But Bashti held no anger against Jerry. He had lived too long and too philosophically to lay blame on a dog for breaking a taboo which it did not know. Of course, dogs often were slain for breaking the taboos. But he allowed this to be done because the dogs themselves in nowise interested him, and because their deaths emphasized the sacredness of the taboo. Further, Jerry had more than slightly interested him. Often, since, Jerry had attacked him because of Van Horn’s head, he had pondered the incident. Baffling as it was, as all manifestations of life were baffling, it had given him food for thought. Then there was his admiration for Jerry’s courage and that inexplicable something in him that prevented him crying out from the pain of the stick. And, without thinking of it as beauty, the beauty of line and colour of Jerry had insensibly penetrated him with a sense of pleasantness. It was good to look upon.
There was another angle to Bashti’s conduct. He wondered why his devil devil doctor so earnestly desired a mere dog’s death. There were many dogs. Then why this particular dog? That the weight of something was on the other’s mind was patent, although what it was Bashti could not gauge, guess—unless it might be revenge incubated the day he had prevented Agno from eating the dog. If such were the case, it was a state of mind he could not tolerate in any of his tribespeople. But whatever was the motive, guarding as he always did against the unknown, he thought it well to discipline his priest and demonstrate once again whose word was the last word in Somo. Wherefore Bashti replied:
“I have lived long and eaten many pigs. What man may dare say that the many pigs have entered into me and made me a pig?”
He paused and cast a challenging eye around the circle of his audience; but no man spoke. Instead, some men grinned sheepishly and were restless on their feet, while Agno’s expression advertised sturdy unbelief that there was anything pig-like about his chief.
“I have eaten much fish,” Bashti continued. “Never has one scale of a fish grown out on my skin. Never has a gill appeared on my throat. As you all know, by the looking, never have I sprouted one fin out of my backbone.—Nalasu, take the dog.—Aga, carry the pig to my house. I shall eat it to-day.—Agno, let the killing of the dogs begin so that the canoe-men shall eat at due time.”
Then, as he turned to go, he lapsed into beche-de-mer English and flung sternly over his shoulder, “My word, you make ’m me cross along you.”
As blind Nalasu slowly plodded away, with one hand tapping the path before him and with the other carrying Jerry head-downward suspended by his tied legs, Jerry heard a sudden increase in the wild howling of the dogs as the killing began and they realized that death was upon them.