WHEN I told the chef de province at Fort Dauphin that I wished to cross from there to Tulear, three hundred miles through one of the wildest parts of Madagascar, he was not enthusiastic. He pointed out that it was the hot season and that the natives were somewhat restless because of a recent increase in the tax on their cattle. In fact they had attacked three wagon trains during the previous three weeks. It would be better for me to wait for a month in Fort Dauphin, where, as he said, the climate was delightful. It would be better still if I waited two months, until the tax collecting was finished. However, if I had determined to go, he would get me Antandroy bearers, the local Tanosy men being of no use in the desert, and give me a military escort.

The afternoon before my departure the bearers came, convoyed by two native soldiers. As I looked them over I thought I had never seen a more mixed lot. All were thin, with the hard, driedup leanness of desert people the world over, and all had quick, bright eyes with a hint of wildness in them; but their color ranged from light tan to nearly black and their features from the flat nose and thick lips of the pure negro to thin, clear-cut faces that would not have been out of place in Yemen. They were dressed in broad white loin cloths with bands of bright-colored embroidery or beadwork at the ends, and nearly all wore necklaces of charms. Some had curious mitre-shaped hats of woven grass or hide, others were bareheaded, their hair done up in concentric rows of little knots and smeared thick with grease. One wore a belt covered with plates of sheet brass and several had massive silver bracelets, as heavy as handcuffs. Most of them seemed sullen, but the man with the brass belt grinned broadly as he caught my eye and threw up his hand with a ‘ Salama, Ronga.' Another man saluted and stepped forward, pointedly ignoring the soldiers. Over six feet tall, with the hawk nose and thin, cruel lips of an Assyrian king, I put him down at once as a person likely to be present whenever there was trouble. Looking me up and down, he demanded: ‘How many men will you have to carry you?’


‘Good! You are too big for eight. Give us each ten francs advance.’

‘I will give you five,’ I said, ‘and the rest at the end of the trip. And remember this is business under the fansakana (government). I am no missionary.’ He dropped back somewhat crestfallen and the men grumbled, but they became cheerful when they saw that they would receive their advance pay in metal money. They disliked paper and would gladly exchange fifteen francs in bills for five in silver.

The safari was a small one, ten baggage bearers and twenty men to carry my interpreter and me in our filanzanas, working in shifts of four. The filanzanas are canvas chairs slung between two twelve-foot poles which the bearers take on their shoulders. It is an unwritten law in Madagascar that a white man must be carried, as the native chiefs were carried in ancient times. To travel on foot would be to confess that one was poor and of no account, and would mean constant trouble with the natives. No respectable European can travel with less than eight filanzana men, while an important, or a heavy, one should have twelve. Baggage is usually divided into two-man loads and carried lashed to poles. I told the baggagemen to make up their bundles that night, so that we could start at dawn.

Next morning I was awakened by the voices of the baggage bearers, who had arrived in advance of the others. They were going over the lashings of their loads and tying on their own luggage: water gourds, mats, and big bunches of dry com on the cob. As each pair finished they swung the loaded pole to their shoulders and trotted off, determined to cover as much of the way as possible before the heat began. I knew that when we came to the village where we were to halt at noon I should find everything waiting for me. Nothing would be lost or stolen, for each couple is responsible for a load until the end of the journey. On one occasion I found that the bearers who had my canned food had carefully retrieved the empty tins thrown away at each stop and carried them along.

The filanzana men came before I had finished breakfast, and squatted before my door in a compact group, shivering in the dawn chill and wishing I would hurry. The moment I came out they jumped up and brought the filanzanas. I seated myself, and four men lifted me to their shoulders. We were off.

Most of my bearers were experienced men and they made good time, traveling at a fast walk and now and then breaking into a trot. Every thirty or forty yards one of the forward men would thump the pole with his palm and all four would change over to the other shoulder, ducking their heads and sliding under. Every hundred yards or so four fresh men would take the place of the others, waiting poised like basketball players, catching the poles and swinging them to their shoulders without stopping. Presently a man began to sing, the others joining in on the chorus, but they broke off to shout at a boy who was herding cattle beside the road, demanding why he did not salute the vazaha (white man). He did so with scared alacrity. They laughed, and became uproarious when I returned the salute in my smartest military manner.

Wayfarers passed — tall men from the forest, dressed like my bearers, disconsolate-looking Hovas and Betsileos in misfit European clothes, carrying their shoes in their hands, and groups of Tanosy women with baskets of vegetables on their heads. These were dressed in long blue cloths that left their arms and shoulders bare, and had many bead necklaces, with big disks of silver or shell hanging on their breasts. The older ones ignored us, but the girls laughed and exchanged spicy repartee with my men. One old woman who carried a huge basket of melons was surrounded and plundered in an instant, in spite of her shrill yells of protest. When I tossed her the equivalent of four cents these turned to equally shrill blessings. The man who had demanded the ten francs advance the night before emerged from the scrimmage with one of the largest melons clasped to his stomach, skillfully cracked it on the filanzana pole, and offered half of it to me with a grin. I thanked him and he nodded slightly, as much as to say, ‘Everything is all right again.’ I felt that the trip was beginning well.

As the sun rose the heat increased, until by ten o’clock it was like the blast from a furnace. I later discovered that the noon temperature was usually around one hundred and forty. The bearers dripped sweat, the trickles making lighter-colored patterns on their unwashed backs, and their shadows wavered and danced grotesquely in the heat waves. My eyes smarted in spite of my dark glasses and my lips were beginning to blister. It was with a general sigh of relief that we sighted the village where we were to eat dinner.

The tranombahiny (strangers’ house) stood at the farther end of the town and the bearers made a good finish, trotting through the village and bringing up at the gate with a jolt that almost unseated me. Then they scattered in all directions, shouting as they went, ‘Chefa! Chef a! Avia! Vazaha lebe.’ (‘Chief! Chief! Come! Here is a big white man.') The chief came, a withered, poorly dressed old man, who wore a battered sun helmet and carried a spear as a sign of his office. I demanded milk, a chicken, eggs, and melons, and the cook asked for two iron pots, as he never used my own aluminum utensils if he could help it. The bearers returned with borrowed pots and bunches of manioc or bananas, and half a dozen fires sprang up. One man cooked for the bearers from each village, while his companions looked on. The men gorged themselves, returned the pots with a little food in them, as etiquette required, then went to sleep in the shade.

At about three o’clock the baggagemen rose with many grunts, tightened their loin cloths, and started off with their loads. The filanzana men came straggling up and we were soon under way again. They marched heavily and silently at first, but as the sun sank their spirits rose and they began to shout and sing. The man with the brass belt trotted beside me and made me a long speech in a confidential tone. I understood very little of it, for I was not used to the Antandroy dialect, and answered, ‘ Tsy mahay teny Gasy.’ (’I do not speak Malagasy well.’) He looked at me doubtfully, then drew closer and patted the filanzana pole with little fluttering gestures, like a child that strokes an animal of which it is half afraid, and said pleadingly, ‘ Kadao, Ronga, kadao.' He was asking for a gift when we should arrive. I promised, and the news was shouted back along the line.

The sun went down, flinging long streamers of gold and purple across the sky. The twilight faded swiftly and great stars came out. The road was a white line between masses of vague shadow. Night birds called, and lemurs laughed and wailed, like hysterical children. The men drew closer together and fell silent. Then, far off, a light appeared. They began to trot, shouting rhythmically. We passed the first houses of the straggling village, the people in their doorways black silhouettes against wavering firelight. The bearers called to them and they called back. The black bulk of the strangers’ house loomed before us. The forward men dropped the filanzana poles with a thud and they all clustered around me demanding the promised tip. The moment they had received it they melted into the darkness.

I found that my own baggage had been piled inside the house and that the men had not taken the trouble to unrope it. My cook and interpreter had gone off together to find the chief, and as I struggled with the knots and then assembled my bed and hung my mosquito net I reflected on the disadvantages of being white. The bearers, with no baggage at all, could find the comforts of home everywhere. Immemorial custom prescribed that a householder must take in any stranger who came to the door asking shelter. The traveler might be courteously directed to another house if the one where he first stopped was full, but he would always find a lodging. Custom also prescribed that he should make a small gift on departure. I once asked a native whether such involuntary guests and hosts ever robbed each other, and he answered indignantly that no human being would do such a thing.


The stars were still bright when I was wakened by the bearers calling to each other, and we were well on our way before it became gray in the east. Daylight showed that there were additions to our party, three young women who had found friends among my men the night before, and a wandering Hova, who had attached himself to us for protection. The day was a repetition of the first, except that as we went deeper into the desert the villages and cultivated fields along the way grew fewer and finally disappeared. The few travelers we met were in groups, the men armed and the women carrying the baggage. The road narrowed to a mere lane between unbroken walls of cactus and thorny scrub, with here and there a gigantic bottle-shaped baobab tree. The cactus was a mass of yellow bloom, and there were other flowers — flat pink or white blossoms that looked like wild roses, big pea flowers of a sickly bluish green, like carnations dyed for St. Patrick’s Day, and a little creeping plant whose flowers had only two bright blue petals, which stuck up from the top like the ears of an elfin rabbit. By afternoon the baobabs had almost disappeared and we were marching through a forest of bare bright-green poles thirty feet high. Some were as straight and smooth as a flagstaff, others forked into two or three thick, upward-pointing branches. Close inspection showed that the whole tree was covered with close-set. alternate rows of short thorns and small crisp leaves. There seemed to be no birds in this forest and little other life. Once a huge tortoise lumbered across the road, and just before sunset we came on a herd of lemurs, big white animals with black heads and incredibly long tails. They stood erect, with their hind feet close together, and fled with awkward bouncing leaps, like boys on pogo sticks. I shot three, thinking to give the bearers some meat, but discovered too late that the flesh was taboo to their tribe.

The evening of the fourth day brought us to Behara, a mud fort perched on the crest of a low hill that rose above the forest of sticks. I had hoped to find a European there, but discovered that he had been carried to Fort Dauphin, dying of black-water fever. The next stage of the journey was said to be the worst, ten hours without water, and, as one of my men had had sunstroke the day before, I decided to stay at the fort until evening and travel through the night. The bearers were delighted at the idea, and it would give me a chance to do some collecting in the village that sprawled at the foot of the hill.

I sent the men away with orders to return at four-thirty, and started out with my interpreter to see what we could find. Five minutes after we entered the village we were both hopelessly lost. The place was a maze of narrow paths running between eightfoot hedges of the green poles. Through the cracks we could catch tantalizing glimpses of houses and people, but we wandered for some time before we found a gate and got inside one of the compounds. Half a dozen little houses were ranged around the enclosure, their backs to the fence, and there were a few granaries raised on high posts. The centre was open and was evidently used as a cattle pen. The only people in sight were a child, who fled yelling, and an old woman who was weaving in the shade of one of the granaries. Strolling toward her slowly, so as not to frighten her, I squatted down beside the loom and began to examine her work, admiring it and asking a few harmless questions. She gradually became friendly and then voluble.

Two or three men came out of the houses and stood watching us with expressionless faces. Finally one of them sauntered over, squatted beside me, and began to explain the weaving technique in excellent French. He had been in Europe five years, during and after the war. He asked whether I was English, and when I answered, ‘American,’ he brightened. ‘I met lots of American soldiers,’ he said. ‘They always bought us something to drink.’ After a little more talk I asked if I might see his house, and he led me to the best of the huts. The walls were made of hewn planks, set on end and mortised into heavy beams at the top and bottom, and the roof was of clapboards. At either side of the front end there was a little doorway, surrounded by a heavy beaded moulding. One door, he explained, was for himself, the other for his wife. Dropping on all fours and wriggling in, I found myself in a room about twice the size of an ordinary apartment-house cupboard. Standing in the centre, I could easily touch the wall on all sides. At the front, between the two doors, there was a fireplace, and across the rear wall ran a long shelf, edged with a carved plank. This was packed solid with square boxes of equal size, their fronts embroidered with wild silk in simple designs. Most of them, I found, were empty, and when I tried to lift one the rest came with it. They had been sewn together into a single block. Small baskets, rolls of mats, and odds and ends of clothing hung from pegs on the wall. Everything was stained with soot, and long ropes of it hung from the rafters.

I began my real business by asking him whether he would sell a carved wooden spoon that was lying in a dish by the fireplace. He looked surprised, but agreed readily. Other things followed. Neighbors who had poked their heads in to see what was happening slipped away and returned with things of their own. I refused to buy these, saying I would bargain with each of them in his or her own house. When the possibilities of the first hut had been exhausted I passed on to the next, then to another and another. In half an hour I had seen the inside of every house in the compound, even the granaries, and bought some fifteen good objects. Then we moved on to other compounds, the army man leading the way. News of us had, of course, gone ahead, and the work went smoothly and rapidly. By noon I had seen the whole village, except for a few houses whose owners were away, and had a one-man load of specimens. I had also made some notes on technical processes, weaving, mat making, and the preparation of food, and a few photographs. The less obvious parts of the native life, such as the religious beliefs and practices and the social organization, would have to wait until I came to some place where I could settle down for a while and work with the old people.

The afternoon was spent in writing up notes and cataloguing. I noticed that the heat was unusually oppressive and that heavy banks of clouds were gathering in the west. There was a light shower as we started out. An hour to the west of the fort we came to a river. It was rising rapidly and the current was already so swift that the ferryman had to paddle far upstream each trip and then come down on a long diagonal. The canoe was old and cranky and had a large hole in the bow, so that it was necessary to bail it out between trips. It would carry only six men or two loads at a time, so it was twilight before the whole safari was across.

We had been marching for perhaps twenty minutes when the men began to call to each other excitedly. They were saying something about water, or rain, I could not make out what. Then I saw that the sky ahead had turned almost as black as ebony. A moment later I caught a far-off murmur that grew louder and louder. A black curtain with a silver border was flung suddenly across the road in front of us. The bearers shouted when they saw it, dropped their loads, and scattered in all directions. The curtain came on slowly, hardly faster, it seemed, than a man could walk, and the air was as still as death. As it drew near I saw that the silver border was a belt of spray that leaped back waist-high from the ground, and that writhing arms of foam-flecked water were reaching out to seize the road ahead of it. The murmur suddenly became a roar, a puff of cold air jerked the helmet strap tight against my chin, then I was beaten to my knees by the force of the rain. I struggled to my feet again, realizing that if I fell I should be drowned, for the spray seemed as thick as that of a breaking wave. Even with my head above it and my face sheltered by my hands, I had to gasp for breath. The water was ice-cold, and came with the force of a fire hose, driving through my clothes as though they had been so much tissue paper, and soaking me to the skin in an instant.

The first violence of the storm lasted about ten minutes, then it settled to a steady downpour, as heavy as an ordinary thunder shower. There was no shelter nearer than the next village, four hours ahead, so, after some persuasion and a little mild violence, I got the bearers to take up their loads again and we started on. The road had become an ankle-deep river, with occasional holes into which I dropped to the waist, and it was so dark that I could not see my hand two inches before my eyes. Every few yards some member of the party would blunder off the narrow way and bring up in a cactus or thorn bush, with appropriate remarks. After some two hours of this we came to a better road and I mounted the filanzana. The bearers crawled along and I soon discovered that they were whispering among themselves, usually a sign of trouble. I decided that they must be discussing the feasibility of dropping me and bolting, for I knew they were much too wet and cold for any sort of attack; so I promised that I would give every man a drink of rum when we got in. The whispering ceased, and they struck out at a better pace. After what seemed an eternity they stopped. We had somehow passed the village in the dark. Scouts were sent out, and after much shouting we heard a distant call in answer. A point of light appeared. This resolved itself into a naked man carrying a glowing brand, swinging it back and forth in his attempt to keep it aflame. He led us to the village and showed us the strangers’ house. The roof was full of holes, for no one ever spent the night there and the house had been allowed to go to pieces. All baggage and bedding were soaked, of course, but I managed to rig a crude tent with the cover of my bedding roll and turned in, after taking thirty grains of quinine to stave off the fever that would probably follow such a soaking.


Next morning it was still raining, with a brisk wind, but we pushed on to the next town, an abandoned army post with a few native huts clustered around the old blockhouse. Here the weather kept us for two days. On the third morning the clouds had disappeared and the sun seemed to beat down with more than its usual heat. I found that the desert had suddenly leaped to life. The bush, usually so silent, rang with the cries of birds and the shrill notes of insects. Wherever the rain had left a pool, hundreds of little pink and brown toads congregated, frolicking in the warm water and cheeping their delight in a deafening chorus. Gleaming metallic flies rose from the earth in swarms and drunken bees blundered against me as I passed. The miracle of resurrection went on before my eyes. Dozens of trees and bushes that had seemed dead were pushing out buds. By afternoon I had counted six new flowering species, by the next night more than twenty-five. Some trees clothed themselves in soft clouds of yellow or crimson mist, others dropped long sprays of wistaria-like flowers, and still others covered their ungainly branches with row on row of rusty red bells as large as hens’ eggs. Even the green poles caught the infection and pushed out long, spidery, dark gray filaments from their tips. There seemed to be no end to the variety of smaller flowering plants, I passed purple bushes, white bushes, bushes pink, yellow, and red, clumps of tall grass sprinkled with stars of half a dozen colors, sprawling vines that rioted in mauve and yellow and blue, and big yellow lilies, stiff and formal, their petals bent back until they met about the stalk. Every turn of the trail brought a new glory and a new fragrance. For three days our march seemed to lead through a great garden, until at last we came to Ambovombe.

Ambovombe was a place of some importance, the capital of a district. It had the usual fort, three or four government buildings, and several broad streets that wandered away and lost themselves in the scrub. There were two Europeans, a chef de district, and a government veterinary who was making experiments in crossing European sheep with the native ones. I found that the chef de district had been sick in bed for about two weeks as the result of a chigger, a small insect which burrows into the toe, settles down, and proceeds to raise a family. He had not found it in time and his whole leg had become infected, with an abscess in the groin. Fortunately this had broken the night before I arrived and he seemed on the road to recovery. He could not have been more than twenty-two or twentythree and had a boy’s eager eyes and a boy’s face, which was set off rather than masked by his thick black beard. He was pathetically friendly and talked incessantly, apologizing again and again for not being able to take me in. I spent most of the afternoon with him and found it hard to get away.

I had been told that if I wished to see the veterinary I should have to visit him that evening, for he was leaving for an outlying station the next day. His farm was about two miles out of town — I should know it by a sign on the gate. After about twenty minutes’ walk I came to a huge concrete gateway that loomed in the dusk like a megalithic monument. There was no fence, no gate, and, as far as I could see, no sign of a farm. A weed-grown road led away from it, apparently into the heart of the unbroken scrub. Another ten minutes brought me to a clump of buildings hidden in a hollow, and I was soon chatting with the man I sought. Conversation lagged at first and it gradually dawned on me that he thought I was a missionary. The moment I had set him right on this he took a deep breath and shouted, ’Boto! Apportez les bouteilles!’ When I left he invited me to come to lunch the next day. His trip could easily wait a while. He also insisted on driving me back to town, for he had a horse, the only one in the district. It was a gentle, middle-aged animal, but all the natives took to the bush when they saw it. I learned that they looked upon it much as we should regard a pet tiger, and the veterinary had a great reputation for courage.

This was my bearers’ home district, so I dismissed them, asking the government to provide others five days later. I had hoped to spend this time peacefully working with informants, but the bearers spread the news that I was buying specimens and the first morning found a dozen natives waiting with things to sell. By noon the crowd had grown until it blocked the road and I had to put a bar across my gate and station a soldier there to let them in four or five at a time. The whole population seemed to have been seized by the mood that is known to my profession as a ‘selling streak.’ People came in from villages twenty miles away bringing anything and everything from the family jewels to the baby’s milk gourd. When I had bought enough of the common things and began to turn others away, rare objects came to light, bits of old carving stained a rich brown with the smoke of years, charms, and things used in religious ceremonies.

The charms and sacred objects were usually brought at night, when the owners thought they would be safe from too much publicity. I would hear a low knock at the door, and an old man would slip in with his face half hidden in his lamba. From somewhere in its ample folds he would produce a charm, usually a section of carved cow horn with a collar of bright beads around the large end, and hold it out to me silently, waiting to see what I would offer. Most of these things were innocent enough, charms for general good fortune, for safety on a journey, or for the increase of cattle, but one man came three times in succession bringing me charms that I knew to be of evil significance. On the fourth trip he produced from under his lamba a curious wooden image about eighteen inches high, with long human hair attached to the head. A crocodile and snake were carved on the body in low relief and the whole figure was covered with little dots representing figures in the sikidy, a native form of divination, He said that it was used for healing the sick, which I did not believe, but after I had paid him for it he added that the natives might think it was something bad and advised me to keep it hidden. A few minutes later another man came in and nearly stepped on the image, lying in the shadow beside my table. When he saw it he jumped back as if it had been a coiled snake and fled in such haste that he had trouble getting out the door. It proved to be a particularly deadly charm for killing enemies.

I had bought so much material that I decided to box my collections on the spot and send them back to Fort Dauphin for shipment to America. Good specimens kept coming in up to the last minute and it was noon of the sixth day before we got under way once more. I found later that it would have been better to wait until the next day, for only the villages which lay at the end of the scheduled days’ marches had kept their strangers’ houses in repair. My noon start threw me off the regular itinerary so that I had to sleep in bad ones all the way.


Beyond Ambovombe the country changed once more. The soil changed to a fine white sand that reflected the sun like a mirror and blistered my bearers’ feet as they ploughed through it. The sea, now many miles away, had been there only a short time before, for in the sand I could still find fragments of rolled shell and coral. In one place, where the route had been cut through a low dune, I came upon a layer of broken eggshells which had also been rolled and worn by the waves. These shells were an eighth of an inch thick; and, from the largest fragment I found, about as big as the palm of my hand, I judged that the whole egg had been eight to ten times as large as that of an ostrich.1 The familiar cactus was still massed along the road, but the green poles had been replaced by new trees of weird and incredible shapes. One, a relative of the green poles, was a long club, covered all over with slender outstanding leaves and thorns, so that it looked like the tail of an enraged cat. Another seemed to be a pile of ash-gray balls, each five or six feet across. Each ball was a mass of slender square twigs that crossed and interlaced, presenting a solid front of points. Another had long flat jointed branches, like the legs of a crab. Still another split its short trunk into half a dozen broad palms, each palm edged with a stiff fringe of blobby protuberances that could not be called either twigs or branches. The heat waves made even the bushes close at hand dance and waver as if seen through moving water; it was easy to imagine myself walking on the bottom of some hot sea of a bygone age among gigantic corals, sponges, and algæ.

I was now at the head of a safari of about fifty people, for several of the bearers had been joined by their wives and a number of other natives had attached themselves to us for protection. The escort consisted of two soldiers and I doubted whether even these were necessary, for the country seemed almost deserted. We met no travelers, and the villages at the regular halts dwindled to little groups of ten or a dozen houses fortified by high hedges of prickly pear and a maze of blind paths. I found it increasingly hard to get food, and the only water was a liquid mud the consistency of cream. Once more I had to reflect on the disadvantages of being white, for the natives were getting along very well. The women gathered a few cups of water every morning by beating dew-covered grass or shrubs over calabashes, while the cactus provided them with both food and drink. They would spear the ripe fruit with a pointed stick, break it off with a quick twist, and roll it under their horny feet to break off the spines. Most of the cactus fruit was eaten raw, but some was squeezed and the juice used for boiling other food. I was finally forced to use it and found it mildly sweet and not unpleasant.

Near the end of our fourth day’s march I noticed some cactus plants that were yellow and covered with fuzzy white spots as large as a dime. The natives shook their heads when they saw them and said it was the doom of their tribe. It was an insect that had been imported to the west coast from Africa a few years before, and was now spreading eastward, killing out the cactus as it came. When the cactus was gone there would be no food for them or for their cattle in the dry season, and they would have to go away, they did not know where. Rightly or wrongly, they believed that certain white men had imported the pest to help clear their plantations, and this, even more than the increased taxes, was making the tribes ripe for revolt.

The evening of the fifth day’s march brought us to an empty house standing alone in the middle of the scrub. The village lay about a mile away, and although I sent off my interpreter at once to call the chief it was over an hour before he appeared. He was sullen and hostile, declaring that there was no food, no water, and no lodging for my men. The last was a breach of all the accepted rules of the road and probably meant that his people had arms or stolen goods in their houses and so were unwilling for strangers to enter them. When I threatened to go to the village myself and requisition what I needed, he promised to bring food and water, but still insisted there was no room for the bearers. I told him that unless he found room I would take him on with me to Tsiombé and turn him over to the officer in charge of the fort there, and he went away muttering. An hour later he returned with four women carrying the supplies I had demanded and an unsolicited gift of milk and melons. He apologized for his conduct, and as the men had already built shelters for themselves I did not press the matter of lodgings. I paid for the food at the usual rates, gave the melons to the bearers, and turned the rest of it over to my cook. A few minutes later he came running in to tell me that the milk had been poisoned. Unfortunately he had thrown it away, but I knew that his tribe were experts in such matters and was ready to take his word. The chief had left the moment he received his money and was probably hanging about somewhere outside the light of our fires, waiting to see whether the trick had been discovered. If he found that it had been, there was a good chance that he would attack us during the night, on the principle that it is as well to be hung for a sheep as a lamb. The bearers had been too busy dividing the melons to notice the episode, and I warned the cook to say nothing and to go on and get dinner as usual. As the house had no door I took the precaution of arranging my bed in the middle of the floor, where it would make a good mark for spears, and sleeping in the corner behind a barricade of luggage, but the night passed quietly.

The incident was annoying and white prestige required that the chief should be punished, but I could not see how I was going to catch him. If I sent for him he would take to the bush, and if I went to the village after him there would probably be a fight. This would mean trouble with the French authorities, who were anxious to avoid an open break. I knew that the chief must be consumed by curiosity as to what had happened, and if he thought the attempt had miscarried without being discovered it was possible that he might visit me of his own accord, given a good excuse. Accordingly, when a woman arrived to get the empty gourds, I gave her the poison gourd with the rest and sent word that I needed more milk and a chicken. He brought this food himself, and instantly decided to accompany me to the fort. I took the precaution of roping him to one of the soldiers, but it was really unnecessary, for he was as meek a man as ever walked ahead of a gun.

When we arrived at the fort, difficulties arose. My cook had destroyed the evidence, and if I pressed the poison charge it meant going up to the capital, with a loss of three months’ time. The captain said he could give the chief thirty days’ prison, on general principles, and I let it go at that. He was sentenced on the spot, and the captain returned to his papers. There had been four attempts to poison him in as many months and he was rather blasé on the subject.

That evening, as we sat over the eternal chicken and rice that begins by being the blessing and ends by being the curse of Madagascar, we agreed that my trip had been a very ordinary and uneventful one. Nothing ever happened in Madagascar. ‘ Why don’t you go to Indo-China?’ the captain asked. ‘You might find some excitement there. The tiger shooting is excellent.’

  1. Undoubtedly Æpyornis eggs. Several whole ones have been found in the south of Madagascar. — EDITOR