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Conflict, Summer 1933

Black Idols

Even a White Unbeliever Must Not Tread the Sacred Trail


• • CHARLES DEZNEY, elephant hunter, stuck his head out of the covered bamboo litter and barked a single command in pidjin—"Halt!"

Obediently, twenty strutting blacks dropped their loads and craned their necks for sight of him. They stirred restlessly, apprehensive at this unexpected stop in the heart of the Ivory Coast jungle. Then a whispered word was tossed from mouth to mouth to leave them muttering and incredulous.

Thick-lipped and belligerent, Dezney stepped from the litter and faced Tao, the headman.

"Listen here," rasped the elephant hunter, head stuck forward from his deep shoulders. "What I want to do, I do, see? And no damn savage is going to stop me."

Tao grinned and shrugged the gold epaulettes on the crimson theatrical coat that was his only dress. "Bwana, you do not understand. These trails, they are the sacred paths of the Yafoubas."

"Sacred?" sneered Dezney. "To what?"

Tao flashed his filed, white teeth. "Who knows?" he replied evasively. "Perhaps the abode of a great nia, a powerful spirit."

"Your black spooks don't scare me."

"But Bwana, it is taboo. Death and destruction would follow the feet that trod a sacred path."

Bull-like and obstinate, Dezney stared at the thin matting of raffia grass that barred the forbidden way.

"That bunk may go for you, but it don't work with me. Find another reason."

"It is truth," said Tao softly. "Bwana, you must not."

"You heard me," bellowed Dezney, curling his thick, puffed lips. "Get out of my way!"

• • THE headman backed up a step, then his eyes caught the bright red of his coat, and recalled him to his dignity. Pride held him stiff and resisting.

"Out of my way!" thundered Dezney for the second time. Tao shifted uneasily, black lips muttering to the power in the little leather gigris around his neck.

The porters huddled together, watching this big ox of a white man, wide in the chest and thick in the neck. His square jaw was hard, and the knife scar across his cheek was like white hot iron in the black stubble of his face.

For a long moment he glowered. In one hand he brandished a short, heavy cane; his other was planted on the butt of a big-calibered revolver. Suddenly one arm doubled back, the cane coiled like a whip, and Tao rolled over on the ground, writhing and clutching a shattered shoulder. He sprawled there, beseeching terror gleaming from his whitish eyes.

Dezney stumped up to the grass barrier swinging in a light breeze. Cane raised high, he hesitated, sensing vaguely the folly of his act. Then his teeth shut with a grinding noise. What he'd started, he'd finish; no damned natives could stop him.

With a vicious hack, he lunged at the frail curtain. It came fluttering down like a discarded dress. Deliberately he set one boot heel on the raffia and strode down the trail.

Dezney walked like a somnambulist, impelled by some inner force he could not throw off. Twenty naked blacks riveted their glances on his broad back. He could feel the concentration of their eyes, like a steel bit boring through his skull. It sent a shiver up his spine, and he trembled. He wanted to look behind. If the beggars started any spear throwing, h...

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