me I'll take it with me. Perhaps I might be able to find someone who would be willing to put down money on the chance of getting the plant on which it grew. Meanwhile, you are welcome to this house if you care to stay here."
"Thank you, Allan, but I can't sit still for so many months. I'll go somewhere and come back." He paused and a dreamy look came into his dark eyes, then went on, "You see, Brother, it is laid on me to wander and wander through all this great land until--I know."
"Until you know what?" I asked, sharply.
He pulled himself together with a jerk, as it were, and answered with a kind of forced carelessness.
"Until I know every inch of it, of course. There are lots of tribes I have not yet visited."
"Including the Pongo," I said. "By the way, if I can get the money together for a trip up there, I suppose you mean to come too, don't you? If not, the thing's off so far as I am concerned. You see, I am reckoning on you to get us through the Mazitu and into Pongo-land by the help of your friends."
"Certainly I mean to come. In fact, if you don't go, I shall start alone. I intend to explore Pongo-land even if I never come out of it again."
Once more I looked at him as I answered:
"You are ready to risk a great deal for a flower, John. Or are you looking for more than a flower? If so, I hope you will tell me the truth."
This I said as I was aware that Brother John had a foolish objection to uttering, or even acting lies.
"Well, Allan, as you put it like that, the truth is that I heard something more about the Pongo than I told you up country. It was after I had operated on that Kalubi, or I would have tried to get in alone. But this I could not do then as I have said."
"And what did you hear?"
"I heard that they had a white goddess as well as a white god."
"Well, what of it? A female gorilla, I suppose."
"Nothing, except that goddesses have always interested me. Good night."
"You are an odd old fish," I remarked after him, "and what is more you have got something up your sleeve. Well, I'll have it down one day.
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