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- The Ivory Trail - 1/83 -


THE IVORY TRAIL By Talbot Mundy

Author of King--of the Khyber Rifles The Winds of the World Hira Singh etc.

Chapter One

THE NJO HAPA* SONG

Green, ah greener than emeralds are, tree-tops beckon the dhows to land, White, oh whiter than diamonds are, blue waves burst on the amber sand, And nothing is fairer than Zanzibar from the Isles o' the West to the Marquesand.

I was old when the world was wild with youth (All love was lawless then!) Since 'Venture's birth from ends of earth I ha' called the sons of men, And their women have wept the ages out In travail sore to know What lure of opiate art can leach Along bare seas from reef to beach Until from port and river reach The fever'd captains go.

Red, oh redder than red lips are, my flowers nod in the blazing noon, Blue, oh bluer than maidens' eyes, are the breasts o' my waves in the young monsoon, And there are cloves to smell, and musk, and lemon trees, and cinnamon.

--------- *The words "Njo hapa" in the Kiswahili tongue are the equivalent of "come hither!" ---------

Estimates of ease and affluence vary with the point of view. While his older brother lived, Monty had continued in his element, a cavalry officer, his combined income and pay ample for all that the Bombay side of India might require of an English gentleman. They say that a finer polo player, a steadier shot on foot at a tiger, or a bolder squadron leader never lived.

But to Monty's infinite disgust his brother died childless. It is divulging no secret that the income that passed with the title varied between five and seven thousand pounds a year, according as coal was high, and tenants prosperous or not--a mere miserable pittance, of course, for the Earl of Montdidier and Kirkudbrightshire; so that all his ventures, and therefore ours, had one avowed end--shekels enough to lift the mortgages from his estates.

Five generations of soldiers had blazed the Montdidier fame on battle-grounds, to a nation's (and why not the whole earth's) benefit, without replenishing the family funds, and Monty (himself a confirmed and convinced bachelor) was minded when his own time should come to pass the title along to the next in line together with sufficient funds to support its dignity.

To us--even to Yerkes, familiar with United States merchant kings--he seemed with his thirty thousand dollars a year already a gilded Croesus. He had ample to travel on, and finance prospecting trips. We never lacked for working capital, but the quest (and, including Yerkes, we were as keen as he) led us into strange places.

So behold him--a privy councilor of England if you please--lounging in the lazaretto of Zanzibar, clothed only in slippers, underwear and a long blue dressing-gown. We three others were dressed the same, and because it smacked of official restraint we objected noisily; but Monty did not seem to mind much. He was rather bored, but unresentful.

A French steamer had put us ashore in quarantine, with the grim word cholera against us, and although our tale of suffering and Monty's rank, insured us a friendly reception, the port health authorities elected to be strict and we were given a nice long lazy time in which to cool our heels and order new clothes. (Guns, kit, tents, and all but what we stood in had gone to the bottom with the German cholera ship from whose life-boat the French had rescued us.)

"Keeping us all this time in this place, is sheer tyranny!" grumbled Yerkes. "If any one wants my opinion, they're afraid we'd talk if they let us out--more afraid of offending Germans than they are of cholera! Besides--any fool could know by now we're not sick!"

"There might be something in that," admitted Monty.

"I'd send for the U. S. Consul and sing the song out loud, but for you!" Yerkes added.

Monty nodded sympathetically.

"Dashed good of you, Will, and all that sort of thing."

"You English are so everlastingly afraid of seeming to start trouble, you'll swallow anything rather than talk!"

"As a government, perhaps yes," admitted Monty. "As a people, I fancy not. As a people we vary."

"You vary in that respect as much as sardines in a can! I traveled once all the way from London to Glasgow alone in one compartment with an Englishman. Talk? My, we were garrulous! I offered him a newspaper, cigarettes, matches, remarks on the weather suited to his brand of intelligence--(that's your sole national topic of talk between strangers!)--and all he ever said to me was 'Haw-ah!' I'll bet he was afraid of seeming to start trouble!"

"He didn't start any, did he?" asked Monty.

"Pretty nearly he did! I all but bashed him over the bean with the newspaper the third time he said 'haw-ah!'"

Monty laughed. Fred Oakes was busy across the room with his most amazing gift of tongues, splicing together half-a-dozen of them in order to talk with the old lazaretto attendant, so he heard nothing; otherwise there would have been argument.

"Then it would have been you, not he who started trouble,"' said I, and Yerkes threw both hands up in a gesture of despair.

"Even you're afraid of starting something!" He stared at both of us with an almost startled expression, as if he could not believe his own verdict, yet could not get away from it. "Else you'd give the Bundesrath story to the papers! That German skipper's conduct ought to be bruited round the world! You said you'd do it. You promised us! You told the man to his face you would!"

"Now," said Monty, "you've touched on another national habit."

"Which one?" Yerkes demanded.

"Dislike of telling tales out of school. The man's dead. His ship's at the bottom. The tale's ended. What's the use? Besides--?"

"Ah! You've another reason! Spill it!"

"As a privy councilor, y'know, and all that sort of thing--?"

"Same story! Afraid of starting something!"

"The Germans--'specially their navy men--drink to what they call Der Tag y'know--the day when they shall dare try to tackle England. We all know that. They're planning war, twenty years from now perhaps, that shall give them all our colonies as well as India and Egypt. They're so keen on it they can't keep from bragging. Great Britain, on the other hand, hasn't the slightest intention of fighting if war can be avoided; so why do anything meanwhile to increase the tension? Why send broadcast a story that would only arouse international hatred? That's their method. Ours--I mean our government's--is to give hatred a chance to die down. If our papers got hold of the Bundesrath story they'd make a deuce of a noise, of course."

"If your government's so sure Germany is planning war," objected Yerkes, "why on earth not force war, and feed them full of it before they're ready"

"Counsel of perfection," laughed Monty. "Government's responsible to the Common--Commons to the people--people want peace and plenty. No. Your guess was good. We are in here while the government at home squares the newspaper men."

"You don't mean to tell me your British government controls the press?"

"Hardly. Seeing 'em--putting it up to 'em straight--asking 'em politely. They're public-spirited, y'know. Hitting 'em with a club would be another thing. It's an easy-going nation, but kings have been sorry they tried force. Did you never hear of a king who used force against American colonies?"

"Good God! So they keep you--an earl--a privy councilor--a retired colonel of regulars in good standing--under lock and key in this pest-house while they bribe the press not to tell the truth about some Germans and start trouble?"

"Not exactly" said Monty.

"But here you are!"

"I preferred to remain with my party."

"You moan they'd have let you out and kept us in?"

"They'd have phrased it differently, but that's about what it would have amounted to. I have privileges."

"Well, I'm jiggered!"

"I rather suspect it's not so bad as that," said Monty. "You're with friends in quarantine, Will!"


The Ivory Trail - 1/83

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