The Silver Cup
I WAS down at Banga in July, for a health-change. Rhoda Rivers was there. You remember, she came out with me more than a year ago; she has been at Banga ever since. The Mission put her there because the Wards would be sure to be kind to her, and there is no one better than Mrs. Ward for training the novice. You ’ve got to take account of these things when you set a girl as young as Rhoda — I’m sure she cannot be more than twentyfive — in a circumstance so violent in its difference from what she knows or what she can have imagined.
I noticed the change in Rhoda as soon as she came in, and it was more than the change we look to see in the first year. It was n’t just Africa — she had n’t gone off so much in her color as in her temperament. She was as pretty as I remember her to have been on the steamer, but not so gay: I missed that glint of herself beneath the bloom of her surface. I can’t say I missed all this at first. I got in about three o’clock; came in from Ajap that day, — on my wheel of course, — and that was pretty good going, as you will agree, in the rainy season and on that clay road, with the sun like a flame about your body all morning. Anyway, I got in before the rain fell; the thunder of it was about the house ten minutes after I arrived.
They put me in Rhoda’s room. I had a bath in her rubber tub, and was all dry in some of her good smelling clothes before she came in. Funny how she can keep her belongings sweet in the rainy season — and in that little old hut of the Wards, where the rain drives through the slits in the bark every day. I was lying on her cot — her bed was side-tracked up the coast somewhere, poor kid — when she came in. Wet to the skin, her helmet a pulp. She was glad enough to see me to devour me. She put her arms around me and laid her cold wet cheek against mine, and I could feel the warm tears run out of her eyes.
I remembered my own first year in this forest, before I could speak the language, or was so crazy about the work as I am now, or knew the forest women. Many a lonely night I have looked out of the window in that old clearing that used to be in the elbow of the Mboto River — it has gone back to forest now, but it was the pioneer station then; and I used to look out into the rain or the moonlight, wondering to see the lonely place it was — and myself in it. It’s one thing, is n’t it, to read about Livingstone, and quite another to look out of a little cabin in a little clearing in an African forest and to think — well, here I am, an African missionary!
I suppose that Rhoda had had similar shocks, and she had n’t yet got the hang of her job or the taste for her profession. I met her mother before we sailed, and I was her cabin-mate coming down the coast, so I was as near a friend as she had in the Dark Continent, and the only one who called her by her first name. But you know all these things, and how you seem, in your first year, to have no first name or other personal identification; and you ’ll believe that Rhoda was glad to see me.
She bathed and dressed, talking to me all the time. She wanted to know how long I would stay, and could n’t I come back for Christmas, and did I think her hair had grown darker. She shook out that hair of hers — the color of barley sugar candy — into its cloud of sparkle, and peered at it in the glass. The dark of the rain was in the room, and she lit a lamp.
A black woman came in, her skin all wet with rain — at least, her legs and thighs were wet; her body was covered with a khaki coat. Those Pala women pick up all sorts of things to wear when they are paid at the beach for the rubber they carry down.
I was awfully interested to see how Rhoda would handle the woman; you know how we must always speculate about new missionaries and how they will take hold; and I must say that Rhoda had never given me a sense that she had a vocation. But I liked the way she seemed to know the woman and to like to have her there, talking to her in a halting Pala that was n’t half bad for a first-year baby missionary. I understand that dialect from the time I worked with the Pala to the south. The Pala woman sat on the floor, — new planks since you were at that station, — and began to love Rhoda with her eyes; which I was glad to see: there is no better sign. Rhoda spread her hair; the woman slapped her thighs and cried out her admiration of that beauty: ‘My mother, if you could see this beauty!' You know how they do. And Rhoda, like the rest of us when we were new, rose to that. The lamp that shines behind her face was lit for a moment; she looked at herself in the glass and her sweet upper lip smiled. It gave me a pang to see so pretty a girl so sensitive to such praise.
Rhoda lives in the east room of that little house, and the Wards in the west; they eat in the middle room. Will Arden eats with them; but he has put up a bit of a cabin for himself. I had n’t seen him since he came back from furlough. He and I were at the same station in the south three years ago, so we had a lot to talk about. And three of my schoolgirls have been married off to Pala men; so Mrs. Ward and I had a lot to talk about. We always do have. I like that woman.
The talk was quick around the table that night, and of the usual exciting sort that we drop into when we have been long enough in the work: about marriages, and epidemics, and poisonings, and personalities, and who has a baby, and who has stolen a woman, and who has distinguished himself as a villain or a Christian. Items of murder, items of hunting, items of government control — all the sort of thing that seems exciting when you really know a neighborhood.
We were going along like this, marrying and baptizing and killing people off, when I happened to look at Rhoda. There was her little face under her candy-colored hair, like an unlighted lamp under a bright shade. What did she care for Town Topics south of the So River? She was thinking thoughts of far away, or perhaps not thinking at all. That young spirit was drowsing away the dull hour till there should be a knock at the door. I remembered how, on the steamer, she had been a perceptible radiance, and how young fellows from the trading-posts all along the Coast had turned dazzled faces toward that light. Poor lads, — lost now in what isolated clearings, — drowsing away dull hours, as lonely and lonelier than she. Their last look from the surfboat had been for her, when we dropped them off as we came south. Sitting in the jumble of their luggage between the rowers, they had kept off their helmets longer than was wise, turning their diminishing white faces up to where she leaned over the rail. I suppose that many a one of them has a quite adequate image of her in his heart to this day, and takes occasion to wonder, in the most unlikely places, is that lovely Rivers girl married yet?
Of course, when she was sent in to Pala and Will Arden was at Pala too, there was a thought in the Mission mind that here is where Arden ‘meets,’ as the Pala people say of a day of reckoning. But I did n’t see anything to revive that thought in my mind, where it had died. After I came out of my enchantment of—well, you know the enchantment of fresh and friendly talk after long isolations — and took note of Rhoda sitting there like a shadow under the eaves on a moonlit night, I took note as well of my confederates. What were they thinking of that eclipse? And they were not thinking. Perhaps they did not know it was an eclipse. You know how at a station there is a kind of blindness — it is the blindness of custom. I watched to see if Mrs. Ward liked her, and she did.
I thought Will Arden was a little harsh with her: he told her he had seen her with her helmet off, and how could she be so unwise? There is no doctor at Banga, so I suppose they all felt responsible for her. And she resented it — that was plain. Of course the Wards clamored when they heard that she had been without her helmet, and she said — well, that it had been no more than a minute. Some carriers had begged to see her hair. You can think how they all jumped on her for that, and told her the old tale of how Mrs. Carson lost her helmet out of a canoe, and had a sunstroke before the crew could get her ashore. I judged that Rhoda had heard this horror before. Anyway, there she sat, looking very bored by the misadventures of Mrs. Carson, and there sat Will Arden, looking at her with those bright eyes he gets when he is crossed. And I was thinking: too bad to see such brightness dimmed. And I thought: I suppose we all went through it. And then I wondered: but did we? None of us was so lovely to start with, except perhaps Mary Allen; and there is Bob Allen, to feed that flame of beauty.
I could have chatted with the Wards all night, — I certainly do like that woman, — but I went to bed early on Rhoda’s account. I thought she would be longing to talk to me, that being the familiar hunger of the first year. Her cot and my cot were under the same mosquito-net in her little room, which was as full of moonlight as a cup may be of water; and I thought she would murmur to me for hours — I meant she should. But I could n’t keep awake. I had been on the road since dawn, and this for three mornings. I dropped asleep before she began to be intimate.
I woke with the call of the guineafowl, like the good traveler I have learned to be; and when I lit the lamp, Rhoda was still asleep, pale in her bright hair. Mrs. Ward had my breakfast ready by lamp-light, — bless her! — and I was going to be off with the first pallor of day. Will Arden came over to look at my wheel; I held the lantern while he pumped it up. So far as I know, the wheel had been under the house all night, but there it was anyway — punctured. And when he looked at my supplies, he said I had better keep them; we were short at that time in the Mission, and Blake, he said, would be willing to part with some of his.
This was the first word ever I heard of Blake, but I knew he must be the trader over at the Clark and Hatson factory across the river. Someone had said there was a white man at that post. Will Arden shouted to his boy, who answered at his elbow, — as of course he would do when there was a wheel in repair, — and he was ordered to go to Mr. Blake with a note, which Arden began to write on one knee where he knelt beside the wheel. Rhoda stood then in the lighted doorway and said it was useless — that Mr. Blake was away taking stock of his black traders to the north. Since when? Mr. Arden wanted to know; and Rhoda knew that too. As for me, I knew that the day was growing, and my journey all to do.
I had to pull out on my old tire, patched up by Will Arden; the sun was rising when I slid out of the clearing into the government road. You know how everything goes wrong once you start late, and I was less than an hour from the station when I had a blow-out. I was on my knees before my kit of tools when Blake came up—in that stealing way a bicycle has, giving me no warning until I heard him say good-morning. When I looked up, he had dismounted beside me; his helmet was in his hand.
Well, he was terribly disappointed when he saw who I was, and taken aback. Anti-climax is the word, and I cannot pretend that this lightning change from illumination to eclipse commended Mr. Blake. It is because I am not young, I thought, or because I am an American. But I know now that he took me for Rhoda, not knowing what other white woman would be abroad in that wilderness, and on a wheel.
I am bound to record that Mr. Blake did all that could be done for my mechanical infirmities. And I must still remember with some complacency that we parted without any comment from him on the futility of my profession. You know how they suffer until they have told us how mad we are. Well, I left him still burdened with that repressed desire; I thought he could work it off on Will Arden — as doubtless he had done and would do. More I cannot tell you of Mr. Blake, but I have never been one to wonder how Rhoda could have done as she did. I must always remember the face he showed me when he thought that I was she, and before he withdrew and slammed the door. I suppose that even Bottom must have had some secret for Titania that Shakespeare himself did not guess; and Mr. Blake, at worst, was very far from being an ass — yes, and from a villain. He was a very presentable and wellmannered young man. This I say at worst; and at best — who knows so well as Rhoda what he may have been at best?
The rest of what I can tell you I got from Rhoda when the Banga people came down at Easter for the conference. She told me all she could one night, then, and I patched it up out of what she said, and what she did n’t say, and of what I know as a rolling stone knows moss.
It began, it seems, when Rhoda had been three months at Banga. She imagines that it began with loneliness, but I’m for vanity. A new dress figured in the prologue: she had put on a new dress from her little reserve store, and there was no comment. When she presented herself, — like a nosegay, I suppose, in that little bark cabin, — no one said, How sweet you look! Mr. Arden, when he looked at her, looked away. He was always doing that, Rhoda said; or nagging her about her helmet — not at all in the voice he used to anyone else. Even Mrs. Ward did not look at her — and this I don’t believe.
But it seems that, on this fatal day and at the noon meal, there was talk of the most impersonal and boresome things. A company of rustics had come in that morning from Kumba, fifty miles away; they had brought children for the school, and sick for the hospital, and all their poor thrilling questions about the Things of God. They had devoured all the human interest of the Wards and Will Arden, who came to the table still vibrating with those contacts. As a matter of fact, that little expedition was the initial gesture from the people of the Ngela tribe, and an historic event. There is this to be remembered of Rhoda — she did not yet know the language, and there was not vet any little trail of friendly intercourse from the door of her own heart to the humble hearts about her. And on this day, so full of excitement to her seniors, she let the tide of comment pass her; she sulked, with tears in her turquoise eyes.
I do assure you that such hours are remembered by all of us: we wake from a warm dream when home seemed near, to find ourselves lost and forsaken in such a dark forest as we had not imagined. It is like Dante on the verge of his gloomy wood, and high time for Virgil to come to the rescue. Can’t you see old Minkoe Ntem cast for Virgil? I give you my word I have seen her in that rôle: that old black woman took me by the hand and led me out of the wilderness into the open clearing of my career. And so did someone, black or white, do for one and the other of us, coming along in the nick of time.
Well, as I take it, here was Rhoda at midnight, and all the rest of them engaging themselves at high noon with the personal affairs of the scum of Kumba. There is this difference in clocks when your heart’s in the Highlands, and your heart is not here. Obviously her only friend was herself — otherwise the world was strange. She cried before she went out that day. And that was the day she made friends with Mr. Blake.
She was on the path that runs east from Banga, — in those days she was going about in the villages learning the language and the people, — and he was coming back from one of his inland trips. He got off his wheel and walked with her a bit. He said that she had on a pretty frock; that it did a chap’s heart good to see the like in this forlorn country. He told her how lonely he was, and that this was his first term out, and, so help him, his last. Quite different it was, he said, to what a man would think before he had seen it for himself. He was one of five sons; the Old Chap was a doctor in the suburbs of Manchester. His mother was keen on missions, he said, but that was not his line. Missions were all right, he supposed, for middle-aged people who were done with the pleasures of life; but he just could n’t feel it right that a person like herself should be buried in this last ditch.
They spoke of home and of homegoing: he was to go home in six months. Well, never again for him!
‘And for me,’ she said, ‘always again forever!' A missionary was like that, she told him: they always came back.
Was it a vow, he wanted to know; and she told him — not exactly a vow, and that they seemed to like it.
‘Good Lord!’ he said.
This was their first meeting, and she went home with that lighted face that I remember from the steamer.
After this they met often. For her sake he used to come to the Wards’ cabin of an evening, when they all sat together about the lamp on the table, and the many moths of the lowlands fell on the white cloth. The centre room was not screened in those days, and there was good hunting for Will Arden, who was an amateur of moths. Neither Blake nor Rhoda had much comfort of these visits — the Wards were friendly enough, but Blake did not like them. I suppose he thought there must be something morbid in people who came out to the West Coast on such an errand. Better times were meetings by the way, when they could speak of — well, there is no very accurate record of those conversations; we don’t need it. She liked him, and she missed him when he would be off hunting ivories under the bamboo beds of the inland villages. She knew to a day when he would return from these expeditions. For him she dressed her prettiest and brushed her bright hair — as she would have done for the Wards or for Will Arden, had they been any sort of reflectors. But no, it seems that they were not reflectors. It was just as if, said Rhoda, he hated me when I looked a little nice. More then than at any time, but always a little.
Will Arden and she were in the school together; he sat at one end of the shadow under that great thatch and she was busy at the other. There they were, day after day, the two white people among those three or four hundred young brown bodies. Everyone there thought her a wonder except Will Arden! I suppose she looked at him twenty times for his once; and when she did meet his eye, there was a shadow on him. And he had a way about him when he helped her — it seems he often helped her — that just took the joy out of life.
At this point I said to Rhoda, murmuring beside me on her cot, that I thought this strange; Will Arden had seemed to me, when I worked with him in my time, to be a very genial and responsive sort of person.
That was another thing, she told me, that had — well, had grieved her, had made her feel lonely: that night in July, when I had slept at the station, Will Arden had been so friendly with me, using all the time his nicest voice that he never used for her, no matter how hard she tried to please him. She could n’t forgive him for his harshness; she thought about it all the next day; and when she thought, she cried. She was crying on the path when Mr. Blake met her — came up behind her on his wheel in his classic fashion, and caught her, I suppose, just as he had caught me. And that was the time he kissed her.
I ask myself, with Rhoda in mind, if there was not cause. From her rather slim account, of this event, I gather that there was comfort in it. It was the Kiss Consoling. I make out, without too much help from Rhoda, that he gave that poor dejected child the comfort of a restrained and tender devotion. She does not pause at this point to give him credit; she may never do so, for she speeds up just here to the presentation of her apologia. That kindness against which she leaned in her afternoon hour of bitterness and self-pity has gone down the river, as the Pala people say.
He had this to offer — that she must go home with him when he should go; that the Coast was no place for a soft little girl like herself; that his mother would be glad of such a darling as she was — and a missionary, too! And how easy it would be — they could be married at the beach and that would be easy, would n’t it?
Easy! It is evident that our young Blake had never been married in the Colony, and neither had Rhoda. However, these were not the difficulties that presented themselves to Rhoda, who said she could n’t think of such a thing. Missionaries never did such things, she told him. They would all reproach her.
In her imagination, the reproaches of Will Arden were frightfully real, and made her cry again. Well, Mr. Blake could not fathom these missionary reproaches — for him they were without form and void. A girl, he said, had a right to marry whom she pleased; and while he knew only too well how far from good enough he was, surely she would be better off at home with him than ever she could be, living with saints in the jungle.
Well, she would n’t hear to it.
You can think if this was the end of his urging. Every time they met after that there was the same palaver. Rhoda’s memory is full of her misery at this time; but I seem to see that pale man waiting in the green gloom of one and another forest trail, until that young creature should join him to discuss the things of love and of loneliness — and to withdraw.
He could n’t bear to go home when the time came; but there were his duties to his chief at the beach factory, and a man was being sent up to take his place. So they said good-bye, he begging to the last and making her kiss him because it was good-bye, and telling her that he would be back in six months. She would be ready for him then, he knew. It rained on them or they would be saying good-bye still, T suppose.
This would have been the end of it, says Rhoda, if it had not been for Will Arden. He looked at her that night with cold eyes, asking her did she feel feverish, and when had she last taken her quinine. Because she told him that she did better without her quinine, and would never be taking it again, — I hope you get the full flavor of this outrageous sauce, — he excused himself from the table. Yes — actually — one as bad as the other. I suppose she must have needed her quinine dreadfully, for she lay awake all night, brooding. Not so much about poor Blake, — who was eating his heart out in his little hut across the river, — but about Will Arden, his harshness and other vices. And by morning she was ready for action. You know the stored dynamics that result from such a night.
It seems that she had a habit of going east to Tyanga, where she would spend a night or two among the women of that neighborhood. Mrs. Ward supposed that she was going that way, and there was no one else to ask her a question. She just made up two loads, gave them to two boys, ordered them off to Tyanga, and started west on her wheel. She was so full of the pleasure of not saying good-bye to Will Arden, that she never gave a thought to the Wards. And when I think of Mrs. Ward, I can’t forgive her.
She knew where Blake was to camp that night; she had to push to make it, for he had three hours’ start of her. Don’t ask me what she was thinking all that day; riding like that, I suppose she did not think at all. It was very hot and then it rained — the brother of yesterday’s rain, as the Pala people say. The Mboto River rose; there was no one at the bank to ferry her across, but the raft was there. She put her wheel aboard that crazy old log-craft, and pulled herself across by the rattan cable. She must have been pretty well frightened when she came to the mad middle of the river; and once across, there was no question of going back — if indeed the thought of return came to mind. When she passed through the villages, women ran out to greet her; but she did not stop for that, or to eat her lunch, or at all, until afternoon was going down. So she says. I suppose that she could not face the inner question, so she just kept moving.
When she came to the foot of the Bitandi hills, Blake met her. He was strolling on that lovely bit of trail between Bitandi village and the town of Malinga. He had had his swim and his chop, and was out for a saunter, there being nothing else to do after the journey and in such villages. And there she was!
She was too faint, she says, to speak. He made her lie beside the path on his jacket, while he ran back to his tent in the village for bread and tea. He fed her. Rhoda says that he was very sweet to her. There was nothing in that hour to trouble her remembrance in the telling.
He took her to the village of Bitandi, where his tent was pitched. He had his cot brought out into the last daylight, and she lay there, looking up at the early-pricking stars, while he oversaw the evening meal. The fire was laid in the clearing; the good odor of woodsmoke and of bacon was abroad; the infinite quiet of the wilderness fell upon them like dew.
Rhoda relaxed: she melted to the delicious calm of an appeased fatigue. Presently they ate together, sitting cross-legged on a grass mat beside the lantern. Rhoda reiterates that he was very happy. This is her only coherent comment on that hour. I wonder what was the complexion of his happiness — was he full of jests, as some happy people are, or was he tender? or did he rave about their future? How did he express that new man she had released when she appeared, ever so still, on the trail? But no, she will not say, and I am never to know. And I suppose she sat there, pale and weary, for his solicitude and his love to play about. I suppose, if he jested, she smiled ever so little; and if he was tender, she was ever so little withdrawn; and if he spoke of their future, she warned him by a shadow, ever so faint, in those confiding eyes.
The villagers sat about on the rim of the light of the lantern — be sure of that. There was a flashing of bright eyes and the white teeth of laughter in a ring about them, and the inevitable comment on the white woman’s hair, and the beauty and the wealth of white people. No question marred this approval — he was known and she was known, and their companionship was a custom of their tribe. ’White people, they do so. It is the trader and the Mission girl. She has come to tell us the word of God. Presently she will do so, it is her custom. We visited her in her village, begging her to visit us in our village, and she agreed, saying that when the season was dry, she would visit us. And tell us the word of God.’
Blake told her that he would sleep in Malinga’s village, turning that old rascal out of his palaver house. He was all for going early to bed. Rhoda, I infer, wanted anything but to be alone. Consider how impeccable must have been the conduct that so comforted her in his presence. She went with him to the shadow where the trail slipped out of the clearing. At the door of the forest, he kissed her, making many promises.
Rhoda is evasive at this point; her memories make her restive. I think he was then at his best, and that she gave him a happy moment.
She went back to his tent and sat in his camp-chair before it. His lantern on the ground made its unwavering ring of white man’s light. From the huddle of lost huts about her came the odor of wood-fires. She thought that she was now to be alone, and she felt the first lapping of the tide of self-knowledge. How can we know what she felt when she sensed the incoming of that tide. And then the women began to gather about her, bringing their little stools and their bits of firew ood to sit on. They looked at her with their glancing eyes, bright above the brightness of their brass collars. Their brown bodies and their beaded head-dresses gave off the odor of smoke. They began to speak to her in their gentlest voices, and some, because she was to them so young and so tender, spoke to her in the accent they reserve for children.
They begged her — you know how women do — for five words of the word of God. And she, because she has a real flair for her profession, gave them what they asked. ‘I always did love,’ says Rhoda, ‘to talk with the women.’ And there they were talking about these things, when there came in to the clearing a little group of travelers. These were beach-people on a journey. They stopped of course to see the white woman, and they stood at ease regarding her. They spoke to her in the beach English that was strange to Rhoda’s ear — not pleasant. One of them had a child asleep in a sling at her side; this was a pretty woman, Rhoda says, looking very fine in her bright cloth that was tightened under her arms. She wore a handkerchief about her head. She looked at Rhoda with a laughing curiosity, and asked the customary questions in beach English.
‘Where you man live? He live for bush? Where you pickanniny live? You never born proper pickaninny? You wait, I fit for show you proper pickaninny, — fine too much!’
She gave the baby a little hitch with her shoulder, which brought the sleeping head into the light. It was a beautiful half-white child. Rhoda observed this with a pang. She was not accustomed to half-white children; there were none in this part of the forest. She looked hard at the baby, and the mother looked hard at Rhoda. It was a white man’s child, she told her, with that pride you know; and she lifted the baby out of the deer-skin sling; she held the little golden body out to Rhoda.
Rhoda drew back. White babies she knew, and black babies she knew; but poor Rhoda, she was afraid of that little yellow baby. There he hung between his mother’s hands, and drew up his sweet little knees, beating the light from his eyes with his fists.
‘ It is the child of the trader that is at Banga now; I was with him before he went inland.’
Rhoda, telling me of this, trembled on her cot beside me; I felt her body tremble with the memory of this moment.
Well, there you are. You must imagine it for yourself. It is to be remembered of Rhoda that she was young. The thoughts that swept her poured out of the narrow gorge of a girl’s experience; they were forced by that narrowness into a raging torrent. What did Rhoda know to temper that fury of shame? There she sat in the canvas chair before the tent, with the baby hanging like a yellow fruit from those brown outstretched arms. Not for long, surely. Presently the women were gone. She sat alone by the lantern. She does not know what time it was. I want you to know that this was a perfectly endless night. The moon rose, and there she was in the clearing between the two rows of huts, and the lantern golden on the ground. And all this time she was cold and she was frightened. Poor Rhoda — she was afraid of that man who had kissed her so tenderly, ages ago, where the little path goes out into the forest darkness. She sat forever, suffering fear, and shame.
When the moon rose and she saw herself sitting there in that moonlit clearing, her fears took a sudden body. She watched the outlet of the forest trail with a cruel apprehension — suppose he were to appear there — suppose that!
She saw him emerge — a stranger. A wicked stranger.
This is what I make of her account of that deadly fear: he would come to her, and he would not come in the guise of the man who had fed her and happed her and sent her to bed; she could not think how he would come, but surely as a stranger, and wicked. So she sat and faced the east and the mounting moon, trembling.
Presently, within, a bell struck the hour to move. She knew that she must move — get out of that — get home. And by home she was meaning the little cabin where she lived with the Wards.
It should now be the middle of the night; not a soul was abroad in that little clearing. She took the lantern from the ground, and she put her helmet on her head. There could be no question of her wheel in the dark. When she moved, she had to check her wish to run until she felt the dark of the trail about her; and then she knew she must pass through Malinga’s village, where Blake was sleeping, and she was afraid to do this. She trembled at the opening of that clearing for a long time, wishing that she knew the secret ways behind the cluster of bark huts. One hut was open to the night — that would be the place where Blake was sleeping. And was he sleeping? How to pass that open door! She could not stand forever there in the shadow; she must take her heart in her hands, and her chance. Softly in her little canvas shoes she ventured into the moonlight; neither man nor dog stirred; in that little hamlet this one creature stirred, stealing ever so gently, her lantern at her knee, until she had passed Blake’s door— and then she fled.
Once in the forest again, she was quite calm. She leaned against a tree, quieting her heart with deep breaths. She was not at all afraid of snakes or leopards or elephants or gorillas or any of those likely things — she never gave them a thought. She was just utterly at home and safe in the forest.
She moved on at the heart of her globe of light — the incredible green of the forest revealed in diameter about her. In her heart she embraced what she saw. The forest was for that hour her element; tears of casement fell with as little strain as the forest dew. The little trail, and the deeps above it, were kind to her. When she came to the embers of a fire by the way, she sat down on a bit of the firewood, drawing the logs together and warming her hands at that flame. She thought just nothing at all of the makers of that fire—who they might have been, or were they near or far. She was wishing for a bite to eat — even a stick of cassava bread, she was thinking, halfasleep over her fire.
And then she saw the lantern. There was of course only one white man in the world for that poor child, and whether he came from east or west, he would be Blake — ten lanterns shining in the dark of that forest would just have been ten Blakes, and she a hunted hare at the heart of the circumference. With her shaken light in hand, she broke off into the bush.
I cannot think she ran about in that tangle for long — how could she have? With her lantern to betray her! But she bit the immemorial mould of the forest more than once, and more than once was caught by her hair, before Arden, his lantern in pursuit of hers, closed upon her. He did not speak; he was horrorstruck by her horror of him. She beat him off, but he held her till she sank against him and her lids slid over the terror of her eyes. There were the two of them, lantern by lantern, the golden glow shattered by the close forest-shadows.
He got her back to the path where her little fire was, and her helmet fallen beside it. He was very sweet to her, smoothing her bright scattered hair, drawing the leaves and the moss out of it. He was like a mother, Rhoda says, and that was what Rhoda needed. She cried and cried, telling him everything she knew or had felt of loneliness. And about Blake — hiding nothing of her agonies of shame. You could never believe, Rhoda says of Arden, how different he was from what he had been. And all he said to her then was right.
They sat a long time like this, he saying always the right thing in the pauses of her tale. He had come to find her he said, when he heard that her carriers had gone east while she had gone west. They spoke presently of lesser things; she began to be drowsy. A pallor came among the trees, and that was the dawn. Arden said that he must see Blake; Rhoda says that he seemed to feel that she should see him, too. Arden said, ‘Surely he loves you.’ But Rhoda could n’t bear that — she was agitated again, I suppose, and cried until Arden let her off. He left her there by the fire and his lantern, that was paler in the dawn; Blake’s lantern he took with him.
She slept on Arden’s coat. Don’t ask me about driver-ant s, or snakes, or any of the common menaces that should have kept her awake.
She did not wake until Arden spoke to her again. He was kneeling there beside her with a cup of coffee, and it was day; the cup was Blake’s, and the coffee was hot from Blake’s thermos bottle. She remembers that it was good, and that there was a rain of sunlight through the green leaves, and a butterfly, ever so burnished, near and nearer.
Arden said they might go home — that he had said good-bye to Blake. So they went home, says Rhoda. She slept most of that day in a village west of the Mboto River, on a bed of leaves in the hut of a Christian woman. There was good food there, out of the kettles of that village — wonderful mushroom soup. And Arden was quite too wonderful; you see here the début of the quite-too-wonderful Arden whom Rhoda has married.
Well, there it is, as much as she knows of it. I don’t, know how much Mrs. Ward knew of it, or knows; trust her to be dumb. Arden, I should think, knows as much as man can know.
And Rhoda still uses Blake’s thermos bottle. You have seen her carry a little silver cup with a wooden rim: that was his.