The Ivory Trail - Talbot Mundy - ebook

The Ivory Trail ebook

Talbot Mundy

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Sometimes a big and dangerous adventure is fabulous wealth. There were hundred million pounds of ivory in those places that just waited for them! But, of course, the ivory was hidden in the darkest heart of Africa, and if they came out of the continent, they would certainly have to deal with the colonial government. But what a wonderful adventure without danger and call?

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Contents

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 1

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 that 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. –from The Njo Hapa* Song

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!”

For a quarantine station in the tropics it was after all not such a bad place. We could hear the crooning of lazy rollers on the beach, and what little sea-breeze moved at all came in to us through iron-barred windows. The walls were of coral, three feet thick. So was the roof. The wet red-tiled floor made at least an impression of coolness, and the fresh green foliage of an enormous mango tree, while it obstructed most of the view, suggested anything but durance vile. From not very far away the aromatic smell of a clove warehouse located us, not disagreeably, at the farther end of one of Sinbad’s journeys, and the birds in the mango branches cried and were colorful with hues and notes of merry extravagance. Zanzibar is no parson’s paradise–nor the center of much high society. It reeks of unsavory history as well as of spices. But it has its charms, and the Arabs love it.

It had Fred Oakes so interested that he had forgotten his concertina –his one possession saved from shipwreck, for which he had offered to fight the whole of Zanzibar one-handed rather than have it burned.

(“Damnation! it has silver reeds–it’s an English top-hole one –a wonder!”)

So the doctors who are kind men in the main disinfected it twice, once on the French liner that picked us out of the Bundesrath’s boat, and again in Zanzibar; and with the stench of lord-knew-what zealous chemical upon it he had let it lie unused while he picked up Kiswahili and talked by the hour to a toothless, wrinkled very black man with a touch of Arab in his breeding, and a deal of it in his brimstone vocabulary.

Presently Fred came over and joined us, dancing across the wide red floor with the skirts of his gown outspread like a ballet dancer’s– ridiculous and perfectly aware of it.

“Monty, you’re rich! We’re all made men! We’re all rich! Let’s spend money! Let’s send for catalogues and order things!”

Monty declined to take fire. It was I, latest to join the partnership and much the least affluent, who bit.

“If you love the Lord, explain!” said I.

“This old one-eyed lazaretto attendant is an ex-slave, ex-accomplice of Tippoo Tib!”*

“And Tippoo Tib?” I asked.

“Ignorant fo’c’s’le outcast!” (All that because I had made one voyage as foremast hand, and deserted rather than submit to more of it.) “Tippoo Tib is the Arab–is, mind you, my son, not was–the Arab who was made governor of half the Congo by H. M. Stanley and the rest of ‘em. Tippoo Tib is the expert who used to bring the slave caravans to Zanzibar–bring ‘em, send ‘em, send for ‘em–he owned ‘em anyway. Tippoo Tib was the biggest ivory hunter and trader lived since old King Solomon! Tippoo Tib is here–in Zanzibar–to all intents and purposes a prisoner on parole–old as the hills–getting ready to die–and proud as the very ace of hell. So says One-eye!”

“So we’re all rich?” suggested Monty.

“Of course we are! Listen! The British government took Tippoo’s slaves away and busted his business. Made him come and live in this place, go to church on Sundays, and be good. Then they asked him what he’d done with his ivory. Asked him politely after putting him through that mill! One-eye here says Tippoo had a million tusks–a million!–safely buried! Government offered him ten per cent. of their cash value if he’d tell ‘em where, and the old sport spat in their faces! Swears he’ll die with the secret! One-eye vows Tippoo is the only one who knows. There were others, but Tippoo shot or poisoned ‘em.”

“So we’re rich,” smiled Yerkes.

“Of course we are! Consider this, America, and tell me if Standard Oil can beat it! One million tusks I’m told–”

“By whom?”

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