Thomas hesitated, then, being bold by nature, determined that he would see the thing through. After all, Menzi was an impostor and nothing else, and could work no more magic than he could himself. Here was a providential opportunity to expose him. So followed by the others he advanced into the crowd, which made way for him.
In an open space in its centre, sat Menzi wearing all his witch-doctor’s trappings, bladders in his hair, snakeskins tied about him, and the rest, but even in this grotesque attire still managing to look dignified. With him were several acolytes or attendants, one of them an old woman, also peculiarly arrayed and carrying hide bags that contained their master’s medicines. He rose as they came, saluted Thomas and smiled at Dorcas and Tabitha, very sweetly at the latter.
“O Teacher,” he said, “my ears hear that you say that I am a liar and a cheat who have no wonders at my command; to whom the Spirits never speak and who deceives the people. Now, Teacher, I have come here that it may be seen whether you are right or I am right. If your magic is greater than mine, then I can do nothing and I will eat the dust before you. But if mine prevails, then perhaps all these will say that you are the cheat, not I. Also it is true that I am not a great magician as was my master, Zikali, the Opener-of-Roads, and cannot show you things worthy to be seen. Nor will I smell out evil-doers, witches and wizards, since then the people might kill them, and I think that there are some here who deserve to die in the ancient fashion. No, I will not do this, since it is not right that those with you,” here he glanced at Dorcas and Tabitha, “should look upon the sight of blood, even in this land where the White-man’s law has no power. Still there are little things that may serve to amuse you for an hour and hurt no one. Have any of you lost anything, for instance?”
“Yes, I have,” said Tabitha with a laugh.
“Is it so, Little Flower? Then be silent and do not say what you have lost. Have you told any what you have lost?”
“No,” answered Tabitha, “because I was afraid I should be scolded.”
“There, _Imba_, there, Little Flower, even that is too much, because you see the old cheat might guess something from your words. Yes, he might guess that it is something of value that you have lost, such as a bracelet of gold, or the thing that ticks, on which you white people read the time. Nay, be silent and do not let your face move lest I should read it. Now let us see what it is that you have lost.”
Then he turned to his confederates, as Thomas called them, and began to ask them questions which need not be set out in detail. Was it an animal that the Little Flower had lost? No, it was not an animal, the Spirits told him that it was not. Was it an article of dress? No, they did not think it was an article of dress, yet the Spirits seemed to suggest that it had something to do with dress. Was it a shoe? Was it scissors? Was it a comb? Was it a needle? No, but it was something that had to do with needles. What had to do with needles? Thread. Was it thread? No, but something that had to do with thread. Was it a silver shield which pushed the needle that drew the thread?
Here Tabitha could contain herself no longer, but clapped her hands and cried out delightedly:
“Yes, that’s it. It’s my thimble.”
“Oh! very well,” said Menzi, “but it is easy to discover what is lost and hard to find it.”
Then followed another long examination of the assessors or acolytes, or witch-doctor’s chorus, by which it was established at length that the thimble had been lost three days before, when Tabitha was sitting on a stone sewing, that she believed it had fallen into a crevice of rocks, and so forth.
After this the chorus was silent and Menzi himself took up the game, apparently asking questions of the sky and putting his ear to the ground for an answer.
At length he announced: (1) That the thimble was not among the rocks; (2) That it was not lost at all.
“But it is, it is, you silly old man,” cried Tabitha excitedly. “I have hunted everywhere, and I cried about it because I haven’t got another, and can’t buy one here, and the needle hurts my finger.”
Menzi contemplated her gravely as though he were looking her through and through.
“It is _not_ lost, Little Flower. I see it; you have it now. Put your hand into the pocket of your dress. What do you find there?”
“Nothing,” said Tabitha. “That is, nothing except a hole.”