Old Reliable in Africa/Chapter 10
WHILE the quarantine formalities were being complied with Colonel Spottiswoode had waited inside the smoking-room door until, catching a few words of English, he looked out, glad to speak his own language with somebody. "Well, sergeant, you have a troublesome duty."
Danny tipped his helmet, "Beastly nuisance, sir—— Here, get along—you," he hurried a square-jawed Greek. The Colonel was about to ask a question when the Dutch doctor inside called a name resembling his own. He stepped to the table, held out his tongue, extended his pulse, opened his purse, paid six piasters for a health certificate, which he could not read, and stepped back—a simple transaction in one! two! three! After which he resumed his position, listening for Zack's name to be called.
Then he saw a scuffle outside; four Egyptian soldiers were dragging a man along the narrow deck,—a white man, a pallid-looking Russian with tall round Astrachan hat. The man's face was streaked with coal-dust, abject fear glittered in his eyes; he braced himself like a goat on the edge of a cliff, and gesticulated wildly. But the Gippies thrust him on the platform overhanging the sea; and there was nothing for him but to get on the barge. Sergeant Danny checked off another hide-away. "That leaves two," he remarked, and catching the Colonel's inquiring eye, he explained, "They try to hide, and get out of the fumigation. Can't keep these Russians clean," nodding towards a muck-heap of men and women on the barge.
"Must be a pretty hard job," assented the Colonel.
Sergeant Danny laughed: "Says Pharaoh to the sergeant, 'You go an' keep 'em clean.'"
All this time Gregory Lykoff leaned carelessly against the stair-rail in the smoking-room. Nothing had been discovered on his person or in his baggage, and he supposed that Gargarin meant to let him go ashore. Now he could look below, and out of either door. Not a muscle of his face suggested his intense anxiety to know where the black man had disappeared.
The Dutch Doctor began stammering over another name which sounded like "Zack Foster." Colonel Spottiswoode hurried inside, and found the Doctor's pudgy finger pointing to Old Reliable's name.
"Zack was here a minute ago," the Colonel said, leaned over the stair-rail and called, "Zack! Oh, Zack!" No answer. He shouted out of the port door—ran to the starboard side and called. No answer, no Zack.
"It's just like that nigger to stray off when we need him."
Lykoff saw all, heard all, understood all. He seemed wholly absorbed in cutting the end from a fresh cigar. Zack was not in the cabin nor the saloon. The Colonel hurried to the forward deck, and did not hear an uproar that broke out amidships.
Sergeant Danny had accounted for the last hide-away.
He was standing on the shaky platform checking up his list. "That's all of 'em," he remarked, and was about to give orders for the barge to cast off. Suddenly he heard a yell from his Gippies—not a casual yell, but a business yell. So Danny ran back to the railing which overlooked the lower deck. His Gippies were not in file, nor in line, but in jumble, a bobble of red tarboushes backing upwards from the hatchway. Their brown necks strained, their burly arms reached downwards into the darkness. Upwards and backwards, out of that square hole, they were dragging something. That something was more awkward to handle than a wind-mill with every sail revolving. "Lemme 'lone, you yaller niggers! turn me loose!" Zack shouted manfully. "I been black all my born days. Ax de Cunnel! Lemme go! lemme go!" Six stalwart Gippies jerked Zack into the open. "Whar's my hat?" he demanded. "An' my grip sack?" The Gippies did not smile—this was their daily job, and had long since lost its humor.
Sergeant Danny shouted a curt order; his Gippies hoisted Zack up the stairway, and rushed him along the narrow deck. He grabbed the rail. A Gippy whacked him over the knuckles; he suddenly remembered how Guinea lost three fingers—and stuck both hands into his pocket. Zack might just as well have argued with a sand-storm. The sergeant nodded; four men shoved him out on that wabbly platform. He caught with both hands for fear of tumbling into the sea. A Gippy cast his grip-sack into the barge, and Zack saw his hat go sailing after. "Turn me loose, yaller niggers; I kin walk."
The steps shook mightily as Zack climbed down. The sergeant nodded; the tug boat cast off her lines and Zack stood bareheaded, gazing up at the Olga's rail. He saw the Colonel struggling through the crowd, trying to reach the sergeant, and Zack yelled, "Here I is, Cunnel! here I is! Stop dis boat. Stop 'er."
The Bloodhound also leaned over the rail, smiled to himself and gave the negro no further thought. Lykoff turned away from the hubbub, and looked bored.
Sergeant Danny was hurrying to his gasoline boat when Colonel Spottiswoode halted him, "Sergeant, oh, sergeant! One moment, please. That fool nigger is my servant; he's a first-cabin passenger."
The sergeant's face lighted, "That accounts for it; I had one too many."
"He belongs up here with me," the Colonel insisted.
"Then why was he hiding in the steerage?"
"Nobody knows about a negro. Can't you stop your boat and put him off?"
"Sorry, sir; he's been with those suspects, and I hardly know what to do with him. I'll send him to your hotel, sir, if you like."
"But I don't know where I'm going to stop."
The distance was fast widening between the barge and the ship; the gasoline tooted her whistle impatiently. "It's late, sir," apologized the sergeant; "and we've got all these people to fumigate. Here's my address. Send a carriage for your negro."
Zack kept waving his hat and shouting until the sergeant descended to the launch, and Colonel Spottiswoode went back into the cabin. "Luck's agin' me," moaned Zack as he collapsed on his grip-sack, and commenced smoothing out the broad-brimmed hat.
The Olga moved shoreward, grated against the stone wharf, and tied fore and aft. Swarms of porters clambered aboard. Passengers began filing down the narrow gangway. Two British officers with their servants met Colonel Spottiswoode and relieved him of all custom-house annoyances. Lykoff carried a small satchel in his hand and was watching for his heavier baggage which never appeared. He had almost minded to go ashore without his trunks when Gargarin quietly took the satchel from him. "I'll take charge of this—and of you."
"Very good," assented Lykoff.