The Hyena by Robert E. Howard
First published in Weird Tales, March 1928
FROM THE TIME when I first saw Senecoza, the fetish- man, I
distrusted him, and from vague distrust the idea eventually grew into
I was but newly come to the East Coast, new to African ways, somewhat
inclined to follow my impulses, and possessed of a large amount of
Because I came from Virginia, race instinct and prejudice were strong in
me, and doubtless the feeling of inferiority which Senecoza constantly
inspired in me had a great deal to do with my antipathy for him.
He was surprisingly tall, and leanly built. Six inches above six feet he
stood, and so muscular was his spare frame that he weighed a good two hundred
pounds. His weight seemed incredible when one looked at his lanky build, but
he was all muscle—a lean, black giant. His features were not pure
Negro. They more resembled Berber than Bantu, with the high, bulging
forehead, thin nose and thin, straight lips. But his hair was as kinky as a
Bushman's and his color was blacker even than the Masai. In fact, his glossy
hide had a different hue from those of the native tribesmen, and I believe
that he was of a different tribe.
It was seldom that we of the ranch saw him. Then without warning he would
be among us, or we would see him striding through the shoulder-high grass of
the veldt, sometimes alone, sometimes followed at a respectful distance by
several of the wilder Masai, who bunched up at a distance from the buildings,
grasping their spears nervously and eyeing everyone suspiciously. He would
make his greetings with a courtly grace; his manner was deferentially
courteous, but somehow it "rubbed me the wrong way," so to speak. I always
had a vague feeling that the black was mocking us. He would stand before us,
a naked bronze giant; make trade for a few simple articles, such as a copper
kettle, beads or a trade musket; repeat words of some chief, and take his
I did not like him. And being young and impetuous, I spoke my opinion to
Ludtvik Strolvaus, a very distant relative, tenth cousin or suchlike, on
whose trading-post ranch I was staying.
But Ludtvik chuckled in his blond beard and said that the fetish-man was
"A power he is among the natives, true. They all fear him. But a friend he
is to the whites. Ja."
Ludtvik was long a resident on the East Coast; he knew natives and he knew
the fat Australian cattle he raised, but he had little imagination.
The ranch buildings were in the midst of a stockade, on a kind of slope,
overlooking countless miles on miles of the finest grazing land in Africa.
The stockade was large, well suited for defense. Most of the thousand cattle
could be driven inside in case of an uprising of the Masai. Ludtvik was
inordinately proud of his cattle.
"One thousand now," he would tell me, his round face beaming, "one
thousand now. But later, ah! Ten thousand and another ten thousand. This is a
good beginning, but only a beginning. Ja."
I must confess that I got little thrill out of the cattle. Natives herded
and corralled them; all Ludtvik and I had to do was to ride about and give
orders. That was the work he liked best, and I left it mostly to him.
My chief sport was in riding away across the veldt, alone or attended by a
gun-bearer, with a rifle. Not that I ever bagged much game. In the first
place I was an execrable marksman; I could hardly have hit an elephant at
close range. In the second place, it seemed to me a shame to shoot so many
things. A bush-antelope would bound up in front of me and race away, and I
would sit watching him, admiring the slim, lithe figure, thrilled with the
graceful beauty of the creature, my rifle lying idle across my saddle
The native boy who served as my gun-bearer began to suspect that I was
deliberately refraining from shooting, and he began in a covert way to throw
sneering hints about my womanishness. I was young and valued even the opinion
of a native; which is very foolish. His remarks stung my pride, and one day I
hauled him off his horse and pounded him until he yelled for mercy.
Thereafter my doings were not questioned.
But still I felt inferior when in the presence of the fetish-man. I could
not get the other natives to talk about him. All I could get out of them was
a scared rolling of the eyeballs, gesticulation indicative of fear, and vague
information that the fetish-man dwelt among the tribes some distance in the
interior. General opinion seemed to be that Senecoza was a good man to let
One incident made the mystery about the fetish-man take on, it seemed, a
rather sinister form.
In the mysterious way that news travels in Africa, and which white men so
seldom hear of, we learned that Senecoza and a minor chief had had a falling
out of some kind. It was vague and seemed to have no especial basis of fact.
But shortly afterward that chief was found half-devoured by hyenas. That, in
itself, was not unusual, but the fright with which the natives heard the news
was. The chief was nothing to them; in fact he was something of a villain,
but his killing seemed to inspire them with a fright that was little short of
homicidal. When the black reaches a certain stage of fear, he is as dangerous
as a cornered panther. The next time Senecoza called, they rose and fled en
masse and did not return until he had taken his departure.
Between the fear of the blacks, the tearing to pieces of the chief by the
hyenas, and the fetish-man, I seemed to sense vaguely a connection of some
kind. But I could not grasp the intangible thought.
Not long thereafter, that thought was intensified by another incident. I
had ridden far out on the veldt, accompanied by my servant. As we paused to
rest our horses close to a kopje, I saw, upon the top, a hyena eyeing us.
Rather surprised, for the beasts are not in the habit of thus boldly
approaching man in the daytime, I raised my rifle and was taking a steady
aim, for I always hated the things, when my servant caught my arm.
"No shoot, bwana! No shoot!" he exclaimed hastily, jabbering a
great deal in his own language, with which I was not familiar.
"What's up?" I asked impatiently.
He kept on jabbering and pulling my arm, until I gathered that the hyena
was a fetish-beast of some kind.
"Oh, all right," I conceded, lowering my rifle just as the hyena turned
and sauntered out of sight.
Something about the lank, repulsive beast and his shambling yet gracefully
lithe walk struck my sense of humor with a ludicrous comparison.
Laughing, I pointed toward the beast and said, "That fellow looks like a
hyena-imitation of Senecoza, the fetish-man." My simple statement seemed to
throw the native into a more abject fear than ever.
He turned his pony and dashed off in the general direction of the ranch,
looking back at me with a scared face.
I followed, annoyed. And as I rode I pondered. Hyenas, a fetish-man, a
chief torn to pieces, a countryside of natives in fear; what was the
connection? I puzzled and puzzled, but I was new to Africa; I was young and
impatient, and presently with a shrug of annoyance I discarded the whole
The next time Senecoza came to the ranch, he managed to stop directly in
front of me. For a fleeting instant his glittering eyes looked into mine. And
in spite of myself, I shuddered and stepped back, involuntarily, feeling much
as a man feels who looks unaware into the eyes of a serpent. There was
nothing tangible, nothing on which I could base a quarrel, but there was a
distinct threat. Before my Nordic pugnacity could reassert itself, he was
gone. I said nothing. But I knew that Senecoza hated me for some reason and
that he plotted my killing. Why, I did not know.
As for me, my distrust grew into bewildered rage, which in turn became
And then Ellen Farel came to the ranch. Why she should choose a trading-
ranch in East Africa for a place to rest from the society life of New York, I
do not know. Africa is no place for a woman. That is what Ludtvik, also a
cousin of hers, told her, but he was overjoyed to see her. As for me, girls
never interested me much; usually I felt like a fool in their presence and
was glad to be out. But there were few whites in the vicinity and I tired of
the company of Ludtvik.
Ellen was standing on the wide veranda when I first saw her, a slim,
pretty young thing, with rosy cheeks and hair like gold and large gray eyes.
She was surprisingly winsome in her costume of riding-breeches, puttees,
jacket and light helmet.
I felt extremely awkward, dusty and stupid as I sat on my wiry African
pony and stared at her.
She saw a stocky youth of medium height, with sandy hair, eyes in which a
kind of gray predominated; an ordinary, unhandsome youth, clad in dusty
riding-clothes and a cartridge belt on one side of which was slung an ancient
Colt of big caliber, and on the other a long, wicked hunting-knife.
I dismounted, and she came forward, hand outstretched.
"I'm Ellen," she said, "and I know you're Steve. Cousin Ludtvik has been
telling me about you."
I shook hands, surprised at the thrill the mere touch of her hand gave
She was enthusiastic about the ranch. She was enthusiastic about
everything. Seldom have I seen anyone who had more vigor and vim, more
enjoyment of everything done. She fairly scintillated with mirth and
Ludtvik gave her the best horse on the place, and we rode much about the
ranch and over the veldt.
The blacks interested her much. They were afraid of her, not being used to
white women. She would have been off her horse and playing with the
pickaninnies if I had let her. She couldn't understand why she should treat
the black people as dust beneath her feet. We had long arguments about it. I
could not convince her, so I told her bluntly that she didn't know anything
about it and she must do as I told her.
She pouted her pretty lips and called me a tyrant, and then was off over
the veldt like an antelope, laughing at me over her shoulder, her hair
blowing free in the breeze.
Tyrant! I was her slave from the first. Somehow the idea of becoming a
lover never enter my mind. It was not the fact that she was several years
older than I, or that she had a sweetheart (several of them, I think) back in
New York. Simply, I worshipped her; her presence intoxicated me, and I could
think of no more enjoyable existence than serving her as a devoted slave.
I was mending a saddle one day when she came running in.
"Oh, Steve!" she called; "there's the most romantic-looking savage! Come
quick and tell me what his name is."
She led me out of the veranda.
"There he is," she said, naively pointing. Arms folded, haughty head
thrown back, stood Senecoza.
Ludtvik who was talking to him, paid no attention to the girl until he had
completed his business with the fetish-man; and then, turning, he took her
arm and they went into the house together.
Again I was face to face with the savage; but this time he was not looking
at me. With a rage amounting almost to madness, I saw that he was gazing
after the girl. There was an expression in his serpentlike eyes—
On the instant my gun was out and leveled. My hand shook like a leaf with
the intensity of my fury. Surely I must shoot Senecoza down like the snake he
was, shoot him down and riddle him, shoot him into a shredded heap!
The fleeting expression left his eyes and they were fixed on me. Detached
they seemed, inhuman in their sardonic calm. And I could not pull the
For a moment we stood, and then he turned and strode away, a magnificent
figure, while I glared after him and snarled with helpless fury.
I sat down on the veranda. What a man of mystery was that savage! What
strange power did he possess? Was I right, I wondered, in interpreting the
fleeting expression as he gazed after the girl? It seemed to me, in my youth
and folly, incredible that a black man, no matter what his rank, should look
at a white woman as he did. Most astonishing of all, why could I not shoot
I started as a hand touched my arm.
"What are thinking about, Steve?" asked Ellen, laughing. Then before I
could say anything, "Wasn't that chief, or whatever he was, a fine specimen
of a savage? He invited us to come to his kraal; is that what you call it?
It's away off in the veldt somewhere, and we're going."
"No!" I exclaimed violently, springing up.
"Why Steve," she gasped recoiling, "how rude! He's a perfect gentleman,
isn't he, Cousin Ludtvik?"
"Ja," nodded Ludtvik, placidly, "we go to his kraal sometime soon,
maybe. A strong chief, that savage. His chief has perhaps good trade."
"No!" I repeated furiously. "I'll go if somebody has to! Ellen's
not going near that beast!"
"Well, that's nice!" remarked Ellen, somewhat indignantly. "I guess you're
my boss, mister man?"
With all her sweetness, she had a mind of her own. In spite of all I could
do, they arranged to go to the fetish-man's village the next day.
That night the girl came out to me, where I sat on the veranda in the
moonlight, and she sat down on the arm of my chair.
"You're not angry at me, are you, Steve?" she said, wistfully, putting her
arm around my shoulders. "Not mad, are you?"
Mad? Yes, maddened by the touch of her soft body—such mad devotion
as a slave feels. I wanted to grovel in the dust at her feet and kiss her
dainty shoes. Will women never learn the effect they have on men?
I took her hand hesitantly and pressed it to my lips. I think she must
have sensed some of my devotion.
"Dear Steve," she murmured, and the words were like a caress, "come, let's
walk in the moonlight."
We walked outside the stockade. I should have known better, for I had no
weapon but the big Turkish dagger I carried and used for a hunting-knife, but
she wished to.
"Tell me about this Senecoza," she asked, and I welcomed the opportunity.
And then I thought: what could I tell her? That hyenas had eaten a small
chief of the Masai? That the natives feared the fetish-man? That he had
looked at her?
And then the girl screamed as out of the tall grass leaped a vague shape,
half-seen in the moonlight.
I felt a heavy, hairy form crash against my shoulders; keen fangs ripped
my upflung arm. I went to the earth, fighting with frenzied horror. My jacket
was slit to ribbons and the fangs were at my throat before I found and drew
my knife and stabbed, blindly and savagely. I felt my blade rip into my foe,
and then, like a shadow, it was gone. I staggered to my feet, somewhat
shaken. The girl caught and steadied me.
"What was it?" she gasped, leading me toward the stockade.
"A hyena," I answered. "I could tell by the scent. But I never heard of
one attacking like that."
She shuddered. Later on, after my torn arm had been bandaged, she came
close to me and said in a wondrously subdued voice, "Steve, I've decided not
to go to the village, if you don't want me to."
After the wounds on my arm had become scars Ellen and I resumed our rides,
as might be expected. One day we had wandered rather far out on the veldt,
and she challenged me to a race. Her horse easily distanced mine, and she
stopped and waited for me, laughing.
She had stopped on a sort of kopje, and she pointed to a clump of trees
some distance away.
"Trees!" she said gleefully. "Let's ride down there. There are so few
trees on the veldt."
And she dashed away. I followed some instinctive caution, loosening my
pistol in its holster, and, drawing my knife, I thrust it down in my boot so
that it was entirely concealed.
We were perhaps halfway to the trees when from the tall grass about us
leaped Senecoza and some twenty warriors.
One seized the girl's bridle and the others rushed me. The one who caught
at Ellen went down with a bullet between his eyes, and another crumpled at my
second shot. Then a thrown war-club hurled me from the saddle,
half-senseless, and as the blacks closed in on me I saw Ellen's horse, driven
frantic by the prick of a carelessly handled spear, scream and rear,
scattering the blacks who held her, and dash away at headlong speed, the bit
in her teeth.
I saw Senecoza leap on my horse and give chase, flinging a savage command
over his shoulder; and both vanished over the kopje.
The warriors bound me hand and foot and carried me into the trees. A hut
stood among them—a native hut of thatch and bark. Somehow the sight of
it set me shuddering. It seemed to lurk, repellent and indescribably
malevolent amongst the trees; to hint of horrid and obscene rites; of
I know not why it is, but the sight of a native hut, alone and hidden, far
from a village or tribe, always has to me a suggestion of nameless horror.
Perhaps that is because only a black who is crazed or one who is so criminal
that he has been exiled by his tribe will dwell that way.
In front of the hut they threw me down.
"When Senecoza returns with the girl," said they, "you will enter." And
they laughed like fiends. Then, leaving one black to see that I did not
escape, they left.
The black who remained kicked me viciously; he was a bestial-looking
Negro, armed with a trade-musket.
"They go to kill white men, fool!" he mocked me. "They go to the ranches
and trading-posts, first to that fool of an Englishman." Meaning Smith, the
owner of a neighboring ranch.
And he went on giving details. Senecoza had made the plot, he boasted.
They would chase all the white men to the coast.
"Senecoza is more than a man," he boasted. "You shall see, white man,"
lowering his voice and glancing about him, from beneath his low, beetling
brows; "you shall see the magic of Senecoza." And he grinned, disclosing
teeth filed to points.
"Cannibal!" I ejaculated, involuntarily. "A Masai?"
"No," he answered. "A man of Senecoza."
"Who will kill no white men," I jeered.
He scowled savagely. "I will kill you, white man."
"You dare not."
"That is true," he admitted, and added angrily, "Senecoza will kill you
And meantime Ellen was riding like mad, gaining on the fetish-man, but
unable to ride toward the ranch, for he had gotten between and was forcing
her steadily out upon the veldt.
The black unfastened my bonds. His line of reasoning was easy to see;
absurdly easy. He could not kill a prisoner of the fetish-man, but he could
kill him to prevent his escape. And he was maddened with the blood-lust.
Stepping back, he half-raised his trade-musket, watching me as a snake
watches a rabbit.
It must have been about that time, as she afterward told me, that Ellen's
horse stumbled and threw her. Before she could rise, the black had leaped
from his horse and seized her in his arms. She screamed and fought, but he
gripped her, held her helpless and laughed at her. Tearing her jacket to
pieces, he bound her arms and legs, remounted and started back, carrying the
half-fainting girl in front of him.
Back in front of the hut I rose slowly. I rubbed my arms where the ropes
had been, moved a little closer to the black, stretched, stooped and rubbed
my legs; then with a catlike bound I was on him, my knife flashing from my
boot. The trade-musket crashed and the charge whizzed above my head as I
knocked up the barrel and closed with him. Hand to hand, I would have been no
match for the black giant; but I had the knife. Clinched close together we
were too close for him to use the trade-musket for a club. He wasted time
trying to do that, and with a desperate effort I threw him off his balance
and drove the dagger to the hilt in his black chest.
I wrenched it out again; I had no other weapon, for I could find no more
ammunition for the trade-musket.
I had no idea which way Ellen had fled. I assumed she had gone toward the
ranch, and in that direction I took my way. Smith must be warned. The
warriors were far ahead of me. Even then they might be creeping up about the
I had not covered a fourth of the distance, when a drumming of hoofs
behind me caused me to turn my head. Ellen's horse was thundering toward me,
riderless. I caught her as she raced past me, and managed to stop her. The
story was plain. The girl had either reached a place of safety and had turned
the horse loose, or what was much more likely, had been captured, the horse
escaping and fleeing toward the ranch, as a horse will do. I gripped the
saddle, torn with indecision. Finally I leaped on the horse and sent her
flying toward Smith's ranch. It was not many miles; Smith must not be
massacred by those black devils, and I must find a gun if I escaped to rescue
the girl from Senecoza.
A half-mile from Smith's I overtook the raiders and went through them like
drifting smoke. The workers at Smith's place were startled by a wild-riding
horseman charging headlong into the stockade, shouting, "Masai! Masai! A
raid, you fools!" snatching a gun and flying out again.
So when the savages arrived they found everybody ready for them, and they
got such a warm reception that after one attempt they turned tail and fled
back across the veldt.
And I was riding as I never rode before. The mare was almost exhausted,
but I pushed her mercilessly. On, on!
I aimed for the only place I knew likely. The hut among the trees. I
assumed that the fetish-man would return there.
And long before the hut came into sight, a horseman dashed from the grass,
going at right angles to my course, and our horses, colliding, sent both
tired animals to the ground.
"Steve!" It was a cry of joy mingled with fear. Ellen lay, tied hand and
foot, gazing up at me wildly as I regained my feet.
Senecoza came with a rush, his long knife flashing in the sunlight. Back
and forth we fought—slash, ward and parry, my ferocity and agility
matching his savagery and skill.
A terrific lunge which he aimed at me, I caught on my point, laying his
arm open, and then with a quick engage and wrench, disarmed him. But before I
could use my advantage, he sprang away into the grass and vanished.
I caught up the girl, slashing her bonds, and she clung to me, poor child,
until I lifted her and carried her toward the horses. But we were not yet
through with Senecoza. He must have had a rifle cached away somewhere in the
bush, for the first I knew of him was when a bullet spat within a foot above
I caught at the bridles, and then I saw that the mare had done all she
could, temporarily. She was exhausted. I swung Ellen up on the horse.
"Ride for our ranch," I ordered her. "The raiders are out, but you can get
through. Ride low and ride fast!"
"But you, Steve!"
"Go, go!" I ordered, swinging her horse around and starting it. She dashed
away, looking at me wistfully over her shoulder. Then I snatched the rifle
and a handful of cartridges I had gotten at Smith's, and took to the bush.
And through the hot African day, Senecoza and I played a game of hide-and-
seek. Crawling, slipping in and out of the scanty veldt-bushes, crouching in
the tall grass, we traded shots back and forth. A movement of the grass, a
snapping twig, the rasp of grass-blades, and a bullet came questing, another
I had but a few cartridges and I fired carefully, but presently I pushed
my one remaining cartridge into the rifle—a big, six-bore, single-
barrel breech-loader, for I had not had time to pick when I snatched it
I crouched in my covert and watched for the black to betray himself by a
careless movement. Not a sound, not a whisper among the grasses. Away off
over the veldt a hyena sounded his fiendish laugh and another answered,
closer at hand. The cold sweat broke out on my brow.
What was that? A drumming of many horses' hoofs! Raiders returning? I
ventured a look and could have shouted for joy. At least twenty men were
sweeping toward me, white men and ranch-boys, and ahead of them all rode
Ellen! They were still some distance away. I darted behind a tall bush and
rose, waving my hand to attract their attention.
They shouted and pointed to something beyond me. I whirled and saw, some
thirty yards away, a huge hyena slinking toward me, rapidly. I glanced
carefully across the veldt. Somewhere out there, hidden by the billowing
grasses, lurked Senecoza. A shot would betray to him my position—and I
had but one cartridge. The rescue party was still out of range.
I looked again at the hyena. He was still rushing toward me. There was no
doubt as to his intentions. His eyes glittered like a fiend's from Hell, and
a scar on his shoulder showed him to be the same beast that had once before
attacked me. Then a kind of horror took hold of me, and resting the old
elephant rifle over my elbow, I sent my last bullet crashing through the
bestial thing. With a scream that seemed to have a horribly human note in it,
the hyena turned and fled back into the bush, reeling as it ran.
And the rescue party swept up around me.
A fusillade of bullets crashed through the bush from which Senecoza had
sent his last shot. There was no reply.
"Ve hunt ter snake down," quoth Cousin Ludtvik, his Boer accent increasing
with his excitement. And we scattered through the veldt in a skirmish line,
combing every inch of it warily.
Not a trace of the fetish-man did we find. A rifle we found, empty, with
empty shells scattered about, and (which was very strange) hyena tracks
leading away from the rifle.
I felt the short hairs of my neck bristle with intangible horror. We
looked at each other, and said not a word, as with a tacit agreement we took
up the trail of the hyena.
We followed it as it wound in and out in the shoulder-high grass, showing
how it had slipped up on me, stalking me as a tiger stalks its victim. We
struck the trail the thing had made, returning to the bush after I had shot
it. Splashes of blood marked the way it had taken. We followed.
"It leads toward the fetish-hut," muttered an Englishman. "Here, sirs, is
a damnable mystery."
And Cousin Ludtvik ordered Ellen to stay back, leaving two men with
We followed the trail over the kopje and into the clump of trees. Straight
to the door of the hut it led. We circled the hut cautiously, but no tracks
led away. It was inside the hut. Rifles ready, we forced the rude door.
No tracks led away from the hut and no tracks led to it except the
tracks of the hyena. Yet there was no hyena within that hut; and on the dirt
floor, a bullet through his black breast, lay Senecoza, the fetish-