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cool, and they see all the folly of the night, and their eyes are bright
for their own faults."

"Master," said Bosambo, "you are my father and my mother, and all the
people of the river you carry in your arms. Now I say to you that when I
go to do an evil thing I will first sleep, and I will make all my people
sleep also."

There are strange stories in circulation as to the manner in which
Bosambo carried out this novel reform. There is the story of an Ochori
wife-beater who, adjured by his chief, retired to slumber on his
grievance, and came to his master the following morning with the
information that he had not closed his eyes. Whereupon Bosambo clubbed
him insensible, in order that Sanders's plan might have a fair chance.

At least, this is the story which Hamilton retailed at breakfast one
morning. Sanders, appealed to for confirmation, admitted cautiously that
he had heard the legend, but did not trouble to make an investigation.

"The art of governing a native country," he said, "is the art of not
asking questions."

"But suppose you want to know something?" demanded Patricia.

"Then," said Sanders, with a twinkle in his eyes, "you must pretend that
you know."

"What is there to do to-day?" asked Hamilton, rolling his serviette.

He addressed himself to Lieutenant Tibbetts, who, to Sanders's intense
annoyance, invariably made elaborate notes of all the Commissioner said.

"Nothin' until this afternoon, sir," said Bones, closing his notebook
briskly, "then we're doin' a little deep-sea fishin'."

The girl made a grimace.

"We didn't catch anything yesterday, Bones," she objected.

"We used the wrong kind of worm," said Bones confidently. "I've found a
new worm nest in the plantation. Jolly little fellers they are, too."

"What are we doing to-day, Bones?" repeated Hamilton ominously.

Bones puckered his brows.

"Deep-sea fishin', dear old officer and comrade," he repeated, "an'
after dinner a little game of tiddly-winks - Bones _v._ jolly old
Hamilton's sister, for the championship of the River an' the Sanders
Cup."

Hamilton breathed deeply, but was patient.

"Your King and your country," he said, "pay you seven and eightpence per
diem - - "

"Oh," said Bones, a light dawning, "you mean _work_?"

"Strange, is it not," mused Hamilton, "that we should
consider - - Hullo!"

They followed the direction of his eyes.

A white bird was circling groggily above the plantation, as though
uncertain where to alight. There was weariness in the beat of its wings,
in the irregularity of its flight. Bones leapt over the rail of the
verandah and ran towards the square. He slowed down as he came to a
place beneath the bird, and whistled softly.

Bones's whistle was a thing of remarkable sweetness - it was his one
accomplishment, according to Hamilton, and had neither tune nor rhyme.
It was a succession of trills, rising and falling, and presently, after
two hesitating swoops, the bird rested on his outstretched hand. He came
back to the verandah and handed the pigeon to Sanders.

The Commissioner lifted the bird and with gentle fingers removed the
slip of thin paper fastened to its leg by a rubber band.

Before he opened the paper he handed the weary little servant of the
Government to an orderly.

"Lord, this is Sombubo," said Abiboo, and he lifted the pigeon to his
cheek, "and he comes from the Ochori."

Sanders had recognized the bird, for Sombubo was the swiftest, the
wisest, and the strongest of all his messengers, and was never
dispatched except on the most critical occasions.

He smoothed the paper and read the letter, which was in Arabic.

"From the servant of God Bosambo, in the Ochori City, to Sandi,
where-the-sea-runs.

"There have come three white men from the L'Mandi country, and they
have crossed the mountains. They sit with the Akasava in full
palaver. They say there shall be no more taxes for the People of
the River, but there shall come a new king greater than any. And
every man shall have goats and salt and free hunting. They say the
Akasava shall be given all the Ochori country, also guns like the
white man. Many guns and a thousand carriers are in the mountains
waiting to come. I hold the Ochori with all my spears. Also the
Isisi chief calls his young men for your King.

"Peace be on your house in the name of Allah Compassionate and
Merciful."

"M-m!" said Sanders, as he folded the paper. "I'm afraid there will be
no fishing this afternoon. Bones, take the _Wiggle_ and get up to the
Akasava as fast as you can; I will follow on the _Zaire_. Abiboo!"

"Lord?"

"You will find me a swift Ochori pigeon. Hamilton, scribble a line to
Bosambo, and say that he shall meet Bones by Sokala's village."

Half an hour later Bones was sending incomprehensible semaphore signals
of farewell as the _Wiggle_ slipped round the bend of the river.

Sokala, a little chief of the Isisi, was a rich man. He had ten wives,
each of whom lived in her own hut. Also each wife wore about her neck a
great ring of brass weighing twenty pounds, to testify to the greatness
and wealth of her lord.

Sokala was wizened and lined of face, and across his forehead were many
deep furrows, and it seemed that he lived in a state of perplexity as to
what should become of all his riches when he died, for he was cursed
with ten daughters - O'femi, Jubasami, K'sola, M'kema, Wasonga, Mombari,
et cetera.

When Wasonga was fourteen, there was revealed to Sokala, her father, a
great wonder.

The vision came at the tail end of a year of illness, when his head had
ached for weeks together, and not even the brass wire twisted lightly
about his skull brought him relief.

Sokala was lying on his fine bed of skins, wondering why strange animals
sat by the fire in the centre of his hut, and why they showed their
teeth and talked in human language. Sometimes they were leopards,
sometimes they were little white-whiskered monkeys that scratched and
told one another stories, and these monkeys were the wisest of all, for
they discussed matters which were of urgency to the sick man rolling
restlessly from side to side.

On this great night two such animals had appeared suddenly, a big grey
fellow with a solemn face, and a very little one, and they sat staring
into the fire, mechanically seeking their fleas until the little one
spoke.

"Sokala is very rich and has ten daughters."

"That is true," said the other; "also he will die because he has no
son."

Sokala's heart beat furiously with fear, but he listened when the little
black monkey spoke.

"If Sokala took Wasonga, his daughter, into the forest near to The Tree
and slew her, his daughters would become sons and he would grow well."

And the other monkey nodded.

As they talked, Sokala recognized the truth of all that they had said.
He wondered that he had never thought of the matter before in this way.
All night long he lay thinking - thinking - long after the fires had died
down to a full red glow amidst white ashes, and the monkeys had
vanished. In the cold dawn his people found him sitting on the side of
the bed, and marvelled that he should have lived the night through.

"Send me Wasonga, my daughter," he said, and they brought a sleepy girl
of fourteen, tall, straight, and wholly reluctant. "We go a journey,"
said Sokala, and took from beneath his bed his wicker shield and his
sharp-edged throwing-spear.

"Sokala hunts," said the people of the village significantly, and they
knew that the end was very near, for he had been a great hunter, and men
turn in death to the familiar pursuits of life.

Three miles on the forest road to the Isisi city, Sokala bade his
daughter sit on the ground.

Bones had met and was in earnest conversation with the Chief of the
Ochori, the _Wiggle_ being tied up at a wooding, when he heard a scream,
and saw a girl racing through the wood towards him.

Behind her, with the foolish stare on his face which comes to men in the
last stages of sleeping sickness, his spear balanced, came Sokala.

The girl tumbled in a wailing, choking heap at Bones's feet, and her
pursuer checked at the sight of the white man.

"I see you, Sokala,"[2] said Bones gently.

[Footnote 2: The native equivalent for "Good morning."]

"Lord," said the old man, blinking at the officer of the Houssas, "you
shall see a wonderful magic when I slay this woman, for my daughters
shall be sons, and I shall be a well man."

Bones took the spear from his unresisting hand.

"I will show you a greater magic, Sokala, for I will give you a little
white stone which will melt like salt in your mouth, and you shall
sleep."

The old man peered from Lieutenant Tibbetts to the King of the Ochori.
He watched Bones as he opened his medicine chest and shook out two
little white pellets from a bottle marked "Veronal," and accepted them
gratefully.

"God bless my life," cried Bones, "don't chew 'em, you dear old
silly - swallow 'em!"

"Lord," said Sokala soberly, "they have a beautiful and a magic taste."

Bones sent the frightened girl back to the village, and made the old man
sit by a tree.

"O Tibbetti," said Bosambo, in admiration, "that was a good palaver. For
it is better than the letting of blood, and no one will know that Sokala
did not die in his time."

Bones looked at him in horror.

"Goodness gracious heavens, Bosambo," he gasped, "you don't think I've
poisoned him?"

"Master," said Bosambo, nodding his head, "he die one time - he not fit
for lib - you give um plenty no-good stuff. You be fine Christian feller
same like me."

Bones wiped the perspiration from his brow and explained the action of
veronal. Bosambo was sceptical. Even when Sokala fell into a profound
slumber, Bosambo waited expectantly for his death. And when he realized
that Bones had spoken the truth, he was a most amazed man.

"Master," he said, in that fluid Ochori dialect which seems to be made
up of vowels, "this is a great magic. Now I see very surely that you
hold wonderful ju-jus, and I have wronged you, for I thought you were
without wisdom."

"Cheer-oh!" said the gratified Bones.

* * * * *

Near by the city of the Akasava is a small hill on which no vegetation
grows, though it rises from a veritable jungle of undergrowth. The
Akasava call this place the Hill of the Women, because it was here that
M'lama, the King of the Akasava, slew a hundred Akasava maidens to
propitiate M'shimba M'shamba, the god of storms. It was on the topmost
point of the hill that Sanders erected a fine gallows and hung M'lama
for his country's good. It had always been associated with the spiritual
history of the Akasava, for ghosts and devils and strange ju-jus had
their home hereabouts, and every great decision at which the people
arrived was made upon its slopes. At the crest there was a palaver
house - no more than a straw-thatched canopy affording shelter for four
men at the most.

On a certain afternoon all the chiefs, great and minor, the headmen, the
warriors, and the leaders of fishing villages of the Akasava, squatted
in a semicircle and listened to the oration of a bearded man, who spoke
easily in the river dialect of the happy days which were coming to the
people.

By his side were two other white men - a tall, clean-shaven man with
spectacles, and a stouter man with a bristling white moustache.

Had the bearded man's address been in plain English, or even plain
German, and had it been delivered to European hearers accustomed to
taking its religion in allegories and symbols, it would have been
harmless. As it was, the illustrations and the imagery which the speaker
employed had no other interpretation to the simple-minded Akasava than a
purely material one.

"I speak for the Great King," said the orator, throwing out his arms, "a
king who is more splendid than any. He has fierce and mighty armies that
cover the land like ants. He holds thunder and lightning in his hand,
and is greater than M'shimba M'shamba. He is the friend of the black man
and the white, and will deliver you from all oppression. He will give
you peace and full crops, and make you _capita_ over your enemies. When
he speaks, all other kings tremble. He is a great buffalo, and the
pawing of his hoofs shakes the earth.

"This he says to you, the warrior people of the Akasava - - "

The message was destined to be undelivered.

Heads began to turn, and there was a whisper of words. Some of the
audience half rose, some on the outskirts of the gathering stole quietly
away - the lesser chiefs were amongst these - and others, sitting stolidly
on, assumed a blandness and a scepticism of demeanour calculated to meet
the needs of the occasion.

For Sanders was at the foot of the hill, a trim figure in white, his
solar helmet pushed back to cover the nape of his neck from the slanting
rays of the sun, and behind Sanders were two white officers and a
company of Houssas with fixed bayonets. Not a word said Sanders, but
slowly mounted the Hill of the Dead. He reached the palaver house and
turned.

"Let no man go," he said, observing the disposition of the gathering to
melt away, "for this is a great palaver, and I come to speak for these
God-men."

The bearded orator glared at the Commissioner and half turned to his
companions. The stout man with the moustache said something quickly, but
Sanders silenced him with a gesture.

"O people," said Sanders, "you all know that under my King men may live
in peace, and death comes quickly to those who make war. Also you may
worship in what manner you desire, though it be my God or the famous
gods of your fathers. And such as preach of God or gods have full
liberty. Who denies this?"

"Lord, you speak the truth," said an eager headman.

"Therefore," said Sanders, "my King has given these God-men a book[3]
that they may speak to you, and they have spoken. Of a great king they
tell. Also of wonders which will come to you if you obey him. But this
king is the same king of whom the God-cross men and the water-God men
tell. For he lives beyond the stars, and his name is God. Tell me,
preacher, if this is the truth?"

[Footnote 3: A book = written permission, any kind of document or
writing.]

The bearded man swallowed something and muttered, "This is true."

"Also, there is no king in this world greater than my King, whom you
serve," Sanders continued, "and it is your duty to be obedient to him,
and his name is D'jorja." Sanders raised his hand to his helmet in
salute. "This also the God-men will tell you."

He turned to the three evangelists.

Herr Professor Wiessmann hesitated for the fraction of a second. The
pause was pardonable, for he saw the undoing of three months' good work,
and his thoughts at that moment were with a certain party of carriers
who waited in the mountains.

"The question of earthly and heavenly dominion is always debatable," he
began in English, but Sanders stopped him.

"We will speak in the Akasava tongue," he said, "and let all men hear.
Tell me, shall my people serve my King, or shall they serve another?"

"They shall serve your King," growled the man, "for it is the law."

"Thank you," said Sanders in English.

The gathering slowly dispersed, leaving only the white men on the hill
and a few lingering folk at the foot, watching the stolid native
soldiery with an apprehension born of experience.

"We should like you to dine with us," said Sanders pleasantly.

The leader of the L'Mandi mission hesitated, but the thin man with the
spectacles, who had been silent, answered for him.

"We shall be pleased, Mr. Commissioner," he said. "After eating with
these swine for a month, a good dinner would be very acceptable."

Sanders said nothing, though he winced at the inelegant description of
his people, and the three evangelists went back to their huts, which had
been built for their use by the Akasava chief.

An hour later that worthy sent for a certain witch-doctor.

"Go secretly," he said, "and call all headmen and chiefs to the Breaking
Tree in the forest. There they shall be until the moon comes up, and the
L'Mandi lords will come and speak freely. And you shall tell them that
the word he spoke before Sandi was no true word, but to-night he shall
speak the truth, and when Sandi is gone we shall have wonderful guns
and destroy all who oppose us."

This the witch-doctor did, and came back by the river path.

Here, by all accounts, he met Bosambo, and would have passed on; but the
Chief of the Ochori, being in a curious mind and being, moreover,
suspicious, was impressed by the importance of the messenger, and made
inquiries....

An old man is a great lover of life, and after the witch-doctor's head
had been twice held under water - for the river was providentially
near - he gasped the truth.

* * * * *

The three missioners were very grateful guests indeed. They were the
more grateful because Patricia Hamilton was an unexpected hostess. They
clicked their heels and kissed her hand and drank her health many times
in good hock. The dinner was a feast worthy of Lucullus, they swore, the
wine was perfect, and the coffee - which Abiboo handed round with a
solemn face - was wonderful.

They sat chatting for a time, and then the bearded man looked at his
watch.

"To bed, gentlemen," he said gaily. "We leave you, Herr Commissioner, in
good friendship, we trust?"

"Oh, most excellent," said Sanders awkwardly, for he was a poor liar,
and knew that his spies were waiting on the bank to "pick up" these
potential enemies of his.

He watched them go ashore and disappear into the darkness of the forest
path that leads to the village.

The moon was rising over the tall trees, and an expectant gathering of
Akasava notables were waiting for a white spokesman who came not, when
Bosambo and his bodyguard were engaged in lifting three unconscious men
and laying them in a large canoe. He himself paddled the long boat to
midstream, where two currents run swiftly, one to the sea and one to the
Isisi River, which winds for a hundred miles until it joins the Congo.

"Go with God," said Bosambo piously, as he stepped into his own canoe,
and released his hold of the other with its slumbering freight, "for if
your king is so great, he will bring you to your own lands; and if he is
not great, then you are liars. O Abiboo" - he spoke over his shoulder to
the sergeant of Houssas - "tell me, how many of the magic white stones of
Bonesi did you put in their drink?"

"Bosambo, I put four in each, as you told me, and if my lord Tibbetti
misses them, what shall I say?"

"You shall say," said Bosambo, "that this is Sandi's own word - that when
men plan evils they must first sleep. And I think these men will sleep
for a long time. Perhaps they will sleep for ever - all things are with
God."




CHAPTER VI

THE MEDICINE MAN


At the flood season, before the turbulent tributaries of the Isisi River
had been induced to return to their accustomed channels, Sanders came
back to headquarters a very weary man, for he had spent a horrid week in
an endeavour - successful, but none the less nerve-racking - to impress an
indolent people that the swamping of their villages was less a matter of
Providence and ghosts than the neglect of elementary precaution.

"For I told you, Ranabini," said an exasperated Sanders, "that you
should keep the upper channel free from trees and branches, and I have
paid you many bags of salt for your services."

"Lord, it is so," said Ranabini, scratching his brown leg thoughtfully.

"At the full of the moon, before the rains, did I not ask you if the
channel was clear, and did you not say it was like the street of your
village?" demanded Sanders, in wrath.

"Lord," said Ranabini frankly, "I lied to you, thinking your lordship
was mad. For what other man would foresee with his wonderful eye that
rains would come? Therefore, lord, I did not think of the upper channel,
and many trees floated down and made a little dam. Lord, I am an
ignorant man, and my mind is full of my own brother, who has come from a
long distance to see me, for he is a very sick man."

Sanders's mind was occupied by no thought of Ranabini's sick brother, as
the dazzling white _Zaire_ went thrashing her way down stream. For he
himself was a tired man, and needed rest, and there was a dose of
malaria looming in the offing, as his aching head told him. It was as
though his brains were arranged in slats, like a venetian blind, and
these slats were opening and closing swiftly, bringing with each
lightning flicker a momentary unconsciousness.

Captain Hamilton met him on the quay, and when Sanders landed - walking a
thought unsteadily, and instantly began a long and disjointed account of
his adventures on a Norwegian salmon river - Hamilton took him by the arm
and led the way to the bungalow.

In ten minutes he was assisting Sanders into his pyjamas, Sanders
protesting, albeit feebly, and when, after forcing an astonishing amount
of quinine and arsenic down his chief's throat, Hamilton came from the
semi-darkness of the bungalow to the white glare of the barrack square,
Hamilton was thoughtful.

"Let one of your women watch by the bed of the lord Sandi," said he to
Sergeant Abiboo, of the Houssas, "and she shall call me if he grows
worse."

"On my life," said Abiboo, and was going off.

"Where is Tibbetti?" asked Hamilton.

The sergeant turned back and seemed embarrassed.

"Lord," he said, "Tibbetti has gone with the lady, your sister, to make
a palaver with Jimbujini, the witch-doctor of the Akasava. They sit in
the forest in a magic circle, and lo! Tibbetti grows very wise."

Hamilton swore under his breath. He had ordered Lieutenant Tibbetts, his
second-in-command, prop, stay, and aide-de-camp, to superintend the
drill of some raw Kano recruits who had been sent from the coast.

"Go tell the lord Tibbetti to come to me," he said, "but first send your
woman to Sandi."

Lieutenant Tibbetts, with his plain, boyish face all red with his
exertions, yet dignified withal, came hurriedly from his studies.

"Come aboard, sir," he said, and saluted extravagantly, blinking at his
superior with a curious solemnity of mien which was his own peculiar
expression.

"Bones," said Hamilton, "where the dickens have you been?"

Bones drew a long breath. He hesitated, then -

"Knowledge," he said shortly.

Hamilton looked at his subordinate in alarm.

"Dash it, you aren't off your head, too, are you?"

Bones shook his head with vigour.

"Knowledge of the occult, sir and brother-officer," he said. "One is
never too old to learn, sir, in this jolly old world."

"Quite right," said Hamilton; "in fact, I'm pretty certain that you'll
never live long enough to learn everything."

"Thank you, sir," said Bones.

The girl, who had had less qualms than Bones when the summons arrived,
and had, in consequence, returned more leisurely, came into the room.

"Pat," said her brother, "Sanders is down with fever."

"Fever!" she said a little breathlessly. "It isn't - dangerous?"

Bones, smiling indulgently, soothed her.

"Nothin' catchin', dear Miss Patricia Hamilton," he began.

"Please don't be stupid," she said so fiercely that Bones recoiled. "Do
you think I'm afraid of catching anything? Is it dangerous for Mr.
Sanders?" she asked her brother.

"No more dangerous than a cold in the head," he answered flippantly. "My
dear child, we all have fever. You'll have it, too, if you go out at
sunset without your mosquito boots."

He explained, with the easy indifference of a man inured to malaria,
the habits of the mosquito - his predilection for ankles and wrists,
where the big veins and arteries are nearer to the surface - but the girl
was not reassured. She would have sat up with Sanders, but the idea so
alarmed Hamilton that she abandoned it.

"He'd never forgive me," he said. "My dear girl, he'll be as right as a
trivet in the morning."

She was sceptical, but, to her amazement, Sanders turned up at breakfast
his usual self, save that he was a little weary-eyed, and that his hand
shook when he raised his coffee-cup to his lips. A miracle, thought
Patricia Hamilton, and said so.

"Not at all, dear miss," said Bones, now, as ever, accepting full credit
for all phenomena she praised, whether natural or supernatural. "This is
simply nothin' to what happened to me. Ham, dear old feller, do you
remember when I was brought down from the Machengombi River? Simply
delirious - ravin' - off my head."

"So much so," said Hamilton, slicing the top off his egg, "that we


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Online LibraryEdgar WallaceThe keepers of the king's peace → online text (page 6 of 13)