“Feel at the bottom of your dress, there on the right. No, a little more to the front. What do you feel there?”
“Something hard,” said Tabitha.
“Take this knife and cut the lining of your dress where you feel the hard thing. Ah! there is the silver shield which you have been carrying about with you all these days.”
The crowd murmured approval. Dorcas exclaimed: “Well, I never!” and Thomas looked first puzzled, then angry, then suspicious.
“Does the Teacher think that the Floweret and the old doctor have made a plot together?” asked Menzi. “Can a sweet Flower make plots and tell lies like the old doctor? Well, well, it is nothing. Now let us try something better. My bags, my bags.”
Thomas made as though he would go away, but Menzi stopped him, saying:
“No, doubters must stay to see the end of their doubts. What shall I do? Ah! I have it.”
Then from one of the bags he drew out a number of crooked black sticks that looked like bent ebony rulers, and built them up criss-cross in a little pile upon the ground. Next he found some bundles of fine dried grass, which he thrust into the interstices between the sticks, as he did so bidding one of his servants to run to the nearest hut and bring a coal of fire upon a sherd.
“A match will not do,” he said. “White men have touched it.”
Presently the burning ember arrived, and muttering something, Menzi blew upon it as though to keep it alight.
“Now, White Teacher,” he said in a voice that had suddenly become commanding, “think of something. Think of what you will, and I will show it to you.”
“Indeed,” said Thomas with a smile. “I have thought of something; now make good your words.”
Menzi thrust the ember into the haylike fibres and blew. They caught and blazed up fiercely, making an extraordinarily large flame considering the small amount of the kindling. The ebony-like sticks also began to blaze. Menzi grew excited.
“My Spirit, come to me; my Spirit, come to me!” he cried. “O my Spirit, show this White Teacher Tombool that I am not a cheat!”
He ran round and round the fire; he leapt into the air, then suddenly shouted: “My Spirit has entered into me; my Snake is in my breast!”
All his excitement went; he grew quite calm, almost cataleptic. Holding his thin hands over the fire, slowly he let them fall, and as he did so the fierce flames died down.
“It’s going out,” said Tabitha.
Menzi smiled at her and lifted his hands again. Lo! the fire that seemed to be dead leapt up after them in a fierce blaze. Again he dropped his hands and the fire died away. Then he moved his arms to and fro and it came back, following the motions of his arms as though he drew it by a string.
“Have you thought, White Teacher? Have you thought?” he asked. “Good! Arise, smoke!”
Behold, instead of the clear flame appeared a fan-shaped column of dense white smoke, behind which Menzi vanished, all except his outstretched hands.
“Look on to the smoke, White people, and do you, Little Flower, tell me what you see there,” he called from behind this vaporous veil.
Tabitha stared, they all stared. Then she cried out:
“I see a room, I see an old man in a clergyman’s coat reading a letter. Why, it is the Dean whom we used to know in Natal. There’s the wart on his nose and the tuft of hair that hangs down over his eye, and he’s reading a letter written by Father. I know the writing. It begins, ‘My dear Dean, Providence has appointed me to a strange place’—-”
“Is that what you see also, Teacher?” asked Menzi. “And if so, is it what you pictured in your thought?”
Thomas turned away and uttered something like a groan, for indeed he had thought of the Dean and of the letter he had written to him a month before.
“The Teacher is not satisfied,” said Menzi. “If he had seen all he thought of, being so good and honest, he would tell us. There is some mistake. My Spirit must have deceived me. Think of something else, Teacher, and tell the lady, and the child Imba, and Kosa, and another, what it is you are thinking of. Go aside and tell them where I cannot hear.”