Then an owl hooted again immediately beneath the fence and Jeekie, blowing out the candle, opened the flap of the tent and tapped the head porter, who stood outside, on the shoulder. He crept in and between them they lifted the senseless Aylward and bore him to the V-shaped entrance of the boma which was immediately opposite to the tent and, oddly enough, half open. Here the two other porters with whom Jeekie had performed some ceremony, chanced to be on guard, the rest of their company being stationed at a distance. Jeekie and the head porter went through the gap like men carrying a corpse to midnight burial, and presently in the darkness without two owls began to hoot.
Now Aylward was laid upon a litter that had been prepared, and eight white-robed Asiki bearers stared at his gold mask in the faint starlight.
“I suppose he is not dead, brother,” said Owl No. 2 doubtfully.
“Nay, brother,” said Owl No. 1, “feel his heart and his pulse. Not dead, only drunk. He will wake up by daylight, by which time you should be far upon your way. Be good and gentle to the white man Vernoon, who has been my master. Be careful, too, that he does not escape you, brother, for as you know he is very strong and cunning. Say to the Asika that Jeekie her servant makes his reverence to her, and hopes that she will have many, many happy years with the husband that he sends her; also that she will remember him whom she called ‘Black Dog,’ in her prayers to the gods and spirits of our people.”
“It shall be done, brother, but why do you not return with us?”
“Because, brother, I have ties across the Black Water—dear children, almost white—whom I love so much that I cannot leave them. Farewell, brethren, the blessings of the Bonsas be on you, and may you grow fat and prosper in the love and favour of our lady the Asika.”
“Farewell,” they murmured in answer. “Good fortune be your bedfellow.”
Another minute and they had lifted up the litter and vanished at a swinging trot into the shadow of the trees. Jeekie returned to the camp and ordered the three men to re-stop the gateway with thorns, muttering in their ears:
“Remember, brethren, one word of this and you die, all of you, as those die who break the oath.”
“Have we not sworn?” they whispered, as they went back to their posts.
Jeekie stood a while in front of the empty tent and if any had been there to note him, they might have seen a shadow as of compunction creep over his powerful black face.
“When he wake up he won’t know where he are,” he reflected, “and when he get to Bonsa-Town he’ll wonder where he is, and when he meet Asika! Well, he very big blackguard; try to murder Major, whom Jeekie nurse as baby, the only thing that Jeekie care for—except—Jeekie; try to make love to Miss Barbara against will when he catch her alone in forest, which not playing game. Jeekie self not such big blackguard as that dirt-born