RA-MBORAKINDA had his big town of men and women and children, all in good condition. But a kind of plague came upon the people suddenly, killing many. In a short time it destroyed most of the inhabitants, and finally but few were left.
So one of the elder sons said to a younger one, "Let us flee for our lives!" This elder brother's name was Ogula, and the younger brother's name was Nkombe. When Ogula had thus said, "Let us flee for our lives," Nkombe agreed. Ogula took as his servant a boy, and together with Nkombe they went out. They went aimlessly, not following any particular plan, but vaguely hoping to happen on any place.
They went, went, wandering on, on, till they came to a small hut, almost too miserable for a dwelling. But in their extremity they said, "Oh! there is a house! Let us go to it; maybe we'll find shelter there." So they walked up to it, and, to their surprise, saw there an old man mending a piece of canvas.
He saluted them, and asked them where they came from. They told their story, and Ogula asked the old man whether he would, of his kindness, give them shelter. He said, "Yes, if you are willing to do as I tell you; for living here is hard, and there is nothing to eat. I have to cut firewood and carry it to the city (osěngě) far away, and sell it there. That city belongs to a big merchant."
Ogula said, "Yes; we are willing." So the next day Ogula himself and Nkombe and their servant set themselves ready for work. After they had cut their firewood, they asked the old man the way to the city. He directed them. They went, sold their firewood, and brought food. This they did many times, cutting firewood and going to the city and buying food; and they each built a house of their own near the old man's hut.
But after a while Ogula began to tire of this kind of life; so he said to himself, "If I only had a gun, I could go hunting. But even without the gun, I will go out and see what I can see." So he went out alone, not calling his brother or his servant to go with him. He went and went, on, on, for a half-day's journey, till he happened to come to a large house built in a very strange style, having no door at its side and with a flat roof. The place looked clean, as if kept in order by people. He approached cautiously; but looking around, he saw no one at all. He said to himself, "Who owns this place? Surely some one owns it, for it is so clean; but I see no one here. I won't leave this place to-day till I know who lives here." He decided to retire a little and climb up a tall tree overlooking the house and watch from there. He was very hungry, having had no food that day, but he still decided to wait and see what was about the house.
After he had been up the tree a long while, late in the afternoon he saw a number of men coming. He saw one of them climb up the side of the house to the roof, where was a trap-door. All of the men had bundles of goods. The first one who had climbed to the roof spoke a few words to the door as he stood before it, and the two parts of the door flew open of themselves. Then the other men climbed up with their bundles, and went into the house.
All this Ogula could see from his tree-top. He said to himself, "Now I am hungry, and must go, for I have seen enough to-day. I see that this house is occupied, and by men, and how they enter; it is enough for to-day." He thought it time to move before any of the people should come out of the house. He came down rapidly, and went back to the little hut of the old man.
When he got to his own house, his brother Nkombe asked, "Where have you been all day?" Ogula said, "I was tired of working, and took a walk to the forest, and missed my way." But he did not tell his brother the story of what he had seen.
Ogula then ate a little and went to bed, though it was not very late. He went thus soon to bed, for he wanted to go early next day to inspect the big house again. So, very, very early, before daylight, Ogula was up and off, for he did not wish his brother to ask him where he was going.
He remembered the way to the big house, and went directly there. He climbed his tree. He looked and saw that the door of the house was open. He waited a little while, and then saw the men climbing out of the door. Their leader was the last; he spoke a cabalistic word, pressed his foot on the threshold, as the two sides of the door folded together, and it was closed.
After they had been gone quite awhile, Ogula thought he would try to enter the house, first seeking what was the way to open it. He said to himself, "I know they have goods there, for I have seen them carried in." So he descended from the tree, and going to the house, climbed up the side. When he got to the top, he searched for something by which the door could be opened. He saw nothing like a key or lock or handle. Then he remembered the words he had heard the leader use, and thought, "Perhaps they were the means by which the door was opened." So he uttered the words, "Yâginla mie, kâ nungwa, awěmě!" (Obey me, and thyself open!) and, to his surprise, the door flew open. Then he went down the flight of steps leading below to the interior of the house. He was startled when he saw the room full of all kinds of money and goods and wealth that any one could wish to have. One could have taken away a great deal without its absence being noticed, so abundant was the amount.
Ogula thought, "Isn't this fine! But I must be quick, lest the owners of this house catch me here." So he took a cloth, and put into it a few small articles and a quantity of cash. He tied up the bundle, went up the stairway, and walked out of the door which he had left open. At the top he remembered the word "Nunja!" (Shut!) which the leader had used for closing. He spoke it; and the door shut. He hasted away, and back to the hut of the old man. He did not enter it, but went to his own house and there hid the bundle. He told no one anything, neither the old man nor his servant nor even his brother. Soon the brother came over from his house, saying, "Brother! I looked for you this morning; you must have gone out very early." "Yes, I went out early, for I am tired of seeing so little; so I went out to see what I could see."
The next day he did the same. On this trip he took not only money from the house, but some fine clothing for himself to wear. As before, on emerging at the top of the house, he spoke the word "Nunja!" the door closed, and he was away again, no one having seen him. When Ogula got back to his house, Nkombe asked him the same question of the day before, "Where have you been?" and he made only the evasive answer. But Nkombe began to be troubled. He feared something was wrong, and he determined to find out what was the matter. So he decided to get up next morning just as early as Ogula. The reason that Ogula did not tell Nkombe was because the latter had a bad jealous heart, and was very covetous of money. So early in the morning Ogula was off. He did not know that Nkombe had any thought of following him. But as soon as Nkombe saw Ogula start, he followed him cautiously, so that he might find out what his brother was doing.
Ogula walked on straight and rapidly, and never looked behind, for he had no suspicion that he was being followed. When he got to the house, as usual he ordered the door to open, and descended inside. While he was beginning to select the things he wanted to take, to his surprise he saw Nkombe also descending the stairway. Ogula said, "Nkombe! what is this? Who showed you the way? Who told you to come here? I am troubled to find you here; for this will be the end of you! I knew it was not safe for you to come here. What I took was for us both."
Nkombe said, "No! you hid it from me. I have found it now. I will be rich for myself." By this time Ogula had tied up his bundle ready to go out. But Nkombe was snatching up a large quantity from every side. Ogula said, "Nkombe! be quick! You do not know how to shut that door, and it will not be safe for us to be found here by those people." But Nkombe was not satisfied with one bundle, he was still gathering up other bundles. Ogula wearied of waiting and begging of Nkombe to come, so he said he must go and leave him, saying, "Now, Nkombe, it is not safe to wait longer. I have waited for you and begged you to leave with me; so I go alone. You cannot get out with all those bundles."
But Nkombe would not listen. So Ogula went out, and spoke the word that closed the door, leaving Nkombe in the house. However, being anxious for his brother, Ogula did not go away, but climbed his tree to see what would happen.
When Nkombe had entered the house, he had with him a big, sharp knife.
Ogula waited outside till those people should come. Soon they came. The leader did as usual, being the first to climb to the house-top and to order the door to open. The door flew open, and the leader descended. As soon as he entered, he found another man, Nkombe, in the house. The leader asked, "Who are you, and how did you get in here?" Nkombe did not reply, but drawing his knife, plunged it into the leader's neck. With one outcry the man fell dead. By this time some of the other men had climbed up and were about to enter. When they got inside, they saw their leader lying dead, and this stranger standing armed. One of the men drew his pistol and shot Nkombe. [Observe the pistol; all these folk-lore stories disregard anachronisms or even impossibilities.] They carried his dead body to the roof, and threw it off to the ground. All this Ogula saw, looking from the tree-top down into the house.
Then those people began to be perplexed and suspicious, saying, "This is not the work of only one, for we found the door closed on our arrival. So this person inside must have had some associate outside. How shall we find it out?"
They began to plan, each one with his proposition. One said, "Let us go and bury the dead body." Another, "Let us leave it and go on with our business, and if on our return the body is missing, that will be a proof that a partner has taken it. Then we will get on the track and find where the body was taken." And they agreed that he whose plan proved successful should be their new leader. So they closed the door, left Nkombe's dead body lying, and went off on their usual business.
After they had been gone quite a while, Ogula came down quickly from the tree. He tried to carry the body of his brother without dragging it so as not to leave any sign of a trail. And he did not follow the path, but walked parallel with it among the bushes. He hid the body, and then went away to his house. He called his servant, telling him that Nkombe was dead, and that he wanted him to come help bury the body. He did not call the old man, but only told him that his brother was dead.
He and the servant went to the spot where he had left his brother's body. They carried it far into the forest, buried it, and then went back to their house.
When the thieves came again to their house, they missed the dead body, so that part of their plan had proved true; and they said to the one who had proposed it, "You were right. You are our leader. What is your next order?" He said, "To-morrow we will not go out to do our business, but we will go out to hunt for this other man."
The next day they went, and scattering searched on all paths to see whether they would meet with some one or see some house. Some of them who were on a certain path came to the huts of the old man and Ogula. The first person they saw was the old man sitting in his doorway. They stopped and saluted. They asked him a few questions, and then consulting together agreed to return to their house and come back next day, hoping to find out something from the old man. They went back to their house. Previous to this, from the time that Ogula had been stealing goods he had built with his servant a little village of his own some distance from the old man's hut. On this first coming of the thieves, Ogula, hidden in his house, had seen them, and he said to himself, "As they now know of this place, I better go away, for fear this thing be found out, and they kill me as they did my brother." So at night he left that house and went off to his village.
In the morning of the next day, when the thieves came, they brought liquor, for they had planned that they would make this old man drunk, that he might talk when he was foolish with liquor.
They came to the old man's and saluted him. They sat and conversed, asking him, "How many people are here? Are you always living alone?" At first he replied, "Yes, I live alone." "But you are so old, how do you get your food by yourself? Would you like to taste a nice drink? We are sorry for you in your lack of comforts." "Yes, I would like to taste it."
So they opened their liquor, drank a little themselves, and gave to him. After he had drunk he became talkative, and began conversation again: "Oh, yes, you asked me if I lived alone. But not quite alone. There is a young man here." The thieves were glad to hear him talk, and gave him more liquor. He drank; they asked more questions, "You said there was another man with you; where is he?" Then the old man repeated the whole story of the coming of the brothers, to the death of one of them; and added, "A few days ago one of them came to tell me he was going to bury his brother; but I do not know when or how he died." So they asked the old man, "You know where he was buried?" "No." "But where is that living brother?" "Oh, he has just left me, and is gone to his new place not very far away. I have not been there, but you can easily find it."
They consulted among themselves. "As this other man may hear of what we are about, we will go away to-day, disguise ourselves, and to-morrow seek for his place." So they all left.
Next day two or three came disguised, and found Ogula's new house in the afternoon. He did not recognize their faces. He welcomed them as strangers and treated them politely. They asked, "Is this your house? Do you live alone?" He answered straightly, but did not mention his brother. But they felt they had enough proof of who he was, and left. But before they left they had observed the number and location of the rooms and the shape of the house. In the house was a large public reception and sitting room, and from it were doors leading to the servant's room and to a little entry opening into Ogula's room.
The next day Ogula and his servant were doing their work of refining the gum-copal they had gathered for trade; it was being boiled in an enormous kettle. When this copal was melted, the kettle was set, with its boiling-hot pitchy contents, in that little entry. In the afternoon came the whole company of thieves, all disguised. They said, "We have come to make your acquaintance, and to relieve your loneliness by an evening's amusement." Ogula began to prepare them food. They sat at the food, eating and drinking; had conversation, and spent the evening laughing and playing. At night most of them pretended to be drunk and sleepy, and stretched themselves on the floor of the large room as if in sleep.
Ogula also had been drinking, and said he was tired and would go to bed. But his servant was sober; he saw what the men were doing, and suspected evil. He thought: "Ah! my master is drunk, and these people are strangers. What will happen?" So when the lights were put out and he was going to bed, he left open the door of the little entry and locked the door of his master's room. After midnight the thieves rose and consulted. "Let us go and kill him." They arose and trod softly toward Ogula's room. Not quite sober, they missed the proper way, stepped through the open door of the little entry, and stumbled into the caldron of copal. It was still hot, and stuck to their bodies like pitch. They were in agony, but did not dare to cry out. They all were crawling covered with the hot gum, except the last man, who had jumped over the bodies of those who had fallen before him; and he ran away to their house.
But Ogula was sleeping, ignorant of what was going on.
In the morning the boy, who also had slept, on opening the house, found the kettle full of tarred limbs of dead human bodies. He knocked at Ogula's door and waked him. But Ogula said, "Don't disturb me, I am so tired from last night's revel." "Yes, but get up and see what has happened." Ogula came and saw. Then he told the lad that but for him he would have been dead. Ogula thenceforth took him as a brother. Then he and the boy had a big work of throwing out the bodies of the thieves. Ogula was not afraid of a charge of murder, for the thieves had tumbled themselves into the scalding contents of the kettle. He had enough wealth, and did not go again to the thieves' house.
But that one man who had escaped was wishing for revenge, yet was afraid to come to Ogula's house by himself. Time went on. Ogula remained quiet. But his enemy still sought revenge, waiting for an opportunity.
Gradually, too, Ogula had forgotten his enemy's face; for the thieves were many, and all disguised, and he would be unable to distinguish which one had escaped.
On a time it happened that this thief went far to another country; and while he was there, Ogula also happened to journey to that very town. The lad had said, being now a young man, "May I go too?" "Yes, you may, for you are like a brother. You must go wherever I do." On the very second day in the town the two, Ogula and the thief, met. The thief recognized Ogula; but Ogula did not recognize him, and neither spoke; but the young man, with better memory, said to himself, "I have seen this man somewhere." He looked closely, but said nothing.
The next day the thief made a feast. He met Ogula again on the street and saluted him, "Mbolo! I am making a feast. You seem a stranger. I would like you to come." "Yes; where?" "At such-and-such a place." "Yes, I will come. But this attendant of mine is good, and must be invited too." "Yes, I have no objections." Next evening the feast was held, and people came to it. The thief placed Ogula and his servant near himself. There was much eating and drinking. The thief became excited, and determined to kill Ogula at the table by sticking him with a knife.
All the while that the thief was watching Ogula, the servant was watching the thief. Presently the latter turned slightly and began to draw a knife. The servant watched him closely. The thief's knife was out, and the servant's knife was out too. But the thief was watching only Ogula, and did not know what the servant was doing. Just as the thief was about to thrust at Ogula, the servant jumped and thrust his knife into the thief's neck. The man fell, blood flowing abundantly over the table. The guests were alarmed, and were about to seize the servant, who pointed at the drawn knife in the man's hand that had been intended for his master; and then he told their whole story.
So the guests decided that there was no charge against Ogula and his servant, and scattered. The next day Ogula and his servant left. As he knew that that man was the last of the company of thieves, he said, in gladness, "Now! Glory!" Then he thought, "All that wealth is mine, since this last one who tried to take my life is dead."
As he had seen enough of the world by travel, he decided to stay in one place. He would call people to live with him in a new town which he would build for them around that enchanted house of the thieves, which he took as his own with all its wealth. And he lived long in that house in great glory, with wife and children and retainers and slaves.