IT IS SOMETIMES DIFFICULT to know just where to begin a story. I recall an acquaintance of mine who, in telling of an accident wherein a neighbor had fallen down the cellar stairs and broken her leg, would recount all the marriages and deaths in the family for a generation or two back before getting to the point of the story.
In the present instance, I might go back to Ah Cuitok Tutul Xiu, the Mayan, who founded Uxmal in Yucatan in 1004 A .D.; and from him on to Chab Xib Chac, the Red Man, who destroyed Mayapan in 1451 and murdered the entire Cocom family of tyrants; but I shall not. I shall simply mention that Chac Tutul Xiu, a descendant of Ah Cuitok Tutul Xiu, motivated by that strange migratory urge of the Maya and by the advice of the Ah Kin Mai, or chief priest, left Uxmal with many of his followers, nobles, warriors, women, and slaves, and went to the coast where he constructed several large double dugout canoes and embarked therein upon the broad Pacific, never again to be heard of in his homeland.
That was in 1452 or 1453. From there I might make a broad calendric jump of some four hundred eighty-five or six years to modern times and to the island of Uxmal in the South Pacific, where Cit Coh Xiu is king; but I shall not do that either, since it would be anticipating my story.
Instead, I take you to the deck of the Saigon, a battered old tramp steamer awaiting at Mombasa to load wild animals for shipment to the United States . From below and from cages on deck come the plaints and threats of captured beasts; the deep-throated rumblings of lions, the trumpeting of elephants, the obscene “laugh” of hyenas, the chattering of monkeys.
At the rail two men are deep in argument: “But I tell you, Abdullah,” one was saying, “we are practically ready to sail; the last consignment should be here within the week, and every day my expenses are mounting. It might take you a month to bring him in; you might not get him at all.”
“I cannot fail, Sahib Krause,” replied Abdullah Abu Nejm; “he has received an injury; that I know from Ndalo, in whose country he now is; and so he may be taken easily. Think of it, Sahib! A real wildman, raised by apes from infancy, the play fellow of elephants, the killer of lions. Wellah? he would be worth more than all your shipload of wild beasts in the land of the Nasara; he would make you a rich man, Sahib Krause.”
“As I understand it, the fellow speaks English as well as the damned British themselves; I have heard of him for years. How long do you suppose I could exhibit in a cage in the United States a white man who can speak English? Abdullah, you are always saying that we Nasara are mad; I think it is you who are mad.”
“You do not understand,” replied the Arab. “This injury which he has suffered had deprived him of speech and the knowledge of speech; in that respect, he would be as your other beasts. They cannot complain, so that anyone can understand them; neither could he.”
“Aphasia,” muttered Krause.
“What did you say, Sahib?”
“That is the name of the affliction which has resulted in your man’s loss of speech,” explained Krause; “It is caused by a brain lesion. It puts a different aspect on the matter; the thing might be done-and very profitably; but yet—” , He hesitated.
“You do not like the English, Sahib?” inquired Abdullah.
“I do not,” snapped Krause. “Why do you ask?”
“This man is an Englishman,” replied the Arab in his oiliest tones.
“What would you want for bringing him in?”
“The expenses of my safari, which would be very little, and the price of one lion.”
“You do not ask much for so great a catch,” commented Krause; “why is that? I expected you to rob me-as usual.”
The Arab’s eyes narrowed, and his sinister face seemed a mask of hate. “He is my enemy,” he said.
“How long will it take?”
“Less than a month,” replied Abdullah.
“I shall wait thirty days,” said Krause; “then I shall sail, whether you are back or not.”
“I am bored,” said the girl. ” Mombasa ! I hate it.”
“You are always complaining,” growled Krause; “I don’t know why the devil I brought you along; anyway, we sail in three days, whether that Arab dog is back or not; then I suppose you’ll find something else to grouse about.”
“It must be a very valuable specimen Abdullah is bringing you,” said the girl.
“What is it, Fritz-a pink elephant or a crimson lion?”
“It is a wild man, but keep it to yourself-the English pigs would never let me take him aboard, if they knew.”
“A wild man! One of those whose heads come up to a little point on top, like a cone? He should have a little tuft of hair right on the tip top of the cone, and his nose should spread all across his face, and he shouldn’t have any chin. Is he like that, Fritz?”
“I have never seen him, but I suppose he is just like that—that has been orthodox ever since Barnum’s What-is-it.”
“Look, Fritz! Here comes Abdullah now.”
The swart Arab came over the side and approached them; his face betokened nothing of either the success or failure of his mission.
“Marhaba!” Krause greeted him. “Ey khabar.”
“The best of tidings, Sahib,” replied Abdullah. “I have him, just outside of town, in a wooden cage covered with matting, so that none may see what is within; but billah! what a time we had in capturing him! We took him in a net, but he killed three of Ndalo’s warriors before they could tie his hands behind him. He is strong as el-m. We have had to keep his hands tied ever since we got him: he would have torn that wooden cage to pieces in an instant, had we not.”
“I have an iron cage that he cannot tear to pieces,” said Krause.
“I would not be too sure of that,” cautioned the Arab. “If your cage could not withstand the strength of el-m, you had still better keep his hands tied.”
“My cage would not hold an elephant,” said Krause, “but if it could, it would be strong enough.”
“I would still keep his hands tied,” persisted Abdullah.
“Has he spoken?” asked Krause.
“No; not a word-he just sits and looks. There is neither hate nor fear in his eyes-he reminds me of el adrea; I am always expecting to hear him roar. We have to feed him by hand, and when he eats his meat, he growls like el adrea.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Krause. “He will be a sensation. I can just see those fool Americans begging to pay good money to see him. Now listen-I shall clear this afternoon and stand up the coast, returning after dark. Load the cage on a dhow below the town and stand straight out until you pick up my signal-I’ll blink my running light three times in rapid succession at intervals; then you show a light. Do you understand?”
“It is already done,” said Abdullah Abu Nejm.
* * *
The wind had risen and a sea was running when Abdullah picked up the Saigon ‘s signal. Maneuvering the dhow into position along the lee side of the steamer was finally accomplished. Tackle was lowered and made fast to the cage containing the wild man. Abdullah was guiding the cage as it was hoisted from the dhow, when suddenly the Saigon rolled over away from the smaller craft; the cage was jerked suddenly upward; and Abdullah, fearing that he would be hurled into the sea, clung to it. The cage crashed against the side of the steamer; the men above continued to hoist; then the Saigon rolled back and crashed down upon the dhow, swamping it.
All of the crew of the dhow were lost, and Abdullah was aboard the steamer bound for America . He filled the air with “billahs!” and “Wullah-bullahs!” and called upon Allah to preserve him.
“You’re damn lucky to be alive,” Krause told him. “You’ll make a lot of money in America . I’ll exhibit you, too, as the shiek who captured the wild man; they’ll pay plenty to see a real shiek straight from the desert. I’ll buy a camel for you, and you can ride through the streets with a banner advertising the show.”
“I, Abdullah Abu Nejm, exhibited like a wild beast!” screamed the Arab. “Never!”
Krause shrugged. “Have it your own way,” he said; “but don’t forget, you got to eat, and you won’t find many free date trees in America . I’ll feed you until we get there, but after that you’re on your own.”
“Dog of a Nasrany!” muttered the Arab.