Then he bethought him of sending a letter, but was obliged to abandon the idea, as he had neither pen, pencil, ink, nor paper left to him. Whatever arts remained to them, that of any form of writing was now totally unknown to the Asiki, although marks that might be writing, it will be remembered, did appear on the inner side of the Little Bonsa mask, an evidence of its great antiquity. Even in the days when they had wrapped up the Egyptian, the Roman, and other early Munganas in sheets of gold and set them in their treasure-house, apparently they had no knowledge of it, for not even an hieroglyph or a rune appeared upon the imperishable metal shrouds. Since that time they had evidently decreased, not advanced, in learning till at the present day, except for these relics and some dim and meaningless survival of rites that once had been religious and were still offered to the same ancient idols, there was little to distinguish them from other tribes of Central African savages. Still Alan did something, for obtaining a piece of white wood, which he smoothed as well as he was able with a knife, he painted on it this message:
“Messrs. Aston, Old Calabar. Please forward accompanying fifty-three packages, or as many as arrive, and cable as follows (all costs will be remitted): Miss Champers, Kingswell, England. Prisoner among Asiki. No present prospect of escape, but hope for best. Jeekie and I well. Allowed send this, but perhaps no future message possible. Good-bye. Alan.”
As it happened just as Alan was finishing this scrawl with a sad heart, he heard a movement and glancing up, perceived standing at his side the Asika, of whom he had seen nothing since the interview when she had beaten Jeekie:
“What are those marks that you make upon the board, Vernoon?” she asked suspiciously.
With the assistance of Jeekie, who kept at a respectful distance, he informed her that they were a message in writing to tell the white men at the coast to forward the gold to his starving family.
“Oh!” she said, “I never heard of writing. You shall teach it me. It will serve to pass the time till we are married, though it will not be of much use afterwards, as we shall never be separated any more and words are better than marks upon a board. But,” she added cheerfully, “I can send away this black dog of yours,” and she looked at Jeekie, “and he can write to us. No, I cannot, for an accident might happen to him, and they tell me you say that if he dies, you die also, so he must stop here always. What have you in those little boxes?”
“The gold you gave me, Asika, packed in loads.”
“A small gift enough,” she answered contemptuously; “would you not like more, since you value that stuff? Well, another time you shall send all you want. Meanwhile the porters are waiting, fifty men and three, as you sent me word, and ten spare ones to take the place of any who die. But how they will find their way, I know not, since none of them have ever been to the coast.”