Within an hour of our finally deciding to start five litters were brought up to the door of the cave, each accompanied by four regular bearers and two spare hands, also a band of about fifty armed Amahagger, who were to form the escort and carry the baggage. Three of these litters, of course, were for us, and one for Billali, who, I was immensely relieved to hear, was to be our companion, while the fifth I presumed was for the use of Ustane.
“Does the lady go with us, my father?” I asked of Billali, as he stood superintending things in general.
He shrugged his shoulders as he answered—
“If she wills. In this country the women do what they please. We worship them, and give them their way, because without them the world could not go on; they are the source of life.”
“Ah,” I said, the matter never having struck me quite in that light before.
“We worship them,” he went on, “up to a point, till at last they get unbearable, which,” he added, “they do about every second generation.”
“And then what do you do?” I asked, with curiosity.
“Then,” he answered, with a faint smile, “we rise, and kill the old ones as an example to the young ones, and to show them that we are the strongest. My poor wife was killed in that way three years ago. It was very sad, but to tell thee the truth, my son, life has been happier since, for my age protects me from the young ones.”
“In short,” I replied, quoting the saying of a great man whose wisdom has not yet lightened the darkness of the Amahagger, “thou hast found thy position one of greater freedom and less responsibility.”
This phrase puzzled him a little at first from its vagueness, though I think my translation hit off its sense very well, but at last he saw it, and appreciated it.
“Yes, yes, my Baboon,” he said, “I see it now, but all the ‘responsibilities’ are killed, at least some of them are, and that is why there are so few old women about just now. Well, they brought it on themselves. As for this girl,” he went on, in a graver tone, “I know not what to say. She is a brave girl, and she loves the Lion (Leo); thou sawest how she clung to him, and saved his life. Also, she is, according to our custom, wed to him, and has a right to go where he goes, unless,” he added significantly, “She would say her no, for her word overrides all rights.”
“And if She bade her leave him, and the girl refused? What then?”
“If,” he said, with a shrug, “the hurricane bids the tree to bend, and it will not; what happens?”
And then, without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked to his litter, and in ten minutes from that time we were all well under way.