― 75 ―

Peter Addie and the Ju-Ju

“OH Mother!” said Addie, mopping his bald head, “why did I leave my happy home in Stepney?” But he spoke in English, and the deputation didn't understand what he meant. What they did understand, and what they feared, was that the white man who had come to their village was going to take his incalculable benefits away from them. The headman leaned forward a little; a little fringe of white hair grew on his chin, and he was clad in a sopping blue toga-like garment which in his agitation he was screwing up into a rope round his waist.

“What the dickens do they want?” asked Addie of his servant, who acted as interpreter.

He sat in the doorway of a palm-thatched hut. The weeping sky was grey and sodden, and the rain came straight down as if it were poured out of a bucket. The narrow village street was worn into little waterways down which raced the water; the shade trees in the open dripped ceaselessly, so did the eaves of the huts; the forest which pressed in on the village was shrouded in a heavy mist; even the scavenger vultures had given up work and were perched forlornly on the tops of the huts with drooping wet wings.

“So they want the benefits of my sweet society,” said Addie, scratching his head, “an' it's suthin' to be wanted even by a nigger; but Lord love you, my friend, what have you got to offer?”

The headman had a great deal to say about the advantages of the village, and Addie listened patiently.

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“Kola nut,” said he to himself. “I believe you, my boy, there's money in kola nut; but the attentions of thirty-five different varieties of skeeters an' twenty-two different sorts of flyin' ants sorter tones things down, an' when I ain't got no whisky, nor flour, nor sugar, an' it's rained every day an' all day long for a week—no, my friend, unless you have suthin' better to offer,” and he put his remarks into forcible and much more grammatical Hausa, which Benjy interpreted into the jargon of the men before him.

“The great master,” said the headman, bowing humbly, “will bring prosperity to the land.”

“Well, the land at present,” said Addie, “is keepin' me mighty short of commons. I don't feel the land is doin' its share.”

The headman bowed again.

“Oh master,” he said, “the chickens shall be brought in.”

“An' seein' I'm about as sick of chicken as I well could be of anythin' 'cept jam,” opined Addie, “you might exercise your inventive genius. But where are all the blamed chickens?”

He might be sick of chicken, but he had to fill up with something, and he evidently had no faith in the inventive genius he invoked.

“The master shall have chicken, very good chicken, plump——”

The man at the headman's elbow had taken up the tale volubly, but he was cut short by a sound—wild, weird, long-drawn and ear-piercing. It swept right across the village. From the damp, sodden forest on one side it came, and went quavering away into the damp, sodden forest at the other. The deputation turned grey, and rushed, trembling, to hide its face against the streaming mud walls of the white man's hut, as if only safety could be found there.

“Mother, look at Dick!” cried Addie, starting up. The wail came again, rose to its full height and then, quavering, died away. Even Addie's own headman

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had grown ashen with terror and came a little closer to his master.

Addie gripped him by the collar of his shirt and shook him.

“There,” he said, “if your teeth must chatter, let 'em do it with a will. What is it, Benjy?”

“Master,” said Benjy, “it is an evil spirit that afflicts the village.”

“An evil spirit is it? He makes noise enough about it. The evil that I've met comes along quiet. Talk about the heathen in his blindness; this spirit's evidently found him deaf. An' what does the evil spirit do?”

“He has smitten the headman's mother so that her eyes fail to see, his brother's wives have no children, and he has sent a crying——”

“You needn't go into the cryin',” said Addie in English. “I've heard that. Anythin' else?”

“There is disease in the plantains——”

“There is,” acquiesced Addie solemnly; “nastier I never met. Don't mention it.”

“The rain——”

“An' you needn't tell me about the rain,” he added with suffering patience.

“And they have offered chickens——”

“Oh they have, have they? That accounts for the shortage.”

“Master, to-night they make big Ju-ju, and then the evil spirit will go.”

“Oh will it?” said Addie resignedly. “For heaven's sake let 'em make big Ju-ju, or anythin' else they like, but if I'm to stay I must have chicken. If the Lord knows the African pullet, which is doubtful, He knows I don't ask much, but if I'm to stay I must have it.”

And that night in the steaming heat and the pouring rain Addie, looking out on life from his hut door, was startled to see a procession tramping slowly along the village street. A couple of grass torches sputtered in the rain, the tom-toms beat insistently, now loud and

  ― 78 ―
strong, now dying away, and the procession was led by the chief medicine man, a wrinkled, white-headed old negro with an apron of grass and leopard tails, a necklace of human small bones and his hair decorated with leopard claws. In his hands he held a couple of human skulls, which he clashed together, chanting a low and monotonous chant.

“Nice old party,” said Addie, looking to his revolver.

Behind him walked the headmen of the village, with heads bowed. Raised aloft in their midst was a platform, and on it, shown up clearly in the flickering torchlight, was a small and chubby, naked child. Round her neck was a string of red beads, and the little body was all painted with some white pigment. She did not look happy, poor mite, and had been wailing bitterly. The little fists had rubbed rings round her eyes, and the rain had run the white pigment into streaks.

“What the h——” cried Addie, stepping forward, but the faithful Benjy pulled him back so hastily that he slipped and fell on the slippery clay and came into the hut on his hands and knees. By the time he had corrected Benjy in a manner suited to the offence, the procession had passed on; the people were but murky smudges on the misty darkness, and there was only the beating of the tom-toms and the yellow blur of the torches to tell that anything unusual had happened.

“Do that again, Benjy,” said Addie, “an' I'll put the fear of the Lord into you,” and he went back for his revolver.

“Master,” apologised the man, “it no be good look upon 'em Ju-ju.”

“That,” said Addie, “is all very well, but what are they doin' with that poor little nipper? The others were wadin' in an' havin' a good time, but she worn't.”

“Master,” implored the man, “you go die. Dere be plenty more mammy picken lib.”

Addie stopped for a moment with an uncomfortable feeling.

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“Benjy,” he said, and the tubby little trader sank his voice before the horror of the thing, “they're not goin' to kill the poor little nipper?”

He asked the question, but he did not need the answer. He knew. The village was in dire straits: the rains were prolonged unduly, the plantains were rotten, other food there was none, and he knew, none better, that to these people the time seemed now to have arrived for strong measures. Something more valuable than a goat or a hen must be offered to the offended deity if things were to mend. That is how it would appear to the African mind. And he was the only white man, as far as he knew, within miles of the place.

“Dey no go kill him,” said Benjy, sinking his voice and looking round as if he feared he should be overheard; “he belong Ju-ju.”

Addie sat himself down on the only stool the hut contained, and looked out on the pouring rain with a troubled countenance.

Benjy offered such consolation as occurred to him.

“He no be your picken.”

“No, he ain't my picken,” laughed Addie ruefully. “What a blamed nuisance a conscience is. To think twenty years of tradin' ain't got rid of mine,” and he shook his head solemnly. He rose and put his revolver in his belt.

“Now, Benjy,” he said, “you can please yourself. I'm goin' to inspect the Ju-ju.”

“Master,” protested the man again, “you go die.”

“Well, life ain't been that pleasant of late,” reflected Addie aloud, “an' addin' an uneasy conscience to it——”

“Master,” cried Benjy vehemently, “dis be bad palaver. Some white man go for Ju-ju house, an' Ju-ju vexed too much.”

“A white man!” Addie stopped in astonishment. He thought he was the first white man who had visited this village. “A white man! Where did he come from?”

  ― 80 ―

That Benjy did not know. He rather thought he had come from the big water, meaning the Niger, and he had no doubt as to his fate. There could be but one fate for the white man who meddled with so great a Ju-ju. “He lib for dead. And,” he dropped into Hausa, “Ju-ju had torn the flesh from his bones and scattered it.” He did not wish his master to share the unknown man's fate.

His master was much his way of thinking, but, as he said, he was troubled with a conscience, and he resolutely went out into the rain, with Benjy following reluctantly at his heels. He feared lest his master should risk too much, but he feared to be left alone without him.

The faint light of the flickering torches was blotted out now; the rain was coming down steadily, and fainter and fainter and more distant came the sound of the tom-toms. In their direction Addie followed. The sound of the rushing rain blotted out all other sounds; the pouring water and the dark night wrapped him round like some living thing, and inspired him with awe and fear for all his sound common sense, and thankful was he that his servant kept so close.

Narrower and narrower grew the path they followed; the forest pressed in on them, the rain took their very breath away, and then the leaves overhead closed in and it was a tunnel—a leafy tunnel that he could feel and not see—and the water was coming in at every interstice, and the sound of it was dull, monotonous, all-pervading, the want of air was stifling.

Addie plodded on, hardly knowing where he was going or what he expected to see. Then, just as the path was widening a little, there burst on the sound of the rain another, ear-piercing, blood-curdling, the sound that had disturbed the deputation of the morning. Benjy, with a muffled yell, clutched at his master, and Addie jumped back fully five feet. But a very pressing and a very material danger brought his wits to work. He heard the sound of hurried flight ahead, and in a second had pressed Benjy back against the dense

  ― 81 ―
tangled mass of the forest wall that held them in; and not one moment too soon, for presently, in full flight, tumbling over one another in their fear, came the procession that had passed his hut but a short time before.

In the dense darkness he could not see them; their torches were gone, it was evidently each man for himself. He could hear their cries of fear, the plashing of their hurried footsteps in the water; he could smell the rank smell of the negro above the dank, close vegetable smell of the forest; and more than one touched him as he fled, but none seemed to realise that the secrets of their ghastly faith were in danger.

When the tumultuous array had rushed past, Addie stood up with a long-drawn sigh, and turned his face resolutely in the direction whence the disorganised company had fled.

“Master, master,” implored Benjy frantically.

“You cut, Benjy, if you don't like it,” said his master imperturbably; “do you think I hanker after the job? Mother! You bet I don't. But where's that picken? I didn't hear her comin' along.” And he marched resolutely on, Benjy, afraid to go back by himself, and afraid to stay there alone, following reluctantly in his wake.

The forest cleared a little. He could see that even in the gloom. Instead of dense leafage there was a little sky overhead, the rain came straight down out of it instead of percolating through the branches, and there came to his nostrils an offensive odour—organic matter rotting. He thought he could see in the centre of the clearing a thatched hut, and he knew he must have reached his goal.

“A tall smell like that——” he began, but Benjy clutched him, imploring silence, and the wisdom of it appealed to Addie. He did not want any man who might have been brave enough to stay behind to know that he, the white man, had endeavoured to penetrate their mysteries unless he was sure it would do some good.

  ― 82 ―

Out of the rain and darkness came the piercing cry again, much louder this time, and Benjy, terror getting the better of respect, clutched at his master. Addie felt his courage ebbing. A street training is good up to a certain point. Rain and loneliness and darkness, Addie had suffered them all in his youth, and why—why he asked himself should he let such simple things terrify him here. But there is a vein of superstition in all of us who have imagination, a fear of the unreal and unknown that will not be stifled and kept down, and, uneducated child of a great city as he was, Addie had it in a greater degree than he knew himself. He feared, though what he feared he could not have told. He said to himself that he only feared the violence of the people of the village, but he walked warily, he looked to right and left, he listened intently, and he almost forgot the good revolver at his belt. After all, what can weapons do against the powers of darkness? But he walked steadily on. The ground was soft with the beating rain, and soft, too, with something else. Addie knew he was walking over decay. He knew not what he might tread on next; every footstep made him shudder, and he realised with dismay that every nerve in his body was shrinking with fear lest there really might be something in that gross superstition of the natives.

He forgot the child he had come in search of in his effort to keep his fears under proper control, to force himself to go forward, to hide from the man at his heels how near he was to giving way. Slowly, slowly, and the filth and rottenness under foot grew more horrible, the stench more stifling. There was something sinister in the steady plash of the falling rain.

But he went on though his heart was in his throat and there was a beating in his ears that drowned all other sounds. The rain was on his face and on his bare head, the warm rain of the Tropics, and behold it was cold and clammy, and then the Ju-ju hut loomed up a darker splotch on the darkness. Could he go in? Could he? Dare he?

He would gladly have turned and fled now from the

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uncanny place, but that close behind him he could hear Benjy gasping and gurgling with terror. It sounded so human it encouraged him to go on. His courage was in both hands, clasped tight. Another step across the rotting filth, another, another. Peter Addie had known what fear was before, but always he had feared a tangible foe, now he feared something he could neither see nor hear nor understand.

The other white man who had dared this thing had died—died—so his thoughts ran in painful jerks, and how long had he suffered, how long had he taken to die—what had he suffered? They were close against the Ju-ju house now. He could see the loom of it against the darkness and the falling rain, and—oh comforting sound!—he could hear Benjy's teeth chattering. Nothing had happened—of course nothing would happen. Presently when he was sheltered he would strike a match.

What was that?

Surely it was another sound beside their own stealthy movements, a still, slow movement inside the Ju-ju house. He heard Benjy give a sob of terror, a sob that reassured him because of the humanity of it. He turned to reprove him, and then when he turned again something had altered. He saw a gleam of light, weird and unearthly, guarding the threshold. It rose, it hung in mid air, it seemed to come forward. Addie had a sensation as of clutching hands, of some mighty thing bending forward. He felt a cold sweat break out on his forehead, his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, there was a horrible creepy sensation at his spine, something was crushing his heart; a ghastly spell was upon him. Whatever happened he knew he could not lift a finger to defend himself. The unearthly light grew, widened, it rose higher in the air. Addie crouched before it. What must be, must be, even if the end were death.

And then help came.

Benjy's nerves and his pluck and his faith in his master gave out together, and with a wild yell he turned

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and fled. It broke the spell. If he could do nothing else Addie felt all at once that he could run away, and he followed in the footsteps of his servant across filth and rottenness and decay. At the edge of the forest he caught him up, and the man let out another shriek as he felt his hand on his shoulder.

Addie shook him well, and into his arms he put all the force of his own disappointment.

“Blamed if I didn't scoot like a bloomin' frightened rabbit,” he said to himself; but when Benjy twisted himself out of his wrathful hands and flew like the wind in the direction of the village, Peter Addie found it took him all his courage to retreat soberly and quietly. Not for all the kola nut in Africa would he have dared go back. If he had heard but the slightest movement behind him that he could not trace to the rain forcing its way through the leaves, he knew he would have fled in a panic; but nothing did happen, and he reached the safety of his leaky hut and kicked off his filthy boots. But he did not kick Benjy.

“Oughter be kicked meself,” he said remorsefully. “I ain't no better than a heathen nigger. Who'd 'a thought I'd enjoyed the blessin's of civilisation? An' what's become of that poor little nipper? She ain't nothen to me. Oh Lord! Oh Lord! What a bloomin' noosiance a conscience is! I guess I must send for the Commissioner.”

He felt cheap and small and mightily ashamed of himself. But there was nothing else for it. Next day there wasn't even a chicken to be had, and he was reduced to eating bad kenky like the men. The rain was persistent, and terrifying cries came out of the forest. Addie thought of departing bag and baggage, but whether he would or no, the thought of the forlorn little child offered for sacrifice came between him and his ease of mind.

“Oh d—— it,” said the little trader, “a black picken too,” and he wrote off to the nearest district Commissioner.

“Come at once,” was the tenor of his note;

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“they're sacrificing little girls, and I'm blessed if I know what becomes of them.”

And the D.C. on the whole was glad to have something to relieve the deadly monotony of his life, and sooner than Addie could have believed possible, on the first fine day they had had for weeks, down the tunnellike path that led to the village came a hammock with John Everad, D.C., lolling back in it, and at his heels half-a-dozen workmanlike black policemen with red fezes on their heads and carbines over their shoulders.

Addie went out to welcome him.

“Glad to see you,” said the Commissioner.

“I'm damn glad to see you,” said Peter Addie, holding out his hand. “An' I'm sorry I've nothen to offer but jam. We're out of chicken.”

“What's the row?”

“Hanged if I know. I just dassent raid the beastly place on my lonesome. If it warn't for that blessed little picken who after all ain't nothen to me, I'd clear out an' leave the bloomin' hole. Blest if I know what a trader's doin' with a conscience.”

“Well, I've come hell for leather to help you, Addie,” said the Commissioner cheerfully, “and I don't see myself doing that for most of the traders on this coast. Now suppose we——”

Out of the forest again came that long-drawn, weird cry. The villagers, crowding to look at the white men, raised a howl of terror, and the representatives of law and order jumped in the most unseemly manner.

“Now I call that obligin',” said Addie.

The Commissioner was out of his hammock like a shot. “Six policemen, you and I,” he said briskly. “We ought to be able to hold all this village off if they object to our investigating.”

“Lord love you!” said Addie, and he did not think it necessary to mention his own terrors; they had vanished before the daylight, the D.C., and the policemen, “they're in such a blessed funk, they'll be almost glad for a couple of white men to look into things.”

“Come on then.”

  ― 86 ―

And once more Addie found himself tramping along the path that led to the village Ju-ju house, and it was very different to creeping through alone in the darkness and the rain as he had done before.

“The last time I gave it up as a bad job,” he said remorsefully, “an' I've had the poor little picken on me conscience ever since.”

“Here we are, I think,” said the Commissioner as the forest lightened, the hard cobalt blue sky showed through the all-pervading green, and there rose to their nostrils the horrible smell of decay.

“Phew!” said Everad, “there's something to be said for the missionary!”

“That's a matter of taste,” said Addie imperturbably. “The nigger likes his stinks tall, and, bless you, the nigger don't get much that he likes in this village.”

“Well, he gets stinks,” said the D.C. solemnly. “Now the question is, couldn't we make it a comfort to the people to have the place burned down. I always work by the barometer myself. The glass is going up.”

“You're goin' to run in a miracle on 'em an' fetch the fine weather?”

The lean brown young fellow looked up into the hard blue sky. “The fine weather's come. They can see that for themselves. You arranged for that. I'll ensure it. Now that old rotten cotton tree——”

Out of the forest close beside them came again that long-drawn cry. Addie started, but it was not half so terrifying in the broad daylight, with the sunshine flickering down between the leaves and the British Empire in bush shirt and sun helmet beside him.

“I believe,” said the D.C., one hand on the Ju-ju house, the other switching his stick lightly against the posts of the door, “I could do that with a cab whistle.”

“Mother, look at Dick!” cried Addie, and on the other side of the little clearing the leaves of the dense forest parted and out of the gloom into the brilliant tropical sunshine there stalked a tall figure simply clad in a very battered helmet and the ragged remains of a

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red shirt. His lean brown legs were bare, and on his feet were rough attempts at sandals.

The two white men stood stock still, and the figure came straight towards them.

“Good Lord!” said the Commissioner with a gasp.

“It's I who should say that,” said the newcomer.

“English, by the Lord Harry!” cried Addie.

The D.C. had his eyes on the man's hands.

“A flute,” he said, “so you did it with a flute?”

“Broken,” said the stranger, as if he would not take too much credit, and he held up a musical instrument as damaged and forlorn as himself.

“I said a cab whistle,” murmured the D.C. with infinite satisfaction, for your Government official, however good a fellow he may be in private, does like to show himself right in the eyes of those he rules over.

At the entrance to the clearing now were pressing a little crowd of the villagers. They were taking the disturbing of their holy places quietly; things had apparently gone so badly of late that it might be they were of opinion they could hardly be worse. Addie thought of his hurried flight a night or so ago, and was bitterly ashamed.

“An' now may I ask,” said he, “what the dickens you mean by scarin' the life out of a decent quiet countryside, bringing his Majesty's Commissioner sixty mile from his happy home, an' makin' your meals of innercent little black pickens?”

“And what do you mean?” asked the stranger whimsically, “by letting them feed me up with black pickens when all I asked was a decent rooster. I've the beginnings of a baby farm behind there, and the job it's been to keep that nursery going. Such an appetite as it's got! I was not intended for a family man.”

“Mother!” cried Addie.

“What's the meaning of it all?” asked the D.C., not as if he were asking for information for himself, but just in order that Addie and the policemen and the villagers crowding into the open might have the thing

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explained to them, for a Government official does not need anything explained, he knows everything.

“My name's Thomas Gregory,” said the stranger; “I've been looking into the fetish worship and——” He hesitated.

“Got yourself into trouble,” said the D.C. “Of course you would. Are you the white man who meddled with the Ju-ju here?”

“I merely satisfied my curiosity,” said Gregory, “at least I tried to.”

“And what are you doing here now?”

“Sounds as if you thought I were having a good time. I'm stopping now because I can't get away. I scared them with the whistle, and they kindly sacrificed chickens; but I tell you it got on my nerves when they took to sacrificing little girls.”

Addie gave a sigh. “That little gal has been awful on me conscience.”

“Not half as bad as having her on your hands,” retorted the stranger. “It was pretty nearly finished though when two of them got up sufficient courage to come back and see how Ju-ju liked his gift. I thought I was done for.”

The little trader groaned.

“Oh Lord! The things we don't know! You don't mean to say it was you scared me that night I came to investigate.”

The lean face under the battered helmet broadened into a smile. “Never—never was so scared in my life. I thought I was done for. I reached for the god himself, and went for the intruder. My word, it was lucky you fled! The faithful have stuck him full of nails, and I'd have let you have it. You never spoke. How could I guess you were a white man?”

“The light,” said Addie shamefacedly.

The other laughed. “He does show up in the dark, doesn't he? Phosphorescent light from decaying wood I take it. They anoint their god with all sorts of nastiness. Now what am I to do with that picken?”

“Hand her over to the missionaries,” said the

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Commissioner. “I'll see about that. Unless,” he turned to Addie, who was still meditating sadly on his own lack of pluck, “the village will take her back.”

“Wouldn't touch her with a barge pole.”

“Cheer up,” said Gregory, “it was worse for me than you. If I could only have guessed there was a white man so close! You're thinking it was bad for you, but you'll never realise the awful time I put in. Now if either of you gentlemen will give me a pair of trousers and help me down to the coast, I guess I've done with Africa.”