The Savage in the Immigrant’s House
One year the long rains failed.
That is a terrible tremendous experience, and the farmer who has lived through it, will never forget it. Years afterwards away from Africa, in the wet climate of a Northern country, he will start up at night at the sound of a sudden shower of rain, and cry, “At last, at last.”
In normal years the long rains began in the last week of March and went on into the middle of June. Up to the time of the rains, the world grew hotter and drier every day, feverish, as in Europe before a great thunderstorm, only more so.
The Masai, who were my neighbours on the other side of the river, at that time set fire to the bast-dry plains to get new green grass for their cattle with the first rain, and the air over the plains danced with the mighty conflagration; the long and rainbow-tinted layers of smoke rolled along over the and the heat the smell of burning were drifted in over the cultivated land as from a furnace.
Gigantic clouds gathered, and dissolved again, over the grey grass landscape; a light distant shower of rain painted a blue slanting streak across the horizon. All the world had only one thought.
On an evening just before sunset, the scenery drew close round you, the hills came near and were vigorous, meaningful, in their clear, deep blue and green colouring. A couple of hours later you went out and saw that the stars had gone, and you felt the night-air soft and deep and pregnant with benefaction.
When the quickly growing rushing sound wandered over your head it was the wind in the tall forest-trees,—and not the rain. When it ran along the ground it was the wind in the shrubs and the long grass,—and not the rain. When it rustled and rattled just above the ground it was the wind in the maize-fields,—where it sounded so much like rain that you were taken in, time after time, and even got a certain content from it, as if you were at least shown the thing you longed for acted on a stage,—and not the rain.
But when the earth answered like a sounding-board in a deep fertile roar, and the world sang round you in all dimensions, all above and below,—that was the rain. It was like coming back to the Sea, when you have been a long time away from it, like a lover’s embrace.
But one year the long rains failed. It was, then, as if the Universe were turning away from you. It grew cooler, on some days it would be cold, but there was no sign of moisture in the atmosphere. Everything became drier and harder, and it was as if all force and gracefulness had withdrawn from the world. It was not bad weather or good weather, but a negation of all weather, as if it had been deferred sine die. A bleak wind, like a draught, ran over your head, all colour faded from all things; the smells went away from the fields and forests. This feeling of being in disgrace with the Great Powers pressed on you. To the South, the burnt plains lay black and waste, striped with grey and white ashes.
With every day, in which we now waited for the rain in vain, prospects and hopes of the farm grew dim, and disappeared. The ploughing, pruning and planting of the last months turned out to be a labour of fools. The farm work slowed off, and stood still.
On the plains and in the hills, the waterholes dried up, and many new kinds of ducks and geese came to my pond. To the pond on the boundary of the farm, the Zebra came wandering in the early mornings and at sunset to drink, in long rows, two or three hundred of them, the foals walking with the mares, and they were not afraid of me when I rode out amongst them. But we tried to keep them off the land for the sake of our cattle, for the water was sinking in the ponds. Still it was a pleasure to go down there, where the rushes growing in the mud made a green patch in the brown landscape.
The Natives became silent under the drought, I could not get a word on the prospects out of them, although you would have thought that they should have known more about the signs of the weather than we did. It was their existence which was at stake, it was not an unheard of thing to them,—and had not been to their fathers,—to lose nine-tenths of their stock in the great years of drought. Their shambas were dry, with a few drooping and withering sweet-potato and maize plants.
After a time I learned their manner from them, and gave up talking of the hard times or complaining about them, like a person in disgrace. But I was a European, and I had not lived long enough in the country to acquire the absolute passivity of the Native, as some Europeans will do, who live for many decennaries in Africa. I was young, and by instinct of self-preservation, I had to collect my energy on something, if I were not to be whirled away with the dust on the farm-roads, or the smoke on the plain. I began in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times.
I had been telling some of the stories to a friend when he came to stay on the farm.
When I got up and went outside, there was a cruel wind blowing, the sky was clear and set with millions of hard stars, everything was dry.
At first I wrote in the evenings only, but later on I often sat down to write in the mornings as well, when I ought to have been out on the farm. It was difficult, out there, to decide whether we ought to plough the maize-field up again and plant it a second time, and whether we ought to strip the withering coffee berries off the trees to save the trees, or not. I put the decisions off from day to day.
I used to sit and write in the dining-room, with papers spread all over the dinner table, for I had accounts and estimates of the farm to do, in between my stories, and little desolate notes from my farm manager to answer. My houseboys asked me what I was doing; when I told them I was trying to write a book, they looked upon it as a last attempt to save the farm through the hard times, and took an interest in it. Later they asked me how my book was proceeding. They would come in, and stand for a long time watching the progress of it, and in the panelled room their heads were so much the colour of the panels, that at night it looked as if they were white robes only, keeping me company with their backs to the wall.
My dining-room looked West, and had three long windows that opened out to the paved terrace, the lawn and the forest. The land here sloped down to the river that formed the boundary between me and the Masai. You could not see the river itself from the house, but you could follow its winding course by the design of the dark-green big Acacias which grew along it. To the other side of it the wood-clad land rose again, and over the woods were the green plains that reached to the foot of the Ngong Hills.
“And were my faith so strong that it could move mountains, that is the mountain that I would make come to me.”
The wind blew from the East: the doors of my dining-room, to lee, were always open, and for this reason the West side of the house was popular with the Natives; they laid their way round it, to keep in touch with what was going on inside. From the same motive the little Native herdboys brought their goats round and made them graze on the lawn.
These little boys, who wandered about on the farm in the company of their fathers’ herds of goats and sheep, looking up grazing for them, did in a way form a link between the life of my civilized house and the life of the wild. My houseboys distrusted them and did not like them to come into the rooms, but the children had a real love and enthusiasm for civilization; to them it held no dangers at all, for they could leave it again whenever they liked. The central symbol of it to them, was an old German cuckoo-clock that hung in the dining-room. A clock was entirely an object of luxury in the African Highlands. All the year round you could tell, from the position of the sun, what the time was, and as you had no dealings with railways, and could arrange your life on the farm according to your own wishes, it became a matter of no importance. But this was a very fine clock. In the midst of a cluster of pink roses, at every full hour, a cuckoo here flung up its little door and threw itself forward to announce the hour in a clear insolent voice. Its apparition was every time a fresh delight to the young people of the farm. From the position of the sun, they judged accurately when the moment for the midday call was due, and by a quarter to twelve I could see them approaching the house from all sides, at the tail of their goats, which they dared not leave behind. The heads of the children and of the goats swam through the bush and long grass of the forest like heads of frogs in a pond.
They left their flocks on the lawn and came in noiselessly on their bare feet; the bigger ones were about ten years and the youngest two years. They behaved very well, and kept up a sort of self-made ceremonial for their visits, which came to this: that they could move about freely in the house so long as they did not touch anything, nor sit down, nor speak unless spoken to. As the cuckoo rushed out on them, a great movement of ecstasy and suppressed laughter ran through the group. It also sometimes happened that a very small herdboy, who did not feel any responsibility about the goats, would come back in the early morning all by himself, stand for a long time in front of the clock, now shut up and silent, and address it in Kikuyu in a slow sing-song declaration of love, then gravely walk out again. My houseboys laughed at the herdboys, and confided to me that the children were so ignorant that they believed the cuckoo to be alive.
Now my houseboys came in themselves to watch the work of the typewriter. Kamante sometimes stood by the wall for an hour in the evening, his eyes ran to and fro like dark drops under the eyelashes, as if he meant to learn enough about the machine to take it to pieces and put it together again.
One night as I looked up I met these profound attentive eyes and after a moment he spoke. “Msabu,” he said, “do you believe yourself that you can write a book?”
I answered that I did not know.
To figure to oneself a conversation with Kamante one must imagine a long, pregnant, as if deeply responsible, pause before each phrase. All Natives are masters in the art of the pause and thereby give perspective to a discussion.
Kamante now made such a long pause, and then said, “I do not believe it.”
I had nobody else to discuss my book with; I laid down my paper and asked him why not. I now found that he had been thinking the conversation over before, and prepared himself for it; he stood with the Odyssey itself behind his back, and here he laid it on the table.
“Look, Msabu,” he said, “this is a good book. It hangs together from the one end to the other. Even if you hold it up and shake it strongly, it does not come to pieces. The man who has written it is very clever. But what you write,” he went on, both with scorn and with a sort of friendly compassion, “is some here and some there. When the people forget to close the door it blows about, even down on the floor and you are angry. It will not be a good book.”
I explained to him that in Europe the people would be able to fix it all up together.
“Will your book then be as heavy as this?” Kamante asked, weighing the Odyssey.
When he saw that I hesitated he handed it to me in order that I might judge for myself.
“No,” I said, “it will not, but there are other books in the library, as you know, that are lighter.”
“And as hard?” he asked.
I said it was expensive to make a book so hard.
He stood for some time in silence and then expressed his greater hopes of my book, and perhaps also repentance of his doubts, by picking up the scattered pages from the floor and laying them on the table. Still he did not go away, but stood by the table and waited, and then asked me gravely: “Msabu, what is there in books?”
As an illustration, I told him the story from the Odyssey of the hero and Polyphemus, and of how Odysseus had called himself Noman, had put out Polyphemus’ eye, and had escaped tied up under the belly of a ram.
Kamante listened with interest and expressed as his opinion, that the ram must have been of the same race as the sheep of Mr. Long, of Elmentaita, which he had seen at the cattle-show in Nairobi. He came back to Polyphemus, and asked me if he had been black, like the Kikuyu. When I said no, he wanted to know if Odysseus had been of my own tribe or family.
“How did he,” he asked, “say the word, Noman, in his own language? Say it.”
“He said Outis,” I told him. “He called himself Outis, which in his language means Noman.”
“Must you write about the same thing?” he asked me.
“No,” I said, “people can write of anything they like. I might write of you.”
Kamante who had opened up in the course of the talk, here suddenly closed again, he looked down himself and asked me in a low voice, what part of him I would write about.
“I might write about the time when you were ill and were out with the sheep on the plain,” I said, “what did you think of then?”
His eyes wandered over the room, up and down; in the end he said vaguely: “Sejui ”—I know not.
“Were you afraid?” I asked him.
After a pause, “Yes,” he said firmly, “all the boys on the plain are afraid sometimes.”
“Of what were you afraid?” I said.
Kamante stood silent for a little while, his face became collected and deep, his eyes gazed inward. Then he looked at me with a little wry grimace:
“Of Outis,” he said. “The boys on the plain are afraid of Outis.”
A few days later, I heard Kamante explain to the other houseboys that in Europe the book which I was writing could be made to stick together, and that with terrible expense it could even be made as hard as the Odyssey, which was again displayed. He himself, however, did not believe that it could be made blue.
Kamante had a talent of his own that became of use to him in my house. He could, I believe, cry when he wanted to.
If ever I scolded him in earnest, he stood up straight before me and looked me in the face, with that watchful, deep sadness which the faces of the Natives take on in a single moment; then his eyes welled, and filled with heavy tears that slowly, one by one, rolled out and down over his cheeks. I knew them to be pure crocodile’s tears, and in other people they would not have affected me. But with Kamante it was a different thing. His flat wooden face, on these occasions, sank back into the world of darkness and infinite loneliness, in which he had dwelt for many years. Such heavy, dumb tears he might have wept as a little boy on the plain, with the sheep round him. They made me uneasy, and gave to the sins for which I scolded him a different aspect, a smaller look so that I did not want to go on talking about them. In a way it was a demoralizing thing. Still I believe that by strength of the true human understanding which existed between us, Kamante knew in his heart that I looked through his tears of contrition and did not take them for more than they were,—indeed that he himself looked upon them more as a ceremony due to the higher powers, than as any attempt to deceive.
He often referred to himself as a Christian. I did not know what idea he attached to the name, and once or twice I tried to catechize him, but then he explained to me that he believed what I believed, and that, since I myself must know what I believed, there was no sense in me questioning him. I found that this was more than an evasion, it was in a way his positive programme, or confession of faith. He had given himself under the God of the white people. In His service he was prepared to carry out any order, but he would not take upon himself to give reasons for a working system which might prove to be as unreasonable as the working systems of the white people themselves.
It sometimes happened that my behaviour clashed with the teachings of the Scotch Mission, where he had been converted; then he would ask me which was right.
The lack of prejudice in the Natives is a striking thing, for you expect to find dark taboos in the primitive people. It is due, I believe, to their acquaintance with a variety of races and tribes, and to the lively human intercourse that was brought upon East Africa, first by the old traders of ivory and slaves, and in our days by the settlers and big-game hunters. Nearly every Native, down to the little herdboys of the plains, has in his day stood face to face with a whole range of nations as different from one another, and to him, as a Sicilian to an Esquimo: Englishmen, Jews, Boers, Arabs, Somali Indians, Swaheli, Masai and Kawirondo. As far as receptivity of ideas goes, the Native is more of a man of the world than the suburban or provincial settler or missionary, who has grown up in a uniform community and with a set of stable ideas. Much of the misunderstanding between the white people and the Natives arises from this fact.
It is an alarming experience to be, in your person, representing Christianity to the Natives.
There was a young Kikuyu by the name of Kitau, who came in from the Kikuyu Reserve and took service with me. He was a meditative boy, an observant, attentive servant and I liked him well. After three months he one day asked me to give him a letter of recommendation to my old friend Sheik Ali bin Salim, the Lewali of the Coast, at Mombasa, for he had seen him in my house and now, he said, he wished to go and work for him. I did not want Kitau to leave just when he had learned the routine of the house, and I said to him that I would rather raise his pay. No, he said he was not leaving to get any higher pay, but he could not stay. He told me that he had made up his mind, up in the Reserve, that he would become either a Christian or a Mohammedan, only he did not yet know which. For this reason he had come and worked for me, since I was a Christian, and he had stayed for three months in my house to see the testurde,—the ways and habits,—of the Christians. From me he would go for three months to Sheik Ali in Mombasa and study the testurde of the Mohammedans; then he would decide. I believe that even an Archbishop, when he had had these facts laid before him, would have said, or at least have thought, as I said: “Good God, Kitau, you might have told me that when you came here.”
The Mohammedans will not eat meat of any animal that has not had its throat cut by a Mohammedan in the orthodox manner. This is often a difficulty on a Safari, where you carry few provisions with you, and are dependent for your servants’ food on the game you shoot. When you shoot a Kongoni and it falls, your Mohammedans rush at it, as upon wings, to be in time to cut the throat of it before it dies, and you yourself watch them in suspense, with burning eyes, for if they are seen standing over it with hanging arms and head, it means that the Kongoni has died before they got up to it, and you will have to stalk another Kongoni, or your gun-bearers will go starving.
When in the beginning of the war I was going out with my ox-waggons, the night before I started I happened to meet the Mohammedan Shereef up at Kijabe; I asked him if he could not give my people dispensation from the law for as long as our Safari lasted.
The Shereef was a young man, but wise, and he talked with Farah and Ismail and pronounced: “This lady is a disciple of Jesus Christ. When she fires off her rifle, she will say, or at least in her heart say: In the name of God, which will make her bullets equivalent to the knife of the orthodox Mohammedan. For the length of time of this journey, you can eat the meat of the animals that she shoots.”
The prestige of the Christian religion in Africa was weakened by the intolerance that the one Christian church showed towards the other.
On Christmas nights while I was in Africa I used to drive over to the French Mission to hear the Midnight Mass. It was generally hot at this time of the year; as you drove through the wattle plantation, you heard the chiming of the Mission bell a long way in the clear warm air. A crowd of happy, lively people were at the place round the church when you arrived, the French and Italian shopkeepers of Nairobi with their families had come out, the nuns from the convent school were present, and the Native congregation swarmed in gay clothes. The big fine church was lighted with many hundred candles and with great transparencies which the Fathers had themselves made.
When Christmas came, in the first year after Kamante had come into my house, I told him that I was going to take him with me to the Mass, as a fellow Christian, and described to him the beautiful things that he was going to see there, in the manner of the Fathers themselves. Kamante listened to it all, moved in his soul, and put on the best clothes he had. But when the car was at the door, he came back in great agitation of mind and said that he could not possibly come with me. He did not want to give me his reasons, and flinched from my questions; in the end it came out. No, he could not go, he had by now realized that it was to the French Mission that I meant to take him, and he had been so strongly warned against that Mission when he had been in Hospital. I explained to him that this was all a misunderstanding, and that he must come now. But at that he began to turn to stone before my eyes, he died, he turned up his eyes so that only the white showed in them and sweated in the face.
“No, no, Msabu,” he whispered, “I am not coming with you. There inside that big church, I know it well, there is a Msabu who is mbaia sana,”—terribly bad.
When I heard this I became very sad, but I thought that now I would indeed have to take him with me so that the Virgin herself could enlighten him. The Fathers had a life-size pasteboard statue of the Virgin in their Church, all blue and white, and the Natives are generally impressed by statues, while it is difficult to them to conceive the idea of a picture. So I promised Kamante my protection and took him with me, and when he walked into the Church, very close at my heels, he forgot all his scruples. It happened to be the finest Christmas Mass that they had ever had at the Mission. There was in the Church a very big Nativity,—a grotto with the Holy Family, just out from Paris, which was illuminated by radiant stars in a blue sky, and it had round it a hundred toy animals, wooden cows and pure white cotton-wool lambs, without any petty consideration as to their size, that must have raised ecstasy in the hearts of the Kikuyus.
After Kamante had become a Christian he was no longer afraid to touch a dead body.
Earlier in his life he had been afraid of it, and when a man, who had been carried on a stretcher up to the terrace by my house, died there, he would no more than the others lend a hand to carry him back; he did not recede, like the other people, on to the lawn, but he stood immovable upon the pavement, a little dark monument. Why the Kikuyu, who personally have so little fear of death, should be so terrified to touch a corpse, while the white people, who are afraid to die, handle the dead easily, I do not know. Here once more you feel their reality to be different from our realities. But all farmers know that here is a domain on which you cannot control the Native, and that you will save yourself trouble if you give up the idea at once, for he will really rather die than change his ways.
Now the terror had disappeared out of Kamante’s heart; he scorned it in his kinsmen. He did even show off a little here, as if to boast of the power of his God. It happened that I had opportunities to test his faith, and that Kamante and I came to carry three dead people between us, in the course of our life on the farm. One was a young Kikuyu girl who was run over by an ox cart outside my house. The second was a young Kikuyu who was killed while he was felling trees in the forest. The third was an old white man who came to live on the farm, played a part in the life of it, and died there.
He was a countryman of mine, an old blind Dane by the name of Knudsen. One day when I was in Nairobi he fumbled his way up to my car, presented himself, and asked me to give him a house on my land, as he had no place in the world to stay in. I had at that time been reducing my staff of white people on the plantation, and had an empty bungalow that I could lend him, and he came out and lived on the farm for six months.
He was a singular figure to have on a highland farm: so much a creature of the Sea that it was as if we had had an old clipped albatross with us. He was all broken by the hardships of life, and by disease and drink, bent and crooked, with the curious colouring of redhaired people gone white, as if he had in reality strewn ashes upon his head, or as if he was marked by his own element and had been salted. But there was an unquenchable flame in him which no ashes could cover. He came of Danish fisherman stock and had been a sailor, and later one of the very early pioneers of Africa,—whatever wind it was that blew him there.
Old Knudsen had tried a great many things in his life, preferably such as have to do with water or fish or birds, and had done well on none of them. At one time, he told me, he had owned a very fine fishing concern on Lake Victoria, with many miles of the best fishing nets in the world, and with a motorboat. But during the war he had lost it all. In his recounting of this tragedy of his, there was a dark moment of fatal misunderstanding, or of the treason of a friend. I do not know which, for the tale was never quite the same at the various times when it was told to me, and it brought Old Knudsen into a terrible state of mind when he came to this point of his recital. There was, all the same, some real fact in the story, for in compensation of his losses, the Government, while he was staying with me, paid him a sort of pension of a shilling a day.
All this he told me on the occasions when he came up on a visit to my house. He often took refuge in me, for he was uncomfortable in his own bungalow. The small Native boys, whom I gave him as servants, ran away from him again and again, because he frightened them by rushing at them blindly, head foremost, and fumbling with his stick. But when he was in high spirits he would sit on my verandah over a cup of coffee and sing Danish patriotic songs to me, all by himself, with great energy. It was a pleasure to both him and me to speak Danish, so we exchanged many remarks over insignificant happenings on the farm, just for the joy of talking. But I did not always have patience with him, for when he had once arrived it was difficult to make him stop talking and go away; in our daily intercourse he had, as was to be expected, much of the Ancient Mariner, or of the Old Man of the Sea.
He had been a great artist at the making of fishing nets,—the best fishing nets in the world, he told me,—and here, in the bungalow of the farm, he made kibokos,—the Native whips which are cut out of Hippo hide. He would buy a Hippo hide from the Natives or the farmers up at Lake Naivasha, and if he was lucky he could make fifty kibokos out of one hide. I have still a riding-whip which he gave me; it is a very fine whip. This work spread a terrible stench round his house, like the stench round the nest of some old carrion-bird. Later on, when I made a pond on the farm, he was nearly always to be found by the pond, in deep thought, with his reflection vertically under him, like a Sea-bird in a Zoo.
Old Knudsen had in his frail sunken breast the simple, fierce, irascible, wild heart of a small boy, who burns with the unadulterated love of fighting; he was a great romantic bully and combatant. He was a singularly good hater, always afire with indignation and rage against nearly all the people and institutions with which he came in touch; he called heaven to let fire and brimstone rain down on them, and “painted the devil on the wall,” as we say in Denmark, in a Michaelangelesque manner. He was highly delighted whenever he could set other people by the ears, like a small boy who sets two dogs fighting, or a dog at a cat. It was an impressive and formidable thing that Old Knudsen’s soul should still,—after his long hard life, and when he had at last, so to say, been washed into a quiet creek where he might have lain with his sails slacked,—cry out for opposition and adversity, like the soul of a boy. It made me respect it, as the soul of a Berserk.
He never spoke of himself except in the third person, as “Old Knudsen,” and never without boasting and bragging to the last degree. There was not a thing in the world that Old Knudsen would not undertake and carry through, and not a champion fighter whom Old Knudsen could not knock down. Wherever other people were concerned, he was a black pessimist, and he foresaw a near, catastrophic and well deserved end to all their activities. But on his own behalf he was a furious optimist. A short time before he died he confided to me, under the promise of secrecy, a tremendous plan. It would make Old Knudsen, at last, a millionaire and put all his enemies to shame. He was, he told me, going to lift, from the bottom of Lake Naivasha, the hundred thousand tons of guano dropped there, from the time of the creation of the world, by the swimming-birds. In a last colossal effort he made a journey from the farm to Lake Naivasha, to study and work out the details of his plan. He died in the lustre of it. The scheme had in it all the elements dear to his heart: deep water, birds, hidden treasures; it had even a flavour of the things that one ought not to talk to ladies about. At the top of it he saw, with the eyes of his mind, triumphant Old Knudsen himself, with a trident, controlling the waves. I do not remember if he ever explained to me how the guano was to be brought up from the bottom of the Lake.
The great exploits and achievements of Old Knudsen and his eminence in everything, as he reported these things to me, were clearly at variance with the weakness and impotency of the old man who reported them; in the end you felt that you were dealing with two separate and essentially different individualities. The mighty figure of Old Knudsen rose in the background, unbeaten and triumphant, the hero of all the adventures, and it was his old bent and worn servant whom I knew, and who never tired of telling me about him. This little, humble man had made it his mission in life to uphold and extol the name of Old Knudsen, even to death. For he had really seen Old Knudsen, which nobody else except God ever had, and after that he would stand no heresy in anyone.
One single time have I heard him make use of the first personal pronoun. This was a couple of months before he died. He had had a bad heart-attack, the same thing that killed him in the end, and when I had not seen him on the farm for a week I went down to his bungalow to get news of him, and I found him, in the middle of the stench from the Hippo hide, in bed in a very bare and untidy room. He was ashen grey in the face, his dim eyes were sunk deep back. He did not answer me or speak a word when I spoke to him. Only after a long time, and when I had already got up to go away, he suddenly said in a small hoarse voice, “I am very sick.” At that time there was no talk of Old Knudsen, who surely was never ill or overcome; it was the servant, who just for once allowed himself to express his individual misery and anguish.
Old Knudsen was dull on the farm, so from time to time he locked the door of his house, made off and disappeared from our horizon. It was most often, I think, when he had had news that an old friend, some other pioneer of the glorious past, had arrived in Nairobi. He would stay away, for a week or a fortnight, until we had half forgotten his existence, and he always came back so terribly ill and worn out that he could hardly drag himself along, or unlock his door. He then kept to himself for a couple of days. I believe that on these occasions he was afraid of me, for he thought that I would be sure to have disapproved of his escapades, and that I would now profit by his weakness to triumph over him. Old Knudsen, although he would sometimes sing of the sailor’s bride who loves the waves, in his heart had a deep mistrust of woman, and saw her as the enemy of man, by instinct, and on principle, out to stop his fun.
On the day of his death he had in this way been absent for a fortnight, and nobody on the farm was aware that he had come back. But he himself must this time have meant to make an exception from his rule, for he had been on the way from his own house to mine, by a path which ran through the plantation, when he fell down and died. Kamante and I found him lying on the path as, late in the afternoon, we were going out to look for mushrooms on the plain, in the new short grass, for it was April, in the beginning of the long rains.
It was befitting that it should be Kamante who found him, for, alone of all the Natives of the farm, he had shown Old Knudsen sympathy. He had even taken an interest in him, as one deviation from the normal in another, and from time to time of his own accord had brought him eggs, and kept an eye on his Totos, which had prevented them from running away altogether.
The old man lay on his back, his hat had rolled a little away when he fell, his eyes were not quite closed. In death he looked essentially collected. There you are at last, Old Knudsen,—I thought.
I wanted to carry him to his house, but I knew that it would be of no use to call in any of the Kikuyus who might be about, or working in their own shambas close by, to help me; they would only run away immediately when they saw why I had called them. I ordered Kamante to run back to the house and fetch down Farah to assist me. But Kamante did not move.
“Why do you want me to run?” he asked.
“Well you see yourself,” I said, “that I cannot carry the old Bwana alone, and you Kikuyus are fools, you are afraid to carry a dead man.”
Kamante set up his little mocking noiseless laughter. “You again forget, Msabu,” he said, “that I am a Christian.”
He lifted the old man’s feet while I bore his head, and between us we carried him to his bungalow. From time to time we had to stop, lay him down, and rest; then Kamante stood up erect and looked straight down at Old Knudsen’s feet, with what I think will have been the Scotch Mission manner in the presence of death.
As we had laid him on his bed, Kamante went about the room, and into the kitchen, in search of a towel to cover his face with,—he only found an old newspaper. “The Christians did that at the Hospital,” he explained to me.
A long time afterwards Kamante had great satisfaction out of the thought of this instance of my ignorance. He would work with me in the kitchen, filled with a secret pleasure, and suddenly break out laughing. “Do you remember, Msabu,” he said, “the time when you had forgotten that I was a Christian, and thought that I should be afraid to help you to carry the Msungu Msei? ”—the old white man.
Kamante as a Christian was no longer afraid of snakes. I heard him state to the other boys that a Christian might at any moment put his heel upon the head of the largest snake and crush it. I have not seen him try to do so, but I saw him standing very still, with a set face and his hands behind his back, within a short distance of the Cook’s hut when a puff-adder had appeared on its roof. All the children of my household spread in large circles around it, like chaff before the wind, with wild wails, while Farah went into the house to fetch my gun, and shot the puff-adder.
When it was all over, and the waves had settled down again, Nyore, the Sice’s son, said to Kamante: “Why, you Kamante, did you not set your heel upon the head of the big bad snake and crush it?”
“Because it was up on the roof,” said Kamante.
At one time, I tried to shoot with a bow and arrow. I was strong, but it was difficult to me to bend the Wanderobo bow which Farah had got for me; still in the end, and after long practice, I became skilful as an archer.
Kamante was very small then, he used to watch me when I was shooting on the lawn, and seemed doubtful about the undertaking, and one day said to me: “Are you a Christian still when you are shooting with a bow? I thought that the Christian way was with a rifle.”
I showed him in my pictorial Bible an illustration to the tale of Hagar’s son: “And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.”
“Well,” said Kamante, “he was like you.”
Kamante had a good hand with sick animals, as with my Native patients. He took out splinters from the dogs’ feet, and once cured one of them when it had been bitten by a snake.
For some time I had in the house a stork with a broken wing. He was a decided character, he walked through the rooms and when he came into my bedroom he fought tremendous duels, as with the rapier, with swaggering and flapping of wings, with his image in my looking-glass. He followed Kamante about between the houses, and it was impossible not to believe that he was deliberately imitating Kamante’s stiff measured walk. Their legs were about the same thickness. The little Native boys had an eye for caricature and shouted with joy when they saw the pair pass. Kamante understood the joke, but he never paid much attention to what other people thought of him. He sent off the little boys to collect frogs for the stork in the bogs.
It was also Kamante who had charge of Lulu.