AN AFRICAN LOVER Edit
By George Osborne, Jr. Edit
Written for Short Stories. 1899
They didn't care much for Dahomé; lie was a sacrilegious being. To him the "Image" had no beauty ; it was only a thing of stone. And as for sacred power, he, in his own degenerate mind, imagined that he could create more happiness and good feeling by human acts of kindness. In the village he was considered a loafer. To pass down the opening between the huts, which did service for a street, and see Dahomé stretched out at full length on a mat, that at the time of his retiring was in the shade, snoring as only a vagrant can snore, was no more than could be seen three hundred and sixty-five days of the year ; and, as was the custom in his country, his dark skin being generously rubbed with grease and an herb that perfumed the said grease, the flies that shared the occupancy of the village found a very comfortable and remunerative oasis to camp upon.
It was just before one of these fractional relaxations that Dahomé conceived a plan whereby he would gain a few hours' pleasure and at the same time compel a certain family in the village to testify, upon the sacred image, that he was not entirely a heartless vagabond.
Of course there was an Object. Dahomé, though a loafer and a vagabond, had concealed beneath his tough black skin a heart as red, and as liable to be pierced by the arrows of the little black angel as the Great Chief who owned the hut opposite the temple, and who had many weed bags full of the brightest stones and shells. The Object was the only daughter of a widow who had lost her husband in a war between the local warriors and the fighting men of a village four days' distant, and who at present occupied a hut on the outskirts of the circle. This hut had been deserted by the former occupants on account of the close proximity to a stream, where, it is said, a lion was wont to come to quench his thirst after the night's dissipation.
Now, this lion was an obstinate beast, since he refused to be captured, and positively declined to be exterminated by the bands of hunters that ventured forth, very foolishly, to wreak vengeance on his majesty, but, turning the tables, very often hunted the hunters. When the lion took this very foolish idea into his obstinate brain, one, and sometimes more than one, of these sanguine huntsmen never came back. Then there was weeping and wailing.
Dahomé, lying on his broad back, thought of his long-lamented father, and how, when just gaining man's estate, that proud, big warrior had taught his only son the valuable use of the javelin. Night after night they would steal down to the stream and wait for the game to appear, and, at last, when a fine large buck came to take his drink, Dahomé's father had grasped him by the arm and told him to "throw." Ah, how his heart beat ! Thump ! thump ! thump ! He was afraid the buck would hear it and escape. Then how his fingers grasped the long tough shaft of his weapon. He tried to give it the proper poise, but somehow or other it would not balance. Someone surely must have been tampering with it while it was lying in the sun to season. Well, he must throw at all events, for had not the buck nearly finished? Raising it to the desired position, with the full strength of his young muscular arm, he threw, and closed his eyes. What was that snort and cracking noise? And what was that disturbance by his side? Perhaps he had missed, and the buck seeing him throw had decided to take revenge for the attack.
Whir-r-r ! Why, that sounded like another javelin whistling through the air. Taking courage, Dahomé opened his eyes, and, behold, there was his father, on the other side of the brook, bending over the carcass of the dead buck. Picking his way across the stream, though with a very sheepish expression, Dahomé learned that his javelin had done no damage, more than to scare the buck. But his experienced father's had brought him down before he had gone half a heavy stone's throw.
But now matters were different. Though he was known as the village loafer, every afternoon, as the sun reached a certain sticky set there for that purpose, and until it left half of the hut in shadow, Dahomé could be seen throwing his spear and flint knives at a target rigged some distance off. And as for hunting, well, no one in the village could supply the larder in as short a time as Dahomé.
Reflecting on all these occurrences, and planning his grand coup, was more than Dahomé could endure. It was noticeable that he slept longer and more soundly than usual that day. So noticeable, in fact, that one of his neighbors, passing after the night was well set in, was kind enough to poke him in the ribs with a spear, and tell him that he had overslept himself. What a foolish remark ! Didn't Dahomé know very well that he had slept longer than was his wont? And then, again, what business was it of his neighbor's whether he slept long, or did not sleep at all ?
Reluctantly rising from his mat and rubbing his greasy eyes with his more greasy knuckles, he growlingly went into the hut to prepare supper, only to find that through his laziness there was nothing in the place fit to eat. And, oh, he was so hungry ! Well, there was only one thing to do, and that was to take his trusty spear and see if he couldn't bag some kind of game to sustain life until the morrow. Acting as the cravings of hunger directed, he started out into the moonlight in quest of his evening meal. 'It was strange that he should find himself in front of a certain hut on the extreme outer edge of the circle, when he could have gone in the opposite direction from his abode, and with a better chance to secure game. But, nevertheless, there he was, and no game over his shoulder.
But what was that movement in yonder clump of trees? At last here is a chance for supper. Throwing himself on the ground at full length, Dahomé crawled toward the tree. When within easy throwing distance, and while preparing his javelin, a soft purring sound, which gradually swelled into a plaintive love chant, floated from that clump of trees, and presently there stepped out, in all the beauty of her youth (by the thirteenth arm of the Image), the Object.
How beautiful she is ! Her ebony skin reflects the moonbeams, and as she moves they strike at her, only to be parried and thrown off into space. Her beautiful hair is done up in one knot, on the top of her head, and resplendent with various colored grasses ; and in her nose the dearest little tusk that ever came out of an animal's mouth. How Dahomé loved her! Hidden in the tall grass, he could see her and admire to his heart's content. Listen! what are those words she is singing?
"Dahomé, son of the Sun, I love you, I love you; Come to me, my own loved one, For I love you, I love you.”
Now, Dahomé was not a bit bashful, so when such an inducement was offered him he was not slow in accepting it. To be sure, she was frightened, for, when her ardent lover answered the request, "Come to me, my own loved one," he did it so quickly that she found herself being very tightly hugged, and at first didn't know by whom. After scolding him for his impetuosity and the disarrangement of her hair, she was very willing, at his request, to retire back to the clump of trees and have him tell of his love for her. Unfortunately Dahomé's voice was not a musical one, for when he tried to -sing his love, as she had done, he awakened the mother of the Object, who immediately demanded that her darling "should come into the house this instant," and, furthermore, "that she ought to be ashamed of being in the company of Dahomé, the vagrant."
When Dahomé aroused himself from the stupor in which he had fallen after the departure of the Object, he realized that something desperate must be done to convince his loved one's mother that he was a splendid match for her charming daughter. And so ended his first night's wooing.
After that, on every moonlight night, Dahomé was to be seen hunting in the vicinity of the Object's hut. One beautiful evening, many moons after the memorable one, he had taken his friend, the javelin, and had ventured forth to procure his supper. It is needless to say that he eventually found himself near the stream, opposite his heart's desire's dwelling. Pausing in the tall grass, he relapsed into deep thought, thoughts of the future. How should he gain the good will of the mother? There was the rock on which he struck and stayed. Give her presents ? That he could not do, for he had none to give. Become a warrior and gain glory on the field ? No ; for that was too much of a risk, and Dahomé did not inherit his father's warlike spirit. Trouble and danger were things he did not care to look for. Ah, well, time and true love would find a way to overrule the matron's objections. Reflecting thus, Dahomé had almost fallen asleep. Lulled by the music of the brook, and the singing of the insects, a man less fond of the influence of Morpheus than our own vagrant, might have found it difficult to remain awake. From a certain clump of trees came a soft, purring sound, that Dahomé knew very well. As the music increased in volume and tempo, Dahomé shook off the languid influence and planned a surprise for his loved one. Arising, he commenced to pick his way toward the trees where she was singing. Ah ! how he would steal up behind her and take her in his strong arms. He pictured to himself how she would start and scream, and try to escape, and then, after a word of love from him, she would stop struggling and, laying her darling little head upon his broad shoulder, whisper words of love.
There she is, reclining on a bank of moss. Her plump, round arms thrown above her head, and looking dreamily at the moon. How Dahomé hated that moon, for is there not a man's face there? Who knows but that it is one of the gods trying to steal his darling from him. Look I her lips move, but no sound reaches him. Her arms untwine from over her head and are raised toward that cursed face. Why, now, wonder after wonder, the lips of that face seem to move and smile. Oh, that the Image would put strength enough into his arm so that he could hurl his javelin through that hated bodiless god. But why not try? Grasping his spear more firmly he prepared to throw. Stop! listen! There is no wind stirring, yet was not that a distinct rustling of the leaves? Again that sound. It is in the direction of the Object; but no, she is asleep. Soothed by her own song, she had dropped back on her improvised couch, and was now in the land of sweet visions. But what are those two small spots in that dense blackness of the underbrush? Now the spots grow larger, now smaller, they come nearer, they are approaching the light. Now appears an indistinct form ; now more clearly a majestic head, a lithe body, a flowing mane and a restless tail. By the shade of his beloved father — the lion ! Now he is in the moonflood. How beautiful, how dangerously beautiful !
Dahomé, Dahomé, arouse yourself! Think no more of the ethereal god, there's better work for you now. There's a god of the jungle ready to destroy the beloved of your heart. I implore the Image to give you strength, not to reach the moon, but to fight a far more dangerous rival. For, see how the lion licks his red chops I Be careful Dahomé, he is going to kiss your love, and you know that his caresses mean death. Don't allow him to embrace her, for when he shall have finished you may see her in the arms of the moon god. Now is the time to get her for yourself. If you kill the lion you may demand her from her stingy old mother by the right of conquest, and then think what a hero you will be in the village! Think of the bags of bright stones that await the man who brings the lion's head to the temple. Think of the crown of flowers that will be placed on your proud head. No more will they call you lazy vagrant.
There, that is right ; fix your trusty spear and throw. Throw hard now, for there are no more spears at hand, and the first must kill. See how it glistens and sparkles as it cuts through the moonbeams. It strikes the lion — gods, what a deafening roar! Dahomé, Dahomé, you did not aim well, he is only wounded. Hide if you can, for he is looking for you. Ah, too late ! here he comes. That's it, use your flint knife. Thrust, man, thrust for his heart. Oh, Image, if you've any power at all, use it in protecting this brave young man ! See, the lion has borne him down. That's a good manoeuvre, Dahomé, let him chew that left arm ; but use your knife with your right as fast as you can. One, two, three — ^and every lunge sends the knife up to the hilt in the body of the lion. Good, good ! that last stroke reached his heart ! for, see ! he is still — thank the gods, he is dead. And now, Dahomé, you may pull your scratched and torn self together and find that little girl that disappeared in the direction of her hut when the lion first roared.
Come, man, get up; leave the embrace of that horrid, bleeding beast — you're a hero now, Dahomé. Dahomé ! Ah, it is no use calling him — he is asleep again. But this time it's not a vagrant's snooze — it's the peaceful sleep of death, awarded to a hero.