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and hated the Big Fetish with ull hU heart.
it so happened that at the very time the Government, having settled most of its big palavers, leisurely turned its attention to the doings of the Big Fetish, the top of whose stronghold could almost be seen from the battlements of the castle where the Governor resided, a Tail Girl descended the hill on her way to the village of Odumassi.
She was a handsome, strapping lass, whom good food and athletic training had magnificently developed, and many covetous eyes were fixed on her as she strode between two withered duennas, marching in Indian file along the narrow track. According to the Fetish's orders the village was cleared of young men; but in the market-place, on a native stool, a big umbrella shading him from the hot sun, sat an elderly one-eyed man with a few attendants. He was the representative of the King of the Creppis, a neighboring potentate, despatched by his master to inpect the best of the girl-crop that Krobo could produce, and, if possible, for it was quite on the cards she would be refused him, to book the same. The eye of the old man gleamed as he noted the grand presence of the girl, whose skin shone and bloomed, whom the tall head-dress rendered quite gigantic, and signifying his satisfaction, he, after a few words, closed the interview. The old ladies again placed their charge between them and led the way back to the hill, the girl overtopping them like a giant between a couple of pigmies. They had scarcely cleared the village when two well-grown young men, who had been peering from the bushes during the interview with the ambassador, followed in pursuit, keeping themselves carefully out of sight, catching occasional glimpses of the girl as the path twisted, till the mountain showed up
close ahead. From their hiding-place in the long grass they saw the priests conduct the girl to the foot of the path, and they heard the chatter of the old ladies as relieved of their charge they went to their huts, and then they crept back through the bushes to the village, which they regained unnoticed.
But though they had followed together, hid together and returned together, the young men, for the first time in their lives when in each other's company, had not interchanged one word. Members of the same family, they were by way of being close friends, but the sight of the girl, whom they had said good-bye to and dismissed from their minds a couple of years before, filled them with mutual jealousy and estranged them as surely as were ever two friendly yokels estranged, by the enhanced charms of the village belle returned from a twelve months' residence in London.
They had not fought nor quarrelled, for if by any mischance the old ladies had become aware of their being dogged, the consequences would have been more than unpleasant; but if Koffi, when he found that Cudjoe was alive to the charms of the big Tail Girl and was also in pursuit, could have planted a knife between his shoulder-blades, he would not have done so with more pleasure than Cudjoe would have felt in dropping a handful of Calabar bean into his former chum's soup-pot. As it was, both of them knew they might as well hope to change the color of their skins and turn black into white, as hope to catch another glimpse for many months of the desired object, so Koffi went back to his farm and Cudjoe returned to his hunting, and the girl, unconscious of the feelings she had excited, stayed on the hill to be prepared for the great dance, after which she would become a bride, and to hope that the man chosen for her would bo rich and, from her point of view, handsome.
Though the negro is shallow, versatile, and happily given rather to make the best of what he can get than sigh after what is beyond his reach, he can on occasions nourish a grudge as keenly, and be as vindictive, as anybody else, and Cudjoe watched with increasing apprehension the application of Koffl to his farming, his reclaiming of more land from the fat, overgrown soil, his journeyings to the coast with nuts and rubber; and when he fetched up a few bolts of cloth and began to trade, Cudjoe nearly exploded with jealousy and hatred. Per contra. Kolfi's feelings were equally bitter when he saw Cudjoe's game dally exposed in the market-place, and noted his bright new gun all red varnish and nickel; and when he heard him acclaimed by the whole village for doing battle single-handed with a hippo that trampled nightly on the crops, matters almost came to a climax. On one occasion, when he saw him with a nicely dressed hind-quarter of bush-cow set off in his best cloth towards the mountain, he felt such consternation that he had packed up the whole of his stock, and started on his track to make a vastly superior offering, before prudence prevailed and prompted him to stay quiet where he was.
The year moved on. The countryside became dried up and scorched. The tough blackened grass was set alight, and the country looked to the seafarers a land of smoke and flame. Through the black covering of ashes the fat soil lay exposed; the farms were cleared and planted. Heavy tornadoes rolled up against the set of the trade winds, pulverizing the ashes and beating them into a rich manure. Then the rainy season set in, the time of torrential downpours and quiet steady mists so charged with moisture
that it was hard to tell where rain began and mist ended, but with occasional days withal of hot sun, till the country bloomed and blossomed, the farms from black turned a pale, then a dark green. The rains ceased, the sun shone bright and warm, the ground steamed; a pleasant season if unhealthy, for the earth, fresh from the rains, smelt clean and sweet, and with a few more days of steady, gentle rain the work of generation was completed. The crops of yams, plantains, nuts, and corn ripened and yellowed. The great "Yam Custom," the harvest-thanksgiving of the negro, drew near, and with it also came the time of the harvest of the girls and the Great Fetish dance on Krobo Hill.
All work was suspended in the villages. Each young man reckoned up his capital and advantages. Cudjoe set out his guns, ammunition, skins, and money, and soothed his anxiety by making veiled allusions in the marketplace to the hippopotamus, preening himself on the compliments received, Kotfi pulled up the last weeds from his little farms, surveyed his store of kolanuts and palm-kernels, gloated over his cloths and small articles of trade, and surveyed with pride his flat features and woolly head in a little looking-glass with a tin frame which he had bought up as a trade venture, but found himself unable to part with. Their friends and families admired them equally, admitting that whatever rivalry might lie between the two, there was no other young man in the village to approach either, and a few weeks before the great day the two young men interchanged the first words they had spoken together since the afternoon they had followed the big Tail Girl back to the mountain.
Three days before the moon was at the full, a priest arrived at sunset in the village. He spoke the names of those young men who would be allowed to attend the forthcoming Custom; he ordered them to attend at the hill's base an hour before moonrlse. and he finished his speech by informing his awe-stricken hearers that no one would be allowed entrance without the usual token. He then departed to rejoin his colleagues who bad been sent on similar errands to the neighboring towns.
Koffi and Cudjoe, who had listened with the most intense eagerness, no sooner heard their names mentioned than they slipped away; but each an hour later obeyed a summons, and appeared at the house of the head of the family, where they found the elders assembled, and to their consternation heard that there was one voucher short.
The point had not occurred to them before, for neither of them had known of the necessity of producing the ghastly ticket of admission. Bloodthirsty as the Fetish had become, the priests had still some measure of prudence, and as their forefathers had gone, so Cudjoe and Koffi had expected to go, taking it for granted that the means of admission would be forthcoming, whatever they might be; nor, so well were these matters arranged, would there have been any difficulty save for a mistake. As it was. they sat speechless till the conference broke up, and then the elders announced that as there was only one skull for the two of them, Cudjoe must give up any hope of ascending the hill, for the honor had been allotted to Koffl.
The miserable Cudjoe crept into the forest, and sat down on a fallen tree. The ruin of his hopes was absolute. All his labors and preparations, his building up of a reputation, were useless. He might as well throw away his possessions, smash his new guns, and drown himself, for he knew a quiet death in the river would be bet
ter than to try and force his way up the hill. At length, tired of weeping, he crept along the overgrown path to his hut, but on the way hope came to him, and he reached it at a run. He took his two best guns, calculated the weight of his powder and ammunition the number and quality of his skins, and through the falling darkness set out hot foot for the hill. He was quickly challenged by the watchful deacons. He demanded an interview with their superior, but though he was an eldest son of a chief and of an important family, and though it was but early nightfall, day was breaking before it was granted. Through the long moonlit hours he sat, neglected and despised, listening to the chanting and low drumming that went on far above him. The interview for which he had waited so long lasted but a few moments. He was taken into a hut and received by a tall, burly, middle-aged priest with a black beard. A voice asked him his business. When he had made his proposal, to give up the whole of his property in return for admission to the hill-top and had descanted on its value, the voice which had been quiet while he pleaded informed him that having been summoned he would neglect the order at his peril. To his tears and threats the Fetish made no answer, and after a short talk with the priest he departed, minus one of the new guns which he gave him as a present, and, without venturing a glance at the hill-top, slunk away.
Only one night now was left before the moon was full. He sat nearly heart-broken in the village marketplace through the long day, watching the fortunate young men prepare themselves and listening to their excited talk. He saw the village messengers depart bearing upon their heads heavy loads of meat, tobacco, salt, and rum, the common offering of the village, subscribed to by all its members. As the sun sank he heard far off in the forest the faint cries of the arrivals from other outlying towns as they converged on the hill, and at last, half beside himself with jealousy and heart-sickness, walked away to Koffi's house.
Surely the Fetish must have been angry with Koffi and anxious for his destruction, in that he went out that night when he should have kept quiet indoors, and still worse, that he was impelled to admire himself by the moon rays in his little looking-glass. Whatever the influence was, he himself worked out his own undoing. Unable to sleep, and hot with the anticipations of the next few hours, he sallied forth into the quiet moonlight to take a last walk down to his farms.
The noises that night on the countryside were numerous and varied, both from hill and forest, and the sound of Cudjoe's shot passed unheeded.
The long line of figures waiting in the darkness almost surrounded the hill. As each fresh party arrived its advent was heralded by much firing from long flint-locks, the amount of noise corresponding to the new arrival's importance, and when all had come, the giving of the signal was awaited in profound silence. But no sound came down from above, where the Tail Girls were undergoing their final preparation.
At last the enormous brassy disk, blurred as a Chinese lantern, sailed up above the mountain. A big drum boomed out a single beat, and a great voice called from half-way down the hill. The ranks of the watchers rippled with anticipation. Again the voice called, and the throng began to move. The path that led to the summit was very narrow and steep. At the foot stood a huge priest, who carefully inspected each voucher before the
bearer was allowed to pass; but on this occasion there was uo mistake, all the applicants were duly provided, and followed one another in single file upwards. So many were there that the leaders had long been in their places before the last arrivals had set foot ou the path below.
At one end of the rocky floor set apart for the dance, and where it joined the wooded part of the hill, sat in state the Arch-Priest surrounded by his clergy. Immediately on his right and left hand the space was filled by chiefs and persons of importance. The young men who, eager yet scared, had been kept back, were allowed to approach and form two crowds, stretching down from the wood to the rock's end. The flat rock was now completely enclosed on three sides by the spectators, and guarded on the fourth by the precipice's edge. There was no sound beyond the rustling of the cloths, as they took their places in silence and sat motionless, till after a few minutes the moon clearing the night mists rose directly overhead, turning the smooth worn rock to a floor of silvery glass, shining and reflecting the rays in little sparkles and points of light.
The High Priest lifted his hand. Five great drums boomed forth the first beat of the dance, and as the sticks fell, three hundred girls,—the pick of the countryside,—each in her tall hat and tail, and with the upper portion of her body colored white, bounded out from an opening in the Fetish grove directly behind the Chief Priest. So dramatically was their entrance arranged, and so well was the opening concealed, that they seemed to have sprung from the living rock. The drums stopped while the girls postured and swayed, and then to their roar, rising and falling, and the occasional tinkle of jingles, the great dance began. A moonlight dance of savage middens on a shining floor under nature's own lamp. And never was any ballet in the grandest cities of the civilized world more imposing or entrancing to its spectators.
Each movement was directed by a priest who waved a long white wand. The lines faced and followed each other, advancing, receding, and intertwining, till the leading files were hard upon the precipice's edge; then, waltzing to the other end, their whitened bodies flashed and disappeared in the shadow of the trees, to reappear in the light as they cleared the wood, as a swarm of fireflies gleam and vanish and gleam again.
The dance had been in progress for more than an hour, and the spectators had not spoken or moved, entranced with the monotonous calling of the drums and the twisting and changing lines of silent figures, when above the drumming there rose a high-pitched challenge from half-way down the rock. Without stopping, the drummers, at a gesture from the priest, spread their left hands over the parchment, and the voices of their instruments dropped to a whisper. Still they continued their rhythm, and the girls went on dancing. Again the challenge sounded, this time from the top of the hill, and a single figure appeared and pushed into the front row of the young men. It was Cudjoe. wild-eyed, his face twitching, and covered with perspiration. His arrival caused no stir. The drummers removed their hands, and again the drums roared over the quiet plain, and again the dance quickened. But now the girls were becoming exhausted. They danced languidly, their eyes halfclosed, their great hats falling on one another's shoulders as their heads bent under the weight. Still, so admirably had they been trained, that in spite of their fatigue they kept exact time to the beats, though their
feet shuffled over the rock, instead of moving in the springs and leaps with which the dance had begun. The moon began to pale, and the dancingfloor to turn dull and gray. The shadows from the trees encroached and spread over it, the lines of girls were as much in shadow as in light, when the drums suddenly broke into a louder and quicker note. The halfmesmerized girls, still obeying the orders of the directing priest, startled by the sound, roused themselves, and in two long lines came spinning down to the rock's end. Confused and puzzled in the half light, the leaders miscalculated, and before they could halt or turn both of them fell over the precipice and disappeared shrieking.
With their fall the dance came to an end, the High Priest lifted his hand and the drums were silent. The girls, barely able to stand, leant against each other, waiting.
"See," said the priest, "the moon is dying and the salt wind is coming," and at his words the first breath of the sea breeze reached them, playing on the girls' heated skins and making them shiver. "Now let the rows be formed." Obedient, half a dozen of his satellites hastily formed the dancers into four silent panting rows. The Creppi envoy who had appeared in the village, and who was sitting on the right of the priest, rose and leaning on the arm of his attendant walked between the lines. Twice he walked down the four rows, scanning each face and figure, and then returned to his seat. Cudjoe. who all this time had been sitting unconscious of everything but the girl of whom he was in quest, and whom he had immediately recognized by her height and figure, ground his teeth and covered his head. But if his agony was long his suspense was short. After a few minutes' consultation a priest walked to where the big Tail Girl was standing and es