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Title: The Ghost Walker
Author: Edgar Wallace
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700491.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: April 2007
Date most recently updated: April 2007

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Title: The Ghost Walker
Author: Edgar Wallace



Don Murdock came to the territories with three guns and a breaking
heart. At least he had tried to keep the rifts wedged open and still
preserved the similitude of hopeless grief and .unconquerable despair.
It had been easy enough that night when the New York skyline was
falling astern and he had looked over the side of the Berengaria and
had seen, almost on the verge of tears, the pilot's hazardous climb to
the waiting boat.

This man, thought Donald, swallowing a lump in his throat, was going
back to a woman who loved him. A sane, shrewd mother of children, who
went to church on Sundays and scoffed at ghosts. He could not imagine
Mr. Pilot and Mrs. Pilot facing one another, trembling with fury over
the matter of manifestations.

He could not imagine Mrs. Pilot drawing her wedding ring from her
finger, flinging it on to the table and saying: "I think we are wasting
time, Donald: you cannot understand and never will understand. You are
just puffed up with conceit like every other college boy--you think
people are crazy because you haven't the vision or the enterprise to
get outside your own narrow circle..."

All that sort of stuff, mostly illogical, but very, very,
poignant.

So Donald went tragically to the wilds and made a will before
leaving New York, leaving half of his four million dollars to Jane
Fellaby and the other half to found a society for the suppression of
Spiritualism.

Jane had been bitten very badly. She had sat in at seances and had
heard voices and seen trumpets move and heard tambourines play, and had
had other spiritual experiences. And she objected to his description of
Professor Steelfit as a "fake" and her spiritualistic aunt as a
halfwit--and here he was sailing for Africa, the home of primitive
realities and lions and fever.

Mr. Commissioner Sanders did not like visitors in the Territories.
They were a responsibility, and usually he ran them up to Chubiri on
the lower river (which is as safe as Bond Street and much safer than
Broadway) and sent them back to the ship with a thrilling sense of
having faced fearful dangers.

Bones was usually the guide on these occasions.

"On your right, dear old friends, is the village of Goguba, where
there was a simply fearful massacre...shockin' old bird named N'sumu
used to be chief an' the silly old josser got tight an' behaved simply
scandalously. On the left, dear young miss, is the island where all
these old johnnies are buried...over there's where a perfectly ghastly
feller named Oofaba drowned his naughty old self..."

But the "tourist" with letters of introduction was not really
welcome, though he or she had little to complain of in the matter of
courtesy and loving-kindness.

"Bones, here's a job for you." Sanders looked up from the letters he
was reading at breakfast. "We are getting a 'Cook' for a couple of
weeks."

Bones sighed audibly.

"Not me, dear old excellency," he begged. "It's Ham's turn."

"He's an American," said Sanders.

Bones was interested.

He knew America. There was scarcely a town in the United States to
which he had not written for Folder K, for Lieutenant Tibbetts was a
most assiduous reader of magazine advertisements, and his touching
faith in the efficacy of correspondence schools had produced his most
expensive hobbies.

Sanders might not like visitors, but he had a particularly keen
admiration for wholesome youth, and Donald Murdock was one of those shy
and diffident boys whose appeal was instant.

He came with the most unusual credentials--a letter from the
American Ambassador in London, supported by a request from Whitehall
which was a command.

"Yes--you can go as far as you like, Mr. Murdock--which I hope will
be as far as I like! The country is quiet and Mr. Tibbetts will look
after you."

Youth cleaves to youth: Donald took up his quarters in Bones' hut.
Within five hours of their meeting (the visitor arrived by the mail
boat in the afternoon) they were swopping love affairs.

"...not like any other girl, you understand, Bones. If she'd been
one of those gosh-awful creatures that take up spiritualism, it
wouldn't have mattered."

"I knew a girl once," mused Bones. "She was fearfully fond of me,
but she played bridge. I said to her: 'My dear old lady----'"

But Donald Murdock really wasn't interested.

"When a man like me falls in love, Bones, it's for keeps.
Spiritualism! Can you beat that? Ghosts and things--you don't believe
in that kind of bunk?"

Here Bones hesitated.

"Dear old transatlantic cousin," he said, "you can't live in Africa
and not believe, old boy."

Don Murdock stared at him incredulously.

"Spirits?"

Bones nodded.

"Dear old man from Massa--whatever the place is--ghosts? Lord bless
my jolly old life, I've seen 'em!"

There were ghosts enough on the river, as these two young men were
to learn.

There was a king of the N'gombi who had seven sons and the youngest
of these was a weakling who had never been heard to utter a word until
he was twelve, though there were tales told by huntsmen who had seen
him in the forest, where he loved to prowl, of a ghost with whom he
spoke at great length.

They had spied on him on nights of moon, and had heard him talk to
one whom their eyes could not see, though they were trained to find the
twigs which the big cat leopard had broken with his velvet paw.

Now the brothers of this boy would have put him away because of his
madness, for this is the law of the N'gombi, that the mad are dead
minds which are chained to the earth. But the king of the N'gombi (who
was a very sick man) liked his son, who was the child of his best-loved
wife, and to those who sat in family palaver on this. matter of life
and death he spoke with a certain ominous meaning.

"The day B'lala dies, which of you shall live?" he asked. "For if I
say 'kill' a hundred spears will go against any man even if he be the
king's son."

B'lala began talking at large when he was thirteen. He talked of
ghosts and ju-jus and strange things that only ghosts see. Such as
elephants with long hairy skin and curved tusks, and crocodiles that
flew from one great tree to another, and strange beasts with enormous
necks and silly spade-shaped heads. Once he said that he had lived in
the world when it was quivering, boiling mud and there was nothing to
be seen, no sky or stars or sun, because of the thick steam that
enveloped all things.

N'kema, the eldest son of the king, on the pretext of fishing, drew
his brethren to a secret conference on one of the little islands.

"It is clear to me that our father will soon die and that the
madness of B'lala is his madness also. Now all men know that I shall
sit in his place and be king of the N'gombi. Yet when Sandi came at the
third moon to gather our taxes, he spoke evilly to me because of some
girl that I stole from the Ochori folk. Now I saw with these two
eyes"--he covered them both with his palms in the conventional
manner--"that whilst Sandi spoke to me, B'lala stood near to him and
bewitched him with his magic. Now when our father dies, let us take
B'lala into the forest and put out his eyes and leave him to the
beasts."

And all the brothers agreed except one who loved the boy, and even
he said "Wa," keeping his objection secret.

Mr. Commissioner Sanders, in his great white house by the river's
end, heard these stories and was interested. He had an overwhelming
weakness for sanity, but mad folk did not irk him unless they held high
posts and could in their craziness call their spears to a killing.

"It is very queer"--he puffed thoughtfully at a long cheroot--"I
must take a peep at this boy on my next visit."

Captain Hamilton of the King's Houssas grinned.

"That corner of the N'gombi is rotten with madness," he said. "They
had sleepy sickness badly last year----"

Sanders' headshake interrupted him.

"It isn't that kind of madness," he said. "B'lala's visions are of
the world in the course of its creation and development. His talk is
scientifically sound; he has even described the reptilia----

The mammoth herds and the lizard birds,

and that isn't right. In other words, he seems to have the
extraordinary power of projecting his mentality back to prehistoric
times. I can see you are on the point of saying 'rubbish'--don't! I had
a go of fever last night and my temper is short."

Hamilton's nose wrinkled derisively.

"Sorry, sir. Ask Bones for a solution--he's nearly imbecile
himself--he may be able to interpret his brother halfwit."

He raised himself in his chair and hailed a distant figure.

"Bones!" he yelled.

Lieutenant Tibbetts, of the King's Houssas, changed direction and
came stalking across the drill ground. He took the three steps of the
veranda in his stride and saluted formally.

"Do you wish to see me on any regimental matter, dear old officer?"
he demanded stiffly. "Personal affairs I am not prepared to discuss,
but I hope, dear old sir, that I know enough about King's Regulations
to be respectful, dear old tyrant----"

"Shut up," snapped Hamilton. "Anyway, you did pinch my
toothpaste."

"I may have borrowed it, sir an' captain," said Bones gently,
"thinkin' that you had no use for it----"

"You did take it," growled Hamilton. "I wouldn't have made a fuss
about that, but you brought back a tube of brown shoe polish, and the
first thing I knew--ugh!"

Bones inclined his head.

"Accidents will happen, dear old sir." He was offensively
respectful. "I said to our jolly old North American friend----"

Sanders had an idea.

"Bones, take the Wiggle up to the N'gombi country--we've got to give
Murdock some sort of trip, and the country is quiet just now--I'd like
you to see B'lala, the son of Ufumbi the king..." He explained at
length his interest in the boy.

* * * * *

"Anyway, he's crazy," said Donald gloomily. "Mr. Sanders says he's
crazy--you can't see ghosts any other way."

"I've seen ghosts, dear old septic," said Bones stiffly.

"You mean sceptic," corrected the melancholy Donald. "What sort of
education do they give you in your high schools?"

"A jolly sight better than they give you in your public schools,"
said Bones hotly, and was nearer the truth than he imagined.

They were sitting on the foredeck of the Wiggle, that stout launch,
and the low-lying shores of the Isisi country were moving slowly past
them. It was the third day of the voyage, and hot--hotter than anything
Donald had ever experienced, though as a loyalist he praised New York
on a sweltering summer day as having it beaten. At Lapori, where he
stopped, Bones had news that nearly sent him to the right-about.

"Lord, in the dark. hours there came a lokali message from the
N'gombi," said the old headman. "The king has died of the sickness
mongo, and his son is in his place. Also fishermen who came down the
river have seen N'gombi war canoes and spears, and it is a saying on
the river that when the N'gombi goes on the water, there are new graves
on the little island."

Bones scratched his chin thoughtfully. In a moment of mental
aberration he had forgotten to bring his carrier pigeons.

"This is a bad palaver," he said. "Get me a fast canoe, with strong
young paddlers, and I will send a book* to my lord Sandi." (*
letter)

In the ordinary relationships of life Bones was as inconstant as an
English spring day. But Bones, faced with real trouble and real
responsibility was a being transfigured. He counted heads, and found
himself with five effective fighting men besides himself and Donald.
Fortunately the Wiggle carried one very desirable 'spare' in the shape
of a machine gun, and this he had unpacked and erected on the foredeck.
Mr. Donald Murdock was intensely interested.

"Dear old thing," said Bones, "you can paddle downstream in the
canoe, or you can risk the fearfully hazardous dangers of war. I
realize, dear old Massachuter, that you're a friendly nation, but if
you like to come in you'll be fearfully welcome. If there's any last
message you'd like to send to jolly old Jane, now's your chance."

Donald elected for war. An hour later the Wiggle pushed her sharp
nose against the black waters of the river and began her laborious
'climb' against the six-knot current to the river city of the
N'gombi.

Power is a potent wine that is liable to turn the heads of the
strongest. N'kema, the eldest son, did many foolish things. The breath
was scarcely out of the body of his father--who died with suspicious
suddenness--than he sat himself on the stool of chieftainship and
summoned all headmen and petty chiefs to a great palaver of the land.
Worse than this, he conveyed to the Little Leopards his desire for
their support, and no king in his senses would invoke the aid of that
secret society.

It was the time when the Little Leopards flourished; no longer were
their mutilated victims found, but they had their strange rites, their
dances, and, if the truth be told, their secret killings.

When one of the brothers expostulated, the new king cut him
short.

"Must I not bring all magic and power to keep me where I am?" he
asked. "Does not Sandi hate me? Now, if he sees my strength, and knows
that all men are for me, he will let me sit quietly, and one day will
come and put on my neck the medal which my father wore."

"What of B'lala?" asked one, and the king made a significant
sign.

That night two of his brothers led the ghost walker into the deepest
part of the forest, where slinking cat shapes move by night and round
green moons of eyes look hungrily through the cover of the scrub; and
there they left him. He did not complain, except to say, just before
they went away:

"You would not have done this, but my ghost is gone from me
tonight."

"Where is your ghost?" mocked one.

"In all the stars," was the answer. "Go quickly before he
returns."

And in terror they fled.

The new king sat in his big hut, an eager listener to all the
stories which came to him. Some said that the Ochori were arming
against the N'gombi, and that Bosambo the king was gathering his
regiments for a great slaughter. Another whispered of Sandi and his
soldiers. Yet another spoke of plots made by his own brothers to put
him down. So it came about that the maimers of B'lala had scarcely
returned to the city before they were seized and hurried away and no
man saw them again.

The new king sat and listened, and with every fresh tale his fear
grew.

His city was an armed camp. Spearmen answered the frantic summons of
the lokali and came flocking through the forests and the swamps to join
the army that was assembling.

"Lord, with whom do we war?" asked an old counsellor.

"All the world," said the shivering king.

Some sycophant whispered that the counsellor was an enemy or why
should he ask this question, and that night the old man was killed in
his hut.

Just before the dawn the king was awakened, and came out of his but
to find a sweating messenger. The king listened, his teeth chattering;
and a frightened man is a terribly dangerous man. He sent for his
familiars and gave them brief instructions.

"Tibbetti, the son of Sandi is coming with his soldiers. Let all the
men go to the forest with their spears, and he who is seen by Tibbetti
I will surely kill!"

The Wiggle came to a peaceable landing beach, where women were
dipping their babies in the river and others were beating their clothes
upon flat stones. There was no sign of warlike preparation when Bones
stepped ashore; indeed, the atmosphere was favourable as N'kema the
king came hurrying down to meet his visitor.

"Lord Tibbetti," he said, his eyes roving the deck for the soldiers,
"you come at a good time, for my father is dead, and all the people
with one voice have called me to sit in his seat. Now I will make a
great dance for you and for your brother."

He was puzzled by Donald, a stranger, and found the most likely
explanation for his presence.

"There will be no dances, N'kema," said Bones curtly. "And as to who
shall sit in the king's chair, that is for Sandi. I come now to see
B'lala, the king's son."

There was a dead silence. The chief's discomfort was all too
apparent.

"Lord," he said, "this boy has gone a long journey, for he was sick,
and on the edge of the Isisi."

"He shall be here by tomorrow," said Bones. "The palaver is
finished."

He walked through the village and was relieved to find none of the
evidence of feverish activity which invariably marked a change of
kingship. As for Mr. Murdock, he was frankly disappointed.

"Where's your old war?" he demanded truculently.

"Dear old sir," shuddered Bones, "don't talk about it."

That afternoon, as they sat on the deck under a double canvas shade,
there came an emissary of the king to offer again the honour of a great
dance, and this time Bones accepted.

"Shall we see any ghosts?" asked Donald hopefully.

"You don't see our kind of ghosts, old boy," replied Bones testily,
"you feel 'em!"

Again he spoke prophetically.

The dance passed without incident, and the two loaded automatics in
Bones' pocket seemed to be a superfluous precaution. They made their
way back in the dark to the ship's side, and for the moment Donald
Murdock was so entranced by the queer gyrations he had witnessed that
he forgot that there was such a fake in the world as spiritualism.

They had said goodnight when from the darkness of the bank came a
sibilant whisper. Bones craned his head forward and listened.

"Tell him to come into my little ship," he ordered, and they brought
into his tiny cabin the second younger son of the old king, he who had
demurred at the destruction of his brother; and the story he had to
tell struck all the boredom from Lieutenant Tibbetts' face.

"Lord, if the king knows I have been, he will kill me as he has
slain my brother," said the man fearfully. "But I tell you this because
I love Sandi, and because, when he comes to make a chief, he will not
forget a son of the king who has helped him."

"Where did they take B'lala?" asked Bones, and the man told him.

"But, lord, if you go through the woods behind the city, they will
kill you," urged the man, "for there are more warriors than trees, and
each man is strong for my brother."

Bones did not hesitate. He had a short consultation with
Murdock.

"You'll stay here, my dear old New Yorker," he said. "This naughty
old feller won't do anything tonight----"

"I'm coming along with you," said Donald recklessly, and in the end
his insistence prevailed.

They dropped into a small canoe, paddled softly down the river for a
mile and, landing at a convenient place (here Donald nearly fell into
the water) followed their guide for two hours through the dense woods
which had hidden murders from time immemorial. Once green eyes glared
at them ahead; once Donald heard the scream of a monkey in the grip of
an invisible enemy.

It was midnight by the illuminated dial on Murdock's wrist when they
came to a little clearing and saw a figure in the moonlight, reclining
against a big, lightning-blasted tree.

"O B'lala," said Bones softly, "I am Tibbetti; the son of Sandi, and
I have come to take you away to my fine ship."

He saw the thick lips of the child twist in a smile--guessed rather
than saw the horror of his eyes.

"Lord, I go to a better place than your fine ship," he said faintly,
"for this night I shall walk among the stars with my new ghost. Do I
speak truth?"

At first Bones thought he was addressing him, but saw the head turn
slightly to the left and heard the delighted chuckle of the dying
boy.

"Lord," he said, "I speak truth. Now I tell you, Tibbetti, that
there is death in this wood, for this my ghost has told me; also I saw
you coming--I who have no eyes! You came in a little boat with my
brother, and as you landed, the white man who is with you stumbled and
fell."

Donald felt a cold shiver run down his spine.

"Who told you this?" he said in English, and, to Bones' amazement,
this boy, who had never spoken any language but his own, answered:

"He who is by you!"

Again he turned his head.

"Lord Ghost, stay with Tibbetti and his friend, and be strong for
them."

He waited, his head bent, as though he were listening. Bones saw him
nod and again heard the delighted chuckle. Then he turned his head.

"Lord Tibbetti," he said, "my ghost has spoken, and he will be with
you till you come to your journey's end, and he will be strong for
you."

They waited for a long time, and when he did not speak Bones stooped
and laid the figure gently on the ground.

"Humph!" he said, and got up, for he knew that B'lala, the friend of
ghosts, was walking amongst the stars.

They buried him as best they could and trekked back to the river.
Bones knew that there was only one hope, and that was to cast off the
boat at once, risk shoals and sandbanks, and steam through the night to
meet Sanders. A night in the native mind was an eternity. Perhaps
N'kema would strike before dawn.

He struck earlier, as it proved. They were within half a mile of the
village when a hoarse voice challenged them.

"Stand for the Little Leopard, white man!"

"Shoot!" snarled Bones, and whipped out his automatic.

The forest rang with the staccato crash of shots. Bones went down
under three N'gombi warriors and waited expectantly for the end.
Something struck him on the bead...

It was the consciousness of pain which revived him. The sun was up,
and he was sitting with his back to a slim tree, his arms most
painfully drawn back, and knotted on the tree's other side; and within
a few feet of him sat Mr. Donald Murdock, naked to the waist and
bearing marks of battle.

"Hullo, you alive?...I thought they'd bumped you off," he said
cheerfully. "What are they going to do?"

Bones turned his aching head left and right. They were entirely
surrounded by spearmen; and sitting on his stool of chieftainship
immediately before them, was N'kema the king.

"O Tibbetti, I see you!" he mocked. "Where is the great ghost of my
little mad brother? Is he not by you and will not his strong arm be
against me and my young men?"

Bones was puzzled: how did the king know of the meeting in the
forest and all that the dying boy had said?

And then his eyes fell on something brown and still that lay in the
long grass...a wisp of smoke curled up near by...the brother of the
king, who had led him to B'lala, had told before he too found in death
a pleasant relief.

"I see you, N'kema," he said hoarsely, for his throat was parched;
"and as to madmen and ghosts, are you not mad to do this evil thing,
and will not your ghost go weeping on the mountains when Sandi comes?
Yet I will speak well for you and leave a book for Sandi, if you let
this young man go." He nodded towards the uncomprehending Murdock, for
Bones was speaking in the dialect of the N'gombi. "For he belongs to a
strange people and has no part in this palaver."

N'kema grinned fearfully.

"O ko! That is the talk of a fool. Now let me see your ghost,
Tibbetti. And if he is strong he shall hold the arm of my slayer."

He spat left and right and lifted his hand to his eyes. It was the
signal to the lithe warrior who squatted at his feet, bending the
supple execution knife in his hands. Up to his feet he rose and came
swiftly before Bones.

"Speak well for me to all ghosts and devils," he muttered
conventionally, and swung back his arm.

Bones glared up at him and did not flinch. The curved knife
glittered in the sunlight, and then...

Bones heard a little thud, saw the knife drop from the man's hand,
as he gripped a bloody elbow with a shriek of pain.

N'kema was on his feet, grey-brown.

"O ko!" he gasped. "This ghost...!"

And then he saw Sanders.

The Commissioner was standing on the edge of the clearing, and on
each side of him knelt six tarboshed Houssas, their rifles levelled.
Slowly Sanders walked across the open and the armed throng flowed back
noiselessly, each man seeking the kindly obscurity of the forest.

"I see you, N'kema."

Sanders' voice was low, almost caressing. And then he pointed to a
tree, and Sergeant Abiboo, who walked behind him, flung the rope he
carried, so deftly that the noose slipped down over the smooth branch
almost to the level of N'kema's neck.

* * * * *

"Ghosts--phew!" Donald wiped his brow. "Did you see...just as this
bird was going to strike...something stopped him...that beats
everything."

Bones coughed. He had seen the new silencers on the Houssas'
rifles.

"We've got a pretty bright brand of bogies, dear old thing," he
said.

Murdock shook his head.

"I've got a new slant on this spiritualistic business. There was
something there--I'll swear it...Gosh! it was more awful than being
carved up!"

"A common phenomenon, dear old Atlantist," murmured Bones.

"I'm going to cable Jane and say I'm strong for spiritualism if you
get the right brand."

As it happened, it was unnecessary. The Eurasian operator handed him
a cablegram as he arrived at headquarters:

You are right. Spooks are bunk. Experts found professor's
fingermarks on tin trumpet. Come home. JANE.

Donald shook his head.

"I've got to convince that girl," he said.



THE END






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