Cetewayo Asked The Question


Cetewayo Asked The Question

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Cetewayo’s brother hesitated for a moment, then hurriedly removed the gag from his son’s mouth.
The boy exhaled a gust of foul-smelling air, then opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling.“Ask him where he was.”

Cetewayo asked the question in a language unintelligible to me. It seemed at first that his nephew would not respond. At length, some strangely sibilant sounds issued from his throat.“Can you understand him?” I asked.

Cetewayo shook his head. “He’s using bits of our language, but they make no sense. It’s all wrong.”
“Ask him about his name.”

Again the youth responded with some faint sibilants. They did not sound entirely random, even to me.
“I can’t understand him,” said Cetewayo. “He sometimes uses a word like ‘white’ or ‘cold,’ but unrelated to anything else.”
“I need more light,” I said. The room had no window, so the only light came from the narrow doorway.

“There’s an oil lamp next door,” Cetewayo replied. “I can fetch it, but you’d better hold his legs down in the meantime.”
As I gripped the boy’s ankles, I again felt how incredibly hot he was. He was almost burning up inside, his temperature was so high.
Cetewayo returned with the oil lamp.

“Shine the lamp on the boy’s face and ask him another question,” I told him.
For some unknown reason, it occurred to me that there might be a connection between Bheka and the dead mastiff.

He hissed in response to a question from his uncle, and I saw his tongue in the lamplight. It was as black as a lump of coal.

Was this a hitherto unknown disease, possibly an epidemic that affected humans and animals alike? If so, how infectious was it?
The boy reared up so abruptly that his father recoiled in surprise and let go of his wrists. Bheka turned his head like a lunging snake and sank his teeth into his father’s arm.

The man uttered a cry of pain and struck him with his free hand, but Bheka hung on, tearing at his father’s elbow like a wild beast. Cetewayo and I had to exert all our strength to separate them.

Panic-stricken, Cetewayo’s brother crawled out of range of his son’s teeth. His bitten arm was bleeding profusely.
Bheka tried to bite us, too, and I’m bound to admit that I quailed at the sight of the demented youth with his own father’s blood on his lips. Cetewayo, too, was on the verge of losing his nerve.

“Your brother’s wound must be disinfected!” My voice sounded brittle. “Is there some alcohol here?”
Cetewayo nodded absently without taking his eyes off the boy. Bheka was now crawling toward us despite his bonds.

The door of the room did not look particularly solid, but I thought it might contain the boy for a while.
“Everyone out!” I cried. “We won’t get anywhere this way.”

I swabbed the bite in Celewayo’s brother’s arm with high-proof alcohol, and hope only that this simple measure would banish the risk of
infection

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