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All Story, June 12, 1920

The Watcher at the Ford

By L. Patrick Greene

THE highway leading from the kraal of Marfwe, a headman of the Barotse tribe, to the land of the white men—is a narrow path leaving its snakelike way through the thick jungle growth. It is rarely used and in places it is hard to distinguish from the numerous game trails which cross it. But at two seasons of the year it is a well trodden path.

Twice a year, when the newly recruited laborers are on their way to work in the mines, and again when they return gaily dressed in multi- colored raiment, bedecked with trinkets and reeking with cheap perfume, the jungle creatures are affrighted by the boisterous shouts and songs of the natives and for many days thereafter shun the trail about which still hangs the strange, detested man scent. Just before the Zambezi River is reached the jungle growth becomes even thicker and thornier, flesh-tearing brambles hang low across the path. Apes gambol in the branches high overhead and shriek maledictions on the lesser folk who walk on earth.

Trekking here is slow—slow for a man in the fulness of his strength—slow to the returning laborer, his heart on fire with eagerness to return to his people and show off the knowledge acquired while in the service of the white man.

Even Marfwe found the way all but impassable, and Marfwe, though he was no longer a young man, had the strength of a lion in his mighty shoulders. So, with an indomitable courage and determination, as though driven by some power within, he struggled onward, hacking furiously at the creepers which sought to bar his way.

Behind him, eyes heavy for lack of sleep, bodies bent with weariness, walked six women— his wives. They were heavily laden, and as they walked they chanted a dismal dirge. Occasionally the cadence was broken by one, bolder than the rest, who raised her voice in protest. "We can go no further, O Marfwe. Let us rest ere we drop to the ground and sleep the long sleep. How much longer must we suffer for the folly that drives thee on?"

He only answered:

"Have patience, ye black cows. After a little ye shall rest."

Now the way led up a steep incline, and murmuring as of the wind soughing in the tree- tops, or the rushing of mighty waters, caught the ear.

"The journey nears its end," said Marfwe. "It is well," muttered she who had spoken before, "else would I die."

The jungle growth became less dense and at the top of the rise they came out of a small, bare plateau. Before them flowed the mighty river, and the women, forgetting their weariness, pressed forward eagerly for a better view, and seeing, gazed spellbound in awed amazement. Truly the Zambezi is the mother of all waters, and the story of ages is told in her rushing waters.

The song of the river was almost a lullaby. One by one the women dropped to the ground and slept the sleep of utter exhaustion. But Marfwe sat and watched knowing that Lady Zambezi is most dangerous when seemingly asleep. Ever changing like a capricious woman, she rushes on to her death at the place of thunder, to Mosi-oa-tunya—the Victoria Falls.

The sun set in the west and for a time all was dark, a brief lowering of the curtain before top rising of the moon. The apes hushed their chatter, and all was silent save for the droning of m...

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