The African Mask
The African Mask
Perfect Bound Softcover
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Twelve-year-old Layo has no thoughts of marriage. Her joy lies in making pottery, and she greatly admirers her grandmother's success in that art. When her parents demand that she leave her sleepy little village and visit the bustling city to meet her betrothed, she sees her dream slipping away.

"Notable Book" of the 1995 African Studies Association Children's Book Award.

"Vivid recreation of 11th century Africa."

-Kirkus Review

"The book contains delightful girlish secrets, friendships, romance, and mystery, as well as details of the customs of an ancient culture known for bronze and terra-cotta work."

-The Horn Book Guide

CHAPTER V The sun had set with promise of a fair morrow. Evening, mild and calm, had followed him. The soft twilight, gradually deepening, was fast merging into night. The birds had chanted their vesper hymn and a deep and universal stillness reigned. I felt that I was alone in the midst of a vast wilderness, exposed to prowling wolves and deadly panthers. My heart for a moment sunk within me from a sense of my utter helplessness and of my inability to oppose even the barrier of a fire between me and destruction. Then the thought of home and the hope of reaching it in safety banished my fears and inspired me with fresh courage. I had lain thus but a few minutes, now closing my eyes to sleep and now opening them upon the spreading tree tops or stars faintly glimmering through their branches, when I was suddenly roused by the cracking of bushes and a noise like that from quick strokes on the ground. Looking toward the path, I saw a herd of deer bounding through the woods and swiftly approaching me. Presently, one of them sprang over the log under which I lay. The others, leaping between me and the thicket where I had tied the horse, were in the next moment out of sight. Scarcely had I lain down again, when hearing a rustling among the bushes at a short distance from me, I raised myself upon my elbow to ascertain the cause. Words cannot express my feelings, nor describe my consternation and dismay, when I looked through an opening between the roots of the fallen tree under which I was lying and saw the two Indians whom I had left enter the thicket. Advancing immediately to the horse and laying hold of his bridle, they stood a few moments looking in different directions through the small opening in the thicket facing my retreat, evidently endeavoring to discover me. I had by this time partially recovered my self-possession and feared that if I waited for them to find me, they would tomahawk me where I lay. I determined at once to return to them. Instantly springing up and putting on my jacket, I ran to the thicket. With the mingled fear of deserved punishment, and the slight hope of impunity, I uttered the truly childlike excuse, “I have been out picking raspberries.” Methinks I can now see the horrible savage grind his teeth with rage, and with a look of fiendish malice that almost froze my blood, raise his rifle to his shoulder intending to shoot me. Were my mother’s prayers now ascending before the throne? Was my father now supplicating protection for his lost son? Or had the Father of mercies said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad?” At that moment the generous Wapawaqua interposed, and throwing up the muzzle of the nearly leveled rifle, saved my life. A brief altercation and then a few moments’ earnest conversation ensued, after which, setting down their rifles and cutting large switches from the thicket, they beat me severely on my head and shoulders until their whips were literally “used up.” I bore their beating, however, with the firmness of an Indian, never once complaining nor entreating remission, and not daring to make further resistance than to throw up my arms to protect my head. Often since have I felt thankful that there were none other than sassafras bushes near. Had the Indians thus beaten me with hickory or oak, they would certainly have killed me. Having wearied themselves in punishing me and having told me by signs which I could not misunderstand that if again I should attempt to escape, they would certainly kill and scalp me, we set out for our camp. White Loon was in front, leading me by the hand, and the other Indian followed on the horse until we reached the path, when we proceeded along it in single file. If at any time I flagged a little, falling too far behind the leading Indian, the cruel savage behind me goaded me with a stick or strove to ride over me. After proceeding about two miles, discovering in the path the bark hopples I had thrown down, he sprang from the horse and picking them up, inflicted many severe blows with them on my head and shoulders. Weary and faint, I rejoiced when at last we reached the camp. My satisfaction was momentary only, for without stopping even to secure the horse, the Indians proceeded to tie me. Passing a cord around my elbows, they drew them together behind my back so closely as almost to dislocate my shoulders. Then tying my wrists so tightly as nearly to prevent the circulation of the blood in my hands, they fastened the ends of the cord to a forked stake driven into the ground. I had often, as I thought, suffered not a little, but my sufferings this night were extreme. I could not lie down and to sleep was impossible. My head, bruised and swollen, pained me exceedingly, but this was trivial when compared with the torture I suffered from the violent straining of my arms behind my back. My ribs seemed every moment as though they would be torn from my breast, and my shoulder blades felt as if they would separate from my body. Forgetting the late signal instances of Divine intervention, I murmured against God, and in the bitterness of my soul longed for death. The night seemed as if it would never end, but at length the day dawned and gratefully did I hail the cheerful sunrise when the Indians, having eaten their breakfast and being ready to march, unbound and relieved me from the severity of suffering. We immediately forded Buck creek (the eastern branch of Mad River), here about thirty feet wide and swelled by the late rain, rising above my waist. We passed on about a mile and a half in a northwesterly direction through the eastern side of a prairie near to a high woodland. Crossing Mad River (an important branch of the Great Miami) at a broad ford sixty feet wide, we ascended a high bank matted with blue grass, covered with raspberry bushes and plum trees, and exhibiting the appearance of having been once the site of an Indian village. Here the Indians stopped a few minutes to adjust their blankets and make a pair of bark stirrups. I availed myself of the opportunity to breakfast on the raspberries, which were very abundant. Traveling on in a northwest course through open woods over high rolling ground, about noon we descended into a rich bottom and halted on the bank of a small creek near a fine spring. Distant from this spot a few rods was a very large sycamore, hollow at the bottom, and having on the side facing us an opening about six feet high, barricaded below with logs covered with brush. To this tree the Indians immediately proceeded. They removed the brush from before it, looked into its hollow for a moment, then returned to the spring. Making a fire and roasting some squirrels which they had killed in the morning, they made their dinner. I had eaten nothing but raspberries for the last twenty-four hours. I was very hungry, yet the Indians offered me no food. I thought of their late cruel treatment to me and of their continued inhumanity. I looked at the opening of the hollow sycamore, which appeared black within as if it had been burned, and suddenly was seized with the apprehension that they there intended to burn me. Weak and faint from want of rest and food, and from the debilitating effects of a severe dysentery with which I had been seized in the morning, stiff and sore from the beating and confinement, my feet swelled from walking, and my legs torn with briers, I was truly an object of pity. I sat with my back toward the Indians, ruminating on my wretched condition and gloomy prospects, now begging for death to release me from my sufferings, and now shrinking from the thought of its pains, its terrors, and above all, from that eternity beyond it, for which I felt that I was wholly unprepared. Soon, however, I found relief in a flood of tears, which I carefully concealed from the Indians. Then washing my face and bathing my throbbing temples at the brook, I strove to assume the semblance of cheerfulness. The Indians now led the horse out to the hollow sycamore an
Janet Rupert once lived in a lighthouse on Lake Erie. She gave that up and studied creative writing at Ohio State, writing The African Mask while a student there. She grew up in Bellefontaine, Ohio, the site of an Indian war chief?s town, Blue Jacket?s Town, and now explores and writes about Native American and Ohio Frontier history.


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