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Title: Sanders (1926)
Author: Edgar Wallace
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Language:  English
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Title: Sanders (1926)
Author: Edgar Wallace




I.    THE MAGIC OF FEAR
II.   THE CLEAN SWEEPER
III.  THE VERY GOOD MAN
IV.   WOMEN WILL TALK
V.    THE SAINT
VI.   THE MAN WHO HATED SHEFFIELD
VII.  THE JOY SEEKERS
VIII. THE BALL GAME
IX.   THE WISE MAN
X.    THE SWEET SINGER



I. THE MAGIC OF FEAR


All this happened in the interim between excellencies, or it could hardly
have happened at all.

His Excellency, the retiring Administrator of the Reserved Territories,
had departed amidst the banging of guns and the playing of the national
anthem by a small band of near-white musicians, all of whom, and
especially the cornet, had a tendency to play flat. The new Excellency
was enduring the agony of gout at his house in Budleigh Salterton in
Devon, and his departure from home was indefinitely postponed.

A change of administration made little or no difference to the people of
the big river, and Captain Hamilton of the King's Houssas, for one, was
hardly conscious of the lacuna as he strode savagely towards the hut
which housed his youthful second in command.

His annoyance was well warranted, for Lieutenant Tibbets had committed
the unpardonable crime of writing to the newspapers--a weakness of his.
Hamilton was moist and furious, for the afternoon sun blistered the
world, and as he crossed the yellow oven-floor called a parade-ground,
the heat of it came through the soles of his boots and tortured him.

The barrack hutments which formed one side of the square danced and
shimmered in the heat haze; he saw the fronds of the Isisi palms in a
blur; even the weaver birds were silent; when it grows too hot for the
weavers to talk, it is very hot indeed.

Kicking open the door of Lieutenant Tibbetts's hut, he stepped in and
snorted his disgust. Mr. Tibbetts, whose other name was Bones, lay face
upward on the top of his bed; and he was arrayed in a costume beyond
forgiveness, for not Solomon in all his glory wore purple pyjamas with
alternate green and ochre stripes.

Hamilton flung down upon the table the paper he had been carrying as
Bones opened one eye.

'"Morning, sir," he said, slightly dazed. "Is it still raining?"

"'Morning!" snapped Hamilton. "It is within an hour of dinner, and I've
something to say to you. Bones!"

Bones relapsed into slumber.

"Wake up, and hide your hideous feet!"

The eyelids of the sleeper fluttered; he murmured something about not
seeing the point--he had at least seen the newspaper, and recognised the
Gothic title-piece.

"The point is. Bones," said Hamilton awfully, "nobody knows better than
you that it is an offence for any officer to write to the newspapers on
any subject! This"--he liked the folded newspaper on the table--"this is
an outrage!"

"Surrey Star and Middlesex Plain Dealer, sir," murmured Bones, his eyes
closed, a picture of patience, forbearance and resignation, "with which,
sir, is incorporated the Sunbury Herald and Molesey Times, sir."

His long body was stretched luxuriously, his hands were clasped beneath
his head, his large red feet overhung the end of the bed. He had the air
and manner of one who was deeply wronged but forgave his enemies.

"It doesn't matter what paper you write to--"

"'To which you write,' dear old officer," murmured Bones. "Let us be
jolly old grammarians, sir, an' superior; don't let us go around debasin'
the language--"

"Get up, you insubordinate devil, and stand on your big feet!" hissed the
Captain of Houssas; but Lieutenant Tibbetts did not so much as open his
eyes.

"Is this a friendly discussion, or isn't it, dear old sir?" lie pleaded.
"Is it a friendly call or a council of war, dear old Ham?"

Hamilton gripped him by the silk collar of his pyjama coat and jerked him
to his feet.

"Assault!" said Bones quietly. "Mad with envy, captain strikes risin' an'
brilliant young officer. Court-martial finds jolly old captain guilty,
and he takes poison!"

"A newspaper man you will never be," said Hamilton. (Here Bones bowed
gravely.) "You can't spell, for one thing!"

"Neither could dear old Napoleon," said Bones firmly, "nor dinky old
Washington--spellin' is a sign of a weak mind. You're a good speller, I
admit it, dear old Demosthenes--"

"The point is this--and I'm perfectly serious"--Hamilton pushed his
junior on to the bed, and he collapsed obediently--"you really must not
write political articles, suggesting that the Secretary of State should
come and 'see with his own eyes'"--Hamilton sought for the offending
paragraph and read it--"'...the work that is being carried out by young
officers unknown (except by the indigenous natives, who adore them) and
unhonoured...'--of all the rubbish!"

Bones shrugged his narrow shoulders; his silence was offensively
respectful.

"You'll not write any more of these self-advertising letters,
Bones--either to the Star, the Comet, the Moon, the Sun, or any other
member of the solar system."

"Let us keep religion out of the discussion, dear old Ham," said Bones in
a hushed voice.

It is doubtful whether Mr. Nickerson Haben had even heard of the
existence of that organ of public conscience, the Surrey Star any
Middlesex Plain Dealer. He was not the type of man who gave a thought to
any newspaper that had a circulation of less than half a million.

And yet, the appearance of this literary effort of Bones coincided with a
peculiar moment of crisis in his life, and the sequel almost excused the
subsequent jubilation of the Surrey Star and went far to consolidate the
editor's claim that "What the Sun thinks today, the Government does
tomorrow!"

For Nickerson Haben went almost at once to examine the Territories with
his own eyes. He was in the middle thirties and had the globe at his
feet. How this came to be the case, nobody troubled to consider.

A narrow-chested and pallid man with heavy raven hair, one lock of which
hung over his forehead in moments of oratorical excess, he was deep-eyed,
thin-lipped, hollow-faced, and had hands white and long. Nickerson was
swept into the House of Commons in a whirlwind of oratory that blew down
a phalanx of sober men and conservative citizens which stood between.
Silver-tongued, or glib, according to your political prejudices, he
carried his powers of suasion and criticism into the chaste and
unemotional atmosphere of Parliament. So that Ministers squirmed uneasily
under the razor-edge of his gibes; and the Whips, foregathering in the
lobby, grew pettish at the mention of his name. A party man, he never
fell into the error of wounding the susceptibilities of his own keaders;
if he criticised them at all, he merely repeated, in tones of finality,
the half-confessions of fallacies they had already made.

When a Government fell, Mr. Haben, deserting a safe seat, fought West
Monrouth County, turned out the sitting member and returned to
Westminster in triumph.

The new Government made him an Under-Secretary, first of Agriculture,
then of Foreign Affairs. He had married the widow of Cornelius Beit, an
American lady, fifteen years his senior--a clever woman with a violent
temper and a complete knowledge of men. Their home life, though it was
lived at Carlton House Terrace, was not happy. She knew him rather too
well; his own temper was none of the sweetest. He had all the arrogance
of a self-made man who had completed the process just a little too young.
She once told a near friend that Nickerson had a streak of commonness
which she found it difficult to endure, and there was even talk of a
divorce.

That was just before her operation for appendicitis. The best surgeon in
England performed; her recovery was never in doubt. Nickerson, under the
spell of her recovery, went down to the House and delivered the best
speech of his life on the subject of Baluchistan.

Three days later she was dead--there had occurred one of those curious
relapses which are so inexplicable to the layman, so dreaded by the
medical profession. Haben was like a man stunned. Those who hated
him--many--wondered what he would do now, with the principal source of
income departed. They had time for no further than a brief speculation,
the matter being decided when the will was read, leaving him
everything--except for a legacy to a maid.

This tragedy occurred between excellencies, an opportunity seized upon by
a sympathetic chief. Nickerson Haben went out on the first African
mail-boat, to combine business with recreation; to find flaws and
forgetfulness.

Lieutenant Tibbetts, of the King's Houssas, was the newsman of
headquarters. The lank legs of this thin, monocled lad had brought many
tidings of joy and calamity, mostly exaggerated.

Now he came flying across the lemon sands of the beach, a mail-bag in his
hand, his helmet at the back of his head, surprising truth in his mouth.

He took the five steps of the stoep in one stride, dashed into the big,
cool dining-room where Hamilton sat at breakfast, and dropped the bag
into his superior's lap at the precise moment when Captain Hamilton's
coffee-cup was delicately poised.

"Bones! You long-legged beach-hound!" snarled Hamilton, fishing for his
handkerchief to mop the hot Mocha from his white duck trousers.

"He's coming. Ham!" gasped Bones. "Saw my letter, dear old sir, packed
his jolly old grip, took the first train!..."

Hamilton looked up sharply for symptoms of sunstroke.

"Who is coming, you left-handed oaf?" he asked, between wrath and
curiosity.

"Haben, old sir...Under-Secretary, dear old Ham!" Bones was a little
incoherent. "Saw my letter in the jolly old Star...he's at Administration
now! This means a C.B. for me. Ham, old boy; but I'm not goin' to take
anything unless they give old Ham the same--"

Hamilton pointed sternly to a chair.

"Sit down and finish your hysteria. Who has been stuffing you with this
yarn?"

It was the second officer of the Bassam, he who had brought ashore the
mails. Haben was already at Administrative Headquarters, having travelled
on the same ship. For the moment Hamilton forgot his coffee-stained
ducks.

"This is darned awkward," he said, troubled. "With Sanders
up-country...what is he like, this Haben man?"

Bones, for his own purpose, desired to give a flattering account of the
visitor; he felt that a man who could respond so instantly to a newspaper
invitation appearing over his name must have some good in him. He had
asked same question of the second officer, and the second officer, with
all a seaman's bluntness, had answered in two words, one of which was
Rabelaisian and the other unprintable. For Mr. Haben did not shine in the
eyes of his social inferiors. Servants hated him; his private secretaries
came and went monthly. A horsey member of the Upper House summed him up
when he said that "Haben can't carry corn."

"Not so bad," said Bones mendaciously.

Early the next morning Sergeant Ahmet Mahmed brought a grey pigeon to
Hamilton, and the captain of Houssas wrote a message on a cigarette
paper:

Haben, Foreign Office tourist, en route. He is at A.H.Q. raising hell.
Think you had better come back and deal with him.

Hamilton had gone out in a surf-boat to interview the captain, and the
character of Mr. Nickerson Haben was no longer a mystery to him.

He fastened up the paper to the red leg of the pigeon and flung it up
into the hot air.

"'Ware hawks, little friend of soldiers," he said conventionally.

Linked very closely with the life and fate of Mr. Nickerson Haben,
Under-Secretary of State (this he did not dream), was that of Agasaka,
the Chimbiri woman. Mr. Haben was dressed by the best tailor in Savile
Row; Agasaka wore no clothes at all except for the kilt of dried grass
which hung from her beautiful waist.

A tall maiden, very slim of body and very grave of eyes, no lover for any
man, having a great love for something more imponderable than man;
terribly wise, too, in the ways of ghosts and devils; straight-backed,
small-breasted, beloved of children, so strong in the arm and skilled in
her strength that she could put a spear beyond the range of young men's
throw--this was Agasaka, the Chimbiri woman, daughter of N'kema--n'kimi,
the dead woodman.

She was elderly for a virgin, being seventeen; had been wooed by men in
their every mood; had kindness for all, generosity for none.

She lived with her brother, M'suru, the hunting man; and his women hated
her, for she never spoke a lie and was frank to her elderly brother on
the matter of their numerous lovers. They would have beaten her, but that
they knew the strength of her throwing arm. Where hands did not dare,
tongues were more reckless, but none of their mud stuck. Few men were so
poor in mind that they would admit others had succeeded where they had
failed.

She had lived for many years with her father in the deep of the forest in
the abiding place of M'shima--M'shamba, the fearfully boisterous devil
who tears up trees with each hand, whilst his mouth drips molten fire;
and other mighty ones dwelt near by. N'guro, the headless dog, and
Chikahika--m'bofunga, the eater of moons--indeed, all except the Fire
Lizard, whose eyes talk death. And N'kema had taught her the mysteries of
life and the beginning of life and the ground where life is sown. She
knew men in their rawness and in their strength. N'kema taught her the
way in which she might be more wonderful than any other woman; the magic
handed down from mouth to mouth--the magic which was old when they laid
the first deep stones of the Pyramids...

Men were afraid of her; even Oboro, the witch-doctor, avoided her.

For this was her strangest magic: that she had the power to bring before
the eyes of men and women that which they desired least to see.

Once, a small chief stalked her by the river path where the grass is
chin-high, having certain plans with her. And at the right and lonely
moment he slipped from cover, dropping his spears in the grass, and
caught her by the arms so that, strong as she was, she could not move.

"Agasaka," he said, "I have a hut in this forest that has never heard a
woman's voice--"

He got so far and then, over her silken shoulder, he saw three black
leopards walking flank by flank along the narrow path. Their heads hung
low, their golden eyes shone hungrily.

In an instant he released her and fled to his spears.

When he turned again, leopards and woman were gone.

Aliki, the huntsman of her village, neither feared nor cared, for he was
familiar with magics of all kinds and often walked in the woods communing
with devils. One night he saw a vision in the fire, a great red lizard
that blinked its heavy eyelids. Aliki looked round his family circle in a
cold-blooded search for a victim. Calichi, the fire lizard, is the most
benevolent of devils and will accept a deputy for the man or woman to
whom, with its red and blinking eyes, it has given its warning of death.

This Aliki saw his three wives and his father and an uncle who had come
many days' journey on a hunting trip and none of these, save the youngest
wife, was well enough favoured for the purpose. Calichi is a fastidious
devil; nothing short of the best and the most beautiful will please him.
Beyond the group sitting about the red fire and eating from the big pot
that stood in the embers, were other groups. The village street of
Chimbiri--Isisi runs from the forest to the river, a broad avenue fringed
with huts; and before each hut burnt a fire, and about each fire squatted
the men and women of the house.

Dark had come; above the tall gum trees the sky was encrusted with bright
stars that winked and blinked as Calichi, but more rapidly.

Aliki saw the stars, and rubbed his palms in the dust for luck; and at
that moment into his vision came the second wife of his neighbour, a tall
woman of eighteen, a nymph carved in mahogany, straight and supple of
back, naked to the waistline of her grass skirt. And Aliki knew that he
had found a proper substitute and said her name under his breath as he
caught the lizard's eyes. Thereupon the beast faded and died away, and
Aliki knew that the fire--god approved his choice.

Later that night, when Loka, the wife of M'suru the huntsman, went down
to the river to draw water for the first wife's needs, Aliki intercepted
her.

"There is nobody so beautiful as you, Loka," he said, "for you have the
legs of a lion and the throat of a young deer."

He enumerated other physical perfections, and Loka laughed and listened.
She had quarrelled that day with the first wife of her husband, and
M'suru had beaten her. She was terribly receptive to flattery and ripe
for such adventure as women enjoy.

"Have you no wives, Aliki?" she asked, pleased. "Now I will give you
Agasaka, the sister of my husband, who is very beautiful and has never
touched the shoulder of a man." This she said in spite, for she hated
Agasaka, and it is a way of women to praise, to strangers, the qualities
of the sisters they loathe.

"As to Agasaka--and wives"--he made a gesture of contempt--"there is no
such wife as you, not even in the hut of the old king beyond the
mountains, which are the end of the world," said Aliki, and Loka laughed
again.

"Now I know that you are mad, as M'suru says. Also that you see strange
sights which are not there to see," she said in her deep, sighing voice.
"And not M'suru alone, but all men, say that you have the sickness
mango."

It was true that Aliki was sick and had shooting pains in his head. He
saw other things than lizards.

"M'suru is an old man and a fool," he said. "I have a ju-ju who gives me
eyes to see wonders. Come with me into the forest, Loka, and I will tell
you magic and give you love such as an old man cannot give."

She put down her gourd, hiding it in a patch of elephant grass near the
river's edge, and walked behind him into the forest. There, eventually,
he killed her. And he lit a fire and saw the lizard, who seemed
satisfied. Aliki cashed himself in the river and went back to his hut and
to sleep.

When he awoke in the morning he was sorry he had killed Loka, for of all
the women in the world she had been most beautiful in his eyes. The
village was half empty, for Loka's gourd had been found and trackers had
gone into the woods searching for her. Her they found; but nobody had
seen her walking to death. Some people thought she had been taken by
Ochori fishermen, others favoured a devil notorious for his amorous
tricks. They brought the body back along the village street, and all the
married women made skirts of green leaves and stamped the Death Dance,
singing strangely.

Aliki, squatting before his fire, watched the procession with incurious
eyes. He was sorry he had killed the Thing that was carried shoulder
high, and, dropping his gaze to the dull fire, was even more sorry, for
the hot lizard was leering up at him, his bulging eyelids winking at a
great rate.

So he had taken the wrong sacrifice.

His eyes rose, rested on the slim figure of a woman, one hand gripping
the door-post of her brother's hut. And there came to Aliki a tremendous
conviction.

The lizard had vanished from the heart of the fire when he looked down.

No time was to be lost; he rose and went towards the virgin of Chimbiri.

"I see you, Agasaka," he said. "Now this is a terrible shame to come to
your brother's house, for men say that this woman Loka had a lover who
killed her."

She turned her big eyes slowly towards him. They were brown and filled
with a marvellous luminosity that seemed to quiver as she looked.

"Loka died because she was a fool," she said, "but he who killed her was
a bigger. Her pain is past, his to come. Soon Sandi malaka will come, the
brown butcher bird, and he will pick the eyes of the man who did this
thing."

Aliki hated her, but he was clever to nod his agreement.

"I am wise, Agasaka," he said. "I see wonders which no man sees. Now
before Sandi comes with his soldiers, I will show you a magic that will
bring this wicked man to the door of your brother's hut when the moon is
so and the river is so."

Her grave eyes were on his; the sound of the singing women was a drone of
sound at the far end of the village. A dog barked wheezily in the dark of
the hut and all faces were turned towards the river where the body was
being laid in a canoe before it was ferried to the little middle island
where the dead lie in their shallow graves.

"Let us go," she said, and walked behind him through an uneven field of
maize, gained the shelter of the wood behind the village, and by awkward
paths reached the outliers of the forest, where there was no maize, for
this place was too sad for the weaver birds and too near to the
habitation of man for the little monkeys who have white beards. Still he
walked on until they made a patch of yellow flowers growing in a
clearing. Here the trees were very high, and ten men might have stood on
one another's heads against the smooth boles, and the topmost alone could
have touched the lowermost branch.

He stopped and turned. At that second came an uneasy stirring of the
tree-tops, a cold wind and the rumbling of thunder.

"Let us sit down," he said. "First I will talk to you of women who loved
me, and of how I would not walk before them because of my great thoughts
for you. Then we will be lovers--"

"There is no magic in that, Aliki," she said, and he saw that she was
against him and lifted his spear.

"You die, as Loka died, because of the word which the lizard of fire
brought to me," he said, and his shoulder hunched back for the throw.

"I am Loka!" said the girl, and he looked and his jaw dropped. For she
was truly Loka, the woman he had killed. Loka with her sly eyes and long
fingers. And she had Loka's way of putting a red flower behind her ear,
and Loka's long, satiny legs.

"Oh, ko!" he said in distress, and dropped his spear. Agasaka bent in the
middle and picked it up, and in that moment became herself again. There
was no flower and her fingers were shorter, and where the sly smile had
been, was the gravity of death.

"This is my magic," she said. "Now walk before me, Aliki, killer of Loka,
for I am not made for love, but for strange power."

Without a word the bemused man walked back the way he had come and
Agasaka followed, and, following, felt the edge of the spear's broad
blade. Though she touched lightly, there was a line of blood on her thumb
where blade and skin had met. The wood was growing dark, the wind was
alternately a shriek and a whimper of sound. Near the pool at the edge of
the forest she swung the spear backward over her left shoulder as a
cavalry soldier would swing his sword, and he half turned at the sound of
the whistle it made...

The first wife of her brother was by the pool gathering manioc root from
a place where it had been left to soak--the head of Aliki fell at her
feet as the first flash of lightning lit the gloom of the world.

The sun was four hours old when a river gunboat, a white and glittering
thing, came round the bluff which is called The Fish because of its
shape. The black waters of the river were piled up around its bows, a
glassy hillock of water, tinged red at its edges, for the Zaire was
driving against a six-knot current. Every river from the Isisi to the
Mokalibi was in spate, and there were sand shoals where deeps had been,
and deeps in the places where the crocodiles had slept open-mouthed the
last time Mr. Commissioner Sanders had come that way.

He stood by the steersman, a slim and dapper figure in spotless white,
his pith helmet at a rakish angle, for an elephant fly had bitten him on
the forehead the night before, and the lump it had induced was painful to
the touch. Between his regular, white teeth was a long, black cheroot. He
had breakfasted, and an orderly was clearing away the silver coffee-pot
and the fruit-plates. Overhead the sky was a burning blue, but the glass
was falling with alarming rapidity, and he desired the safe harbourage of
a deep bank and the shelter of high trees which a little bay south of
Chimbiri would give to him.

"Lo'ba, ko'lo ka! A fathom of water by the mercy of God!"

The sleepy-eyed boy sitting in the bow of the boat drew up his wet
sounding-rod.

Sanders's hand shot out to the handle of the telegraph and pulled, and
Yoka the engineer sent a clanging acknowledgment.

"Half a fathom."

Thump!

The boat slowed of itself, its wheel threshing astern, but the nose was
in sand and a side-swinging current drove the stern round until it was
broadside to the sand-reef. Then, as the wheel reversed, the Zaire began
to move towards the right bank of the river, skirting the shoal until the
nose found deep water again.

"Lord," said the steersman, virtuously annoyed, "this bank has come up
from hell, for it has never been here since I was without clothing."

"Think only of the river, man," said Sanders, not inclined for gossip.

And now, above the tree-tops ahead, Sanders saw the roiling smoke of
clouds--yellow clouds that tumbled and tossed and threw out tawny banners
before the wind.

And the still surface of the river was ripped into little white shreds
that leapt and scattered in spray. Sanders moved his cigar from one side
of his mouth to the other, took it out, looked at it regretfully and
threw it over the side. His servant was behind him with an oilskin
invitingly held; he struggled into the coat, passed his helmet back and
took in exchange the sou'wester, which he fastened under his chin. The
heat was intolerable. The storm was driving a furnace blast of hot air to
herald its fury. He was wet to the skin, his clothes sticking to him.

A ribbon of blinding light leapt across the sky, and split into a tracery
of branches. The explosion of the thunder was deafening; it seemed as if
a heavy weight was pressing down on his head; again the flash, and again
and again. Now it showed bluely on either bank, vivid blue shrieks of
light that ran jaggedly from sky to earth. The yellow clouds had become
black; the darkness of night was on the world, a darkness intensified by
the ghastly sideways light that came from a distant horizon where the
clouds were broken.

"Port," said Sanders curtly; "now starboard again--now port!"

They had reached the shelter of the bank as the first rain fell. Sanders
sent a dozen men overboard with the fore and aft hawser and made fast to
the big gums that grew down to the river-side.

In a second the deck was running with water and the Commissioner's white
shoes had turned first to dove-grey and then to slate. He sent for Yoka
the engineer, who was also his headman.

"Put out another hawser and keep a full head of steam." He spoke in coast
Arabic, which is a language allowing of nice distinctions.

"Lord, shall I sound the oopa-oopa*" he asked. "For I see that these
thieving Akasava people are afraid to come out into the rain to welcome
your lordship."

[*Siren. On the river most words describing novel things are
onomatopoeic.]

Sanders shook his head.

"They will come in their time--the village is a mile away, and they would
not hear your oopa-oopa!" he said, and went to his cabin to recover his
breath. A ninety-knot wind had been blowing into his teeth for ten
minutes, and ten minutes is a long time when you are trying to breathe.

The cabin had two long windows, one at each side. That to the left above
the settee on which he dropped gave him a view of the forest path along
which, sooner or later, a villager would come and inevitably carry a
message to the chief.

The lightning was still incessant; the rain came down in such a volume
that he might well think he had anchored beneath a small waterfall, but
the light had changed, and ahead the black of clouds had become a grey
opacity.

Sanders pulled open the doors he had closed behind him; the wind was
gusty but weaker. He reached out for a cheroot and lit it, patient to
wait. The river was running eight knots; he would need hand-towing to the
beach of the village. He hoped they had stacked wood for him. The
Chimbiri folk were lazy, and the last time he had tied they showed him a
wood stack--green logs, and few of them.

Yoka and his crew loved to hear the devil whoop of the oopa-oopa--Sanders
knew just how much steam a siren wasted.

His eyes sought the river-side path--and at the critical moment. For he
saw eight men walking two and two, and they carried on their shoulders a
trussed figure.

An electric chrysanthemum burst into blinding bloom as he leapt to the
bank--its dazzling petals, twisting every way through the dark clouds,
made light enough to see the burden very clearly, long before he reached
the path to stand squarely in the way of eight sullen men and the
riff-raff which had defied the storm to follow at a distance.

"O men," said Sanders softly--he showed his teeth when he talked that
way--"who are you that you put the ghost mark on this woman's face?"

For the face of their passenger was daubed white with clay. None spoke:
he saw their toes wriggling, all save those of one man, and him he
addressed.

"M'suru, son of N'kema, what woman is this?"

M'suru cleared his throat.

"Lord, this woman is the daughter of my own mother; she killed Aliki,
also she killed first my wife Loka."

"Who saw this?"

"Master, my first wife, who is a true woman to me since her lover was
drowned, she saw the head of Aliki fall. Also she heard Agasaka say 'Go,
man, where I sent Loka, as you know best, who saw me slay her.'"

Sanders was not impressed.

"Let loose this woman that she may stand in my eyes," he said, and they
untied the girl and by his order wiped the joke of death from her face.

"Tell me," said Sanders.

She spoke very simply and her story was good. Yet--

"Bring me the woman who heard her say these evil things."

The wife was found in the tail of the procession and came forward
important--frightened--for the cold eyes of Sanders were unnerving. But
she was voluble when she had discovered her voice.

The man in the streaming oilskins listened, his head bent. Agasaka, the
slim woman, stood grave, unconscious of shame--the grass girdle had gone
and she was as her mother had first seen her. Presently the first wife
came to the end of her story.

"Sandi, this is the truth, and if I speak a lie may the 'long ones' take
me to the bottom of the river and feed me to the snakes!"

Sanders, watching her, saw the brown skin go dull and grey; saw the mouth
open in shocking fear.

What he did not see was the "long one"--the yellow crocodile that was
creeping through the grass towards the perjurer, his little eyes
gleaming, his wet mouth open to show the cruel white spikes of teeth.

Only the first wife of M'suru saw this, and fell screaming and writhing
at her husband's feet, clasping his knees.

Sanders said nothing, but heard much that was in contradiction of the
earlier story.

"Come with me, Agasaka, to my fine ship," he said, for he knew that
trouble might follow if the girl stayed with her people. Wars have
started for less cause.

He took her to the Zaire; she followed meekly at his heels, though
meekness was not in her.

That night came a tired pigeon from Headquarters, and Sanders, reading
the message, was neither pleased nor sorry.

High officials, especially the armchair men, worried him a little, but
those he had met were such charming and understanding gentlemen that he
had lost some of his fear of them. What worried him more were the reports
which reached him from reliable sources of Agasaka's strange powers. He
had seen many queer things on the river; the wonder of the lokali, that
hollowed tree-trunk by which messages might be relayed across a
continent, was still something of a puzzle to him. Magic inexplicable,
some times revolting, was an everyday phenomenon. Some of it was crude
hypnotism, but there were higher things beyond his understanding Many of
these had come down through the ages from Egypt and beyond; Abraham had
brought practices from the desert lands about Babylon which were
religious rites amongst people who had no written language.

The Zaire was steaming for home the next day when he sent for Abiboo, his
orderly.

"Bring me this woman of Chimbiri," he said, and they brought her from the
little store-cabin where she was both guest and prisoner.

"They tell me this and that about you, Agasaka," he said, giving chapter
and verse of his authority.

"Lord, it is true," said Agasaka when he had finished. "These things my
father taught me, as his father taught him. For, lord, he was the son of
M'kufusu, the son of Bonfongu--m'lini, the son of N'sambi..."

She recited thirty generations before he stopped her--roughly four
hundred years. Even Sanders was staggered, though he had once met an old
man of the N'gombi who told him intimate details about a man who had
lived in the days of Saladin.

"Show me your magic, woman," he said, and to his surprise she shook her
head.

"Lord, this one magic only comes when I am afraid."

Sanders dropped his hand to his Browning and half drew it from its
leather holster.

He was sitting under an awning spread over the bridge. The steersman was
at the wheel, in the bow the kano boy with his long sounding-rod.
Purposely he did not look at the woman, fixing his eyes on the
steersman's back.

His hand had scarcely closed on the brown grip when, almost at his feet,
he saw the one thing in all the world that he loathed--an English
puff-adder, mottled and swollen, its head thrown back to strike.

Twice his pistol banged--the steersman skipped to cover with a yell and
left the Zaire yawing in the strong current.

There was nothing--nothing but two little holes in the deck, so close
together that they overlapped. Sanders sprang to the wheel and
straightened the boat, and then, when the steersman had been called back
and the sounding boy retrieved from the cover of the wood pile where he
crouched and trembled, Sanders returned to his chair, waving away Abiboo,
who had arrived, rifle in hand, to the rescue of his master.

"Woman," said Sanders quietly, "you may go back to your little house."

And Agasaka went without the evidence of triumph a lesser woman might
have felt. He had not looked at her--there was no mesmerism here.

He stooped down and examined the bullet holes, too troubled to feel
foolish.

That afternoon he sent for her again and gave her chocolate to eat,
talking of her father. She was sitting on the deck at his feet, and once,
when he thought he had gained her confidence, he dropped his hand lightly
on her head as he had dropped his hand on so many young heads.

The puff-adder was there--within striking distance, his spade head thrown
back, his coils rigid.

Sanders stared at the thing and did not move his hand, and then, through
the shining body, he saw the deck planks, and the soft bitumen where
plank joined plank, and then the viper vanished.

"You do not fear?" he asked quietly.

"Lord...a little; but now I do not fear, for I know that you would not
hurt women."

The Zaire, with its strange passenger, came alongside the residency wharf
two hours before sundown on the third day. Captain Hamilton was waiting,
a fuming, angry man, for he had been the unwilling host of one who lacked
something in manners.

"He's pure swine," said Hamilton. "Nothing is good enough for him; he
raised hell when he found you weren't here to meet him. Bones mollified
him a little. The silly ass had a guard of honour drawn up on the beach.
I only found this out just before the boat landed, and it was too late
to send the men to quarters. But apparently it was the right thing to
do; Nickerson Esquire expected it--and more. Flags and things and a red
carpet for his hooves and a band to play 'Here comes the bride!'"

All this between wharf and residency garden. A figure in white stretched
languidly in a deep chair turned his head but did not trouble to rise.
Still less was he inclined to exchange the cool of the broad veranda for
the furnace of space open to a red-hot sun.

Sanders saw a white face that looked oddly dirty in contrast with the
spotless purity of a duck jacket. Two deep, suspicious eyes, a long,
untidy wisp of hair lying lankly on a high forehead--a pink, almost
bloodless mouth.

"You're Sanders?"

Mr. Haben looked up at the trim figure.

"I am the Commissioner, sir," said Sanders.

"Why weren't you here to meet me; you knew that I was due?"

Sanders was more shocked than nettled by the tone. A coarse word in the
mouth of a woman would have produced the same effect. Secretaries and
Under-Secretaries of State were god-like people who employed a macrology
of their own, wrapping their reproofs in the silver tissue of stilted
diction which dulled the sting of their rebukes.

"Do you hear me, sir?"

The man on the chair sat up impatiently.

Hamilton, standing by, was near to kicking him off the stoep.

"I heard you. I was on a visit to the Chimbiri country. No notice of your
arrival or your pending arrival was received."

Sanders spoke very carefully; he was staring down at the scowling
Nickerson.

Mr. Haben had it on the tip of his tongue to give him the lie. There was,
as the late Mrs. Haben had said, a streak of commonness in him; but there
was a broader streak of discretion. The gun still hung at the
Commissioner's hip; the grip was shiny with use.

"H'm!" said Mr. Under-Secretary Haben, and allowed himself to relax in
his chair.

He was clever enough, Sanders found; knew the inside story of the
Territories; was keen for information. He thought the country was not
well run. The system was wrong, the taxes fell short of the highest
possible index. In all ways his attitude was antagonistic. Commissioners
were lazy people, intent on having a good time and "their shooting."
Sanders, who had never shot a wild beast in his life, save for the pot or
to rid himself of a pressing danger, said nothing.

"A thoroughly nasty fellow," said Hamilton.

But it was Bones who suffered the heaviest casualty to his amour-propre.

Left alone with the visitor in the hour before dinner, Bones cunningly
led the conversation towards the Surrey Star and Middlesex Plain Dealer.

"I suppose, sir, when you read my jolly old letter, you thought I had a
fearful nerve?"

"Your letter?" Mr. Haben allowed his head to fall in Bones's direction.

"...about seeing the place with your own holy old eyes," and Bones went
on, unconscious of the doom which awaited him, and explained fully his
reason for writing, the thought that led him to, write, the incident that
induced the thought.

"My good young man, you don't imagine that His Majesty's Government would
send a Minister of State flying off to Africa because an empty-headed
subaltern wrote letters to an obscure county journal, do you?"

Bones opened and closed his eyes very quickly.

"I came--but why should I tell you?" asked Nickerson Haben wearily. "You
may be assured that your letter had nothing to do with my coming. As I
said before, you officers have too much time on your hands. It is a
matter which requires looking into."

But it was at dinner that he touched the zenith of his boorishness. The
dinner was bad; he hated palm-nut chop; sweet potatoes made him ill; the
chicken was tough, the coffee vile. Happily he had brought his own
cigars.

Bones spent that trying hour wondering what would happen to him if he
leant across the table and batted an Under-Secretary with a cut-glass
salt-cellar.

Only Sanders showed no sign of annoyance. Not a muscle of his face moved
when Mr. Nickerson Haben made the most unforgivable of all suggestions.
He did this out of sheer ignorance and because of that streak of
commonness which was his very own.

"A native woman is a native woman," said Sanders quietly. "Happily, I
have only had gentlemen under my control, and that complication has never
arisen."

Mr. Haben smiled sceptically; he was sourest when he smiled.

"Very noble," he said dryly, "and yet one has heard of such things
happening."

Hamilton was white with rage. Bones stared open-mouthed, like a boy who
only dimly understood. The pale man asked a question and, to the
amazement of the others, Sanders nodded.

"Yes, I brought a girl down from Chimbiri," he said; "she is at present
in the Houssa lines with the wife of Sergeant Abiboo. I hardly know what
to do with her."

"I suppose not," more dryly yet. "A prisoner, I suppose?"

"N--no"--Sanders hesitated--seemed confused in Haben's eyes. "She has a
peculiar brand of magic which rather confounds me--"

Here Mr. Nickerson Haben laughed.

"That stuff!" he said contemptuously. "Let me see your magician."

Bones was sent to fetch her--he swore loudly all the way across the dark
square.

"That is what we complain about," said Mr. Haben in the time of waiting.
"You fellows are in the country so long that you get niggerised."
(Sanders winced. "Nigger" is a word you do not use in Africa.) "You
absorb their philosophies and superstitions. Magic--good God!"

He waggled his long head hopelessly.

"My poor wife believed in the same rubbish--she came from one of the
Southern states--had a black mammy who did wonderful things with chicken
bones!"

Sanders had not credited him with a wife. When he learnt that the poor
lady had died he felt that worse things could happen to a woman.

"Appendicitis--an operation...fool of a doctor." Mr. Haben unbent so far
as to scatter these personal items. "As I said before, you
people--hum..."

Agasaka stood in the doorway, "missionary dressed" as they say. Her
figure was concealed in a blue cotton "cloth" wrapped and pinned about
her to the height of her breast.

"This is the lady, eh? Come here!" He beckoned her and she came to him.
"Let us see her magic...speak to her!"

Sanders nodded.

"This man wishes to see your magic, Agasaka; he is a great chief amongst
my people."

She did not answer.

"Not bad-looking," said Nickerson, and did a thing which amazed these
men, for he rose and, putting his hand under her chin, raised her face to
his. And there was something in his queer, hard eyes that she read, as we
may read the printed word. The streak of commonness was abominably broad
and raw-edged.

"You're not so bad for a nig..."

He dropped his hands suddenly; they saw his face pucker hideously. He was
looking at a woman, a handsome woman with deep shadows under her eyes. It
was the face he often saw and always tried to forget. A dead white face.
She wore a silk nightdress, rather high to the throat...

And she spoke.

"Won't you wait until the nurse comes back, Nick? I don't think I ought
to drink ice-water--the doctor.."

"Damn the doctor!" said Nickerson Haben between his teeth, and the three
men heard him, saw his hand go up holding an imaginary glass, saw his
eyes fall to the level of an imaginary pillow.

"I'm sick of you--sick of you! Make a new will, eh? Like hell!"

He stared and stared, and then slowly turned his drawn face to Sanders.

"My wife"--he pointed to space and mumbled the words--"I--I killed her--"

And then he realised that he was Nickerson Haben, Under-Secretary of
State, and these were three very unimportant officials--and a black woman
who was regarding him gravely. But this discovery of his was just the
flash of a second too late.

"Go to your room, sir," said Sanders, and spent the greater part of the
night composing a letter to the Foreign Secretary.



II. THE CLEAN SWEEPER


The soldiers of the old king who lives beyond the mountains came down
into the Ochori country and took back with them ten women and forty
goats--and this was the year of the sickness, when goats were very
valuable. And a week later they came again, and in yet another week they
repeated the raid.

Mr. Commissioner Sanders sent an urgent message into the old king's
country and journeyed to the Ochori to meet the old man's envoy...

On a certain day, over the northern hills came Buliki, chief minister of
the great king K'salugu--M'pobo, and he came with great hauteur, with
four and sixty spearmen for his escort, and each spearman wore the
leopard skin of the royal service--that is to say, a leopard skin with
three monkey tails, signifying the swiftness, the ferocity and the
agility of these men. He boasted that he was the fortieth of his house
who had sat in the royal kraal and had given the law.

Sanders, with a more modest escort, waited in the city of the Ochori for
the coming of this mission, which was two days late and was even now
arriving, not at dawn as had been faithfully promised, but in the heat of
the day. Sanders sat cross-legged on his canvas chair, chewing an
unsmoked cigar and drawing little patterns with his ebony stick on the
sand.

Behind him, tall and straight, his bare, brown back rippling with muscles
with every movement, was Bosambo, chief and king of the Ochori folk north
and south.

Behind the shelter which had been erected to serve as a palaver house was
a section of Houssas, brownfaced men in blue tunics, handling their
rifles with an easy familiarity which was very awe-inspiring to the dense
mob of the Ochori people who had come to witness this memorable meeting.

Sanders said no word, realising that this was not the moment for
confidences, and that in all probability Bosambo was quite as wise as he
himself on the matter of the great king's delinquencies. For north of the
hills was territory which was as yet independent, and acknowledged no
government and no king beside its own.

Whether this was to remain so did not depend entirely upon the result of
the interview, for no man knew better than Sanders that nothing short of
four battalions could force the passes of the great mountains, and war
was very unpopular with the British Government just about then.

The royal guard which the king had sent as escort to his minister wheeled
on to the big square and formed a line facing Sanders, and the Houssas
regarded them with the peculiar interest which soldiers have for possible
casualties. Buliki was a big man, broad, tall and stout. He swaggered up
to the palaver house without any evidence that he was impressed by the
importance of the man he was to meet.

"I see you, white man," he said in the Bomongo tongue, which runs for six
hundred miles to the north and the west of the Territories.

"I see you, black man," replied Sanders. "What message do you bring from
your master?"

"Lord," said the man insolently, "my master has no message for you, only
this: that whilst he rules his land he knows no other king than his own
beautiful impulse and has no other law but the law he gives."

"Oh, ko'." said Sanders sardonically. "He must have a very powerful
ju-ju to talk so boldly, and you, Buliki, have surely the stomach of a
lion--for hereabouts I am the law, and men who speak to me in the tone of
a master I hang out of hand."

His tone was bleak and cold, and his blue eyes strayed unconsciously to
the high tree before the palaver place.

Buliki, who knew nothing of the sacred character of an embassy, went grey
under his tawny skin and shuffled his feet.

"Lord," he pleaded, in a different voice, "I am a tired man, having come
this day across the Mountain of the Cold White Powder that Melts.
Therefore be gentle to me, a poor chief, who does not know the ways of
white men."

"Go back to your master, Buliki, and speak this way: Sandi, who sits for
his king on the great river, desires that no soldiers may come again from
the king's territory to raid the women and goats of the Ochori. For I am
a man quick to kill, and no respecter of kings or chiefs. I have ploughed
little kings into the ground and the crops of my people have flourished
on the bones of princes. Where is M'balogini, who brought his spears
against me? He is dead and his house has rotted with the rains. Where is
Kobolo, the N'gombi warrior who took his young men into battle against
me? You will search the forest for his city, and his spirit weeps on the
great mountain. Little kings are my meat: how mighty are they in the
house of their wives! How small are they when I bring them in irons to my
great ship! Go back to the old king and say this: The chief or soldier of
his who comes this side of the Ghost Mountains shall be slaves for my
people and be glad they are alive. The palaver is finished."

After the embassy had departed...

"Dam' nigger!" said Bosambo, who was blacker than a spade suit but had
the advantage of a Christian education. "Silly ass!..."

Then, in his own language, for Sanders did not favour Coast English:
"Lord, this old king is very cunning, and there sits in the shadow of his
hut a white man who knows the ways of white lords."

"The devil there is!" said Sanders in surprise, for this was news to him,
that Joe had gone that way.

Up in the old king's country Buliki, prostrate and on his face before the
wizened old man, told the story of his embassy, and the king listened,
stroking his thin, frizzly beard.

Joe the Trader (he had no other name) listened too, and had parts of the
message translated to him.

"Tell the old man," he said to his interpreter, "that all that stuff is
bunk! Say, Sanders ain't got no soldiers more'n fifty! Tell him that if
he sends down to headquarters an' complains 'bout these threats,
Sanders'll get it in the neck--not allowed to do that sort of thing."

Joe, in his semi-sober moments, was an authority on what may be described
as the unwritten laws of the wild. He had tramped up and down Africa from
the Zambesi to the Lado, and he had learnt a lot. There wasn't a lock-up
from Charter to Dakka that had not housed him. He had traded arms and gin
for ivory in the days of Bula Matadi, and had drifted now to the one
sanctuary where the right arm of any law could not reach him.

Of all the men in the world he hated best Mr. Sanders. He had good reason
for his antipathy, for Sanders flogged the sellers of gin, and hanged
even white gentlemen who purveyed Belgian firearms to the unsophisticated
and bloodthirsty aborigines.

"Here!..." Joe was excited at the idea. "Tell him to send for Sanders to
a great palaver--somewhere up the Ghosts--you'd get him coming up that
road..."

This plan was duly translated. The old king's dull eyes lit up and he
rubbed his hands, for he had sworn to stretch upon his new war-drum the
skin of the man who harassed him--and the drum's case had grown warped
and cracked in the years of waiting.

"That is good talk," said a counsellor unfavourable to the king's white
guest; "but it is well known that Sandi goes unharmed through terrible
dangers because of M'shimba-M'shamba, the fearful spirit. They say that
great regiments of devils march with him shrieking so that, where he has
passed, the leopards lie dead with fright."

The old king was impressed, and licked the four fingers of his right hand
so that no evil could touch him.

"Stuff!" said Joe loudly. "Ghosts--stuff! You'll get him good an' then
these birds won't come stickin' their noses over the mountains no
more..."

The king listened, straining his neck towards the interpreter.

"Man, this shall be," he said, and Buliki was bidden to rise.

Just as the years of Old Egypt found themselves identified with the
transient periods of kings, so was there a chronology of the river which
has its significant association with a certain Lieutenant Tibbetts of the
King's Houssas. Up at Headquarters, the heads of little departments still
speak of the Second Year of Bones as marking the process of a dynasty.

It was an annus mirabilis from causes which, in the main, had nothing
whatever to do with Bones, as Hamilton of the Houssas had christened this
lank subaltern.

Nor had it to do with the wonders which he worked by land and flood. Nor,
exactly and truthfully, could it be said that he had any notable
influence on the fecund soil which that year produced the most amazing of
all harvests. Nor did he cause the river to overflow its banks (as it
did) and wipe out thirty-five fishing villages and bring crocodiles ten
miles into the forest where they fought in a beastly fashion with
leopards and buffaloes.

Nor, and this must be placed to his credit and widely advertised, was he
in the least degree responsible for the presence and personality of one
who was flippantly described as "Lords."

New brooms may not always sweep clean, but, generally speaking, they
raise enough dust to choke some men and bring tears to the eyes of
others. Macalister Campbell-Cairns was the newest broom that was ever
landed from a surf-boat to agitate the fever-bitten back-blocks, and
bring to the surface the murder urge which lies so close to the skin of
the most law-abiding.

This man was an Excellency, had on the lapel of his coat miniature
noughts and crosses that glittered at the end of variegated ribbons;
wore, as his right on such occasions, a radiant paste star over his
pancreas, and could put a string of letters after his name as long as the
name itself. He fell from the surf-boat into the arms of a sergeant of
King's Houssas, fell from the tawdry little horse carriage which brought
turn to Government House, into the presence of a second and third
secretary, a Chief Staff Officer, and the Master of his Household; and
eventually fell into the thickly padded chair which was his by right of
his high office. And almost immediately the new broom began to move
around the dusty places, and there was issued from Administrative
Headquarters an Order of the Day which was, to all intents and purposes,
an Address of Welcome to Sir Macalister Campbell-Cairns, written by Sir
Macalister Campbell-Cairns and signed in his indecipherable hand. He had
come (he said) to bring Light into Dark Places; to do justice to white
and black alike; to offer an Inspiration and a Hope to the most Debased;
to establish Centralisation and curb the undesirable tendencies of
officials to usurp the functions of the Law. (He did not exactly say
this, but he meant this.) And last, but not least, he Intended Making
Himself Acquainted with every Frontier Post of Civilisation for which he
was responsible. And if anybody had grievances would they kindly keep
them until he came along.

"O my God!" gasped thirty-three Commissioners, Inspectors, Officers
Commanding troops and the like when this reached them.

Attached to the address of welcome was a "Very Secret and Highly
Confidential" note for the more important of his subordinates.

It has been brought to the Administrator's attention that judgment of
death is frequently given and executed by subordinate officials,
particularly in the Reserved Territories. This practice must cease. All
inquiries into cases of murder, treason, and incitement to rebellion must
be remitted to A.H.Q., accompanied by a report of the evidence in
triplicate, depositions (in duplicate) and of report of the findings of
the court.

A month after this order was issued. Lieutenant Tibbetts, whose other
name was Bones, chased a man who had murdered N'kema, the woodman, and
stolen his wife, caught him on the borders of the old king's country, and
hanged him within an hour of his arrest.

Thereupon was Hell let Loose at Administrative Headquarters, and the
musical career of Lieutenant Tibbetts was threatened with extinguishment.

Adolescence is a disorder which is marked by well-defined periods of
fevers and flushings, shiverings of body and whizzings of head. Peculiar
and symptomatic of these phases are strange cravings and aberrations, and
a certain eccentric choice in the matter of condiment. For the bread of
youth is better enjoyed when flavoured with an opsonium which is
indigestible and even repulsive to the more educated taste.

The child who does not fix wistful eyes upon the cab of a railway engine
is scarcely normal, the youth who has not envied the conductors of
orchestras is hardly human. The young man who wishes that he could sit
down at a piano and with an air of nonchalance run his fingers along the
keys and dash straight away into the most complicated of musical
compositions, has something wrong with him.

Bones had come to a state of development when he most passionately
desired to make music. He had a portable harmonium in the corner of his
hut and a viola under his bed. He could tell almost at a glance the
difference between B flat and F sharp on any printed sheet. He had a
small library on the Theory of Music, every book bound in royal blue with
his monogram in gold on the covers. A trap drummer's outfit occupied a
table usually and more properly reserved for the study of Cleary's
Tactics and the Manual of Military Law.

Bones started his infamous musical career by the purchase of a
clarinet--a long thing of wood and glittering metal. He bought this, as
he bought most unnecessary things, because in the pages of his favourite
magazine he had read an advertisement which told him to:

Learn to Play the Clarinet. Was Clerk, now Leader of Tawoomba Silver
Band. Learning Clarinet Made This Man Owner of His Own House and Put
$10,000.00 into Farmers Bank.


"This man's" portrait was given to prove the bona fides of the claim.
Bones thought $10,000.00 was ten millions, and sent 25 dollars by the
next mail. He could never resist these bullying advertisements that order
you to "fill in that coupon and send your money right away.".

"I've got a soft heart, dear old officer," he apologised for the clarinet
when eventually it came. "It's like drink to me, dear old captain. The
minute I see one of those dashed old coupons I've got to sign it. I'm
easily led, dear sir and brother officer--you can't drive old Bones. You
can lead him but you can't drive him. That sort of thing runs in the
family."

"Weak-minded?" suggested Hamilton.

"Not weak-minded--naughty, naughty!" Bones was waggishly reproachful.

"The point is this. Bones"--Captain Hamilton swung round in his chair and
his eye was cold, his manner distinctly unfriendly--"I'm not going to
allow you to learn to play that infernal instrument within five miles of
the Residency."

"Ham, old sir," said Bones gently, "are you being just, dear old
sir--justice, Ham, old superior, as jolly old Shakespeare says, blesses
him or she who gives and him or she who takes."

Hamilton often blamed himself for his weakness in the matter of the
clarinet. He should have put Bones under arrest or poisoned him or
something.

Bones's love of music grew with what it fed upon. The harmonium was not a
nuisance until he brought it into the open one warm night and played to
120 fascinated soldiers of the King's Houssas, their innumerable wives
and progeny. The handbells (which marked the next stage of the disease)
were a curse: twice Hamilton sprinted to the Residency, thinking he was
late for lunch, only to discover that Bones was practising "Ring Out Wild
Bells." Once the whole camp was turned out at midnight to catch Alt
Ahmet's pet chimpanzee who had broken his chain and gone on a foraging
expedition. It took three, days to get him down from the high copal tree
to which he had retired with a G major bell in one hand and the C sharp
in the other, ringing them alternately day and night, with an expression
of misery that was heart-breaking to witness.

The cornet which Bones had on approval from a trader at Sierra Leone was
sent back by Sanders's orders as being demoralising to the armed forces
of the Crown, for the first notes (as Bones played them) of "A Sailor's
Life" so closely resembled the "Alarm and Assembly" call that
headquarters was a constant ferment of armed men running to take up their
positions.

"I have spoken to the Commissioner," said Hamilton, "and we have agreed
that in future you will confine your musical exercises to a muted
mouth-organ--"

"Very low, dear old officer," murmured Bones reproachfully. "Very hoi
polloi, dear old sir."

"Or a Jew's harp or a concertina." Then, seeing the eyes of Lieutenant
Tibbetts light up: "A very small one--preferably rubber-tyred."

"He that hath no music in his jolly old soul," said Bones with dignity,
"is fit for the jolly old ashpit."

"I shouldn't like to see you there," said Hamilton, "but I'm glad you're
sensible of your limitations."

The tension of a very strained atmosphere was relieved by an order from
Administrative Headquarters calling for the presence of the officer who
carried out the execution of the old king's man. Bones was immensely
interested.

"I knew something would come out of that, dear old sir," he said
thoughtfully. "Mind you, dear old push-face--"

"Bones!" said his superior awfully.

"I mean I'm not going to accept any decoration, dear old sir," said Bones
firmly. "I shall simply say to the jolly old Excellency: 'Sir, I
appreciate the honour that the jolly old Government wishes
to--er--bestow, and I deserve it. I did all the work, but whilst jolly
old Ham hasn't a C.B. to his name--'"

"I don't wish you to talk about me at all," said Hamilton coldly. "And if
you think you're going up to H.Q. to get bouquets, I'll tell you that the
only flowers you're likely to get are those which will be handed to your
next-of-kin. There's a kick coming. Haven't you seen the 'Private and
Confidential'?"

Mr. Tibbetts's long face grew longer. He fixed his monocle in his eye and
surveyed his chief sternly.

"If there is any kick coming, dear old superior--why me? Who is in charge
on the Ochori? You, dear old Ham! Now don't try to get out of it. Uriah
the Hi-tiddly-hi-ti did the same thing, and look what a horrible name
he's got. As to that old order, I thought it was a joke--"

A visit to any Administrator is a solemn and unnerving business. To a new
Administrator such a call is to be obeyed with trembling knees.

And Sir Macalister Campbell-Cairns was not only new but raw. They called
him by various nicknames--an ominous sign. The man with one patronymic
may be well loved; with two, well known; with half a dozen he is likely
to be unpopular.

He had not occupied the chair of office longer than five minutes before
he gave to the world his System of Responsible Control, which was roughly
as follows: Every administrative unit was to be divided into as many
districts as there were European officers. Each officer was to control a
district and be responsible for its well-being and good conduct. The fact
that he did not have his dwelling within 300 miles of the country made
little or no difference. He might be a subaltern officer acting as tutor
to wild Houssa men who were being moulded into military shape and
learning for the first time that a rifle was not an instrument designed
to frighten people to death, but an arm of precision which performed
certain functions with mathematical exactness: that, in fact, the bullet
and not the "bang!" was the real cause of all fatalities which followed
its discharge.

Administrative Headquarters was the large name of a smallish town which
was remarkable in that it boasted a municipality, a power plant, a
waterworks and a reservoir in addition to a number of flat-roofed,
whitewashed houses, built-in gardens where only the more exotic flowers
flourished. Horse-drawn street cars rattled along its boulevards, there
were steam trains that ran at odd intervals into the jungle of the
hinterland, and on the horns of the crescent-shaped water-front were two
concrete forts which looked like inverted pill-boxes, but each of which
accommodated a quick muzzle-loader and two 4.7 quick-firers of modern
character.

In the main the population was made up of native ladies and gentlemen who
wore respectively skirts and trousers. There were three churches to cater
for the three degrees of Christianity which come to every native commune;
the narrow and cheerless, the broad and cheerful, and the official brand
which demands regular attendance on Sunday mornings and permits tennis
and other decorous games for the rest of the day.

All commissioners hate A.H.Q., where natives speak English and are called
"Mister" and wear frock-coats, stove-pipe hats and tight enamelled shoes
on the Sabbath. The officers of the Territories regard a summons to
attend at this unholy place with the same enthusiasm as the mother of a
family might look upon an invitation to the White House if it was
quarantined for measles.

Bones, who had no fear in his soul, journeyed coastwise to headquarters,
his mind entirely occupied by the new-born decision to discard all
musical instruments in favour of the saxophone. Occasionally he gave a
thought to the enraged Administrator.

Macalister believed in machine-guns, correspondence in triplicate, and
confidence in the Man on the Spot. This latter belief originated when he
found that he was the man. He hated all foreign wines and foreign dishes,
had a passion for Scottish mutton and whisky, and possessed no faith
whatever in the rising generation. When he was a boy, things were
different. The people who went into the Diplomatic Service were
gentlemen; women were modest and knew their place; children never spoke
until they were spoken to.

He was a tallish, broadish man, with shoulders like an ox and a very red
face that had seen a lot of hard wear. It appeared to have been
originally modelled in red wax and to have been carelessly left in the
sun.

"His Excellency will see you at once," said the third secretary, and
looked at his watch. "You are ten minutes late." He shook his head.

"The boat was a day late, sir," said Bones.

The third secretary shook his head again, took off his white helmet and
peered into its depths with half-closed eyes, his lips moving. He seemed
to be praying. Then: "This way, Mr. Tibbetts," he said, and walked
rapidly down a corridor.

Bones, who had all a military gentleman's loathing and contempt for the
Civil Service, followed at a slower pace to express his independence.

Sir Macalister was pacing up and down his large room, his hands clasped
behind him, all the weight and burden of empire on his clouded brow. He
shot a glance at the newcomer but did not pause in his exercise.

"Mr. Tibbetts, your Excellency," said the third secretary, in the tone of
one who had caught the visitor after a hard chase.

"Huh," said his Excellency.

The secretary withdrew reluctantly: he would have liked to hear all that
the Administrator had to say.

"So--you--are--Mr. Tibbetts!"

"Yes, sir."

"Your Excellency," snapped Sir Macalister. "No relation to the
late--er--Sir John Tibbetts?"

"Yes, sir--my father."

"Oh!"

The Administrator was at a disadvantage: Sir John was the greatest
official that had ever come to the coast.

"Indeed? Now, sir: will you tell me why--will you please tell me why,
when you were policing the Chimbiri district, you executed, without judge
or jury, one Talaki? You will say that you were in a perilous position.
You will say that you were five hundred miles from the nearest
magistrate. You will say that you have precedents. You will say that the
other miscreant escaped because you were understaffed." He stopped and
glared at Bones.

"No, sir," said Bones politely. "None of these cute little ideas occurred
to me."

"No, sir! Oh, indeed, sir! Now, sir--understand, sir! From this moment,
sir!--and you may take this back to your Commissioner, sir! That no man
is to die in his territories until his death warrant is signed and
sealed, sir, by me, sir--the Administrator, sir! Or my authorised deputy,
sir. Tell Mr. Sanders that, sir!"

Bones was not in any degree ruffled.

"Yes, sir," he said. "And when Mr. Sanders resigns, perhaps your
Excellency will tell his successor?"

"Resigns?" Sir Macalister grew purple. Sanders was a tradition at the
Foreign Office. The last time he resigned, a most important administrator
was recalled. He was told when he reached home that it was so much easier
to find a new administrator than a substitute for the Commissioner of the
River Territories.

"Do you think he will resign, Mr. Tibbetts?" 'Lords' was almost mild.

"Certain, sir: most unprofessional to send that kind of message by a
jolly old subaltern." Bones shook his head reproachfully and added: "I
might have to resign too."

The effect of this threat was not apparent. Bones afterwards said that
Ruddy reeled. At any rate he resumed his walking.

"I'll go down and see him myself," he said. "It is shockingly unhealthy,
but I must go. Why did you hang this fellow, sir?"

"Because, sir," said Bones, "he killed another fellow, sir, an' took his
jolly old lady wife..."

He explained how. Sir Macalister, who was not accustomed to the raw of
life, shuddered and stopped him halfway through his narrative.

"Dreadful...you'd better come to dinner and talk it over,
Tibbetts--seven-thirty sharp. Don't keep me waiting or I'll have you
cashiered. And by the way, before I forget it, there is, I understand,
some trouble in the old king's country. Ticklish business...wants tact.
Tell Senders I'll come down by the next boat and ask him to arrange a
palaver with the old man. Eh? No, no, I shan't want Sanders there. I'll
fix the boundary question--seven-thirty sharp, and if you're a minute
late, by...I'll--I'll have you hoofed out of the Army, I will, by gad!"

Outside in the corridor Bones met a Sandhurst crony, one Stewart Clay--a
child in white who wore the gold aiguilettes of an A.D.C. After the first
whoop of joy and gladness:

"He's not a bad old devil," said the A.D.C. disloyally, "but he eats too
much and drinks too much--especially drinks too much! When you hear him
talking like a Dundee mill-hand, you'll know you have only to ask, to
have. He's been crossed in love too," he added bitterly. "Would you mind
keeping off the subject of women, and especially Scottish women,
tonight?"

Bones promised.

He came early and found Sir Macalister in the jocose or cocktail stage of
affability. He even dared admit his purchase of a saxophone. The
Administrator sneered at saxophones. Towards the end of dinner he
confessed his own musical weakness.

"Mon," he said, "ye're daft if ye wouldna raither hear the bonnie pipies
than ony flibberjigibbet of a saxophone! Stewart, laddie, gie me ma pipes
oot of ma trunkie!"

When Sir Macalister talked this way he was happy: the stern Administrator
had become the human Scotsman.

For two hours Bones sat in awe on the edge of his chair, his big hands on
his knees, his monocle fixed, glaring respectfully at a big man in
evening dress, his lapel glittering with decorations, who strode
springily up and down the long dining-room, a tartan-covered bag under
his arm, four beribboned pipes erect...He played "Flowers of the Forest"
and the "Lament of the Prince"...the pipes wailed eerily, dirgily but
beautifully. And with his own administrative hands he put the bag beneath
his guest's arm and taught him the strange, mad way of the bagpipes.
Bones trod on air...

"Ye're doin' fine! I'll gie ye an auld set I brocht oot for Stewart, but
the laddie has nae gift for the pipes."

And, near midnight:

"Sit ye doon, Mr. Tibbetts. Ye'll be takin' the wee boat back to the
Territories the morn? Aye--ye're young! Laddie, when I waur yere age I
mind a wee bit lassie...Maggie Broon, by name. She waur a crofter's
daughter, Tibbetts, she was no ma ain class, ye'll understaund..."

Stewart Clay saw the visitor on his way to his hotel.

"He's not a bad old stick, but I wish Maggie Brown had died before he saw
her. I get her two nights a week neat and undiluted!"

"Dear old Stewart," said Bones urgently, "which pipe is it that you hang
round your neck--is it the one that makes the ee-ing noise or the jolly
old oo-er?"

Bones returned to his own headquarters a transfigured young man, and the
engineer of the little Bassam was glad to see the back of him.

"I thought something had got into the guides, Mac," he said to the
captain, "and there was me sluicin' oil into the dam' engine to stop the
squeak, an' it was that herrin'-gutted officer-boy playin' on his
so-and-so doodah all the something time!"

Sanders really did not mind--the presence of an Administrator in his area
worried rather than awed him. He went down to the little concrete quay to
say farewell to his Excellency, and since he had thoughtfully added
certain comforts to the furnishings of the Zaire and reinforced the
poverty-stricken cellar of the big white boat. Sir Macalister was almost
friendly.

"Sorry to have given you so much trouble, Mr. Sanders," he said affably,
"but I'm going to make this an annual visit...previous administrators
have been a bit too slack."

"I should be very careful of the old king, sir, if I were you." said
Sanders. "Personally, I should not have held the palaver--the mere fact
that he asked for it so soon after the last little talk I had with his
chief, looks very suspicious to me. You quite understand that this
palaver was called by the king and not by me? He anticipated your message
by twenty-four hours."

"So much the better, Mr. Sanders!" beamed his Excellency. "I shall find
him in a conciliatory mood!"

The wheel of the Zaire began threshing astern. Bones, in spotless white,
stood on the forward deck and saluted stiffly and magnificently, and the
Zaire, backing slowly to midstream, turned her nose--to the black waters
and, her stem wheel whirling excitedly, she passed the bend of the river
out of sight.

"I hope he drowns!" said Hamilton malignantly, as they walked back to the
Residency. "And even drowning is too good for the man who introduced
Bones to bagpipes!"

But for once in his life Bones was content to leave the navigation of the
boat in the capable hands of Yoka, who was chief engineer and
shoal-smeller.

"I'm here if I'm wanted, sir an' Excellency," he explained gravely. "The
mere fact that I'm standin' on this jolly old deck sort of gives the
fellows confidence."

Sir Macalister, his sun helmet on the back of his head, paced up and down
the awning-covered forebridge.

"You must tell me any places of interest we may pass, Mr. Tibbetts," were
his only instructions, and Bones was talking for the rest of the day.

"...that jolly old island there, dear sir, was where I fell out of a boat
and was nearly swallowed by a naughty old crocodile...if you stand over
here, dear old sir, you can see...no, you can't!...yes, you can! There it
is...that village in the trees...I was bitten by a shocking old mosquito
and my jolly old arm swole--swoled--swelled up as big as your jolly old
head...simply fearful!...You see that sandbank, sir, in the middle of the
stream, sir? I was once stranded there for a whole day, sir...it was
simply ghastly...nothing to see but water...That village there, sir, is
called...I'm dashed if I know what it's called." The listening Yoka
supplied the name sotto voce. "Umbala...that's it--Umbala...rather like
umbrella, what? haw, haw! That's not bad, dear old sir..."

"Well, what happened in the village?"

"I was bitten by a dog there, sir...a jolly old cooking dog...simply
terrible...I had to stay in bed all day, sir...That creek is called..."
(Yoka obliged again.) "Libisini, that's it! It leads to a jolly old lake,
sir, quite an extraordinary jolly old lake--all water and things...I once
fell into that jolly old lake...I got quite wet..."

At the Ochori city Bosambo awaited his guests, and when he discovered
that Sanders had not come his face fell.

"Lord, this is a bad palaver," he said, and for Bosambo he was serious.
"For my spies have brought word that two of the old king's regiments are
sitting on the far side of the mountain. And because of this I have
gathered all my spears and have sent throughout the land for my young
fighting men."

Bones pulled at his long nose and pouted--sure evidence of his
perturbation.

"Oh, ko! You tell me bad news," he said dismally, "for this man is a
King's man and a very high One."

Bosambo surveyed the unconscious Macalister, busy at that moment, through
his interpreter, in speaking to the headmen gathered to meet him.

"To me he looks like a fat cow," he said, without offence, "and this is a
wonder to me, that all your high Ones are fat and old."

Bones was pardonably annoyed.

"You're a silly old josser," he said.

"Same like you, sah, and many times," returned Bosambo handsomely.

All that evening Bones spent in a vain endeavour to dissuade the great
man from making the journey. They had with them an escort of twenty
Houssas, and the road to the mountains led through dense thicket in which
riflemen would be practically useless.

"Mr. Tibbetts," said his Excellency tremendously, "a British official
never shirks his duty. That sacred word should be written in gold and
placed above his head, so that sleeping or waking he can see it!"

"Personally, dear old sir," murmured Bones, "I never sleep with my jolly
old eyes open. The point is, dear old Excellency--"

"Mr. Tibbetts, you are growing familiar," said Macalister.

Bones reasoned with the great man's A.D.C., and Lieutenant Stewart Clay
gave him little comfort. "He has no imagination," he said, "except about
Scottish women named Brown. Give him another cocktail and see what that
does."

Another cocktail produced in the Administrator nothing but a desire for
music. Ten thousand Ochori warriors (for the city was now an armed camp)
listened breathlessly to "The Campbells are Coming."

"Master," whispered the fascinated Bosambo, "why does the lord walk up
and down when he makes those strange belly noises? Are there worse sounds
yet to come?"

Later, when Bones produced his own gaily-ribboned pipes, Bosambo was
answered.

At daybreak they started, ten Houssas and a hundred and fifty picked
spears, and came to the foot of the mountain as the last rays of the sun
fell athwart the low bush-trees.

"We'll rest here for an hour and finish the journey in the cool of
night," said Sir Macalister, who had been carried the last twelve miles
of the journey.

Bones wiped his hot and grimy forehead.

"Better wait till the morning, sir," he suggested. "The men are all in."

Sir Macalister smiled.

"Keep you fit, my boy," he said jovially. "I know the music to bring 'em
along. You shall have a little practice, Tibbetts, my boy--ye're not
pairfect yet."

In that great cleft of the Ghost Mountains which M'shimba--M'shamba had
bitten in a night of terrible storm, a score of spears waited in the
dark. The old king, wrapped in his rug of fur, crouched in the cover of
the high cliffs, a hot bowl of glowing wood beneath his robe to give him
warmth. Squatting at his feet, Joe the Trader sucked at a short, foul
pipe.

"...tell him that when this Sanders goes out he can go down into the
Ochori when he dam' pleases..."

One of the attendant counsellors had been lying flat and motionless on
the rocky road, his ear pressed to the ground. Now he rose.

"They come," he said, and hissed.

The score of spears became a hundred. Form after form flitted past, the
waning moon reflected from their broad spear-blades...flitted past and
disappeared. Hereabouts the ground is littered with boulders and there
was cover for three men behind each.

"Let no man strike until they are a spear-length from me," coughed the
king. "Sandi you shall bring me alive, also the young man with the
silvery eye..."

The counsellor by his side turned uneasily.

"If the terrible spirits come--" he began, and Joe recognised the words.

"Stuff!" he muttered. "Say, tell him he can have my skin if that
happens...spirits! Come on, Sanders, you beauty!"

They heard the tramp of feet, caught fugitive glimpses of a swaying
lantern. Behind the boulders men grew tense and gripped their killing
spears hotly.

Out of the bush that encumbered the lower slopes of the big hill, the
lantern came into uninterrupted view.

"Kill!" whispered the king.

But, even as he spoke, there came from the advancing column a strange and
horrible sound. It was the shriek of a wounded soul--the scream of a man
tortured beyond endurance--a savage and exultant howl amidst the fiendish
titterings of ghouls...

For a second the king stood erect, paralysed, his face working; and then,
with screams of fear, the hidden spearsmen began to run, blinded by
terror, throwing spear and shield as they fled.

"Tell him...only bagp--!"

Joe's words ended in a sob and he fell to his knees, striving vainly to
draw out the spear that transfixed him; for the counsellor of the old
king had struck as he ran.

"Yes, dear old sir," said Bones, as they tramped back to the Ochori city
in the light of day; "terribly discourteous an' all that sort of thing.
If a johnny makes an appointment a johnny ought to keep it."

"It was an ambush, by gad!" quivered his Excellency, bumping up and down
as the palanquin-bearers negotiated a rough bit of track. "It is no use,
my dear man, telling me that it wasn't an ambush...that horrible white
man with the spear sticking in him! Good God...awful!"

"It may have been an ambush, dear old Excellency," admitted Bones; "but
if it was, why did the jolly old sinners run away? That's what puzzles
me."

And Bones was perfectly sincere.



III. THE VERY GOOD MAN


The spectacle of a white man going native may be romantic--it is largely
a question of locality and the imaginative faculties of his biographer.
In the islands that stud the smiling seas, in a setting that may consist
largely of smelly copra, but can as easily be "masked in" by garlands of
frangipane, a man may take to himself an olive-skinned mama and excite no
more than amused contempt amongst his decent fellows. But in Africa...

B'firi, the Christian woman, was young and comely. She had been the owner
of three husbands, each of whom had loved her and died. After the third
death the chief of her village held her for Sanders.

"It is not good that young men should die so quickly," he said at the
palaver which followed; "and in the days of my father--his--father, this
woman would have died for her witchcraft, for it is clear that she
carries in her body a poison too strong for men. But now, lord Sandi,
those good days are past, and we bring her to you that you may say wise
words to her."

There was sarcasm here, but Sanders wisely overlooked the lapse. It was
no more intricate or delicate a problem than hundreds of others which
came to him for solution, but here he was relieved in his role of oracle.

The woman B'firi, silent till now, spoke:

"Lord, I am tired of men who never meet a good woman but they must have
her better, and never walk with a bad woman but they leave her worse. I
have spoken with the Jesus men on the Shagali river, and there I go to be
washed in the river and wear cloth over my breast, for by this magic I
will grow wings when I am old and live in the clouds with other ghosts."

This solved the problem, and B'firi went off, paddled by her two brothers
to the Baptist Mission on the Shagali river (which was little more than a
creek and was certainly not a river), and there she was baptised, learnt
to make tea, "did" the lady missionaries' laundry, and acquired other
Christian virtues.

She was clever. She learnt to speak English and read Bomongo in a year;
at the end of eighteen months she was a lay preacher and went forth into
the forest to carry the Word. Once, when she was conducting a mission of
her own on the edge of the French Territory, there was a tremendous
happening. A white man (sickly white he was) came swaying across the
swamps. The people of the village called her, and she went out to meet
him. His clothes were old and filthy, his solar hat was battered, brown,
torn at the crown. She thought by the unsteadiness of his gait that he
was drunk. He was. Behind him, at a respectful distance, walked his one
carrier and servant, an elderly man of Angola, who supported on his head
a large sugar-box containing the wealth and property of the unknown.

It did not need the influence of B'firi to procure him the shelter of a
new hut. The man was white--not the browny-white of Sanders, but the
white of trodden chalk.

In the morning B'firi with her own hands brewed him tea and carried the
steaming bowl to his hut. The stranger sat up wild-eyed, glowered at her
and took the tea from her hand.

"Where's this?" he asked huskily, between gulps. "What a filthy country!
I wish I were dead! O God, I wish I were dead!"

She admonished him soberly--but in good English. The man blinked at her.

"What's this...missionary station? Thanks for the tea." He fell back to
his pillow--a folded coat--with a shudder, and closed his eyes. When he
opened them again--she was still kneeling by the side of the skin bed,
the bowl between her hands. He had once seen an ebony figure at
Christie's like that--only that wasn't black. She did not wear the cloth
which, wrapped tightly about a woman's body almost to the neck,
proclaimed her Christian virtues. Only the little grass skirt, and all
else of her was brown satin.

"Missionary, are you?" he asked weakly, when she explained her presence.
"Try your hand on me! I've lost everything--everything! I gave up all
that makes life worth while when I came to this blasted country--sorry."

She repeated the word with her lips: B'firi was what actors call a "quick
study."

She understood men, having sapped three of their lives, and knew that
they were happiest when they were talking about themselves. John Silwick
Aliston was immensely sorry for himself--he pitied John Silwick Aliston
with an intense pity that brought tears to his eyes. At the end of the
fourth day of listening he came to the conclusion that she was a miracle
sent to show him the way to salvation. She, bored to weariness,
contemplated a magnificent future. The end of it all was that, when they
came to the missionary station, he married this native woman B'firi--the
missionary who performed the ceremony in proper style (B'firi being a
baptised woman) was newly arrived from England, and had no definite views
about the colour line. He believed that all humanity were God's creatures
and that heaven was populated by beings of a neutral pigmentation. So he
pronounced John Silwick Aliston, bachelor, and B'firi, pride of his
mission, man and wife in the face of God and his congregation.

Mr. and Mrs. John Silwick Aliston went back to her father's hut, and the
bridegroom drank three parts of a pint of forbidden rum and cried himself
to sleep. For he was a Bachelor of Arts of Oxford University, and was
absurdly conscious of his degradation--"absurdly," because he degraded
his caste with open eyes.

Mr. Commissioner Sanders heard the shocking news from one of his spies
and flew a pigeon to Lieutenant Tibbetts, of the King's Houssas, who was
fossicking round the Akasava country, looking for an Arab who had
reputedly smuggled arms into the country.

Hoof Aliston out of country. Give hell missionary and report.

Bones made his way back to the big gas-launch that had brought him
up-river, and three days later came up with the village where Mrs.
Aliston was waiting for her husband to recover sufficiently from his
attack of delirium tremens to begin her fourth honeymoon. Happily the
missionary was away, and Bones was spared the most painful of his duties.

He found Aliston sitting before his hut, his head buried in his hand.

"Arise an' shine, dear old Aliston," said Bones. "Pine not, as the jolly
old poet says, for partin' brings a nice kind of feelin'; let's say
good-bye till we meet at Ealin'."

Aliston sprang up at the sound of a familiar tongue, and stood gaping at
the unexpected apparition of a tall, thin, young man in a khaki shirt.

"Oh, sorry! Good morning," he said awkwardly.

"Pack up your dinky old traps, Aliston, dear old bird. Sunstroke very bad
for you, sir an' wanderer. Fellows do things when they get a touch of
jolly old Sol..."

Dimly the man began to understand.

"What is the idea, and who the devil are you?" he demanded resentfully.

"Deputy Commissioner, sir." Bones was very gentle. "Can't allow this sort
of thing...good gracious! don't you know Kiplin'? 'White is white an'
black is black, but they keep their own side of the street' an' all
that--"

All that was masculine in John Aliston coalesced in a gesture of
defiance.

"You won't think I'm rude if I tell you to mind your own business?" he
asked.

"I shall, dear old Aliston--I certainly shall," proclaimed Bones. "I
shall be simply fearfully upset. Get your kit, old sir."

Aliston stood squarely on his feet, his hands on his hips.

"I'm not going--and you can't force me."

A bony fist shot out suddenly and caught him under the jaw. The man
sprawled down with a thud, and came whimpering and cm sing to his feet.
Twice Bones hit him before he fell and lay.

"Get up, silly old Aliston"; and, when he did not move, Bones stooped,
gripped and brought him to his feet.

"You swine...!" sobbed John Silwick. "To hit a sick man...you brute!"

He went meekly enough between the two Houssas whom Bones's shrill whistle
had brought to the spot.

Mrs. Aliston came flying through the village at the one end as her
husband disappeared at the other.

"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded in a grey fury.

Bones answered her in the native tongue. "Woman," he said, "this man
belongs to my people, just as you belong to your people. There is the
river and there is the land, and where they mix is mud and a stink."

"I am his wife," she answered tremulously, and there was murder in her
eyes. "We are God-people and I have a book to show that I married in the
God-man way. Also..."

She invented on the spur of the moment a very excellent reason for
desiring her husband's companionship.

"I don't want to know anything private, dear old B'firi," said the
agitated Bones very loudly.

She followed him down to the boat, arguing, pleading, threatening. Every
dozen paces or so they stopped, Bones's long arms waving eloquently,
Bones's thin shoulders shrugging with great rapidity. When the Wiggle
cast off she took a canoe and six paddlers and followed him down the
river. By the worst of luck the Wiggle struck a sandbank and grounded.
She climbed aboard and was thrown into the river by the indignant
soldiery, and, anchoring her canoe at the stern of the launch, refused to
move.

In the short period of her new matrimonial experience, she had acquired
vivid additions to her vocabulary.

Bones listened to her opinion of him for three seconds and then put his
fingers to his ears.

"Naughty--naughty!" he roared. "You mustn't say that--you really
mustn't...you won't go to heaven..."

"----!" screamed Mrs. Aliston, employing one of her husband's most
popular directions.

In the night, whilst she and her paddlers slept at the bottom of the
canoe, one of the soldiers slipped overboard and towed her to the shore,
fastening the grass rope with many knots, whilst his fellows, knee-deep
on the shoal, pushed and shoved the Wiggle to deep water. In the morning,
when she woke, the prison of her husband was gone and B'firi paddled back
in fury to the mission station. Half-way she landed at a fishing village.
The old chief of this was very rich, and all his wives wore big brass
collars to testify to his affluence.

"If you come to my hut I will make you my chief wife and give you rings
of brass for your legs as well," he said. "Also I will make you a fine
new hut and my old wife shall be your servant."

B'firi pondered the matter.

"Will you become a Christian and let me wash you with water and say holy
things to you?" she asked.

"One ju-ju is like another ju-ju," said the ancient philosopher, and Mrs.
Aliston made her fifth marriage.

Sanders was on one side of his worn desk and a sullen, bearded man on the
other.

"The point is, Mr. Aliston"-Sanders's voice on such occasions as these
had the quality of an ice-cold razor--"that marriage in these territories
cannot be performed between Europeans without a certificate issued by me.
Therefore your marriage was illegal in every sense. I feel that I should
be wasting my time and yours if I attempted to bring home to you the
foulness of these mixed marriages."

"It is a matter of opinion," growled the man, and then: "What are you
going to do with me?"

"I'm sending you home as D.B.S. by the first available steamer," said
Sanders.

The man went hot and red. His was the type of pride which revolted at
being classified as a Distressed British Subject. Poverty with legitimate
excuses he could confess. But to fix such a patch to the rags of his
failure was intolerable.

The day the steamer called, he was missing. He had struck inland, and
when they next heard of him he was teaching the interested Isisi the art
of making mealie beer. Bones, with two trackers, went after him, but he
had news of their coming. For three months they lost sight of him. Then
Sanders, going up-river, was stopped in midstream by an old chief with a
grievance.

"B'firi my wife has gone away into the forest with a white man," he
quavered. "And, lord, she has taken a cat collar of brass that is worth a
hundred goats..." Sanders cursed under his breath and sent a pigeon back
to headquarters.

This time Hamilton, with Bones and half a dozen Houssas, took up the
trail, which led to the French border and the discovery of a new crime.
An Arab trader had been attacked by a dozen lawless tribesmen led by a
white. Four cases of gin had been stolen and a man killed.

Captain Hamilton did not stop to inquire into the presence of the
gin-sellers so close to the forbidden area, but turned at right angles,
and, late in the afternoon, came up with the camp of the robbers--nine
stertorous and unconscious men and a dead woman; the long fingers of John
Silwick Aliston were still about her throat when they found him, and
Bones had to pry them loose.

"Poor old thing," said Bones in a hushed voice, as he looked down at the
silent figure.

And then the glitter of something at her wrist caught his eye. It was a
little golden bracelet, a cheap, hollow affair which had once held three
small stones. One remained, a tiny, lustreless diamond. Stooping, he
pressed the catch of the thing and drew it off.

"Humph!" said Hamilton, as he took the featherweight trinket in his hand.
"That little bracelet could tell a story. Bones." He turned it over on
his palm. "American-made--five dollars net. How the devil did it get into
the Akasava country?"

He handed the jewel back and Bones slipped it into his pocket...

It was at three the following afternoon when Aliston became dimly aware
of a life which was fast slipping from him.

"Hallo!" He looked up into the grave faces of the two officers. "Got me,
eh? Where's B'firi?"

They did not answer.

"Hum...did I hurt her?"

The elder of the two men stooped and put something into his hand. It was
a book.

"Prayer-book--what's the idea?"

Hamilton's eyes met his.

"In half an hour you hang," he said briefly. "Five of your friends have
drunk themselves to death; the other two will go the same way as you. You
don't want a judge and jury to try you, I suppose--with your name and
filthy crime in the English papers?"

Chalk-faced, trembling, speechless, the man shook his head. They left him
alone, but under their eyes, for the appointed time. One of the soldiers
climbed a tree and fixed the rope, and then Bones walked to the man, who
was squatting where they had left him, his head on his breast.

"Come," said Lieutenant Tibbetts tensely, and laid his hand on the
shoulder of the doomed man.

With a scream, Aliston leapt up. For a second he stood swaying, and then
stumbled and collapsed in a heap. He never regained consciousness, but
died in the cool of the evening, and they buried him apart from the
natives who swung from the trees.

2

It was generally agreed that Bones was not to be trusted alone. He was a
good officer and a gallant fellow, but solitude and the absence of human
props went straight to his head.

And he had been left practically alone on the station. Mr. Commissioner
Sanders was up-country on his annual tax-collection, and Captain Hamilton
was in bed with a very ordinary and conventional attack of malaria. It is
true that he had the queer illusion that he was falling through the
mattress of his bed right on to the spiky parts of the Albert Memorial,
but that isn't really serious. People inured to malarial symptoms know
that a case is only dangerous when the patient believes that he is Queen
Victoria and that he is playing poker with Julius Caesar for the fishing
rights of the Rubicon.

Bones did not think his superior officer was in the slightest danger, nor
did Sanders, nor did Hamilton, and the only wish that the sufferer had
expressed was that Bones should refrain from nursing him.

It was unfortunate that the land wire which at odd periods connects the
River Territories with Headquarters should have been repaired that week.
The wire passes through the elephant country, and when the pachyderm
isn't scratching himself against the wooden poles, he is pulling down the
wire to discover whether it is good to eat. H.Q., in a burst of energy,
had repaired it that week.

"O.K.?" asked H.Q.

Bones scribbled out a message and it was transmitted as spelt by the
unimaginative half-caste telegraphist, who, to do him justice, thought he
was sending a cipher message of the highest importance.

All well all well stop Comisoner at Ississi Isissi stop Hamulten sufering
sevvere doze of marlarier but am carying caryrying carying on stop will
do my best to save Hammilton life but few feare fear the wost stop I will
do my duty dutty.

Bones had an exasperating habit in all his written correspondence of
spelling most words three times to discover which looked the most
correct. If, as Sanders had so often pointed out to him, he had had the
intelligence to cross out the two which found least favour in his eyes,
his correspondence would have gained in clarity.

And then a great idea struck him. In case of serious sickness.
Headquarters sometimes sent assistance. It was a privilege that Sanders
claimed, and yet why not?

"Send good nurse," he added to the wire.

It looked lame. What Hamilton wanted was a motherly sort of woman...Bones
added a technical adjective.

He stalked soberly back to the Residency, went into Hamilton's bedroom
and laid a clammy hand on the brow of the sleeping officer.

"What (something violent) do you want, you (something worse)?" demanded
the enraged invalid.

"Bones is here," murmured the visitor reassuringly. "Jolly old Florence
Nightingale, dear old officer. Want anything, dear old Ham?"

"I want you to go to so-and-so out of here," cursed the sick man.

"Delirious!" murmured Bones, and tiptoed out, knocking over a table in
his passage. "Tut, tut!" said the annoyed young man as the door slammed.

All that day and the greater part of the next he spent in devising little
comforts for the invalid. Mama Pape, the Residency cook, watched the
making of a jelly respectfully: Bones made it from a recipe he found in a
cookery book. It was a pretty good jelly, but never quite reached the
jelly stage.

"No, I won't drink it!" raved Hamilton. "I refuse to be poisoned...you
made it? My--!"

Cup and contents flew through the open window.

"Naughty, naughty," said Bones, in the tone of a mother to her child.
"Let ickle Bones take um jolly old temperature."

Hamilton pointed a yellow hand to the door and glared fiendishly, and his
attendant was hardly out of the room before he heard a bolt shot and the
baleful voice of Hamilton hailed him.

"I've got an automatic and ten rounds here, and if you try to nurse me
I'll blow the top of your head off."

"Dangerous," murmured Bones, and shrugged away his responsibility.

Left alone, the sick man swallowed three quinine tabloids, drank deeply
of barley water, and went off into a healthy sleep.

The following afternoon, Bones was dozing noisily on the stoep of the
Residency. The moving rays of the sun crept across the broad, white stoep
and focused on the corn that decorated Lieutenant Tibbetts's little toe.
He, too, dreamt. He was being burnt at the stake before Trinity College,
Cambridge, for having spoken disrespectfully of the Jockey Club. The
flames were licking his feet--especially one foot.

"Ouch!" said Bones painfully, and awoke to rub the outside of his
mosquito boot tenderly.

And gradually, as he regained his faculties, he became aware of an
extraordinary vision. There was sitting on a deck-chair, not half a dozen
feet away from him, the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. She was
young, and against the green of her helmet lining her hair shone like red
gold. The lips that showed in the delicate face were almost a geranium
red. They were curved now in a smile and the blue-grey eyes sparkled with
laughter.

"Bless my jolly old soul!" murmured Bones, and allowed his long, lank
body to subside into the chair again. "Bless my jolly old
soul...shouldn't eat pork...phew!"

"Wake up, please!"

Bones opened one eye and saw all of her; opened the other and sat up, his
jaw dropping.

"I've been sitting here patiently for a quarter of an hour," she said,
and then, looking past her, he saw two large steamer trunks, a suit-case,
a bag of golf clubs and a tennis racket.

"I'm the nurse from the Victoria Hospital," she said.

Bones staggered to his feet, uttering meaningless sounds.

"Bless my life and jolly old pants!" he gasped. "You're the young
person...you're a bit young...how did you get here, dear old nurse?"

"By boat," she said. "I arrived by the Pealego."

"Come to nurse dear old Ham! Bless my life, what a peculiar thing!"

She stared at him.

"Ham--a man?"

Bones nodded.

"Fever?"

Bones nodded again, and she seemed relieved.

"He doesn't want nursing, dear old miss--" he began.

"Is he dead?" she asked callously.

Bones gaped, horrified--stared at her for a moment and dashed into the
interior of the Residency. In ten seconds he leapt out again.

"No, young miss," he said, "he's alive. What I meant to say was that I'm
nursing him my naughty old self."

She gazed at him solemnly.

"And he's alive," she said, half to herself.

Bones was hurt.

"And kickin'," he said reproachfully. "It may surprise you, dear old
nursin' sister, but I'm a qualified nurse."

"You are?" She was, as he anticipated, surprised.

"I are, dear old red-cross one. I had ten lessons by correspondence.
Symptoms, dear old nursing sister, are my speciality. I can tell at a
glance--" He frowned at her critically. "You've got sunstroke--one eye's
bigger than the other."

"It isn't!" she protested, pulled open the little bag she had on her
lap, and drew out a very small mirror. "It isn't!" she said wrathfully.
"They're both the same size. Where is the patient?"

Bones waved a large and sinewy hand to the door, fixed his monocle and
looked serious.

"Treat him kindly," he begged. "In case of any relapse send for me, dear
old Betsy Gamp...mind the mat...second door on the left. If he gets
violent I'll come in with a jolly old mallet an' give him a sleeping
draught."

He heard negotiations being conducted through Hamilton's closed door;
heard the startled exclamation of his superior and the bolts pulled back.
"Who on earth sent for you, nurse?" A low reply. Bones smiled
complacently. He had accomplished something...he wondered if she played
tennis or just owned a racket.

That evening he sat waiting for the nurse to make her appearance. It was
within half an hour of dinner, and though he had caught a glimpse of her
hurrying from the kitchen to the sick-room, the opportunities for
conversation; exchange of confidences had not been offered. Every time he
intercepted her she had some excuse for avoiding intellectual contact.
The first time:

"I was goin' to say to you, dear old miss--" She raised her finger to her
lips. "Hush!" she whispered. "He is asleep."

And the second time: "I didn't ask you your name, dear old sister of
mercy; you see, I'm in charge--" Up went her warning hand. "S--sh!" she
breathed. "He is just waking up."

Bones was sitting, his gloomy mind fixed on the neglect he suffered, when
he heard--the puc-a-puc of the Zaire's stern wheel in the still night,
and over the trees saw the haze of her smoke. In a second he was racing
down the quay to meet the Commissioner. "Yes...got back a week earlier
than I expected--the Akasava people are growing honest or else wanted me
out of the country. How is Hamilton--I got your pigeon message--nothing
serious, I hope?"

"No, sir," said Bones, and felt the moment opportune to announce the new
arrival.

"A nurse?" repeated Sanders, amazed. "Why, in the name of heaven?"

Bones coughed.

"Dear old Ham has been pretty bad, sir," he said gravely. "Didn't even
want to see me. When I peeked through his window, sir, he had his jolly
old face to the wall, sir--so I sent for a nurse."

"Does it matter on what side a man sleeps?" asked Sanders innocently.

"Face to the jolly old wall, sir," murmured Bones, and shook his head.
"That's one of the worst signs, sir, in the jolly old Pharmacoepia, sir.
Face to the wall, sir...johnnies always pop off that way, sir."

"Stuff!" said Sanders, with the ghost of a smile. "Still, if the old
lady is here we must make her comfortable."

Bones coughed again.

"Not old, sir, not so jolly old, sir. Rather on the young side, dear sir
an' Excellency. Pretty, sir, in a way," he added daringly, and saw
Sanders's face fall.

"It can't be helped--Hamilton will be all right. Headquarters are getting
quite sprightly: as a rule they take a month to answer that kind of
request."

He greeted the girl kindly--admired her in his detached way.

"I don't think I need stay very long." With a woman's instinct she
guessed the reservations in his welcome. "Your Captain Hamilton isn't
very ill. He is annoyed, but he is not ill."

She looked fixedly at Bones.

"Annoyance is illness," said Bones firmly. "A naughty temper is a sign of
insanity, dear old hospital matron."

When the girl retired for the night, Sanders, who had had a chat with the
sick man to discover the real cause of his annoyance, took Bones out on
the veranda and talked to him gently.

"You must be awfully careful, Bones," he said. "I'm afraid you sometimes
use words which are just outside the meaning you intend. For instance..."
He gave an instance.

"That means a motherly sort of lady, sir?" said Bones, in astonishment.
"Bless my life, sir..."

"Maternity nurse means something quite different," said Sanders, very
steadily for a man who was shaking with internal laughter. "And naturally
Hamilton is a little peevish..."

Sanders employed the last morning of the girl's visit showing her round
the station. Her name was Rosalie Marten, and she admitted her age as
twenty-four.

"It must be lovely to be away from the natives in tall hats and the
electric light and cinemas," she said, drawing a long breath. "I came out
to West Africa thinking I would have this kind of life--but Headquarters
is a sort of Clapham plus sunshine. There is no work I could do here, Mr.
Sanders?"

He shook his head.

"If it is not an impertinent question. Miss Marten, why have you come to
the coast at all? Have you friends here--?"

"No," she answered shortly. "I hate the coast, that I know: in some ways
it is better than I thought it would be--in most ways worse. I got my
ideas from a trade newspaper that is run by a man who has never seen the
other side of the Sierra Leone mountain--my father is a journalist and
told me this. I hate the place--I hate it!"

The vehemence in her tone made him look at her sharply, and looking, he
guessed--a man. There was no need to guess, for almost instantly she
told.

"The man to whom I was engaged died here." She was cruelly frank. "He
came out two years ago."

Only for a moment did the voice lose control. Sanders was silent. Such
confidences as these almost hurt him. The coast ate up these young lives
ruthlessly, and this tragedy of hers had its duplicate.

"He was the very best man in the world--he came out to make sufficient
money to buy a home. I am rather rich, Mr. Sanders, and he had to run the
gauntlet of family suspicion. They thought he was a fortune-hunter--they
told him this to his face, though I never knew this till afterwards."

"Was he...a missionary?"

She shook her head and smiled faintly.

"No...he was a very good man, but he was not a missionary. He died
somewhere in the French Territory--he wrote to me soon after he arrived
on the coast. It is terrible..." She frowned. "Every day I pass the hotel
where he stayed when he was in Headquarters...I know the window of the
room. He looked out of there upon the street along which I walk. It isn't
believable, Mr. Sanders--it simply isn't believable!"

Sanders realised that she was talking as she had never talked to any
human being. That she was expressing in words the long-inhibited
confidence she had ached to give to somebody. He let her talk on without
interruption as they slowly paced across the arid, dull ground.

"I've bored you awfully, but I feel better!" she said, half laughing,
half crying. "I've often wished I were a Catholic so that I could confess
to somebody. I suppose I shall recover in time and marry some poor man
and put away my romance between sachets of lavender-hearts aren't easily
broken."

When she went to her room, Sanders found an opportunity to utter a
warning.

"'Ware light conversation dealing with death and destruction, you
fellows," he said. "This poor girl has had a very unhappy experience."

It was no disloyalty to her confidence to outline the tragedy that
shadowed this young life.

"We've got to be cautious an' entertainin', dear old sir and Excellency,"
said Bones, touched.

"For God's sake don't be that!" Sanders and Hamilton spoke together.

"Maybe, insulting old superior, I could show her my curios?" suggested
Bones, ruffled. "But of course, dear old sir, if you think the innocent
old person would be corrupted--"

"I don't mind her being corrupted--I object to a guest being bored," said
Hamilton.

"Get your curios, Bones," said Sanders good-humouredly, "but
don't--er--enlarge on their history."

Bones sprinted to his hut and collected, hastily, the wherewithal of
entertainment. Rosalie Marten came back to find three preternaturally
solemn men who were galvanised at the sight of her into such a froth of
artificial cheerfulness that she guessed the cause.

"You've been telling my sad story!" she said, almost flippantly. "I'm
glad--but please don't be mysterious about it. I have an awful feeling
that you are all on tenterhooks for fear you hurt my feelings--please
don't be tactful!"

Bones looked for a moment embarrassed, for he had arranged to be very
tactful indeed. His pockets bulged with curios, gathered in the dark from
the big box under his bed.

"We will be sorry to lose you, dear old miss," he said, when the strain
which the effort of silence made had passed off and the Arab boy had
handed round the coffee. "Three lumps or four? Bless my jolly old life,
don't you take sugar? You'll never get as fat as podgy old Bones!"

"Mountainous is a better word," said Sanders.

"Which reminds me." Bones fumbled in his pocket. "This may cause you
endless fun an' amusement, dear old hospital walker. It's the finger ring
of the fattest man in the Territories--N'peru, the Akasava man..."

He brought out a handful of miscellaneous oddments, wire bangles and
anklets, carved wooden spoons, two strings of wooden beads, and a steel
comb or two, and laid them on the table.

"This is a N'gombi woman's dinky little vanity bag--"

He heard her little scream and looked round in affright.

She had risen from the table and was staring at the little heap on the
cloth. Her face was as white as death, and her trembling hand pointed at
something.

"Where...where did you get that?"

She was pointing to a tarnished gold bracelet that had two stones
missing.

"That...hum..." Bones for the moment forgot the injunction that had been
served on him. "Well, to tell you the truth, young miss, that was
taken--"

At that moment he caught Sanders's eyes, cold, prohibitive, and stopped.

"He...he had that," she said in a hushed voice, and picked up the jewel
tenderly. "I bought it when I was a child...daddy took me to New York
and I asked him to buy it. I gave it to...to my boy as a keepsake."

It was Sanders who found his voice first.

"What was the name of your--fiance, Miss Marten?"

She was fondling the battered little bracelet, a smile of infinite
fondness on her lips.

"John Silwick Aliston," she breathed. "The best, the dearest man in the
world."

A silence so profound that she could have heard the deep breathing of the
men, were she not so absorbed in the pitiful relic she held in her hand.

"A very good chap, one of the best." Bones leapt into the breach. His
voice was husky and he spoke in a jerky, breathless way. "Dear old
John--what a lad!"

She looked up at him quickly: the two men found breathing difficult.

"You knew him?"

Bones nodded; his blazing eyes held the light of inspiration.

"Rather, dear old nurse. Met him up on the French border...real good
fellow...fever..."

"You were with him when he died?"

Bones's head went up and down like an automaton.

"Yes--cheerful to the last--brave old fellow--full of pluck, dear old
miss. Gave me this bracelet for his girl--never told me her jolly old
name, though. One of the best, dear old John--"

He stopped, exhausted by his effort.

She looked for a long time at the trinket, then held out her hand.

"Thank you," she said in a low voice. "I shall always think of you. I am
sure you were good to him--God bless you!"

Bones could have wept.



IV. WOMEN WILL TALK


If you hack down a copal tree and let it lie in a high place where the
sun can warm it and the rain cannot rot, and, when it is duly seasoned,
you cut a three-yard length of it and with great patience carve out its
middle from one end, you have an instrument of communication which was
ancient when the French revolutionaries were experimenting with the
semaphore, and was effective in the days of the Caesars.

M'gliki, the lokali man of the Akasava city, was very, very old and
nearly blind, so that he stumbled about, upsetting cook-pots and breaking
rare clay vessels, and this was a family scandal because, by law, the
family connections of silly people are responsible for the damage they do
in their foolishness.

Yet, old and fumbling as he was, there was no man in all the world (which
stretches from the Ghost Mountains to the River With One Bank that we
call the sea) could play upon the hollow tree-trunk like M'gliki. Seated
before the battered trunk and wielding two heavy sticks, he sent forth
his rolling, rataplanning messages, the gossip of the city, urgent calls
to far-away fishermen, personal messages from family to family, tales of
death and birth, of marriage and newly discovered scandal. Every
flourish, every cadence of the lokali, that most wonderful signal drum,
has its significance. Sanders of the river could read M'gliki's messages
thirty miles away on a still night, for the old man never made an error.

"Long roll...short roll...long roll..."

That was Sanders by name: a little "tune" that followed meant going
south; three sharp taps on the end of it was the equivalent of "no
complaints." Sanders got to recognise the name of every chief and tribe
that the drummer tapped forth. Could read warning and promise, tale of
theft or murder. All day long the old man sat before his wooden drum
staring with unseeing eyes across the broad river. When the rains came
they built a little shelter for him, otherwise he would have stumbled
back to his hut and broken more pots that the family must pay for.

After a particularly disastrous evening, when M'gliki had trodden on the
hafts of three new spears, had overturned a pot of fish and half killed a
valuable cooking dog, his eldest son and his youngest brother had a
secret conference.

"Let us go hunting in the Forest of the Little People," said the son,
"and we will take M'gliki with us, saying that we need him. And when we
are there and he sleeps, we will go away and leave him, and, being an old
man and blind, he will soon die."

The son and the brother took away their relative one morning and paddled
for five days until they came to the Dark Woods. M'gliki sat at the bow,
with a tiny but sonorous little lokali, and his drum rolled all the way,
telling the world that he was M'gliki, the famed lokali man, and that
these with him were his fine strong son and his own brother.

In the forest they slept one night, and, hiding the small lokali, they
slipped away in the light of the moon, leaving an old man to face the
fierce little bush people and the yellow-eyed leopards that slunk from
tree to tree in a wide circle about him.

And here he might have died, but a little girl found him and led him to a
place of ten huts (which is a large village in the bush sense). Her name
was Asabo, and she was very ugly even at the age of seven. Her father was
the first man of the village, and when he had overcome his natural desire
to try the effect of a new poison with which he had tipped his arrow-head
upon the unsuspecting visitor, he gave him a corner of his hut. And from
then onward the bush people possessed a new asset, for M'gliki spent his
days teaching Asabo the wonder. The small lokali had been found hidden
under a tree, and, to the wonder of the village, Asabo progressed in
wisdom.

"You shall be the greatest woman in the world," prophesied M'gliki. "You
shall marry a chief and sleep on a skin bed; also you will have three
lovers, who will come to you at different times, and none shall know the
other, and your husband shall know none."

Asabo made a hoarse noise of pleasure, for when this prophecy was made
she was ten and soon was to meet the Supreme Ouda.

Now and again to all races comes a being of super intelligence whose
personality dominates his fellows. These creatures are born at rare
intervals and their influence runs beyond their own tribes. A play-acting
Shakespeare, a versatile Leonardo, a brandy-inspired Peter Romanoff, a
vision--seeing Mahomet, these magnetic mountains come smoking up in
divers seas and set the compasses of mariners quivering to new northings.

Mr. Commissioner Sanders had a large number of native agents who kept him
in touch with events of interest to himself and his Government. These
spies of his formed so competent an intelligence service that at any
moment he could have given a rough survey of the social and economic
conditions of every one of the twenty-three tribal communities it was his
job to govern. From one area alone news was fragmentary and unreliable.
In the deep forest of the Iguri dwelt the Little Hunters, a shy and
savage people who brooked no interference and resented attention. A
normal-sized spy, in a land where the average height of the people is
thirty-eight inches, is necessarily a conspicuous figure.

Sanders had held palavers on the edge of the forest with a tiny,
pot-bellied headman, and had secured a promise of annual tribute in the
shape of skins, rubber and gum copal; and this yearly contribution to the
funds of government had been made regularly. Year after year, in the
month of the New Green, the little Wiggle had chuffed up the long, narrow
river which runs to the border of the Iguri forest and had found, in a
clearing, an odd collection of rubber and gum piled up on one side of the
landing-place and a stack of dried skins on the other. Generally there
were in attendance two ferocious little men, who beat a retreat at the
first sight of the launch and watched the transfer of the taxes from a
respectable distance.

There came a day when the launch was to find nothing--neither skins, nor
gum, rubber nor men.

The hour was near midnight. Sanders had gone to bed, but one of the two
young men who played picquet under the light of the oil lamp had no
appreciation of time.

"That rubicons you, Bones," said Captain Hamilton complacently, as he
totted up the score.

Mr. Tibbett's face was a mask.

"We'll have another game, dear old Ham," he said; "but, dear old officer,
do you mind turnin' up your sleeves before we start?"

"What the devil do you mean. Bones?" demanded his superior hotly.

"Nothin', sir; a mere matter of precaution, dear old captain. You've held
all the kings an' aces since ten o'clock. Play fair, dear old sir--all
that I ask is that you turn up your sleeves."

Hamilton transfixed him with a cold-light glare and dealt the cards. It
was annoying that Bones fixed his monocle firmly in his eye and kept his
gaze glued on the dealer's hands, and not remarkable in consequence that
Captain Hamilton bungled the deal and gave himself one card too many.

"Ah!" said Bones significantly. "Pick the cards you want--don't mind me."

"Bones! You're insulting!" stormed the other.

Bones gathered up his cards with a meaning smile.

"I've got an ace, dear old manipulator!" he said, in mock concern. "Some
mistake here, dear old Ham--would you like a fresh deal?"

Hamilton said nothing--he scored a hundred and forty and capoted his
opponent, who had misguidedly discarded his ace.

"Shall I deal?" asked Bones politely.

"If you please." Hamilton was very short.

"I say nothing, dear old officer and gentleman, but I think a lot," said
Bones, as he took up his hand. "I've never noticed it," said Hamilton.
When it came to his turn to deal, he had to ignore the spectacle of Bones
popping his head down to look under the table, and pretended that he did
not see his unspeakable companion feeling the backs of the cards for
secret marks.

"Luck is luck, dear sir and brother officer," said Bones, examining his
cards; "an' play is play. But dealin's got everything skinned to death."
He frowned at the cards. "Excuse me, dear old Ham, but this doesn't look
like the same pack--"

Hamilton flung down his cards.

"Bones!" he hissed. "If you suggest that I'm cheating I'll break your
infernal head."

"It will be the only part of me that's not broke, Ham, old
light-fingers," said Bones. "I've lost nearly four shillings in three
hours!"

"Which you'll never pay," said Hamilton fiercely, as he got up. "Bones!
You're impossible. You will parade your platoon at 7 a.m. and put them
through physical drill."

"Dirty work!" murmured Bones. "The man not only ruins me but lets his
naughty old temper get the better of him. Uses his dashed old superiority
to make me a jolly old galley slave. You're worse than Uriah the wicked
old Hittite. See Bible."

The next morning Sanders came out of his little office looking unusually
serious. He held between finger and thumb a cigarette-paper covered with
fine Arabic writing. Hamilton saw the paper.

"Pigeon?" he asked. "You were up early, sir."

Sanders walked to the sideboard, turned the tap of the coffee-urn and
brought his steaming cup to the table.

"The sergeant of the guard brought the paper at daybreak," he said. "The
little fellow had a hawk on his tail and was lucky to get here. Where is
Bones?"

Hamilton screwed his head sideways: through the open door he commanded a
view of the parade ground, where a squad of twenty men were engaged in
the military exercise which has come to be called "physical jerks."
Lieutenant Tibbetts, in white duck trousers, sports shirt and helmet, was
in command, and his raucous, squeaky voice came to them. His language was
a curious mixture of coast Arabic, Bomongo and English.

"O sons of awkward parents, is it thus I taught thee? You silly old
jossers! When I say 'one,' put both hands upon thy loins and bend thy
knees. Not as old women with creakings and groanings, but like young
antelopes. Dash you, Abdul, keep still, you fidgety old blighter. Now
sink to thy heels, keeping thy belly--oh, ko! Man, you are like a
blithering old cow! Get up! Go down!..."

"Bones seems to be busy," said Sanders.

"Bones has to be disciplined," replied Hamilton primly. "He must
occasionally be put in his place. I cannot allow Bones to describe me as
a card-sharp and retain my self-respect. I played picquet with him last
night, and I admit the cards ran badly for him. When he asked me to turn
up my sleeves, I felt that he was going very far, but when--"

He described what had happened; and although Sanders never felt less like
laughing, he chuckled.

"I was very annoyed indeed with Bones," said Hamilton, but he was
grinning.

The object of his annoyance came in to breakfast soon after, and Bones
was stiff, not to say distant.

"'Morning, Bones." Hamilton was in a conciliatory mood.

"'Morning, sir." Bones saluted regimentally. "Parade dismissed, sir."

"Come down off that horse of yours. Bones--you were insulting. Admit it."

Bones, with a cup in one hand, saluted again with the other.

"Any complaints you have, sir, should be reported to the jolly old
commander-in-chief. I'll be glad to answer any letter you send to me,
but, if you will excuse me, sir, we will not exchange badinage or saucy
quips, sir."

"Bones, I want you to go up to the Iguri forest and collect the Bushies'
taxes." Sanders broke in upon the chilly atmosphere. "You may take the
Wiggle, but you are not to land. If the bush people are normal I would
like you to see their chief, but particularly I wish you to make contact
with a man named K'belu. Avoid trouble--there may be quite a lot coming
our way--but above all, keep your Maxims in working order until you are
clear of the bush country."

"It's quite on the cards--" began Hamilton, but his subaltern silenced
him with a gesture.

"Keep off your favourite vice, dear old sir," he said haughtily. "And
anyway, I've finished gamblin'."

"I'm not so sure that you have," said Sanders quietly. "I shall be glad
when you have returned--with or without the taxes."

In the deeps of the great forest there had been born cala cala, a tiny
little grey-brown animal whom its parents had called K'belu, the Brown
Mouse. The place of his birth was a nest between the forks of an enormous
oak, for his kind were the lowest type of pygmy people and his parents
lived alone in the forest. Such was the immense spread of the fork that
the floor of the hut was even and the grass-woven walls and roof combined
with the protection afforded by the spread of the boughs to make the
place watertight. And here he grew and thought, was fed and beaten,
learnt the poisonous properties of plants and a certain strange
caterpillar; and in due course accompanied his tiny father on his hunting
expeditions.

There was an enterprising missionary in the Iguri who had spent his life
in the study of bush people, first in Central-South and now in
Central-West Africa. He loved the bushmen because he believed that they
were the first men in the world; and K'belu made his acquaintance at an
early stage of his existence. The God-man had a house on the edge of the
forest, where he grew bananas for the bushmen to steal. Even when they
discovered that they could have the fruit for the asking, they continued
to steal--this process of acquisition being less embarrassing than any
other. One day the God-man, whose name was Father Matthew, caught K'belu
in the act and chased him with surprising agility, remembering that he
was a fat man and encumbered with the long, brown habit of his order. He
did not kill K'belu, or pick out his eye, or bite his heart, or do any of
the things which missionaries are supposed to do. He took the squirming
child back to his garden, gave him a dish of goat's milk and as many
bananas as he could carry. After, when the child came (timidly,
suspiciously at first), he showed him certain devil marks, such as A and
B and C. At the age of ten K'belu could read Bomongo, which is the
language of the forest, larded with certain ancient words which are the
pygmy's very own.

Soon after this the missionary died of some obscure tropical disease, and
on the night of his death K'belu went to his house and stole all the
books he could gather and carried them away to his hut. When his father
died, at the ripe old age of thirty-six, the boy went into the nearest
village, carrying his father's arrows and his treasure. The chief of this
tiny community gave him a hut in exchange for the arrows.

And then, when the superiority of the newcomer was forced upon him (for
did he not read books full of devil marks, like Father Matthew himself?),
he took counsel with his wife and went to the hut of his guest.

"I see you," he said, as he squatted down, and came at once to the point.
"I have a daughter, and she is a wonderful woman, making strange noises
on a tree-trunk, as she was taught by M'gliki, the N'gombi man who died
of the sickness when the river was in flood and the woods were full of
fish. I will give this woman to you for ten arrows and as much salt as a
man can hold in two hands."

"Arrows I have none, nor salt," said K'belu loftily; "but I will take
this woman from you because I am a man with a wish for children."

He was fifteen and of a marriageable age, and after some demur the father
agreed and paid for the feast that constituted the wedding.

Thereafter Asabo dwelt in the hut of her master, worked for him and
absorbed his mystery--for all day long he thought and thought. There was
at the back of his mind an idea, dimly seen at moments, never wholly
comprehended. They saw him poring over dog-eared books, and the word went
through the forest that K'belu was Ouda and a man to be propitiated. Now
Ouda is the devil of the pygmy people, a worker of mischief and yet a
giver of gifts--the only deity they know.

His fame grew, and the idea became concrete. One day he summoned a
palaver of all people, and none questioned his right, for the pygmies are
a loose-knit democracy, without chiefs in the literal sense.

"All men listen to me," said K'belu. "I have learnt by my magic that we
are the high lords of the world because of our smallness. What men can
climb as we? What men can swing from branch to branch? Who are feared as
we? None in the world, because we are the masters of all people, who are
our slaves."

The little folk listened and wondered whilst the Idea found exposition.

"Head of every tribe of the outer people," said K'belu, "was a chief.
Above them was Sandi and his two sons. If the chiefs died and Sandi died,
who would be master of the world? Surely their killers? And if new chiefs
rose and a new Sandi came with his sons (the whole Territory insisted
upon this relationship of Bones and Hamilton) they also would die until
the omnipotent They who sent these white men to give the law would weary
of their effort and the land would be left to the cunning little people."

It seemed a good idea. Three thousand bushmen began to grow conscious of
nationality.

"In a moon and the rind of a moon Sandi will come to rob us of our gum
and rubber and the little skins of monkeys. Or his son with the silver
eye, or the man with the loud voice who shouts at the soldiers" (this was
a libel on Hamilton). "But I, K'belu, the Ouda of the people, say that we
will give him only the gum of caterpillars."

His words had been heard in silence, but now an important man from the
Dark Woods spoke: "This is good talk, K'belu, but if Sandi comes with his
little gun that says 'ha-ha-ha!' there will be an end to us."

He finished his words and fell forward, his breast on his knees; for
K'belu, expecting opposition from this man, had stationed a creature of
his in a tree, and at--his signal a bow twanged behind him and the
arrow-head came redly out of his breast. There was no further opposition.

K'belu went back and told his wife.

"O K'belu, I see that you are Ouda, and a very great lord. And when you
are king of the world I will wear beautiful brass anklets and sleep on a
skin bed."

She said nothing of the unfulfilled prophecy about the three lovers. They
would arrive as a matter of course. In her joy and exhilaration she kept
the village awake hall the night. Through the dark hours her lokali
rattled and droned the song of her triumph.

For the first time in all probability since the days of the Egyptian
dynasties, the bush-folk enjoyed a leadership. K'belu's first act was to
round up the unsociable units that lived in the forest alone and combine
them into villages The little men hated this interference with their
liberty--they are the freest people in the world, and in consequence the
most degraded--their wives made throaty noises of protest, their
eighteen-inch sons and daughters trudged at their heels into the new
compounds with a lively sense of excitement to come.

In the midst of the greatest of the villages, K'belu set up a palace of
grass, and here he met his awkward counsellors, who had never before
engaged in communal activities. And so matters went till, on the wane of
the second moon, came Bones, cautiously to the spot appointed for the
collection of taxes.

The Wiggle hung around for the best part of a week, and then Lieutenant
Tibbetts sent a native into the forest to make inquiries. This messenger
was a man of the Isisi, who knew the bushmen and spoke their queer
language. Three days passed and then, in the middle of the night, a
Houssa soldier woke Bones.

"Master, I have heard strange sounds on the land near this little ship,"
he said.

Bones pulled his pliant mosquito boots over his pyjamas and went out on
the deck to listen. It was a windless night of stars and there was no
sound but the lap-lap of water against the boat side. No bird's hoarse
note broke the stillness. A leisurely meteor streaked whitely across the
sky.

"What were the sounds, man?" he whispered.

"The sound of men walking and the dropping of something on the ground,"
was the reply.

Bones bent his head, listening. He heard a gurgle in the water; that was
a crocodile swimming past...nothing more.

It was nearly five o'clock. The launch was moored to two gum trees, and
the moving chains were paid out at nightfall so that there was a dozen
feet between shore and boat, a position made possible by the conformation
of the river's bank, for the drive of the current caught the Wiggle
broadside on end; had the cables parted, she would have been pushed to
the opposite bank.

Bones went back into his cabin, slipped on an overcoat, found his
electric torch, and took his automatic from under his pillow. The bow of
the boat was nearest the shore, and he moved noiselessly forward till he
stood against the little windlass to which the mooring rope was reeved.

Then, suddenly pressing the button of the torch, he shot a beam of white
light towards the bank. The light followed the direction of the taut
cable, and the first thing he saw was a monkey--like figure coming hand
over hand along the wire rope. Beyond, the bank was crowded with tiny,
naked figures.

Out went his light instantly and he dropped to the cover of the
gunwale--and not too soon.

"Tap...tap...tap!"

A sound like the patter of hail. Bones waited until the first shower of
poisoned arrows had fallen, then, jerking his Browning over the gunwale,
he pumped ten shots into the midst of them.

"Cover!" he roared as lie heard the sleepy Houssas scrambling from their
blankets.

But no other arrow fell, nor did he expect a second shower. By this time
the brown horde was flying to the cover of the woods. They never attacked
in the face of firearms.

Daylight came suddenly: a faint paling of the east that showed the
motionless silhouettes of the big copal trees, a sudden pandemonium of
sound as if a million birds had begun twittering at once, the mumbling
chatter of monkeys, and the world was light and all the tree-tops were
gilded in the first rays of the sun.

"Dear me!" said Bones.

Within a dozen yards of the river's edge a rough pole had been planted,
and tied thereto was the native whom he had sent into the forest. At
least, Bones guessed it was he: he was rather difficult to recognise.

He stared for a long time at the dreadful thing and gave the order to
warp the boat to the bank. The machine-guns fore and aft swung over to
cover the dark trees behind which the little brown men were lurking.

"Take a crew ashore, Ahmet, and let them bury the man."

Bones watched the quick work from behind the fore Maxim, his eyes roving
between the working party and the wood. When all was done and the men had
washed themselves in the stream: "Cast off the big ropes," he said in the
vernacular.

The danger was by no means over. Before they reached the main river, the
stream passed for two miles through the heart of the forest. The
tributary ran between high banks not twenty yards apart, and here the
trees came down to the very edge of the water, a heaven-planned site for
an ambush. Moreover, a tree hastily felled would block his exit. Turning
the nose of the Wiggle downstream, he took his place at the wheel.

"Let all men take cover," he ordered, and, when this was obeyed, he drove
the boat forward at full speed.

Yoka, the steersman, alone remained with him.

"Go, man," said Bones sternly.

"Lord, this is death," said the stout Yoka, "for the little men will be
waiting in the Narrow Place and--"

Bones snarled round on him.

"Go to cover or I will whip you till you bleed," he barked.

Yoka went reluctantly.

An hour's run through open country and the woods loomed ahead. There was
no sign of a blockade--the woods were lifeless, but he saw birds circling
round the tree-tops in an aimless, excited way, and knew that they had
been disturbed.

Locking the wheel, he slowed, and, diving into his cabin, brought out his
dingy eiderdown quilt. Hanging this loosely over his head, he sent the
boat at top speed for the narrow lane of water. Presently he was in the
wood and darkness fell, for the trees form a green roof to the river.

Bump!

He had grazed the slope of a little sandbank and the launch veered and
slithered until it was under the high bank. This accident gave him an
idea. He kept the Wiggle as near to the dangerous bank as he could. The
little men would be reluctant to leave cover...

Two hundred yards ahead of him, he saw a big tree lying over at a
suspicious angle and drooping slowly. Somebody was hacking furiously at
the trunk...if it fell, its great branches would offer a barrier not to
be penetrated. Bones watched, fascinated, forgetful of his own danger,
till the first arrow struck a spoke of the steering wheel and went
humming past his head at a tangent. He felt the smack of another as it
struck the quilt, ripping the faded silk into slithers.

The tree was leaning drunkenly...he shot under it as it fell and heard
the rustle and crackle of twigs as they struck the stern of the boat.

"Phew!" said Bones, as the trees began to thin. He threw aside the hot
quilt. "Confound their little whiskers!"

He was wet through, limp. He had gripped the wheel with such a fierce
intensity that the palms of his hands were blistered.

"O Yoka," he called, and, when Yoka came: "Bring me," said Bones, in the
Arabic of the coast, "a dish of nectar such as the lily-eyed houris of
Paradise pour from vessels of gold."

"Lord," said the puzzled Yoka, "does your lordship mean whisky-soda?"

"A double one," said Bones, and smacked his dry lips.

His triumph died in his throat.

Ahead, as the steamer turned a sharp bend of the river, he saw an
isolated tree topple over and fall into the water with a mighty splash,
and at that second the wood was alive with the little men, and the arrows
came towards him in shoals.

Bones reversed his engine instantly, but it was an eternity before he
moved astern. The pygmies had broken from cover and were racing along the
wooded bank. Death was before and behind, and though as yet the arrows
fell short, they would reach him sooner or later.

Leaving the wheel to Yoka, he sat down to the machine-gun and in a second
the wood re-echoed to its staccato notes. As if by magic, the little
people disappeared at the first shot. He stopped the engine and slowly
the launch drifted back to where the larger part of his enemy was
waiting. He surveyed the obstruction with a sinking heart. The Zaire
would have broken through it, but he had a fifty-foot launch that would
buckle up at the first impact.

The arrows were still pouring down into the water; one struck the
bow...in a very short time they would reach the deck.

He turned, ran into his cabin and scrawled a message on a thin sheet of
rice-paper. Yoka brought him the pigeon, and the dispatch was fastened to
the red leg with a rubber band.

"Home you go, you lucky old coo-er," said Bones, "an' I wish I was comin'
with you."

He flew the pigeon and watched it circle and then, as the boat drifted
into the bank, slipped four loaded magazines into his pocket, two for
each pistol, as the first of the bushmen dropped to the deck...

"Let all these men be brought to me alive," had been K'belu's order,
"especially the young man with the shining eye who is the son of Sandi."

Miraculously, only one of the party was killed in that final rush of the
little-men, and Bones marched through the forest at the head of a
dejected escort. That night he was brought before the Ouda.

"I see you, son of Sandi," said K'belu. "Now you know that we are a great
people, for we have overcome your guns that say 'ha-ha-ha' and your
terrible soldiers."

He was extremely ugly, but not quite as ugly as the undressed little
woman who danced by his side, snapping her stubby little fingers in an
ecstasy of joy. For now the fine skin bed was very near at hand and the
first of the lovers had looked at her meaningly.

"O fool!" said Bones. "Where are they who have stood up against
government? Do they not hang upon a tree until their bones slip through
the rope? Sandi will hear and he will come and you will go to the place
where the shadows of monkeys live."

"Eat his heart!" screamed Asabo, prancing frantically. "Give me this high
man and I will make him into three little people."

Her husband pushed her aside ungently.

"Sandi will never know," he said, and then he heard a wild squeak of
fear, and the great crowd that surrounded them began to melt until only
the prisoners, K'belu and his wife remained. Yet there was nothing to be
seen, for the Houssas who were coming through the forest had painted
their bayonets black that they might not reflect the light, and Sanders
wore a dark coat over his khaki and was bareheaded. Even Bones did not
see him till he came into the light of the fire.

"O K'belu!" said Sanders, and the little bushman made a grimace.

"First you will kill Tibbetti and then this chief and that, and lastly
you will kill me," said Sanders with his cold mile. "Little man, what do
you say that you do not die this night?"

Presently K'belu found his voice.

"Lord, how did you know these mysteries?" he asked.

"Women will talk," said Sanders cryptically, and looked round for the
lokali that Asabo had rattled so joyously, sending out to the world the
story of her husband's greatness.

"Fortunately," said Sanders, as the Zaire went swiftly down the big
river, "Asabo's message was relayed. Ahmet in the Isisi heard it and flew
a pigeon, but I knew before. Hamilton wanted to come--but somebody had to
stay behind."

"Yes, sir," said Bones, with the memory of his grievance still upon him,
"to put the jolly old cards in order."



V. THE SAINT


From time to time there passed through Sanders's headquarters men and
women who had devoted their lives to the well-being of native people.
Sanders did not share the prejudice against missionaries common in
Government circles; on the other hand he did not favour them, because
they established, unconsciously, a new authority.

"Lord," a new convert once asked him, "there is a new master here called
Jesu-God, and if we do things that please Him we need not do things which
please your lordship."

"O man," said Sanders, "if you do not please me, you will not please Him,
and I will come with my soldiers and you will be sorry, for He is my own
God and I have known Him longer than you."

An outrageous claim by every ethical test, but in the black lands which
Sanders governed, eight hundred words form an extensive vocabulary, and
there is no scope for the finer shades of definition.

Mrs. Albert arrived one morning, and was not unexpected. Headquarters had
forwarded a massive documentation concerning the lady; she was the
daughter of a peer of the realm, the Honourable Cynthia Perthwell Albert,
and--she had lived.

Cynthia had been on the stage; Cynthia had been divorced; Cynthia had
written a slim volume of scandalous memoirs; and eventually (the last
hope of all whose meat and drink is publicity) it was announced that she
was taking the veil. Unfortunately, at that time another popular figure
in the social world decided to go into a convent, and Cynthia
contradicted the report and announced that she had joined the Far Afield
Missionary Society, and that henceforth she intended devoting her life to
the heathen in his darkness.

"Yes, sir," said Bones, "I know the dear old lady. She has pots of
money--bless my soul, what a silly old josser she must be to go
missionary!"

He did not realise (nor, for the matter of that, did Cynthia) that in her
heart had been born a great exaltation that was seven-tenths sincere--a
desire for saintliness. Naturally, such a grand emotion could not be
maintained at its highest level all the time, but at odd moments Cynthia,
with the thought of reaching a plane of super--excellence which would
endure beyond the limit of impulse, saw herself followed by adoring
crowds of respectable natives, she imagined pilgrimages of native
worshippers to her shrine (which she somehow managed to site in
Westminster Abbey); and in her more ecstatic mood she canvassed the
possibility of the Church going back to Rome, if only for long enough to
procure canonisation for Saint Cynthia. In these spiritual periods
Cynthia was very earnest indeed, and she was helped thereto by the
character of the Founder and President of the Far Afield Mission, who was
a very good old man and had the gift of making those with whom he talked
feel almost as good. Cynthia, of course, had her lapses.

She came to Headquarters with eight trunks, four suitcases and a
morocco-leather dressing-bag, and she wore the beautiful white dress and
helmet in which she had been photographed before she left her palatial
home in Sunningdale. But the pre-martyr and saintly expression that
appeared in the illustrated weeklies was conspicuously absent when Bones,
gallantly wading into the sea to carry her from the surf-boat, stumbled
and dropped her into the water.

"How perfectly stupid of you--you've mined my dress," she snapped. "The
man would have carried me ashore without trouble. Why the hell did you
interfere?"

"Steady the buffs, dear old missionary lady," murmured the shocked Bones.
"Children present, dear old Joan of Arc!"

There were no children present except Bones, but, as he pointed out
afterwards, there might have been.

"Well--why were you so careless?"

The Hon. Cynthia realised that she was not "in character" and adopted a
meeker tone. She stood on the beach, shaking her soddened skirts, a
picture of unsaintly annoyance. And, when she got to the Residency:

"I think, Mr. Sanders, that at least you might have had a car or
something at the beach to bring me here. It was terrible walking over
that awful sand, and that wretched boy, with his 'dear old lady' this and
'dear old missionary' that, is simply insufferable."

Sanders looked at her with patient interest. She was rather pretty, in a
powdery, red-lipped way. Her features were good, her eyes were rather
fine; she exhaled a faint and illusive fragrance.

"What are your plans, Mrs. Albert?" he asked. "I understand that you are
going into the back country and that you are taking over the work of Mrs.
Klein."

"I am not taking over anybody's work--I am joining her," said Cynthia.

"Then I'm afraid you'll have to go to heaven," said Sanders
good-humouredly. "Mrs. Klein died three months ago. She--er--met with an
accident."

Cynthia went pale.

"They didn't tell me that," she said breathlessly. "Accident--?"

"To be exact, she was murdered," said Sanders calmly, and the fragrant
lady caught hold of the table.

"Murdered?"--hollowly.

Sanders nodded.

"The natives in that part are rather simple people. They loved her so
much that, at the first rumour of her leaving, they killed her, as they
explained, because they wanted her holy body with them."

The society missionary found a difficulty in speaking.

"They told me...quite safe..." she said at last. "Great heavens! I
wouldn't dream of going to such an awful place!"

"I think you had better go home," said Sanders bluntly. "A ship calls
here next Monday--"

"Certainly not!" said the Honourable Cynthia.

Go home! Be the laughing-stock of people like Julia Hawthill, who had
been photographed in the beautiful habit of a novitiate and would
probably still be in the Convent of Sacre Coeur (she arranged to stay at
least three months), and brave the photographers and the paragraphists
and the folk who would meet her at Ascot and say "Hallo, Cynthia!
Thought you'd been eaten by cannibals"? It was not possible.

"There must be a nice place where I can stay and--er--do My Work? Mr.
Billberry said that the mission had a station at the--what do they call
it? It begins with an 'I'?"

"Isisi?" suggested Sanders. "Yes, I believe your people have a
sub-station there. I'll fix it for you."

The Isisi were at this time a well-behaved people--except in the matter
of the Yellow Ghosts, and that Sanders, for the moment, was not taking
too seriously. He sent Bones up-river in the Wiggle, and the message that
came back was reassuring.

The missionary was on the point of making one of his long tours in the
forest, and would be away with his wife for three months. He placed his
pleasant little house at Cynthia's disposal, together with lay workers
and interpreters. To Cynthia he sent a long epistle full of words
beginning with capitals, such as Faith, Sacrifice, Grace, and Glory.
Cynthia read the letter twice to discover whether there was a bath-room
in the house.

Bones took her to the Field of her Labours.

"What you've got to do, dear old miss," he said (amongst other things),
"is to avoid getting your jolly old legs bitten by mosquitoes, take a tot
of whisky every night at sundown, an' keep up your blessed old pecker."

"I wish you wouldn't 'dear old miss' me," said Cynthia severely. "It is
very impertinent."

"Sorry, dear old missionary," murmured the prudent Bones.

Cynthia did not like her new home, though the novelty of the surroundings
was delightful. She spent two days photographing the ullage, and had
herself photographed by a native lay preacher, surrounded by little
children who wore no clothes and smelt queerly.

The nights were the worst. In the daytime she could amuse herself with
the camera and read the lessons in the thatched church, but the nights
were awfully dark and still, and the Christian girl in the next room
snored and talked in her sleep about her lover--one M'gara, the Akasava
fisherman. Happily, Cynthia did not understand Bomongo and never knew
that the scandals of Mayfair have a strong family likeness to the
scandals of the Isisi River. For M'gara was a married man and no
gentleman.

Then came a new interest in life, for, just as she was getting very
bored, Cynthia made a notable convert--Osaku, son of a great
witch-doctor, and himself skilled in the arts of magic and necromancy. He
was a tall man. "A noble-looking savage," Cynthia described him in her
first letter home. "And so awfully nice. I gave him a cake of soap--one
of those we bought at Pinier's in Paris--and now he simply haunts the
place. Apparently this Sanders person has treated him abominably:
threatened to hang him, and did actually kill poor Osaku's father. My
dear, these natives simply worship me! They call me Mama, and I feel
simply uplifted. There is a most awful bath-room at this wretched little
hole, but the bed is comfortable. I'm coming home on leave in three
months' time..."

It was true that Sanders had threatened Osaku and had ill-treated his
parent--who was a famous witch-man in his day.

The position of a witch-doctor in the River Territories is not altogether
a sinecure. In the early period of Sanders's commissionership there was a
sort of convention of these Devil Men. They met in the light of a new
moon on the Island of Skulls, which is near the Pool of Black Water, and
they sent a message to Sanders asking for a tribute to their greatness,
for in these times they were very haughty men, and chiefs and kings were
in the hollow of their hands. Sanders sent a tribute: a long rope with a
noose at the end that ran through a leather eye. And he directed, by his
messenger, that the rope should be swung over the branch of a tree, and
bade such as desired tribute to await his coming in the first hour of
that night. When he arrived the meeting-place was deserted and the
dangling rope swayed in the night wind about the grey ashes of their
fires.

Sometimes men become witch-doctors by reason of their hereditary right;
sometimes they are just poor, mad folk who hear strange voices; sometimes
they reach their status by cunning--Cheku, the Isisi man and father of
Osaku, was one of these. He practised secret rites in the forest,
enlisting in this manner recruits to the Leopards, that most dangerous of
all secret societies, and when the order was stamped out he became Agent
for the Yellow Ghosts, a society which had its origin in Nigeria and
differed from the Leopards in the way of its killings.

Bosambo, chief of the Ochori, having offended these Ghosts by his crude
and brutal intrusion into one of their seances, was marked for death. In
the middle of the night, when he slept, two men of the Isisi crept up
from the river carrying a great lump of wet clay kneaded until it was
wetly plastic. They went like shadows into his hut, and the stronger
dropped the clay over his face and fell across him, whilst his companion
lay heavily across his legs. By all reckoning Bosambo should have been
dead in two minutes, but he had the strength of ten men...

In the light of the outside fire stirred to a blaze, the chief of the
Ochori gave judgment on the yellow-faced assassins.

"Let them go back to their land," he said, and four of his guard took the
prisoners to their canoe and paddled them to a deep hole in the river.
Here they tied very heavy stones to their ankles and dropped them into
the water, and that night there were two new shapes on the Ghost
Mountains, where the spirits of the dead dwell eternally.

Some news of this came to Sandi and he journeyed north, travelling night
and day. His interview with Bosambo was brief; his stay in the village of
Cheku was unpleasantly protracted.

Day after day he sat in the palaver house smelling out ghosts; night
after night the three palaver fires at the foot of the tiny hillock where
the house was set, burnt till near the dawn, and in the end Sanders
crooked his finger at the witch-man and that was the end of him.

To Osaku, his son and successor, Sandi spoke.

"I go back to my fine house at the River End," he said, "and you stay
here alive. Now this is a saying of the river, which all men know and you
best of all: 'Men who stand still do not step on thorns.' Beware how you
move, Osaku, lest you go the way of your father."

For the space of a year Osaku, the son of Cheku, stepped gingerly. He
prophesied--but there was no harm in it. Sanders had news of wonders
promised and fulfilled; of great shoals of fish indicated and found; of
sons promised and born; of storms foretold that burst in due course; and
only when Osaku prophesied death, and death came, did he interfere.

He sent for Osaku to come to him at the village of K'fori, where he was
holding a marriage palaver, and when the tall, good-looking young man
stood before him, Sanders spoke.

"O Prophet, I see you!" said he. "Let Sandi, who is your father and
mother, look wisely into tomorrow. This I see, Osaku: on a certain day
you shall foretell the death of your enemy, and lo! in the morning he is
dead! Yet before nightfall comes Tibbetti with soldiers, and they take
Osaku into the deep woods where only the monkeys live, and there they
hang him by the neck, as they hanged his father. Do I prophesy well,
Osaku?"

Osaku shuffled his feet and wriggled his toes, and went home hating the
man with the horrible blue eyes. For the space of two moons he considered
his position, and at the end of that time he borrowed half a dozen
paddlers from his chief and friend and went down to Headquarters. He
arrived three days before the coming of Cynthia.

"Lord," said he, "I have thought many strange thoughts. You are the
father and mother of your people; you carry us in your arms and make us
very happy. Now, lord, I have been gifted by devils so that my bright
eyes see all that will come with the sun. And because I love you, Sandi,
I will speak to all the people who listen and believe me, and tell them
how beautiful you are. And I will tell them that if they are good men and
pay their taxes, and do not take their spears to one another, they will
be very happy, their crops shall swell, and the fish shall live in their
waters."

"That will be a very good palaver," said Sanders, waiting for what would
follow.

"But, lord, there will be no profit for Osaku in this," the seer went on,
"since men do not give rich presents for the pleasures that are shared by
all. Now this I ask, Sandi, that you shall remit all my taxes and give me
presents of cloth and other wonderful things--"

"Go back to your village, Osaku," Sanders broke in unpleasantly. "I
reward men, not by giving but by not taking. This is the way of
governments. And because I have left you your life and your legs free
from chains, I have rewarded you well. This palaver is finished."

Sanders allowed his wrathful visitor two days' grace to rest his
paddlers, and in that time Osaku's brain was busy with schemes of
vengeance.

Particularly was he interested in the peculiar behaviour of a very tall
lieutenant of Houssas who wore a shining glass in his eye and was
reputedly the son of Sandi.

Every morning after his bath, Lieutenant Tibbetts walked down to the
beach to view the progress of his foster child. It lay in the hot sand, a
large and queerly-shaped egg. On such a morning, when he was replacing
the sand, he saw the egg crack and a tiny yellow snout push through into
the open air. Fascinated, he watched the tiny lizard form creep out and
lie palpitating violently in the warm rays of the morning sun.

Very carefully he picked up the little creature in his handkerchief. It
squirmed feebly, but in triumph he carried his child up the Residency
steps and laid it before his superior.

"Basil has arrived--it's a boy," said Bones.

Captain Hamilton looked and shuddered.

"Take the beastly thing off the table--good Lord--crocodiles for
breakfast!"

"Dear old Ham," said Bones earnestly, "don't despise the humble but
necessary croc. He's human, dear old Ham, the same as me; he's one of
nature's artful little tricks. Ham--the same as you. Basil will prove
that with careful an' tender nursin', even a jolly old simoonian--"

"'Silurian' is the word you want."

"Whatever it is, can become attached to his owner. Basil will follow me
round an' sleep outside my door at nights. Ham. That young feller--here,
wake up!"

The small reptile lay very still and pale; the heavings of his
semi-transparent sides had grown imperceptible.

"Got any brandy, dear old sir?" asked Bones in alarm.

"Drown it," said the callous Hamilton. "If you want to revive it--sing
to it. One of those old crocodile lullabies."

Bones seized the milk jug and splashed its contents into a saucer. He
thrust the sharp snout of the dying crocodile into the white fluid. The
crocodile wriggled convulsively, opened his mouth, squawked and, whipping
its head round, suddenly gripped Bones's finger between two rows of
needle-like teeth.

"Ouch!" yelled Bones. "You low little viper--gerrout!"

He shook his hand free and the tiny beast fell on the table, facing Bones
with open mouth, its sides heaving healthily.

"By gum, dear old Ham--bit the hand that fed him! You naughty old insect!
Into the river you go!"

When he came back from his mission of disinheritance: "If you want to
carry crocodiles around. Bones, do you mind not using the sugar-tongs?"
asked Hamilton gently.

"Drew blood, dear old sir." Bones was quivering with indignation. "After
what I did for him!"

"Did he drown?" asked Hamilton, his eyes glued on the month-old newspaper
he was reading.

"No, sir; the dirty little dog swam like a--a frog, sir. I hope he gets
into serious trouble."

Osaku had witnessed the casting off of the foster child. Squatting on the
edge of the river with his paddlers, he saw the wriggling shape plop into
the river, and an idea began to form in his mind. What is prophecy but
inspiration? And what is inspiration but an automatic sense of cause and
effect? There was one more crocodile in the river, one more slinking
shape to pull down women who go to the river in the morning to draw
water. A long time after Osaku had departed, disquieting news came down
the river. Osaku was prophesying mightily and the Yellow Ghosts had
appeared in the Akasava and the Isisi.

He foretold that there would come a great rain and the skies would spout
water for three days, and at the end of that time it would cease. And
then, when the new moon came, there would be a flood and the world would
be covered with water, and out of the water would come a multitude of
crocodiles, so many that they covered the land, and not even the little
monkeys in the trees would escape them, nor the birds that flew. And all
this would happen because Sandi hated the people and had filled the river
with the yellow horrors that bark at night.

Sanders heard the story, stacked wood in the foredeck of the Zaire and
kept steam, ready for an instant departure.

"All this," said Hamilton bitterly, "arises out of your infernal
experiment in crocodile incubation."

Bones closed his eyes patiently.

"Be fair, dear old Ham," he pleaded. "Did I incubate the rain--I ask you,
dear old Solomon? Be honest. Ham. Don't put everything on to poor old
Bones. Basil was a disappointment. They happen in every family, dear old
captain and adjutant."

"I shouldn't be surprised," said Sanders thoughtfully, "if that wretched
little crocodile of yours was the cause of the trouble, Bones. The only
thing we can do is to sit tight and hope that a miracle doesn't happen,
or, if it happens, that it doesn't extend. And in the meantime, be ready
to withdraw that wretched Albert woman from the Isisi."

"What miracle are you expecting, sir?" asked Hamilton in surprise.

"Crocodiles," said Sanders laconically. "It's a queer coincidence that
Bosambo notified me this morning that every creek in the Ochori seems
alive with them!"

Hamilton stared at him. Bones collapsed into a chair.

"Not Basil?" he said weakly. "Little Basil hasn't had time to raise a
family..."

"It happened before, about twelve years ago, according to ports. The
Colonial Office zoologist has a theory that there is a species of croc
who buries himself in the mud and only makes an appearance once in a blue
moon--I've dug out these fellows myself, buried twelve feet under the
riverbed and very much annoyed to be awakened from their sleep."

That very night the phenomenon he dreaded was demonstrated at the very
doors of the Residency. It was two o'clock in the morning and the moon
showed fitfully, when Abdulla, the sentry before the guard's hut, saw
something moving stealthily across the parade ground and challenged. At
the sound of his voice the creature remained still for a long time, and
the sentry decided that it was a moon shadow he had seen, until he saw it
move again, this time towards him and there came to his sensitive
nostrils a faint scent of musk. His Lee-Metford went up immediately.

Sanders heard the sound of the shot, and came out on to the stoep,
revolver in hand. He heard Bones's high-pitched voice speaking from the
door of his hut, but Sanders was too far away to hear the conversation.

"What is it, sir?" Hamilton was at the Commissioner's side, his rifle
under his arm.

"I thought I heard a shot fired. Something's wrong--do you hear Bones?"

They heard Bones at that moment; a raucous squawk of fear, then, from the
direction of his hut, came the staccato rattle of his automatic.

"Good God! Look!" gasped Sanders.

A gap in the clouds sent a sudden flood of moonlight over the parade
ground. Three--four--five, he counted; great lizard shapes that ran
swiftly towards the river. Hamilton fired, and one of the things jerked
convulsively, uttered a bellowing roar of pain, crawled a little farther
and lay still. As it did so, the largest of the fugitives lashed round
and, without warning, came straight for the Residency steps at an
incredible pace. Hamilton and the Commissioner fired together; fired
again, apparently without effect. It was not till the long head was
thrusting up towards the stoep that the third shot took effect.

"Jumping Moses!" breathed Hamilton.

By this time lights were showing in all the huts. The guard were firing
at something they could not see, and, jamming another cartridge into the
chamber of his rifle, Hamilton sprinted across the parade ground towards
Bones's hut.

He found his junior sprawled on the ground, and at first he thought he
was dead, and then that his leg was broken. Two Houssas hauled Bones into
the Residency, and laid him flat on the floor.

"The devil must have caught him with its tail," said Hamilton, as he
forced brandy between the clenched teeth.

Bones opened his eves.

"Not Basil," he murmured. "Poor little Basil...!"

"Wake up, you poultry farmer!" snarled Hamilton, and Bones sat upright,
rubbed his leg, and stared around.

"It was not Basil," he said solemnly. "I'd like to make a statement
before I die, dear old sir, exonerating poor little Basil..."

It was a quarter of an hour before his scattered senses were put in
order, and he had little to tell that was informative. He had heard the
shot, rushed out of his hut, and had seen two horrible eyes glittering at
him, and had fired. And that was all that he remembered.

When daylight came there arrived three canoes from villages in the
neighbourhood, with stories of disaster and murder. Huts had been broken
and entered; women and children and old men had disappeared; but the
greatest casualties had occurred in the little compound where the village
kept its edible dogs. The Residency area, fortunately, had suffered no
loss.

"If this sort of thing occurs here," said Sanders, worried, "what is
happening on the Upper River?"

He was standing on the deck of the Zaire looking out over the black and
swollen sea. The river was alive with crocodiles; their ripples showed at
every turn. Sanders gathered the families into the thick woods that lay
at the extreme centre of the little peninsula on which the Residency
stood.

"Have fires lit on the parade ground tonight," he gave orders. "Hamilton,
you had better remain here in charge. I'll take Bones to the Upper
River."

At eleven o'clock that morning the Zaire set out on its trip. The river
was deserted; no human craft was in sight, which was not remarkable,
since the waters were running at between eight and nine knots; and his
progress was a slow one. He steamed all night, stopping only to replenish
his fuel at the village of Igebi. Here he began to realise the full
extent of the disaster. The village was a ruin; scarcely a hut stood
squarely on its foundations. The night before, a trembling headman told
him, "all the crocodiles in the world" had come up out of the water, and
what damage they had done he was not able to say because his people,
except his own son, had fled to the woods. The casualties had been heavy.
He told stories which would have sickened the average man, and Sanders
listened with seeming impassivity, loaded up his wood and continued his
journey.

All the way up, six Houssa marksmen had sat in the bow, shooting at every
crocodile they saw. Once, rounding a bend of the river, they came upon a
long, narrow bank of sand, covered with the reptiles. Bones got the
Hotchkiss gun into action and sent two shrapnel shells bursting over the
wriggling mass. In a second the sand strip was clear, save for two lame
shapes.

He tied up at the village of the Lesser Isisi and found it deserted.
There was ghastly evidence in the streets of the overnight raid.

Sanders thought of the missionary, and went white.

"Lord, that Mama has gone," said the man. "I went by the forest path to
her hut and I saw nothing but a dead woman who had been speared--"

"Speared?" snarled Sanders.

"Somebody killed her," said the trembling man. "Who knows what devils
walk on such a night?"

The missionary hut was a mile from the town, and when Sanders got there
he found nothing but a dead girl at the door of Cynthia's room. A devil
had walked that night more potent than the lizards that came out of the
water.

When the rains continued to fall, Osaku had grown frightened, and called
together his four disciples.

"Now this is the end of the world," he said; "for Sandi will know that I
have brought this rain, and if the Terrible Ones follow, then Sandi will
come and there will be an end to me, and to all of us who have made this
thing by our magic. And if we hang for such a little thing, what shall
happen if we do other deeds? For no man has more than one life, and if he
kills one or kills all the world, no worse can come to him."

In this long-winded way did he paraphrase the saying that they might as
well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

"Let us take the Jesu-mama to a certain island in the lake where Sandi
never goes, and will not be wise to look. For this woman loves me and has
given me wonderful things, but because she fears Sandi she turns her face
from me. And you shall bring whoever has gladdened your bed, and we will
live happily and teach one another magic."


His followers, themselves alarmed by the downpour, went their way.

Cynthia was lying down in her hut, listening to the ceaseless drumming of
the rain, and wondering how long it would be before Sanders could send a
launch for her, when she heard voices in the outer room and the sound of
a squeal. She rose hastily as the grass door was pushed aside. Osaku said
something in a language she did not understand, but his beckoning hand
spoke all tongues.

As she came trembling into the dark outer room, she trod on something
that yielded to her foot, and she screamed--there was blood on Osaku's
spear, for the girl who snored, as she dreamt of her fisherman lover,
snored no more.

They passed into the teeming rain, Osaku's hand on her arm, and she was
thrust into a narrow canoe that wobbled horribly. The reeking paddler
sent the craft along the bank and, turning abruptly, drove straight into
the narrow creek which leads to the lake. Dawn brought them to the wide
waters and to a small island. It was not the destination that Osaku had
intended, but the canoe was half full of rain water, and though two men
baled continuously they could not keep pace with the downpour.

"Here we stay. Mama," said Osaku, and dragged the half-dead girl to
land. She was stiff and numb, frozen with terror.

Under the dripping trees, they plaited her a rough covering of grass, and
under this she dozed and swooned throughout the last day of the rains.
The lake had risen, and there were certain disturbances which troubled
Osaku and his companions, for the rain-pitted surface of the waters was
laced with significant ripples, and once he saw two shining crocodiles
waddle out of the lake and lie down on the shore. Now a crocodile, when
he takes to land, keeps his snout pointed to the water, ready to dive at
the least alarm--but these great reptiles pointed their wicked noses to
the land. Osaku had a thought.

"It seems," he said, "that the Mama has a greater magic than we. I have
heard of such things from the God-men, and now I know that it is true;
the yellow ones are their ju-ju--did not Tibbetti hold one in his hand?
If we do this Mama no harm they will go away. Presently we will go to the
big island where they cannot reach us, and then we will do what we wish."

There were ten people on his islet, which was growing smaller as the
waters rose. Each of the four had brought his companion--and only one of
these had come willingly. Through the haze of her sick dreams Cynthia
heard the wails and lamentations of the rest and shivered.

In the night she was awakened by a horrible sound and flew out into the
open. The dawn was near at hand, and the crescent of the morning moon
hung low.

Screams and gruff, throaty barkings; the flogging of grass and bush by
terrible tails.

Sanders picked up the trail from a half-crazed fisherman, and the Zaire
came to the island with the first rays of the sun. Bones, gun in hand,
leapt ashore. There was no evidence of horror--nothing but trodden bushes
and the broken saplings, with a trace of blood here and there.

Cynthia was standing alone, her frail figure rigid, a quiet smile on her
face.

"...they did not touch me because I am a saint...you realise that, of
course, Mr. Tibbetts? It was rather horrid seeing them pulled into the
water, but the wretched things simply did not touch me at all! I wish you
would send a paragraph to the Morning Post--Saint Cynthia!"

She smiled weakly into his face, her lips trembling, her eyes set in a
dreadful stare.

"The natives adore me--don't forget that, please. And would you tell my
chauffeur that I'm quite ready to go home?" And then she fell into his
arms, and he carried her to the Zaire.

Quite a lot of people think that the Honourable Cynthia is still in the
Dark Land, and in a sense they are right. But it is in the dark land of
what is euphemistically called a Nursing Home in the north of London,
where Cynthia sits with her quiet smile and her staring eyes and talks
familiarly of saints and crocodiles.



VI. THE MAN WHO HATED SHEFFIELD


Beyond the Forest of Happy Dreams, which is a pestilential marsh,
beautiful to see but deadly to traverse, lie the hunting grounds of the
Isisi people; and beyond that again, the outhers of the N'gombi, a tribe
which is sometimes called the Lesser N'gombi and sometimes the N'gombi
Isisi, which means very much the same thing.

Here, in the depths of the primeval forest, unexploited by any save the
hunters and the folk who collect rubber, lived, out of contact with their
neighbours, and terribly jealous of interference, a certain sub-tribe
who were called the Bald Men of I'fubi. They made no wars, stole neither
goats nor women, lived without salt, and existed without any offence to
any.

Once a year came Sanders, toiling through the forest, on his annual visit
to these wayward children of his; but when he sat in palaver, to hear the
accumulated grievances of the year, there was nothing to be told except
that some luckless man of the Isisi or the Greater N'gombi had trespassed
on their reserves or had killed their monkeys. Of private quarrels he
never heard; he asked few questions and suspected much.

A rumour had reached him of a man of the tribe who had beaten his wife
with great cruelty, and had defied his chief; but when Sanders came
after, and expected to hear charges against the rebel, none was laid. And
when, most discreetly, he asked what had happened to the man, they told
him airily that he had died of the sickness mongo, and pointed out his
shallow grave, where the torn shreds of his linen fluttered feebly and
the broken cooking-pots of his house were scattered around. Also they
showed him the place where his hut had been, and now all that Sanders
could see was a drunken roof, half hidden by the elephant grass, and very
wisely he did not pursue his inquiry any further. The "sickness mongo"
might mean anything from beri-beri to the bright, curved executioner's
knife which hung everlastingly at the entrance of the old chief's hut.

These Bald Men--and it is a curious fact that the heads even of the youth
of the tribe shone like polished ebony--gave no trouble; carried no
spears to the killing of their neighbours; paid their taxes regularly;
were clean and industrious; and if they practised secret rites and
concocted strange medicants, such as had never been heard of by any other
people of the river, there was no blood-letting, so far as was known,
and they served a most useful purpose, in that they stood, in their
jealousy, as guardians of the Pans which stretched behind the forest, an
unnatural plain, innocent of bush or tree for forty square miles. It was
a legend amongst all the Europeans of the coast that the Pans were rich
in alluvial gold. Certainly Government never sought to test the truth of
this, putting in the balance, against such a discovery, the certainty of
an influx of most undesirable people, who follow every discovery of gold.

There came into this quiet land a white man, who called himself Odwall.
It had once been Obenwitsch, but, for reasons of his own, he had
anglicised himself, taken off the beard he had been in the habit of
wearing, and thus, outwardly changed, strayed into the region of the
Pans, which are approachable only through the country of the Bald Men.
These quiet souls, who believed that there were only three white men in
the world, received Mr. Odwall with the profound respect and dazed wonder
which a church convention might offer to a second, and hitherto
unsuspected, Archbishop of Canterbury.

He sat down and talked to them in their own language, and they gave a
great feast and a dance of girls, and they told him of their mystery, and
why their heads were bald; but in this he was not greatly interested. Nor
was he especially thrilled when old Ch'uga, chief of the village, told
him secretly, in a whisper and in the darkest comer of his hut, that a
new herb had been found which cured madness. For the Bald Men are very
wise in the use of herbs, and because of this they are bald, as you shall
learn.

Tactfully and gradually, he led the talk round to the subject of the Pans
and the yellow dust that could be washed from the dark earth; but Ch'uga
shook his head at the first word of it.

"Lord," said he, a trifle shocked, "these things we do not talk about,
because of Sandi our father, nor do we dig into the earth, for that also
is forbidden. And when strange men come and make little holes in the
ground, we fight them with our spears and they run away."

Mr. Obenwitsch (we had better call him Odwall) was terribly interested
but asked no further questions. He had, he calculated, at least three
months to get better acquainted with the chief, and he could afford to
bide his time.

It was unfortunate for him that, the following morning, as he strolled
through the tree-fringed village street, he met another white man, who
walked out of the forest, followed by six red-tarboshed soldiers. Mr.
Odwall did not swoon; he made a little grimace which might have been
mistaken for a smile, and touched the rim of his none-too-clean helmet.

"Good morning, Mr. Commissioner," he said. "My name's Odwall--"

"Your name is Obenwitsch," said Sanders, with his hard little smile.
"Three years ago I had the satisfaction of kicking you out of this
country, and I have an idea that I'm going to repeat that process, but
this time, I think, the kick will be harder."

Mr. Odwall was nearly a head taller than the dapper Commissioner; he was
heavily built and something of a rough fighter; but he took the threat
meekly, and it was not only the presence of the soldiers that restrained
him.

"You're in reserved territory without a permit," said Sanders. "I'd like
to see your baggage, and that may not be all."

The baggage, which consisted of a weather-worn grip, was brought from
the chief's hut (all the Bald Men standing round, clasping their sides
anxiously and wondering what was toward). Sanders opened the grip and
turned over its contents. There was a quart flask of rye whisky, and this
he smelt, afterwards turning the contents upon the ground.

"You're carrying spirits in a prohibited area," he said briefly, "and I
shall commit you to prison with hard labour for six months."

"See here, Sanders, you're acting a little arbitrarily--"

"You can go quietly or you can go in irons," interrupted Sanders. "I
won't argue with you."

Mr. Obenwitsch went down the river, a prisoner under escort to
Headquarters, and forthwith was committed to prison.

Sanders did not explain to the Bald Men why he had taken his
fellow-countryman away, for it was his business to keep up the end of
the European race, and Mr. Odwall knew him well enough to be certain of
his reticence. He served his six months and was deported to England, for
he was a British subject. But there was in his heart no malice towards
Sanders, for Walter Odwall was an habitual breaker of the law, and such
men respect authority.

He came to London with enough money to hire a flat in Jermyn Street and
to arrange with a high-class stationer for certain printing. For six
months he had sat in prison, planning and re-planning, and his scheme
was complete in all respects save one, and this deficiency could easily
be remedied. He called to him a financier.

He had met Mr. Wilberry in one of those social capillaries which are
erroneously described as night clubs. Capillaries indeed, for here the
poison gas of spurious Bohemianism intermingles with the good red blood
of commerce, with disastrous effects. Mr. Wilberry was a well-to-do
manufacturer whose chief characteristic was that he hated Sheffield. His
hatred was such an obsession with him that he would have gone a hundred
miles out of his way to avoid the town. When he wrote to the manager of
his factory (which was indubitably in Sheffield) he had the envelope
addressed by his secretary--the word was so hateful that he could not
write it.

He was not only a manufacturer, but an experimental chemist, having taken
a very high science degree, and his hobby and preoccupation was a new
kind of steel which was to revolutionise the trade. If the truth be told,
he was a better business man than a scientist, and when, at the cost of a
hundred thousand pounds, he produced in triumph a steel which was at once
stainless and malleable, and offered Sheffield the privilege (in exchange
for a small royalty which a disinterested statistician calculated would
bring him in about three millions a year) of manufacturing this
super-article, Sheffield was at first interested, then sceptical;
applied tests, with unfortunate results, and the end of it was that the
Sheffield manufacturers in council assembled, and aided and supported by
their technical experts, spoke slightingly of Wilberry Steel, refused
either to purchase or to manufacture it, and there the matter finished,
in so far as they were concerned.

Mr. Wilberry never forgave Sheffield; he loathed Sheffield with a
loathing beyond the understanding of any who have not seen the child of
their dreams massacred by cruel and ruthless hands. He sold his estate in
the neighbourhood of the hated town; would have closed down his extensive
works, only he was a business man, and that would have been an
unbusinesslike thing to do; and settled in Surrey with a large
laboratory, where he employed any scientific young gentleman who held the
same view about Wilberry Steel as he held.

Odwall had marked this gentleman for exploitation. He knew little or
nothing about steel, but whilst he was in prison he had had the advantage
of reading Volume XIV of the jail's encyclopaedia, and a careful study of
the article on iron told him that no story he might tell of an ore-field
in the Territories would arouse the least enthusiasm in the bosom of Mr.
Wilberry. For iron must be found near coal, and there must be easy
transportation.

In his stuffy little sitting-room overlooking Jermyn Street he expanded
his scheme.

"Gold interests everybody," he said, "it interests you, Mr. Wilberry; it
interests the boy in the street..."

He proceeded to tell the story of the Pans and his audience was
impressed.

Mr. Wilberry was a moist, red-faced man who smoked large cigars and wore
white spats and a diamond ring. Smallish eyes and a little black
moustache complete the description. He was very rich and very sceptical,
until Mr. Odwall showed him a little bag filled with dull yellow grains.

"I managed to wash out a bucketful of dirt, and that is what I got," he
said impressively.

The interested financier did not ask how it came about it Mr. Odwall had
succeeded in smuggling his find through the rigorous searchings which are
part of prison discipline. If he had asked, he would have been told an
elaborate lie, for the gold was bought from a man in Dakka on the
homeward voyage.

"I don't mind putting a couple of thousand into it," said Mr. Wilberry.
"Those thick-headed swine of Sheffield have almost ruined me, and some
day, my boy, I'm going to get back on 'em! I'd give half a million to
twist the blighters!"

His statement did not accord with his protestations of poverty, but
Odwall was not the type of man who boggled at an inconsistency.

His plan was a simple one.

"There's a kid officer out there," he said, "who would fall for anything
with a tale to it. In June, Sanders goes up to the Ochori for his
palavers with the northern chiefs, and he'll take Captain Hamilton with
him." He explained Hamilton's position and identity. "This time I'll have
three months' clear run of the Territory, and if I get on the right side
of this kid Tibbetts I'll have the claims staked and registered before
Sanders is back."

"Does Tibbetts know you?"

"Not from a crow. He was away when Sanders brought me down-river, and he
wasn't in the Territory when I was trading there. Leave it to me!"

Bones was surprised at nothing except the inability of his superior
officer to appreciate his undoubted musical gifts. But the letter from
"Mr. Walter Bagen" was so unexpected and so unusual of character that
Lieutenant Tibbetts of the King's Houssas spent a whole hour blessing his
own soul. Nevertheless, he lost no time in replying.

"Dear Sir," he wrote, "I have the honnour to acknowledge the receit of
your leter your letter. Of the iyh ultimus. I thank you also for
refereing reffering to me as (a great authiroty authroity authoritey)"--Bones
had never solved the mystery of the inverted comma--"on the
subject of archeology." (He got this one right because he copied it
letter by letter from his correspondent's typewritten epistle.) "I will
certainley take a note of anything annything unusual in the way of Roman
remains Roman remains evedence of early civvilisation et cet et cet. I
thank you for illecting me a Fellow of the Central African Arkilogicle
Society" (this time he wrote the word from memory) "and anything I can
do to help foreword the great course of Arch of the Society you can
depend on me doing. Trusting you are well, Sincerely, A. tibbetts, Lt.,
F.C.A.A.S."

At tiffin, Bones mentioned his new honour very casually.

"Fellow of the what?" asked Hamilton, his dark face screwed up
inquiringly.

"Archi--um--you know, dear old officer...fossils an' things." Bones
coughed and looked serious and important. "I shouldn't be a bit surprised
if I didn't find something--a dina--um--one of those jolly old birds that
used to fly around in prehistoric days. Ham, when you were a child, so to
speak. And the dinky little ich--something--you find his bones almost
anywhere. An' Roman remains--"

"Arc you going to write a lot of slush about these things?" asked Captain
Hamilton coarsely.

Bones raised his eyebrows and looked hurt. "I only ask," said Hamilton,
"because I've had a sarcastic letter from the Accountant-General, who
wants to know how many 'Ts' there are in 'flannel'--I gather that he has
been studying your store report."

Lieutenant Tibbetts fixed his monocle more firmly in his eye.

"I usually use three, but there may be four. Ham," he said, with gentle
reproach. "The point is, flannel shirts have nothin' to do with
archy--you know the word."

The essay on "Roman Fosils and Other Articals of Ancient Origoin" has
never seen the light, because Mr. Bagen, whose other name was Odwall, was
not really interested in archaeology, no matter how it was spelt, and the
Society had no existence, except on the notepaper he had printed for the
purpose of conferring the Fellowship upon Bones. The letter which came
back, and which was headed in heavily embossed type:

"The Institute of the Central Africa Archaeological Society, 943, Jermyn
Street. President: The Duke of ---- Secretary: Walter S. Bagen, F.C.A.A.S."
acknowledged Bones's essay, "which will be printed in the Proceedings of
the Society," and informed him:

"It is the intention of the Society to send a small party of scientists
to the Coast in the near future, and an effort will be made, either by
His Grace the President, or by the writer, to call and offer you the
Society's congratulations upon your admirable contribution to our
knowledge of an obscure and fascinating subject."

It was on a hot day in June that the representative of the Central
African Archasological Society walked slowly up the beach, where he had
been landed from a surf-boat, a prayer on his lips that nothing had
happened to interfere with Mr. Sanders's departure. Mr. Odwall wore white
duck, a white helmet, his shoes were white--he was in his person an
illustration of scientific purity. His heavy horn-rimmed glasses, no
less than the volume he carried under his arm, gave him a grave and
studious appearance.

"Sandi he no lib, sah," said the Houssa sergeant who met him half-way,
and Mr. Odwall's mind was relieved of a heavy burden, "Militini he no
lib, sah: he go long time up-river. Mistah Tibbetti you see um, sah?"

Odwall spoke Coast Arabic very well; he preferred for the moment to be a
stranger to the land and to its many vernaculars.

Bones was lying on a long chair on the stoep, his large feet elevated to
the rails. He scrambled up at the sight of the visitor.

"Bless my soul, dear old secretary!" he gasped, when the honour which was
being done to him was revealed. "Never had the slightest idea you were
coming--"

He was a little incoherent. Mr. Odwall gathered that, if news of his
coming had been sent ahead, there would have been a band to meet him.

Over tiffin Bones grew archaeological.

"There are jolly old places in this country nobody has ever explored,"
he said. "Roman remains! There's a sort of viaduct up in the I'fubi--you
know, sir, a sort of bridge that water runs over--horribly Roman! And
there's no end of"--Bones manipulated his hands convulsively--"a kind
of...I don't know what the jolly old arch...what the word is for
it...it's a sort of well arrangement--an' yet it isn't a well, if you
understand, dear old sir...it's a sort of wall...not exactly a wall--"

"I quite understand," said Mr. Odwall gravely; "it's what we call an
odalisque."

"That's it!" said Bones. "You've got the word I've been tryin' to think
of."

That evening Mr. Odwall put forward a tentative plan.

"Ye--es," said Bones, but with no great heartiness. "You could go up, of
course--I'd have to ask the Commissioner."

"I have a permit from the Colonial Office," suggested Mr. Odwall.

He possessed nothing of the sort, but he had rightly surmised that in the
circumstances he would not be asked to show any such document.

Bones was relieved.

"If you have that, dear old Archi--um--why, of course, you can go. I'd
love to come with you, but I'm sort of stuck here till Mr. Sanders
returns."

Odwall hired paddlers the next morning, loaded his kit in the centre of
the canoe and, himself comfortably ensconced under a palm-leaf roof, he
left on his journey. In seven days he landed at the nearest point to the
Pans and made his way through the forest. On the twelfth day he reached
the village of the Bald Men and was effusively welcomed.

For the greater part of a week he sat down in the village, spending most
of his days wandering in the desolation of the Pans--but everywhere he
went the old chief accompanied him.

"Lord, this is a bad place to go," said the old man; "for there are
ghosts and terrible ju-jus hiding in the ground. Also it is the word of
Sandi our lord, that no white man shall walk here because of the evil
which will follow. Come with me into the green woods and I will show you
a little flower that gives men great courage if it is picked by the light
of the moon and boiled in a big pot..."

Mr. Odwall had no need for such a stimulant. The dope he wanted lay in
the black earth.

One night, when his stay had lasted nearly a fortnight and he had, by the
exercise of his ingenuity, secured and washed a bucket of earth, without,
however, discovering the slightest trace of gold, the old chief paid a
visit to the hut, at the door of which Mr. Odwall sat, moodily surveying
the domestic life of the village.

"Master," he said in his secretive way, "because you are a friend of
Sandi I will give you a great treasure."

He looked around to see if he could be overheard, and Mr. Odwall's heart
leapt.

"This is our mystery which you know. It was whispered to me by my father,
the great chief K'suro, and I also will tell it to my son when the hand
of death is on my face."

From under his chief's robe of dingy skins, he brought a little clay pot
which was filled to the brim with a greenish-yellow substance of the
consistency of butter. Mr. Odwall's jaw dropped. For one wild moment of
exhilaration he had expected the withered hand to come out of the robe
holding a small bag of gold.

"This is our wonder," said the chief in a hushed voice. "Because of this
we are different from all other men."

He caught hold of his guest's unwilling hand, smeared a little of the
green butter on his hairy arm, and then, with the edge of his robe, wiped
it clean. Where there had been hair was a smooth surface.

"We are bald because of this magic," said the old chief, blissfully
unconscious of the other's rising annoyance. "This I give to you because
it is more wonderful than anything in the world."

Mr. Odwall's first impulse was to throw the pot at the old man's head,
but he conquered this desire, and put the little jar on the ground beside
him.

"That is fine talk and good magic, chief," he said briskly; "but I have
heard of other wonders in this forest, such as the yellow dust that comes
out of the earth. Now I tell you that in my own country I am a very great
chief and have many slaves and great riches, and I sleep upon a fine skin
bed every night. And if you tell me truly where this yellow dust lies, I
will make you a rich man. Your goats shall fill the forest, and the
houses of your wives shall be a village."

Ch'uga, the chief, was obviously ill at ease.

"Lord, I know of no yellow dust," he said uneasily; "nor must I speak of
such, for that is Sandi's order. Once a man came to the third hole and
took away dust, and that was a bad palaver, for Sandi followed him to the
end of the world and caught him. Let me tell you of this strange mud of
yours, and of our cunning in making it. First we take the fat of goats,
and this we boil in a big pot, with the red berries--"

Mr. Odwall yawned.

"Tell me tomorrow, chief."

He had learnt all he wanted to know. The third hole--that was the third
shallow pan, four miles away. That night, when the village slept, he
crept forth from his hut, carrying a canvas bag which contained a big
trowel, and, moving cautiously, so that the watchman might not see him,
he went through a fringe of woodland and came to the desolation. Working
his way round by a circuitous route, he reached "the third hole." The
ground was soft and friable, yielding to his trowel without calling for
any exceptional effort of strength.

He got through the top layer and struck what he guessed was the alluvial
patch, and, opening the mouth of his bag, he half filled it. He tested
its weight: he could carry that back to the village and could wash the
dirt at his leisure. He had risen to his feet and was twisting the neck
of the bag, preparatory to hoisting it on his back, when he looked round
and saw a figure standing in the moonlight. It was the old chief.

"O, ko!" said Ch'uga dismally. "This is a bad palaver, and I will send
to Sandi this sad news. Master, you will empty your sack."

"Empty nothing!" snarled Odwall. And then, in Bomongo, he tried to excuse
his presence. But as he sought to pass the custodian of the Pans, the old
man gripped him by the arm, very gently but very strongly.

"Master, you do not go hence," he said.

Odwall tried to wrench himself free, and, finding this difficult,
encumbered as he was, dropped his bag and pushed the old man back. He saw
the glint of a killing spear raised in warning, and struck savagely with
his sharp-edged trowel. The blow got home and the old man, stumbling to
his knees, fell an inert heap. Odwall cursed his folly, and, going down
on to his knees, turned the chief on to his back. He was bleeding freely,
and at the sight of the still face the adventurer felt a cold chill run
down his spine. Sanders would be merciless if he caught him now. There
would be a rope and a tree, and his would be a name blotted out and
forgotten.

He took out a handkerchief and bandaged the wound as well as he could;
and then, with his sack over his shoulder and wet with perspiration, he
went back to the village and, packing his grip, struck the path which led
to the coast. For three days he toiled on without carriers or bearers, in
the blazing heat of the tropical sun, fearful every moment of hearing the
patter of footsteps behind him, sleeping on his feet as he staggered
under the heavy burden of his treasure.

At last he came to where he had left his paddlers and, without more ado,
he heaved bag and suit-case to the bottom of the canoe, before he
dropped like a log into his place in the stern; before the paddlers began
their chant, he was asleep. When he awoke it was early morning, and the
canoe was tied up to the side of a little wood. He saw the red glow of
the fire and put out his hand for the bag of earth which had cost him so
dear. It was not there!

His hoarse yell of anger brought the headman of the paddlers to him.

"Lord, it was only earth, and was weighing down the canoe, for the waters
are rough near the Isisi River, so we threw it overboard."

Odwall raged up and down the bank like a lunatic, cursing the men,
cursing Sanders, cursing everything except his own insensate folly.

Bones went down to meet the canoe as soon as it was sighted, and was
shocked at the ghastly appearance of the man.

"Dear old astrologer!" he said in alarm. "You've got fever, dear old
secretary. You must let me give you a little quinine--"

"When does the next boat call?"

"It's calling, dear old archi--whatever the word is. Did you find the
Roman remains? That thing"--Bones's hands worked rapidly.

"Yes, yes, I found it," said the other impatiently.

He was relieved to discover that news had not already come to
Headquarters of his crime. Perhaps Ch'uga was not dead. These old natives
were as tough as wire.

"Won't you wait and see the Commissioner? He's returning tomorrow,"

"Tomorrow?" Odwall nearly screamed the word. "No, no, I must go today.
You say the ship is calling?"

Bones pointed dramatically to the sea. A big German steamer had dropped
anchor, and the surf-boat was being lowered.

The departure of Mr. Walter Bagen, Secretary of the Central African
Archaeological Society, was something in the nature of a disappointment
to Bones, who had prepared quite a lot of interesting but inaccurate
information upon a hypothetical Greek occupation of the country, based
largely on the presence of a Corinthian pillar which supported the
veranda of the Residency and which, if the truth be told, had been
brought to the country by Sanders's predecessor.

Not until the flat shores of the River Territories had sunk beneath the
rim of the ocean did Mr. Odwall feel comfortable.

The boat did not touch at another British port until it called at
Plymouth. And now he could settle down to the invention of a story which
would satisfy his financial supporter.

Mr. Wilberry came to the reoccupied Jermyn Street flat, well aware that
he had to listen to a story of failure; for he was a business man, and
was quite capable of interpreting a letter which began: "I have got back,
as you will see, and although the results of my visit were not all I
could have desired--"

"I am going to tell you the truth," said Odwall, when the red-faced man
had settled himself comfortably in the only armchair large enough to seat
him.

Oddly enough, the story the returned wanderer told was substantially
true--it was the easiest and the most plausible explanation of his
abortive effort.

"Bad luck," said Mr. Wilberry, who had lost money before. "But I should
have thought that if you'd given the old bird enough money, he'd have
helped you?"

Odwall shook his head.

"You don't know the influence that swine Sanders has over the natives,"
he said. And then he remembered. "Here's something that will interest
you."

He went into his bedroom, brought back a small jar of native make, and,
taking off the oil paper with which he had covered its contents, he
showed the greenish-yellow ointment.

Mr. Wilberry frowned.

"A depilatory?" he said. "Does it work?"

"Does it work?" Odwall laughed. "It's half empty now. I've used it all
the way back from Africa to save shaving."

Wilberry reached out his hand, took the pot, smeared a little on the hair
by the side of his ear and, taking out his handkerchief, wiped it. A bare
patch showed where the ointment had touched.

He caught his breath.

"Do you know...the formula for this?" he gasped. Odwall shook his head.

"No; I didn't bother--you can get it analysed--"

"Analysed! It's a vegetable product, you fool! Analysts can't tell us
anything. Did he offer you the formula?"

"Yes; I couldn't be bothered. I was after gold--"

Wilberry waved his podgy hands in despair. "My God!" he howled, and
turned around on the adventurer with blazing eyes. "You fool! You great
brainless fool!" he shouted. "Gold, did you want? And you had it!" He
held up the pot. "Do you realise what you've got here--what we could have
had? If I had this formula I could ruin Sheffield! There wouldn't be a
razor sold...Oh, you short-sighted lunatic!"

"But--but--" stammered the other. "But, but!" mimicked his patron
savagely. "That pot was worth a million pounds--it was worth ten
million--I'd have had half Sheffield at my feet begging for mercy; for
the formula of this would have put out of business every razor, every
safety razor company in the world! Gold! This is gold! Under your ugly
nose and you couldn't see it!"

It is a strange fact that neither Bones nor Sanders associated the
untimely death of the old chief with the visit of the secretary of a
great archaeological society. Sanders went in search of the white man,
and learnt only, from the descriptions that were given, that Mr. Odwall
had in some way returned to the country and had made his escape again.

"I don't know whether it's a sign of mourning or whether it's due to some
other cause--the bald people are no longer bald," said Sanders at dinner
on the night of his return. "Apparently they used some sort of stuff that
the old chief made, and the secret of which he did not pass on to his
people. Now the poor old boy's gone, the Bald Men are becoming quite
normal again. You ought to write to your archaeological society about it.
Bones."

A piece of advice which Bones followed, but the letter came back marked
"Gone away--addressee not known."



VII. THE JOY SEEKERS


The Zaire had once paid a visit to the Islands of Joy. There was a group
of six, none larger than a mile in circumference, and two of them half
that size; and they were uninhabited. For, although water was to be had
here and vegetation grew in great abundance, there was neither monkey nor
rat nor even snake.

Once upon a time the Portuguese had established a post on the island, and
the grey ruins of a little fort were still visible; and there was
evidence of cultivated fields. But nobody coveted the Islands of Joy;
they were not even in a geographical position which would have justified
the establishment of a cable station.

Bones had threatened to spend a fortnight in a botanical
classification--it was at a time when he was badly bitten with the
botanical fever, and kept volumes of pressed grasses and flowers,
inaccurately named. But his promise was never kept, and the Islands of
Joy stood for a landmark and a menace to shipping; though, if the truth
be told, no regular line came within twenty miles of these pleasant
rocks.

There were legends about them, and these existed far up the river,
amongst people whose eyes had never rested on the sea. It was the summer
home of M'shimba-M'shamba, according to one account; and populated by a
race of slaves who made cloth for the white people, according to another.

The Kano people had a legend that Mahomet had once landed on the largest,
and had been inspired by a dream that all the world would be converted to
his teachings. But then, the Kano people invest the most commonplace spot
with holy mystery.

The Houssas are Mohammedan in all their habits and practices except that
they do not keep their women veiled, though Abiboo once told Mr.
Commissioner Sanders that certain of the Fula--who, under the Emir, are
the lords of Kano--have this custom. But if they do not segregate their
womenfolk, they hold rigid views on their integrity. And when Benabdul, a
soldier of the King's Houssas, coming through the wood, found his young
and lovely wife struggling in the arms of Achmet the bugler, and heard
her fearful screams, he flew at the good-looking youth, who had offended
beyond pardon, and there would have been murder, only the sound of the
affray brought Sergeant Abiboo on the scene, and Abiboo's favourite
peacemaker was a stiff strip of rhinoceros hide, which hurt.

Lieutenant Tibbetts held his morning palaver at seven o'clock, and before
him was marched the erring bugler and the story of his abominable deeds
was told. The woman did not testify--her husband was there to speak for
her. He was very voluble. When the evidence was ended. Bones fixed his
monocle and gave judgment.

"You will be kept in the dark prison for seven days. All the marks on
your arm that say 'this is a good soldier' shall be taken from your arm,
and you shall lose your pay all the time you are in prison."

So Achmet went to the cells behind the guard-room and picked oakum on a
sparse dietary.

"Better send the young fool back to H.Q.," suggested Sanders, and Captain
Hamilton agreed.

But the moving of units from one station to another is not an easy
matter. There were reports (in triplicate) to be made to H.Q., memoranda
to answer, and this takes time. The unpopular Achmet came out of prison
and resumed his bugle practice, and it looked as though matters would
settle down, for Benabdul, the injured husband, was a mild man and
incapable of sustaining a feud.

Not so his wife, it seemed. Her name was Fahmeh, and she was of the Arab
type, brown, and, by European standards, pretty, for her nose was thin
and straight, and she had fine eyes.

It was she who kept clean the hut of Lieutenant Tibbetts and laundered
his linen.

"Lord," she said one morning whilst she was at her work, "this man Achmet
still looks at me as I pass him, and his eyes are terribly loving. I am
afraid."

Bones had a face almost entirely covered with lather at that moment, and
his bright razor was poised.

"Woman, if you did not look at him, you would not be offended," he said;
"for it is written in the Sura of the Djin that offence comes from
knowing."

She frowned at this.

"All the women point at me," she said, "and some ask why my husband does
not beat him. Until this man goes I will not be happy, for I hate him."

"All things happen," said the philosophical young officer, and went on
with his toilet.

Bones was undoubtedly working very hard just then, and had his own
worries. His many musical possessions gathered dust in odd places, his
portable harmonium was never opened, the bagpipes presented by a
misguided administrator hung neglected (Fahmeh never even dusted them,
believing them to be the dried remains of a sea monster of the octopus
family).

He was working more industriously and continuously than usual at a law
course. From Headquarters had come an elaborate circular urging the
necessity for "all officers holding administrative positions or
assistants to officers holding administrative positions, or officers who
may at any time be called upon, in the absence of the proper
administrative authorities, to occupy such offices," to direct their
minds to the study of law, offering as an inducement a microscopic
addition to their pay for proficiency in the subject.

It needed only this to drive Bones into the glad and welcoming arms of
the Medicine Hat College of Law and Jurisprudence, whose page
advertisement filled every magazine of note.

"Learn Law!" said the announcement peremptorily.

Bones wrote for information and had back a carload of literature, a
letter that began "Dear Friend," and a blank which wasn't a blank at all,
and only required his signature on the dotted line to bring the revealed
mysteries of the law to his breakfast-table.

"And what value the laws of the United States will be to you, God knows,"
said Hamilton, finding his subordinate immersed in the study of
Impersonation. "What you should get down to is an analysis of the ten
commandments."

Bones stretched back in his chair wearily and closed his eyes.

"Dear old sir," he said with offensive patience, "why blither? This sort
of thing is a bit deep for you, dear old sir. I'll bet that you don't
know that it's illegal to pretend you're somebody else?"

"You stagger me," said Hamilton.

"And I'll bet you don't know, poor old ignoramus, that if I went to you
an' said I'm Sanders, and I wasn't Sanders, an' you thought I was Sanders
an' gave me a cheque, what I should be?"

"I know what I should be," replied Hamilton.

At a later period of the day he expressed his uneasiness to Sanders.

"I've never known Bones to take study quite so seriously," he said. "He's
walking about like a man in a dream, and calls me 'your honour.' Do you
mind going through the mail, sir, and taking out any correspondence
marked 'Medicine Hat School of Law'?"

Sanders smiled.

"I'm afraid I can't do that," he said, "but I'll talk to Bones."

Before he could do so, a curious thing occurred. The corporal of the
guard reported that he had seen Bones walking about the parade ground in
the middle of the night. Bones had his hut on the other side of the
parade, directly opposite the guard-room, and it was not unusual on a
hot night, when sleep was difficult, for the sentry to see a tall young
man, in violently striped pyjamas and mosquito boots, pacing up and down
outside the house. When the sentry saw the figure in pyjamas walk across
to the store-house, an ugly little tin building where the soldiers'
clothing was kept, he thought nothing of it. He mentioned the matter to
the corporal of the guard, who as casually told Hamilton.

"What time was this?" asked the interested captain of Houssas.

"Lord, it was the third hour before the light."

When they met at breakfast: "What the devil were you doing in the middle
of the night?" asked Hamilton.

"Me, sir?" said Bones. "Sleepin', sir; that's what I generally do, dear
old Ham."

Hamilton looked at him in astonishment.

"But, my dear man, you were wandering about the parade ground at 3 a.m.!"

Bones gaped at him.

"Me, sir? I, sir, I mean? Give the poor old captain a little air," he
said gently. "Sun, dear old sir--heat, poor old captain--"

"Do you mean to tell me that you weren't walking around in your
impossible pyjamas at three o'clock this morning?"

"No, sir," said Bones. "And as to my pyjamas--"

"We won't discuss those at breakfast," said Hamilton.

"Have you ever walked in your sleep, Bones?" asked Sanders.

"As a youth, sir," admitted Lieutenant Tibbetts; "many, many years ago."

When they discussed the matter in private, Sanders made light of the
incident.

"He is working hard, and that probably accounts for his sleep-walking.
He can't do much harm to himself, but you had better tell the sergeant of
the guard to keep an eye on him."

That night nothing happened, but on the night following Hamilton, finding
the night too hot for sleep, pulled his camp bed on to the stoep, hoping
that the mosquitoes would not observe the absence of a protective net.
After an hour of slapping and whisking, he rose with a curse, went into
the dark dining-room and mixed a tepid lime-juice swizzle. When he came
out to his bed, he was as wide awake as ever he had been in his life and,
abandoning his plan to re-erect a mosquito net around his bed, sat down
in one of the long-seated chairs and lit a cheroot.

There was a full moon--it was almost as light as day. He saw the glitter
of the sentry's bayonet as he strolled leisurely up and down, and the
dull-red glow of the illicit cigarette which the soldier was smoking.
Hamilton grinned. In his early days he would have pulled up the man
before him and punished him for this dereliction of duty, but he had
learned that there were certain breaches of military law that were so
human that to check them arbitrarily was to be guilty of inhumanity.

And then suddenly he saw a pyjama'd figure cross the square and disappear
into the hut occupied by Bones. He waited for five minutes and, his
curiosity getting the better of him, he got up and, finding an electric
torch, walked across the campus. Bones had left both windows and doors
wide open and, flashing the rays of his lamp inside he saw his subaltern
lying fast asleep under the mosquito netting. As the light touched his
face Bones grunted, turned over...

"Arson," he muttered, "is a form of crime jolly well abhorrent to
civilised communities."

Hamilton passed across the square to the sentry, whose cigarette lay
glowing on the ground, mute evidence of his offence.

"No, lord, I did not see Tibbetti come out of his little house," said the
man; "but there is a door behind where I cannot see, and Tibbetti comes
and goes--therefore I did not challenge him, for he is a high one."


"Did he throw away this cigarette?" demanded the sarcastic officer.

"Lord, he must have done this, for who else would smoke?"

Hamilton thought it unwise to discuss the point. On the following day the
homeward and outward mails arrived, and amongst the letters (which
included fat envelopes from the Medicine Hat School of Law) was the
official order to transfer Bugler Achmet to Headquarters. Hamilton had
just time to set the man's papers in order (for a soldier is attached to
an extensive documentation) and bundle the man on to the north-bound
steamer, and was in consequence so busy that he had no time to question
the sleep-walker. Bones, in moments of crisis like these, was the
weakest of reeds. He invariably entered a man's crimes on his medical
history sheet, and recorded a sore throat on the sheet reserved for a
soldier's delinquencies.

The opportunity did not come till very late in the evening.

"Bless my jolly old soul!" said Bones, aghast. "Walking in my
sleep--you're pulling my leg. Ham!"

"I wasn't near enough to do that, or I'd have given you a spank that
would have awakened you."

"And probably killed me!" said the indignant Bones. "That's homicide,
dear old officer, in the third degree. Never do that. Ham. Restrain
yourself."

So far from being alarmed at this revelation of his eccentricity. Bones
seemed rather proud of his abnormality, spoke of hair-raising adventures
in his youth, and told a long and thrilling story of how he once walked
along a parapet.

"Destruction, dear old sir, staring me in the face."

"I sympathise with destruction," said Hamilton coldly; "but for the
moment I warn you that you'll be getting yourself into serious trouble.
It wouldn't look well if I appointed a keeper--"

"I should say it wouldn't!" snapped Bones.

"But," continued Hamilton, "you'll have to find some way of stopping this
night-prowling of yours. I am going to suggest that you cover your floor
with tintacks."

Bones made gurgling noises of protest.

"Or else that you tie your big toe to the bedpost. You're demoralising
the detachment, and it has got to be stopped."

Bones shrugged his shoulders.

"I'll look into the matter, sir," he said peevishly.

When he went back to his hut, Fahmeh, the Kano woman, was unrolling his
netting and tucking the loose ends under the mattress.

"Now my heart is happy, Tibbetti," she said, "for Achmet has gone on the
big ship, and I shall not see him any more."

Bones was not in the mood to gossip about Achmet and the rights and
wrongs of this young lady. But he was anxious to secure outside
information about his own nocturnal habits.

"Tell me, Fahmeh," he said, "do the soldiers ever see me walking at
night?"

To his amazement she nodded.

"Yes, lord, I have seen you in your fine silk bedclothes and your high
yellow boots. Once you came to my hut and called my husband, and I came
out to you and you told me that you needed him. Because you looked
strangely, lord, I thought you were mad."

Bones sat down heavily upon the nearest chair.

"Bless my life!" he said feebly, and turned pale. "Heavens alive and holy
snakes!" he added, and ran his fingers through his thin yellow hair.

"Also," she went on remorselessly, "many of the soldiers have seen you go
into the house of cloths; and last night Militini saw you."

Bones waved her out of the hut. Perhaps he was going mad? Young
men--intelligent and bright young men--had been driven mad before in this
territory by the blazing sun and the everlasting blueness of the skies.

When he went up to dinner he carried with him a document, which he thrust
tragically before Sanders's eyes. "I'd like you to witness this, dear old
sir an' Excellency," he said miserably. "I've left you my little bungalow
at Shoreham, and I've given old Ham all my guns and things..."

"What is this?" asked Sanders, examining the document, which began:

'I, Augustus Tibbetts, Lieutenant of King's Houssas, being of sounde mind
and in full pesesion of my fackiltys...'

"A will? What rubbish! And besides, Bones," smiled Sanders, "I couldn't
witness a will that left me even a Shoreham bungalow. Are you feeling
ill?"

"No, sir--on the borderline, sir," said Bones, in his most sepulchral
tone. "Nutty, sir." He tapped his head. "Seein' things, sir, an' hearin'
things, sir, and sky-hootin' all over the place at night, sir."

"Oh, you're sleep-walking? Well, that's not going to kill you," said
Sanders and, as Achmet's successor sounded the officers' mess call: "Sit
down and eat."

The huts of the Houssas form two lines nearly parallel with the shore of
the river. By their side, and nearer to the sea, are their gardens, where
sweet potatoes and onion and mealies grow in plenty. At night-time there
is certain picturesqueness about the lines, for three fires burn and
there comes the sound of a tuneless banjo, the clapping of hands and the
turn-turn of an elongated dancing drum.

That night, before he went to bed. Bones fixed an elaborate trap
calculated to wake him in the event of his taking an unconscious stroll.
It consisted of an old shotgun resting precariously on the open edge of
the door, and a broom-handle, the requisite height being secured by
balancing the broom-handle on a chair.

The man who came to rouse him in the dark hours may have guessed this--a
likely possibility, since every man, woman and child in the station had
seen Bones fixing the trap.

"Tibbetti!" he called urgently.

At the third repetition of his name Bones leapt out of bed, thrust open
the door, and was knocked almost senseless by the shot-gun.

"Man, why do you call me?" he growled, rubbing his head.

"Lord, will you come and see? Benabdul has been killed!"

Bones struggled into his coat, pulled on his boots and went out into the
black night.

"Who killed this man?" he asked.

"Lord, none knows. In the night his wife heard him cry out, and when she
went from her hut, there, by the favour of God, lay Benabdul."

Somebody had roused a fire to a blaze. All the Houssa huts had emptied,
and a crowd of half-naked men and women surrounded the thing on the
ground.

The man had been speared through the heart, and lay on his side, his two
arms outstretched towards the village street. Benabdul's weeping wife had
begged that he be carried into the hut, but the Houssas had left him
where they found him.

Bones went up to the Residency and aroused the Commissioner and Hamilton,
and together they went back to the huts.

Sanders was puzzled. There was no war in the country, and this man had
been so extremely insignificant that he had no enemies except Achmet, who
was on a ship and a hundred miles away. Moreover, there were no family
quarrels such as distinguish most family circles; he lived happily with
his wife and seldom beat her. The thing was inexplicable.

Later, Sanders examined the weapon--a short throwing spear. There were
scores of them at headquarters. The Houssas bought or stole them from the
Upper River--Bones had a dozen in his own hut.

"It is very queer. Bring the woman to me," he said.

Her friends had succeeded in quietening the sobbing wife, and she was
brought to where Sanders sat by the side of the fire.

"Now tell me, woman," he said kindly, "did you hear no sound in the
night?"

She hesitated. "Lord, I heard a voice calling my husband, and he went
out," she sobbed.

"What voice?" asked Sanders gently. "For, Fahmeh, you know all your
husband's comrades."

She shook her head. "It was none of these." And then she looked strangely
at Bones, and he went as white as death.

"Mine?" he croaked.

She nodded.

"Lord, it was your voice I heard, speaking to my husband," she said in a
hushed tone. "And then I heard no more till he cried out."

Bones did not flinch. He grew a little suffer, a little more erect than
usual, then, stooping, picked up the spear which had been taken out and
examined it in the light of the fire. One end had been shaved, and there
was an initial.

"This is my spear," he said simply. "I brought it down from the N'gombi
three months ago."

Hamilton took his hands and turned them over. There was blood on them,
but that may have come from the spear he had been handling, which was
still wet. And then he turned his cold eyes on Fahmeh.

"Woman," he said, "you could not have heard Tibbetti. That is foolish
talk. Whilst Tibbetti slept, I sat in the shadow of his hut and watched,
knowing his strange way of walking when he sleeps."

"As to that, lord, I know nothing," she said simply, "only it was
Tibbetti's voice which called Benabdul into the open."

And she would not budge from this. The sentry was questioned, he had not
seen Bones cross the square, but there was a path through the bush, which
would have made it possible for him to reach the hut unseen.

"We'll talk this over," said Sanders calmly. "Come up to the house.
Bones, and have a drink."

The three men went silently across the square into the dark house, and
Hamilton lit the lamps and placed a large bottle of whisky on the table.
Bones's face was white and set; he pushed aside the glass with a shake of
his head.

"No, thank you, dear old Ham," he said, a trifle huskily. And then: "Did
I kill this unfortunate beggar? I must confess that I was thinking about
him when I went to sleep."

"You killed nobody," said Hamilton savagely. "What are you blathering
about? The woman's half mad with horror, and she'll tell a different
story in the morning. Somebody had a grudge against Benabdul and settled
him. There's nothing remarkable about that?" he challenged Sanders.

"Nothing," said Sanders quietly.

"Do you think I killed him, sir?" asked Bones, his face tense.

Sanders's hand went up to his chin.

"Do I think you killed him?" he repeated slowly. "No, I don't, Bones."

It was a sleepless night for them all, and when daylight came Sanders had
an idea, which he communicated to the senior officer.

"Have you thought of inspecting your store to see if there is anything
missing?" he asked. "According to the reports, Bones was seen to visit
the store on two different occasions."

The idea had not occurred to Hamilton, and without further ado he found
his key and went down to the little tin building, accompanied by Sergeant
Abiboo, that clerkly man, and made a brief inspection. It was brief
because, at first glance, it was evident that the store had been visited
by somebody in a great hurry. A pile of brown blankets had been
overturned, and when these were counted six were found to be missing. In
the inner store-room, where preserved foods were kept, a case had been
broken open and ten cans of meat and vegetables had gone. Nor was this
all: in a smaller room of the store--it was little more than a
closet--had been ten stands of new Lee-Enfield rifles, which had been
sent to the station for tuition purposes, the troops hereabouts being
armed with the old Lee-Metford. Two rifles and a box of ammunition had
disappeared. And, what was more, an attempt had been made to open the
little safe, which, however, contained nothing more valuable than records
and stock sheets. Hamilton went back to Sanders with the information he
had gleaned.

"A sleep-walker would hardly have made such a systematic robbery," said
Sanders thoughtfully. "I'll telegraph to Headquarters. The boat should
have arrived there this morning, and if the land line's working--"

That it was working, was demonstrated when at that moment the Eurasian
clerk who acted as chief telegraphist came over with a scrawled message.
It was from the Officer Commanding Troops:

Private Achmet was not on ship when arrived. Captain believes Achmet
jumped overboard before ship left your coasts.

They looked at one another.

"Find Achmet," said Sanders briefly. "He was, remember, a powerful
swimmer, and could easily have reached the bush."

Behind the beach was a stretch of bush country that ran for fifty miles
northward. It was sparsely inhabited, being, in certain seasons,
subjected to a terrible wind which invariably missed the river, and
except for a few poverty-stricken tribes, who eked out their livelihood
by fishing, there were no people of importance in this area.

"He got to the bush, made his way to the station in the night and settled
Benabdul," said Hamilton.

"But Bones's voice?" suggested Sanders.

"It is an old trick. These Houssa fellows are born imitators, and Bones
is a favourite subject of theirs."

He himself gave a life-like imitation of Bones calling Benabdul in
Arabic and by name.

A search of the bush country was impracticable, but Bones and two
trackers went along the beach in search of footprints, and two miles from
the station they found them, a succession of tracks which led from the
sea's edge to the bush, where they disappeared. Just here a shallow
stream runs from the bush into the sea, and Bones went up the creek until
it got too deep and tangled for wading. Here the crocodiles have a
breeding-place, and even as he stepped through the water he heard the
splash of a big fellow as it fell from an unseen log into the water.

He returned and reported the tracks. The assembly was sounded; every man,
on or off duty, paraded on the square, and one by one Hamilton questioned
them. But nobody had seen Achmet, the bugler; and Hamilton knew that they
were not lying. The man was not popular and he would find no friends to
hide him up.

"You had better sleep at the Residency tonight, Bones," suggested Sanders
that evening. But Bones demurred.

"I want to be sure how much I'm in this, sir," he said quietly. "If old
Ham will give orders to the sentry that I'm to be challenged wherever I'm
seen, I think I shall be more satisfied."

His eyes were heavy with weariness when he pulled aside the mosquito
curtain and lay on the top of his bed that night, and his head had
scarcely touched the pillow before he was in a profound sleep. When he
was sure that Bones was slumbering, Hamilton carried a deck-chair down
to his hut, planted it outside the door, making a circuit of the hut, and
propped a stout stake against the back door, so that it could not be
opened. When this was done, he returned to the front of the house, and,
settling down with a rug over his knees, he fell into a fitful sleep. The
chair was drawn across the entrance of the hut so that it was impossible
for anybody to leave without waking him.

The yell that brought him to his feet did not come from the hut. He stood
up, his heart beating a little more quickly, listening, and heard excited
voices coming from the guard-room. His first thought was of Bones, and,
kicking aside the chair, he ran into the hut--Bones's bed was empty!

With a sinking heart he ran out and across the square, just as the
sergeant of the guard was setting forth to waken him.

"Lord," said the man tremulously, "Sergeant Abiboo--"

"Dead?" asked Hamilton, shocked.

"No, lord, but he is hurt. While he slept, somebody came into his hut and
speared him, but he lay on his side..."

Hamilton did not wait for any further information but flew to the Houssa
lines, and, pushing aside the people who crowded before the entrance of
Abiboo's hut, he went in.

The wound was a slight one. Abiboo was sitting on his skin bed whilst one
of his two wives dressed the wound gingerly.

"I know nothing, lord," he said frankly, "except that felt this sharp
pain and woke up. Before I could get out of my bed, my enemy had gone."

"Did you hear anybody speaking?" asked Hamilton quickly.

If Abiboo had not, a woman who slept in the next hut had heard somebody
call him by name.

"It was Tibbetti, lord," she said.

"Mother of fools," snarled Hamilton, "how could it be Tibbetti when
Tibbetti is sleeping in his hut?"

Fahmeh detached herself from the group that stood around him.

"Lord, I saw Tibbetti," she said, "walking through the village like a
ghost, and carrying in his hand a spear, all red with blood. And this he
threw down before my hut, where I sat watching. And because I was afraid
I did not touch it."

Sanders had joined them by this time, and the two men went on a tour of
inspection. The spear lay in the centre of the pathway which runs between
the two lines of huts, and, picking it up, Hamilton turned his light upon
the haft and groaned. Without a word he handed the weapon to Sanders.

"Is he in his hut?" asked the Commissioner in a troubled tone.

"No, sir. How he got out, heaven knows!" The bugler sounded the alarm,
and the Houssas hurried into their huts to dress. In parties of twos and
threes they were sent out to beat first of all the Residency wood, whilst
a stronger party was sent off post-haste along the beach. Throughout the
night the search continued, but there was no sign either of Bones or of
the Houssa Achmet.

"I can't understand it," said Sanders, when Hamilton returned with the
first light of dawn to report the failure of the parties. "Bones could
not possibly--pshaw! it's absurd!"

Hamilton stood with his hands clasped behind him, his chin on his breast,
a picture of dejection.

"It is horrible," he said, in despair. "Of course, it may be some queer--"

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a man flying across the square. It
was the wounded Abiboo. He came up the four steps to the stoep in one
leap.

"Master," he said breathlessly, "Fahmeh, the woman of Benabdul, is gone!"
There was a silence.

"Gone?"

The man nodded.

"Yes, lord. Nobody saw her go, but Tibbetti was seen--"

"What!" shouted Hamilton. "When was he seen?"

"When all the men were on the parade ground," replied the Houssa, "an old
woman, who stayed behind because of the swelling in her leg--she was the
wife of Corporal A Pula, who was killed--"

"Where did she see Tibbetti?" interrupted Sanders.

"In his little ship," was the astonishing answer. "The Chic-a-chic. He
passed like a ghost down the towards the big waters."

"I'll be damned!" said Hamilton helplessly. He flew down to the quay,
hoping that the woman had been mistaken. The motor-launch was gone.

A first-class mystery this promised to be, and Sander had written three
folios of his report to Headquarter when an excited Hamilton called him
to the beach. The little Wiggle was coming in from the sea, towing behind
a long canoe in which two miserable people were seated.

This was the story of Fahmeh, the Kano woman, when she stood before
Sanders:

"Lord, this man Achmet was my lover, because he was young and beautiful
and my husband was old and silly And when Benabdul found me in his arms,
I acted as though I hated him, knowing the time would come when we would
go away to the Islands of Joy and build a hut and sow our own garden, and
live there for ever. And I hated Tibbetti because he sent my man to the
dark prison. We had a canoe in the little creek, and, knowing that
Tibbetti slept well, Achmet got the key of the house of cloth and took
therefrom all we desired for our long journey to the Islands. Also a bag
of rice and a bag of salt and lines with cunning hooks for fishing, and
cloth to cover us. I killed Benabdul because I hated him, and spoke
evilly of Tibbetti because I hated him worse. I would have killed Abiboo
for the cruel way he beat my man, but he lay on his side."

Sanders made no comment. It would have been a waste of time. He committed
his prisoners to the little lock-up and gave Bones an opportunity of
explaining the miracle.

"Thought it all out when I was lying in bed, dear old Excellency," said
Bones, "whilst poor old Ham was snoring like a pig outside," he added
insolently. "Got the idea in a flash. Deduction an' logic, sir an'
brother officer. I knew this naughty old lady had the run of my hut, and
was the only person who could take a spear. I'm a very methodical person,
dear old sir. A lot of people don't realise that. I knew I had ten, or
maybe twelve, spears in my hut, and so I got up, lit the light an'
counted 'em, and there were only seven, or maybe nine."

"Or maybe twelve," suggested Hamilton, with a sneer.

"There were three missing, or perhaps five," said Bones gravely. "Anyway,
there were some missing. It struck me what a jolly good idea it would be
if I went down and searched this wicked old person's hut."

"In the middle of the night," murmured Hamilton.

"I stepped over you, and you never heard me," said Bones in triumph. "And
listen, Ham--I'm no sleepwalker! The wicked person who walked in and out
of my hut in my pyjamas was Achmet himself. I never dreamt anybody could
be such a fearful cad as to pinch my pyjamas. However, that is by the
way. I went down to the Houssa lines by the bush path, and I had hardly
got into the village when I saw Mrs. Benabdul come out of Abiboo's hut
and heard the rumpus. To hide myself was the work of a moment. I guessed
the whole story in a second. My brain--"

"We will imagine all that, Bones," said Sanders good-humouredly. "What
happened?"

Apparently Bones had followed the murderess through the woods, where her
lover was waiting for her with a canoe, provisioned and ready for the
journey. The canoe was sliding over the surf before Bones realised the
objective of the party, and, dashing back to the quay where the little
motor-launch lay, he had set forth in pursuit.

"But I don't walk in my sleep: that's the point I want to make, dear old
officer," he said exuberantly. "When I walk I'm awake, and when I'm
awake--I'm fearfully keen! If you report this to Headquarters,
Excellency"--he addressed Sanders--"you might mention the fact that I did
all this without the slightest assistance--in fact, if anything, hampered
by naughty old superior."

Hamilton's reply to this was unprintable.



VIII. THE BALL GAME


Doran Campbell-Cairns was very kind to animals. She adored butterflies,
and regarded entomologists who collected them as horrible people. She
would not put her dainty foot upon one harmless and necessary worm, and
would have swooned at the thought of swatting a fly. She was tall,
gloriously slim, had one of those pale, clear complexions that some
people find so adorable; beautifully arched eyebrows, and eyes as dear
and blue as a morning sky.

She was the only daughter of His Excellency the Administrator, and she
had come out for three months, in the healthiest part of the year, before
settling in Paris at a finishing school where young ladies are taught the
art of dressing, a discriminating taste in operas, all the new dance
steps, and are tutored in the ways of most of the old and more expensive
restaurants.

She did not seem young to Lieutenant Tibbetts. He thought she was the
ideal age. He could not imagine her younger or older. She had fluffy
golden hair, and lips calculated to make a susceptible young man dither
on his feet. Bones was susceptible and dithered, and the four days that
His Excellency spent at the Residency were four coloured plates in his
drab book of life; four scented roses in a garden of onions, if so
sublime an experience can be likened to anything so ridiculous.

"Bones," said Sanders one morning, "the Administrator is arriving at the
end of the week, and he's bringing his daughter with him."

"Bless her jolly old heart!" murmured Bones, immersed for the moment in
his mail. "Anything I can do to make the dear old lady comfortable--"

"So far as I can remember," broke in Hamilton, knitting his brows in
thought, "she's quite a kid. My sister wrote to me about her the other
day. She's just left school."

"A few native dolls, I think," said Bones, looking up. "Leave it to me,
dear old Excellency. I'll amuse the child. It's a funny thing, dear old
Ham, but children take to me. I'm rather like the bagpipe fellow from
where-is-it. The moment he tuned up his jolly old pipes--but you've
read the novel, dear old Ham: why bother me with questions?"

"To be exact, I haven't asked you a question yet," said Hamilton. "If I
did, I should like to know whether you're as big an ass as you seem, or
whether this super-ignorance of yours is just show-off?"

"Tut tut!" murmured Bones, back again in his correspondence. "Tut tut,
dear old baby-snatcher!"

"What you can do," said Sanders, "is to get the tennis net put up, and
ask your men to mend the ice plant."

Bones went down to meet the Administrator with a light heart and a
whistle. He came back dazed, and, for once in his life, silent.

Miss Doran had naturally attached herself to him because he was the only
young man in the party. She thought Sanders looked horribly stern, and
confided to the awe-stricken Bones that Hamilton had a cruel mouth.

"Perfectly horrible, young miss," said Bones, hoarse with emotion. "The
things that jolly old man says to me--"

"I mean, he looks as if he would--well hurt!"

Bones nodded his head solemnly.

"Simply horrible, dear old young lady," he agreed. "Simply doesn't care a
rap for a fellow's feelings."

Those wondrous lips of hers uttered a sound of impatience.

"You're very stupid, Mr. Bones," she said.

"Tibbetts is my name, but you can call me Bones, Miss, Excellency," he
said.

"I shall call you what I like," replied Miss Excellency tartly.

"And I shall like whatever you call me, dear old person," said Bones, and
was so pleased with this reply that he recovered a little of his lost
confidence.

Four days of seeing her at breakfast, at tiffin, at dinner! Forty-eight
hours of intoxication with her on the Zaire, when she went with her
father on a little tour of inspection! And the evenings in the dark of
the veranda, when she sat in shimmering white, her cool hand so close to
his that he could have touched it, and did, in fact, touch it once,
explaining hastily that he had brushed off a mosquito. On the fourth
morning, in a delirium of misery--for her boat sailed that afternoon--he
made a statement.

"The point is, young Miss Doran," he said, in so strange a voice that he
did not recognise himself speaking, "I'm simply awfully nutty about you.
I am really, dear old miss. I've got an uncle with pots of money--he's an
awful big pot--what I mean to say is that he can't live for ever--few
people do, dear old miss...I know you're very young and I'm simply
fearfully old, and your jolly old father's a perfect terror--though we
shouldn't see much of him--"

"What on earth are you talking about?" Her starry eyes were fixed on his.

Bones cleared his throat, wiped the perspiration from his damp forehead
with a small silk Union Jack, one of his most prized possessions, which
he intended donating before her departure; coughed again, looked
everywhere except at her, and then, in a moment of extreme desperation:

"The point is, dear old lady, what about it?" he asked hoarsely.

"What about what?"

"Jolly old matrimony," croaked Bones. "Tum-tum-ti-tum-tum-tum..."

She didn't recognise Mendelssohn's Wedding March, but it was well
intended.

"Matrimony? Are you proposing to me?" Her eyebrows rose haughtily.

Bones nodded. He was dumb with adoration, fear, hope, and sensibility.

"How perfectly ridiculous!" said this young lady who would not tread on a
harmless and necessary worm, or cruelly swat a fly, or pin Purple
Emperors to a bit of cork. "How perfectly horribly stupid! I couldn't
possibly marry you! You're so awfully old. How old are you?"

"A hundred and five," said Bones, in a dismal effort to be jocular.

"I'm sure you're twenty-four if you're a day," she said severely, "and
you're awfully plain."

"Me?" said the indignant Bones. "Me plain? Don't be absurd, dear old
silly one."

"Of course you're plain!" she scoffed. "Look at your nose!"

Bones squinted down the organ in question, but could see nothing
remarkable except that it was brick-red, but then, so was the rest of
his face.

"What's the matter with my nose?" he demanded hotly. "And if it comes to
that, you've got no nose worth speaking about."

She opened her mouth in an O of pain and wrath. "How dare you speak about
my nose! I shall tell my father."

"And you jolly well ought to," said Bones bitterly, "because he's partly
responsible."

"Oh!" she said again, and then, maliciously: "I couldn't possibly marry a
man who isn't an athlete. And if you want to know, I'm in love with Harry
Gilde. He's one of the best forwards in the Cambridge pack."

Bones waggled his head impatiently.

"That's the kind of person you would be in love with--a forward! As if
you're not forward enough!"

"Let us walk back to the Residency," she said, with ominous calm.

Bones shrugged, and walked by her side.

"After what I have done for you," he said, after a long pause.

She stopped and glared at him.

"What have you done for me?"

"I've shown you everything, haven't I?" he squeaked indignantly. "Who put
the tennis net up? I did!"

"And a beastly old tennis net it is," she said.

"It's the best we've got," said Bones quietly.

"What else have you done? Now tell me that!" Bones couldn't think for the
moment, but waved his hand round the landscape.

"Did you make the earth, I wonder?" she asked sarcastically. "Are you the
Lord's head gardener?"

It was Bones's turn to be shocked.

"Do not let us discuss it," he said, and with tightly pressed lips they
walked back to the Residency.

The Administrator was on the point of departure.

"Where on earth have you been, Doran?" he asked, though very mildly, for
he was in some awe of his beautiful daughter.

"I have been seeing"--her tone was very deliberate--"a strange insect,
and watching its curious antics," said Doran, glancing sideways at Bones.

"So have I," said he defiantly. "One of the most stuck-up insects..."

She took her father's arm and left him so abruptly that it was quite
noticeable.

"Are you coming down to the beach, Bones?" asked Hamilton.

His subaltern performed a wonderful grimace in which scorn, indifference,
disgusted amusement and superiority to womankind at once fought for
expression and suffered defeat. Nevertheless, there were tears in his
eyes when he saw the white ship go slowly over the horizon, and a lump in
his throat, and a dull, aching pain in the place where his heart had
been. He almost wished he could take to drink, but unfortunately whisky
made him sick, and he invariably fell asleep after his second glass of
port.

"What did you think of her, Bones?" asked Hamilton.

"Not a bad kid," said Bones indifferently. "Rather precocious, but not
bad."

"I thought she was beautiful," said Sanders quietly, looking up.

"Ye-es," admitted Bones, "but looks are nothing. Intelligence is
everything, dear old Excellency. And, as jolly old Kipling says, I've
done this, that and the ether, and I've learnt about women from her."

He retired early; refused pointedly Hamilton's invitation to piquet, and
spent the greater part of the night writing a poem in the tragic style.

"You came into my life. And I asked you to be my little wife. But you
went and threw my nose into my face. But Heaven made us all, And it made
your nose too small. But I do not consider that a very great disgrace.

"O my heart is sick and empty, And soon I'll find a soldier's fate upon a
battle-field. For when I think of thee, Thy lovely figure I'll see, And
I don't suppose you'll care if I am killed.

"So let this be a warning (What happened the other morning) Don't break a
heart that beats for thee, my dear. You will never see me again. I may be
very plain, But I'm not such a nut as I appear.

"P.S.--I withdraw all remarks about your nose."

This epistle may or may not have reached Miss Doran Campbell-Cairns. If
it did come to her hands, she was so overcome by remorse that she hadn't
the heart to reply. Whatever was the cause, there was no answer. Bones
grew cynical about women and began to read the sporting newspapers,
whilst his interest in Rugby football revived.

And then there occurred the incident in the village of Ugundi which
caused him to take a close personal interest in a game that he had not
played since he was at school.

Near the village of Ugundi is a place which is called the Ten Leopards.
It is a spot innocent of shade or herbage, and is surrounded by piles of
rotting, fungus-covered tree-trunks, which the great elephants,
generations ago, tore up for their sport and threw to one side. Even at
the river's edge lie these reminders of the big ones' strength and fancy,
for blackened boles reach down layer on layer through the sand and mud,
and the river has cemented them with silt until they are immovable.

For hundreds of years the elephants came to play on the stark earth, to
bellow and trumpet their mock defiance, and to wrestle harmlessly at that
season of the year when even the oldest and most irritable of bulls could
fight head to head and never be tempted to employ their sharp tusks. Here
came the calves in herds, to engage in mimic warfare under the eyes of
sleepy cows, and here, on one memorable day, were found the mangled
remains of ten leopards*. Perhaps they had stalked a calf, for it was the
period of famine. But why ten leopards should be found together (being
naturally unsociable) is a mystery which the ages have not solved.

[* Sanders put the year at 1763.]

There was a palaver in the near-by village of Ugundi where Mr.
Commissioner Sanders sat in judgment on the domestic value of Katabeli,
the wife of the Akasava chief and the fourteenth known daughter of the
Isisi king.

M'laba, the chief, had purchased this woman, paying three sacks of salt,
two rare and precious dogs and four thousand brass rods, which was a very
great price for one who was an indifferent dancer. And now M'laba desired
the return of the treasure he had paid, for the woman had taken her fancy
elsewhere.

Sanders listened with patience to the list of her lovers, known and
suspected, dropping, at long intervals, a pungent word or two upon the
morals of the Isisi, and at dusk on the third day gave to the husband
what was equivalent to a decree nisi with the custody of the salt.

Ordinarily such a palaver might have been settled in a day.
Unfortunately, there were more than the usual tribal complications, for
Katabeli was the daughter of a three-mark chief and his wife, and M'laba
was a two-mark-crossways man. In other words, their faces were, in the
one case, decorated with three lateral cicatrices, and in the other two
in the shape of a St. Andrew's cross. The exact complication may not be
patent to the casual observer, but, reduced to practical politics, the
marriage had represented first the union between rival races, and
secondly that it had united (temporarily) the conflicting interests of
the League of Saloon Keepers with the Good Templars. The Isisi and the
Akasava were, in fact, incompatible in ethics and concrete practice. And
the divorce meant trouble.

"Lord," said the father of the woman, "this is not justice, for my
daughter has given this man a son, and that alone entitles her to the
salt. Also, these two-mark-cross-ways men will mock me, and my young
men will be hard to hold against these haughty Akasava."

"Whoever mocks you mocks me," said Sanders. "And as for the salt and the
child, you shall have back as much salt as this child weighs."

And solemnly the little brown-faced imp of a baby was weighed on the big
wooden balance against as much salt as turned the scale--after Sanders
had removed from the child's little body a belt from which were suspended
certain heavy pieces of iron.

"Lord, if these are taken away," said the disgruntled grandfather, "he
will have bad luck all his life."

"And if I do not take them away," said Sanders, "you will get too much
salt, and that would be bad luck indeed for M'laba."

He left two strong, virile and homicidal people, by no means satisfied
with his judgment. And it happened that these two were what he called
"key tribes," and had for generations past been prominent factors in the
making of war. Between the bloodthirsty Akasava folk and the truculent
borderers of the Isisi had been the beginning of many sanguinary
conflicts which had involved whole nations. And Sanders went back to
Headquarters feeling more than a little uneasy.

The crops had been very good that year, and good crops are the foundation
of war. Also, the fish had been abundant in that part of the river, and
men had grown wealthy between rain and rain. He was so apprehensive that,
half-way to Headquarters, he stopped the Zaire and swung the vessel
round, intending to go back and devise on the spot some system of
permanent conciliation. He thought better of this and resumed his
journey. In the first place, his return would be a weakness, and
incidentally would add to the importance of the possible contestants.

Bones, about this time, had wearied of correspondence schools and had
grown bored to such an extent that he had even spoken slightingly of the
newspaper, published in his home town, which invariably printed his
contributions, no matter upon what subject. And Bones without a hobby was
rather like a sick cow: he brooded and moped, and made low, clucking
noises, intended to express his disgust with life and all that life
brought to him. But Sanders was too occupied with the menace of war to
worry about Bones.

In moments like these he was wont to call a council of himself and his
two officers, with Ahmet, his chief spy, in attendance. But since he had
left Ahmet behind to gain intelligence, no decision was reached until
that incomparable news-gleaner came down the river with his canoe and
his hired paddlers, and laid before the Commissioner a direful review of
the situation.

"Lord, there will be war," he said; "for the woman and her kinsman are
very hurt against M'laba, and in the eyes of her people she is right.
This is the way of the Isisi folk, as you know, Sandi: that if a woman
goes here or there, there is no scandal about it, because the Isisi think
such ways are human. And as your lordship knows, the Isisi men do not put
away their women unless they are lazy or cook food so that it hurts a
man's inside. I have seen new spears in both villages, and M'laba has
sent his headman to the N'gombi country with fish and salt to buy more."

"This war must be stopped," said Sanders, "and stopped without
gun-play."

He looked at Bones with a thoughtful eye.

"I have a mind to send you to sit down in the country, Bones," he said.
"I think your presence might do a whole lot to stop any trouble. If you
can hold them tight till the rains come, there will be no fighting."

Bones had a ready-made scheme, and, to Hamilton's surprise, Sanders
accepted it without question and was even mildly enthusiastic.

"It doesn't seem possible that you could get these devils to play
Rugger--but they're children. You can try, Bones, but to be on the safe
side you had better send for Bosambo--I'll feel happier if you have at
your back a few score of Ochori spears."

So Bones went up in the Zaire and was deposited near the Place of the Ten
Leopards, which is a sort of neutral ground between the Akasava and the
Isisi.

He came none too soon, he learned after his tents had been pitched; for
whilst his men were making a rough thorn fence to enclose his little
camp, Bones strolled into Ugundi and found the young men engaged in
warlike exercises, under the admiring eyes of their womenfolk.

The appearance of Bones was unexpected. M'laba, the chief (he was a great
chief, for there were two thousand souls in his village), had not
overlooked his coming, for the Place of the Ten Leopards was seldom
visited.

"This comes about, lord Tibbetti," said M'laba, "because of the pride of
my wife and her father. We are also proud people, and cola cola it is
said that the Akasava ruled the land from the mountains to the great
waters."

Bones sat on a carved stool before the chief's hut, and the young men who
had been leaping and dancing stood stock-still and looked foolish.

"I like you too well, M'laba, to see you hanging on a high tree because
of such madness," said Bones. "And I have a great thought in my stomach
that soon I will hold a palaver in the Place of the Leopards and will
tell you what I desire."

He went from there to the Isisi village, which was five miles distant,
but here his arrival had been noted. The Zaire had passed the village on
its way up-stream, and there were no signs of warlike preparations. The
women were pounding their corn, and the young men were telling one
another dreadful stories about their prowess in other directions than
war. But there were certain signs significant to Bones. Katabeli, the
divorced wife of the Akasava chief, held an honourable place in the
family circle, which is not usual in divorced women; and she wore certain
anklets and bracelets of brass about her comely arms, which showed the
favour in which she was held.

"We do not think of war," said her old father, the chief, "for that would
be an evil against Sandi. But if these dogs of Akasava attack us, we must
defend our village because of the women and the children whom they will
so cruelly use. Now cala cala, Tibbetti, it is said that the Isisi ruled
this country from the Ghost Mountains..."

Bones listened patiently, and in the end made a date for a palaver,
choosing a time that would allow his most valuable ally to come on the
spot.

Bosambo, summoned by pigeon, brought three canoes, each controlled by
twenty paddlers, who became warriors by the simple process of exchanging
their paddles for spears and shields the moment they touched land. After
the first greetings Bones explained his high intention, and the two
villages were called to a palaver and ordered to leave their spears
behind them.

They sat, the Akasava to his left, the Isisi on his right, and between
them the solid phalanx of Ochori spearsmen, Bosambo squatting at their
head, and half a dozen yards from Bones.

As a native orator Lieutenant Tibbetts had few equals. He spoke the
Bomongo tongue more fluently than Sanders, and he had at his finger-tips
all the familiar imagery of the river. "Listen, all people," said Bones.
"I will tell you of a magic which has made my country great. For my
people do not fight in anger; they strive against one another with a good
heart, and whosoever wins this striving receives a high reward. Now I
want from you, chiefs of the Akasava, and you, chiefs of the Isisi,
fifteen strong men, very supple and wonderfully fleet of foot. And thus
we shall do..."

To translate the theory and practice of Rugby football into Bomongo was
something of an accomplishment, and Bones succeeded so well that men who
had come with murder in their hearts went away with no other thought than
this magic of bloodless fighting.

It was a great day for Bones, for towards evening came a paddler from
Headquarters, bringing a letter from Sanders, and, miracle of miracles! a
large square envelope inscribed in huge letters: "Lieutenant Tibbetts,
King's Houssas." Instinct would have told him the sender's name even if
he had not her signature, in large and flamboyant handwriting, in his
autograph book.

"Dear Mr. Tibetts (said the letter), I am simply Fearfully Thriled with
your Poem! How wonderfully clever you must be! I feel I have been a
perfect Pig to you! Will you ever forgive me? I think your Nose is very
hansome! It reminds me so much of dear Napoleon Boneypart's! Do please
write! I shall be here for another month."

Bones wrote. He gave in outline the scheme he had in his mind. He hinted
darkly of the terrible danger in which he stood. He spoke with bitter
self-reproach of his own "boreishness" and hoped she was quite well, as
he was at present.

The work of coaching the rival teams went on week; after week. At first
there were certain difficulties, but they were difficulties of enthusiasm
rather than of technique; for both Isisi and Akasava took most kindly to
the game.

"Yesterday," said an Akasava forward, "when we laid our heads together
for the little ball to be put under our feet, an Isisi dog pinched me
behind. Now today I am taking a little knife..."

Fortunately Bones discovered the "little knife" before the next scrum was
formed, and kicked the enthusiastic player round the plain of the Ten
Leopards, which was their practice ground.

Tackling led to a little unpleasantness.

"O man," said the exasperated trainer, "if, when you catch the runner
with the ball, you bite him on the leg, I will beat you till you are
sore!"

"Lord," pleaded the delinquent, "when I threw this man down I fell upon
him, and he was so easy to bite."

Bosambo of the Ochori was a fascinated observer of these strange
happenings.

"Lord, this game is like war without spears," he said. "Now what will be
the end of it?"

Bones explained his scheme. He would have a match before the spectators
of both villages, who were now rigorously excluded from viewing the
proceedings; and it would be agreed that whichsoever tribe was vanquished
should accept defeat. The season was progressing; the rains were near at
hand, and the murmur of war had sunk down so that it was so faint a
whisper that it could not be heard in either camp.

Sanders's approval was a great asset to the young man, but the first joy
was the scrawled letter and the little wooden box which came up with the
Commissioner. Doran Campbell-Cairns was just on the point of departure
from the coast.

'I think you are simply wonderful (she said). Do write to me in Paris
(she gave no address). Papa thinks your skeme of Rugger is simply
wondirful! I am sending you a cup which I bought out of my own
pocket-money. It isn't really gold, but daddy says the gold will not
wear off for years. Do please forgive me all I said about your Nose.'

Bones would have forgiven her anything, and when, later, she became
engaged to the son of a lordly house he forgave her that.

The cup was a magnificent one.

"It might," said Bones, in an awe-stricken voice, "have cost a hundred!"

Later he found the label on the base and was considerably surprised that
so rare and gorgeous an article could be sold at so small a price.

On the morning of the match Sanders presided at the great palaver, and
the atmosphere was almost genial.

"You really are a remarkable fellow, Bones," he said to the smirking
young man. "And thank God the glass is going down!" he added
inconsequently.

All the Akasava people within fifty miles, all the Isisi within eighty,
were assembled on that great plain. They covered the branches of trees;
they were massed on the gentle slope that goes up to the Isisi woods; for
in this natural amphitheatre the lot of the sightseer was an easy one.

"Too many for my liking, and mostly men," said Sanders, glancing round.

He sat before a little tent in a space apart from the people, and before
him, on a table, was the cup of gold that glittered in the dull rays of
the sun that shone through watery clouds.

He sent his soldiers amongst the people to look for arms, but apparently
they carried nothing more lethal than their long walking-poles. The
match began in tropical heat, and when Bones blew his whistle and the
Isisi pack leapt forward, there was such a roar, such a quiver of
excitement amongst the sightseers, that the thrill of it communicated
itself to Sanders.

To his amazement he found he was watching a very good second-rate ball
game. The forward work was extraordinarily skilful; the scrums
expeditiously formed and dispersed. It was when L'mo, a tall Akasava man,
tackled an Isisi forward and brought him smashing to the ground and knelt
on his shoulders, that the trouble really started. Two grave spectators
leapt out of the press and smote L'mo on the head. But even this incident
was adjusted and the game went on.

The first penalty goal was kicked against the Isisi, amidst roars of
approval from the unthinking Isisi onlookers. It was L'mo who caused the
second incident. Again he tackled, again he brought down his man, but,
not content with wrenching the ball from his grip, he took the
unfortunate forward by the ears and was dragging him into the middle of
the field when Bones interfered.

Play went on for two minutes, possibly less. And then an Akasava back
leapt upon an unfortunate rival who was carrying the ball by his teeth,
and slowly and scientifically began to strangle him. The crowd broke.

"Back!" roared Sanders.

Bones flew to the thin line of Houssas and the solid square of Bosambo's
warriors.

"No spears, thank God!" said Sanders.

Before him was a multitude of waving sticks. Little fights were going on
all over the ground. Groups of Akasava men were at grips with the Isisi.

"Fix bayonets!" said Bones breathlessly, and into the battling throng the
bright bayonets made their way, until the howling, fighting multitude
were divided into two unequal portions.

And at that moment the blessed rain began to fall, not in dainty showers,
but in a torrential waterspout that burst suddenly from the grey heavens.
Bosambo's men were clearing the ground left and right, but there was no
necessity. The villagers were streaming homeward, nursing their wounds
and howling their tribal songs.

"That lets us out," said Sanders.

He looked round to where the table had been that held the magnificent
prize, but the table was a mass of splintered wood and the cup had
disappeared.

"I hope the winner got it," said Sanders, with a grim smile. "By the way,
who won?"

Bones was unable to supply the information, but had he been in the
waterlogged canoe of Bosambo, as it made its way through the slack waters
towards the Ochori country, he would not have been at a loss. Bosambo
brought to Fatima, the sunshine of his soul and his one wife, a lovely
gold cup.

"This Sandi gave me because of my strength and cleverness in a game which
Tibbetti has taught the nations, and in which I alone excel. From this I
will drink the beer you brew for me, O dove and light of my eyes!"



IX. THE WISE MAN


At rare intervals, once in a hundred years or so, there arise from a
crowd of charlatans and make-beliefs, magicians of such potency that
they are remembered when the names of kings and chiefs are forgotten.
Some such, by the accident of nature, die in their youth and their powers
are unknown. Others reach maturity and find no call for their gifts, or
jealously preserve the secrets from their neighbours. Others are
misunderstood and pass almost automatically into the category of madmen.

But T'chala, the wise man of the Ochori, had a middle course steered for
him, for he was the only son of a man rich in stock and salt and brass
rods, which are the currency of this part of the world; and because he
loved his fellows and did harm to none, and, if he could not prophesy
benevolently, would not prophesy at all, he approached the status of
holiness, and even Sanders, who looked slantwise at all men who claimed
to be supernaturally gifted, and had a rope or a set of shackles for any
who used their reputation evilly--even Sanders spoke fairly to him, and
never visited the Upper Ochori but he called at the wise man's hut and
listened to his philosophy.

"What strange things do you see, T'chala?" he once asked.

"Lord, in the night I see the dead," said T'chala. "They pass me from
left to right, a crowd effaces, black and white and yellow, and I am not
afraid, because they are real, for death is reality and life is a sick
man's dream."

"What else?" asked Sanders.

"Lord, certain things come at my command and speak to me. But that is mad
talk, and you will put me with the old men on the island, where my
brother has gone."

"What do they say to you?" asked Sanders patiently.

T'chala brooded a moment, his chin on his palm, and then:

"They tell me that the first thing in all the world is truth," he said,
"and that all evil grows out of the seed of a lie--wars and killings and
pain and death."

"And do you see M'shimba-M'shamba and a little green lizard?" asked
Sanders artfully.

T'chala smiled.

"That is the great folly of the world," he said, "that people make their
gods in the shape of men and the things they fear. This is my great
thought, that gods do not live or hide in the earth or in the sky or in
the deep waters, but that the earth lives in the gods. Now, Sandi, you
will say I am mad."

Sanders laughed softly.

"I think you are very wise, T'chala," he said, "wiser than many wise men
I know."

He gave the man salt and a can of preserved fruit, to which he was very
partial.

Soon after this T'chala fell sick of a fever, and because of his great
holiness and association with devils the people of his village, who loved
him, concluded it was best to let him die, for fear they offended his
many deities and  familiars by feeding him. So they left him without meat
or drink, and he would certainly have joined the procession which passed
his eyes every night, only the wife of a chief, M'lema, out of a fit of
contrariness and because of her hauteur, carried him food and drink and
brought him back from the land of ghosts.

This M'lema was one of two sisters in the Ochori country, being the
daughter of the oldest wife of a common man who was called N'kema--as all
common men are called. M'lema, the elder sister, was tall and beautiful i
by the peculiar standards of the land, and O'fara, the younger, was
neither tall nor beautiful, so that she was glad to marry an elderly
fisherman who had his lonely, but on the edge of the shallow lagoon which
was called The Beard because of the rushes and grasses that bristled on
its surface.

She satisfied all the marital requirements of this old man, and these may
be stipulated. She dried and smoked the fish he caught; she soaked and
pounded manioc for his bread; she attended the garden where his mealies
grew, and cooked for him his morning and evening meals. He was too old a
man for love, yet strong enough to wield a stick when she failed him; for
he thought that after a time she would be content to be left alone and
count herself fortunate when she did not attract his attention.

O'fara thought the matter out for the greater part of a year, and then
she found sympathy in a woodman who was young and glad to be alive. In
due course the matter came before the chief of that district, a rich man
who had married O'fara's sister. There was no defiance, as they say in
more civilised communities. O'fara came to the palaver carrying all the
evidence on her hip, and the old fisherman provided details to the
accompaniment of uproarious laughter, for the Ochori people are a
cannibal stock, and cannibals laugh very easily. In the end the chief
gave divorce; and since there was no wedding portion to restore, nobody
suffered but O'fara.

When she went to her rich sister, M'lema showed her the way past the
fire, as the saying is.

"You have brought great shame upon me and my man," she said, in so loud a
voice that the evidence straddling O'fara's hip opened its sleepy eyes
and surveyed his aunt solemnly. "You are an evil woman and there is no
place for you in my hut."

So O'fara went to the woods and slept in an old hut that had once held a
dead man and was therefore abandoned, and here she lived and her child
learned to walk. She had some skill with the line, and in the dark of
night caught fish, till the fishermen found her. She ran fast enough from
them, but one fleeter than the rest kept on her heels as she doubled
hither and thither, and ran her to bay on the banks of the river.

"Now, woman," he said, "I know what devil frightened away the fish from
the river, so that I and my brothers must go to the Isisi country before
we make catch."

He tied her wrist and ankle (she was too winded to struggle) and by this
time the other fishermen came up, and after each man had beaten her
with his leather girdle, they had a conference in the early light of
morning as to what should be done with her. The delay was fatal to any
plan, for round the bluff came the white hull of the Zaire, the blue
ensign with the golden crown drooping over the throbbing stern-wheel.
And Sanders, who had wonderful eyes, and a more wonderful pair of
prismatic glasses, saw the group and sent the shallow boat into the bank.

"Lord, this woman frightened away the fish in the river; and she is evil,
for when she was the wife of K'raviki, the fisherman, she did so-and-so
and so-and-so."

"O, ko!" said Sanders, politely amazed. O'fara got up to her feet
stiffly, feeling her hurts. "Tell me, man," said Sanders to the chief
fisherman, "how many times did you beat this woman?"  The uneasy little
headman hazarded a guess. "That number of times you shall be beaten, and
as many again," said Sanders gently. He snapped two fingers, and Sergeant
Abiboo took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves...

Sanders went into the forest where the woman's child was and took them
back to the Zaire. An hour later he saw the chief of the big village
where was O'fara's sister, so encumbered with brass anklets and bangles
that she rattled as she walked.

"Chief, I see you," Sanders greeted him, and took and tasted the salt
that the man held in the hollow of two hands. "I bring you this woman and
this child. She shall sit down in your village and no man shall harm
her."

The chief was not pleased; his wife, less in awe of a man, was shrill.

"O'fara is a scandalous woman," she said; "and Sandi does not know that
when she was the wife of K'raviki the fisherman..."

Sanders saw the approving nods of the women.

"Bring me a bowl of goat's milk," he said; and, when it was brought: "Let
any wife drink of this," he said, "and if she has no lover but her
husband, the milk will stay white; but if she has a lover it will turn
black."

M'lema's hand was half-way out--but now it drew back.

"Lord, this is magic, and I am frightened," she whimpered.

Sanders held the bowl towards the awe-stricken audience, but the women
shrank away. A sardonic smile broke upon his face.

"O virtuous wives!" he mocked. "Who is there virtuous here?"

The wide-eyed baby on O'fara's hip made a little sound, and Sanders held
the bowl to its lips.

"White--it remains," he said; "for this one has no sin."

He looked straightly at the chief.

"What shall I do with O'fara?" he asked; and M'lema's husband, with a
face like thunder, answered: "Let her stay, lord Sandi; by my head and
life she shall be safe. As to my wife, I know what I know--but I shall
know more."

Again the cold eyes met his.

"In a moon I come to you for a palaver, chief. I would have you sitting
by my side; but if you sit before me, I shall do justice."

A sufficient warning for Sabaya, who contented himself with the use of an
admonitory stick.

That night, when her husband had gone with his men to the woods to shoot
monkeys, M'lema met her lover, a young man to whom she was as a god. He
was an Akasava man and familiar with holy things, for he was
missionary-trained and had met M'lema in the days when he was a lay
preacher--which was before Father Beggelli found him out.

"Go secretly tonight," she said, "to T'chala, the wise man, who lives at
the very end of the village. And because he loves me--for when he was
sick I went to him and gave him food and goat's milk--he will do many
things for me. Tell him that Sandi has shamed me because of my sister,
O'fara, and he must put a magic upon O'fara so that she withers up and
grows old and dies, she and the child of the woodman."

Bologa, the Akasava man, was alarmed.

"That is a bad palaver," he said. "Let the woman stay, for she will be
taken on a blessed day when the sheep and the goats are divided--this the
God-man told us."

The woman did not urge him, she ordered, and obediently the lover went to
the hut of T'chala and found him sitting before his door in the cool of
the evening, with a far-away look in his eyes, for he was thinking of
truth.

He listened whilst Bologa spoke in his roundabout way, and all the time
T'chala's face was immobile and expressionless. Presently the lover came
back to where he had left the woman.

"This man is mad," he said, "for he talked only of truth and of lying,
and when I asked him if he would do this thing, he said it was evil, and
evil was not for such a man as he."

"Go back to this old dog," said M'lema urgently, "and tell him that when
Sandi comes he must say no word of what you have said. I wish I had left
him to die."

Bologa returned to the hut of the wise man and delivered his message.

"If he asks me I must speak," said T'chala simply. "For a lie is like
the little snake that breaks in two and becomes two snakes, so that, if
they are not killed, all the world crawls with them."

M'lema, in a panic, could think of only one solution to her problem. In
the middle of the night, when T'chala slept, the lover, who was a member
of the Yellow Ghosts, went down to the river, to the place where the clay
was, kneaded a large lump and, creeping into the old man's hut, pressed
it over his face, and lay upon him for a reasonable time, until his
spasmodic jerkings grew still. And that, thought M'lema, was the end of
wisdom. Yet, when she went out in the morning, expecting to find a crowd
of mourners about the hut, there, in the morning sunlight, sat T'chala,
his hands clasped before him, his far-away eyes fixed upon the truth.

The lover, grey with fear, heard the news, and would have fled into the
forest, only there came word from T'chala that he had need of the man;
and he went fearfully.

"Bologa, I see you," said T'chala gravely. "But because of your evil no
other man shall see you from this day."

Bologa, sick with terror, walked back along the village street, and came
to a family group where his brother sat.

"O, ko!" he said. "A terrible thing has happened to me."

But his brother did not look up or answer, and nobody in the village
seemed conscious of his presence. He stooped down and touched the
shoulder of the man, but his hand had no weight or substance. He screamed
aloud in his fear, but nobody heard him.

"O people, listen!" he shrieked...

Not a head turned.

Frantically he flew along the village street and saw M'lema sitting alone
before her hut, watching a boiling pot.

"M'lema," he whimpered, "the old man has put his magic upon me."

She neither raised her eyes nor her head, and when, with a howl of fear,
he gripped her arm, his hands closed on nothing.

This was the story he told when they brought him to the little island.

"And the curious thing was," said Sanders, when the story came round to
him, "that all the people who saw Bologa swear that he did not move from
the front of T'chala's hut, but that he sat there for the greater part of
an hour. Undoubtedly he was mad when they took him away. You might look
him up the next time you go to the Ochori, Bones, and see if you can get
sense out of him."

When old or young men went silly, it was the custom, from time
immemorial, to put out their eyes, if they were not already blind, and
lead them to a place convenient for the prowling leopards; and when Mr.
Commissioner Sanders checked this practice, there were many old people,
though they might themselves be the sufferers in a few years' time, who
protested bitterly against this unwarrantable interference with the
liberty of the subject.

Bosambo of the Ochori governed his country with a rod of iron, and woe to
those who broke the law he gave! For he was a very fast walker and could
outpace the longest-legged soldier of his country; and always he carried
his wicker shield and the six little throwing-spears that never failed
to get home. And when he passed on the word of his master, that the old
way with the aged was taboo, young men grumbled and obeyed.

A new method was found for disposing of aged relatives. A tiny village
was built for them on a broad peninsula that jutted out into the river,
and which was connected to the shore by a narrow strip of land. Every
morning, men appointed for the purpose brought food for I the silly folk,
and a guard was set on the isthmus to prevent the decrepit ones from
reaching the mainland. It was  a good scheme and was born in the fertile
mind of Lieutenant Tibbetts of the King's Houssas. But it had this
disadvantage over the earlier method: that it gave crazy people an
opportunity of meeting one another and of discussing their pet
abominations. By common consent they  fixed upon a lanky youth who wore a
monocle, even in his sleep.

"This man," said Bologa, a mere stripling, but, by  reason of his magical
experience, a person of importance, "has treated us cruelly, for he has
put us in prison. Now, in the days of my father we sent old men into the
forest, where they were free, and we made it so that they could not see
the terrible beasts that prowl at night."

His hearers agreed. There were seven old men and Bologa sitting in a
semicircle around a large fire, and they had fed well: the Government was
generous, and some of them had relatives who brought them food. They
talked aimlessly about Bones far into the night. Two of the old men fell
asleep; two were heavily engaged in conversation with the invisible
spirits that visited them; but the other three listened eagerly.

"You are old and weak; he is young and strong. And am I not strong also?
And shall not the strength of eight little dogs pull down a leopard?"

With some difficulty they awakened the two sleepers and told them of
their plan, which, briefly, was to catch Bones on one of his visits,
overpower him, and deal with him in six various ways, for each of the old
men had his own pet idea. It might have gone out of their crazy minds,
but unfortunately Bones came on the morrow, a smirk on his angular face,
his large monocle reflecting the light of the westering sun.

"Ah, there you are, you jolly old souls!" said Bones, who came quite
alone, having left the Zaire at a wooding three miles away. "Happy and
content and full of beans!"

The guard at the far end of the isthmus had not been on duty when he
passed; had, in point of fact, been to a wedding feast at the village,
and he neither saw the young man come nor go.

The first intimation of danger came when a thin and wiry arm was flung
round Bones's neck and two knobbly knees were pressed suddenly into his
back. Had it been in the open, the thing could have been seen; but he was
in the common hut inspecting the arrangements he had made for their
comfort.

And here Bones might have ended his career in a most unpleasant manner;
but there happened along the great war-craft of Bosambo, king of the
Ochori, and the chant of his paddlers reached the ears of the crazy men,
and,  childlike, they abandoned their task and went to the edge of the
water to watch the wonderful canoe with its banging drums and its scarlet
awning (once the curtain dividing Sanders's sleeping-cabin from his
work-room) and clap their hands in time to the magnificent rhythm of
twenty-four paddlers dipping their scarlet blades into the water like
one.

Bosambo would have gone past, only he saw that all the crazy men were
armed. His canoe swung in and he leapt lightly ashore.

"O ghost men, what is this?" he asked.

"Lord Bosambo," said Bologa, "we have Tibbetti in that hut and we are
going to do so-and-so and so-and-so."

And the other seven nodded and repeated each his own formula.

In three strides Bosambo was in the hut, had cut the cord about the neck
of the choking young man, and had hauled him into the daylight.

"Lord, what shall I do with these old fools and the young fool who is
most foolish of all?" he asked. "They are crazy and are better dead. Now,
if you say the word, I will ask them to come into the great hut, and as
each man enters he will die and never know."

"You're a wicked old murderer!" said the indignant Bones, and Bosambo
beamed.

"I be Christian man same like Marki-Luki-Johnni," he said. "I go heaven
one-time, you go heaven one-time, howdjedo!"

He gave a passable imitation of himself welcoming Bones to a better
world.

Bones had had a scare: one of the worst that had ever come to him, for
there was an eerie ugliness about this danger which left a deeper
impression upon his mind than other and worse perils.

All the way to Headquarters he pondered on the most acceptable reward he
could offer to Bosambo. The chief, whom he had consulted, was frankness
itself.

"Lord, give me money," he said, "for every time I see the great king's
face upon a silver coin, my heart grows very strong for him."

But Bones had other views.

"Why not," suggested his cynical superior (and Captain Hamilton could be
very cynical indeed), "why not an illuminated address? Or a set of
fish-knives? Or a marble clock with or without gilt angels?"

"Don't let us drag in religion, dear old sir," begged Bones gravely. "Let
us keep our naughty old minds in the strait an' narrow, dear old
agnostic. Bosambo--by gum!"

He slapped his palm with a skinny fist, and in another second had leapt
down the steps of the Residency and was flying across the sun-baked
parade ground. In a little time he returned, flushed efface and smirking;
under each arm he carried a thick package of magazines. These he laid on
the table.

"I know what you're giving him," said Hamilton; "a gramophone--five
shillings down and ten shillings a month for the term of your natural
life?"

Bones shook his head.

"A correspondence course in salesmanship--sign the blank and send no
money?" suggested Hamilton.

"Wrong, old guess-works."

"Wait!" Hamilton clasped his forehead. "It can't be gents' suitings
ready-to-wear...an electric torch--touch the button and release
sunlight?"

"No, dear old officer, captain and friend."

Sanders, looking over the top of his Times, hazarded a guess.

"Something to do with paint, Bones?"

Lieutenant Tibbetts's jaw dropped.

"How did you know that, Excellency?"

Sanders laughed softly.

"For three weeks before you went up-river you had been sounding me about
decorating my fine house," he said dryly, "and for three weeks I had been
trying to avert the disaster."

"Paint?" repeated Hamilton incredulously.

"Stencils," said Bones, and waded through the literature.

It took him till dinner-time to find the advertisement:

"MAKE YOUR HOME BEAUTIFUL.

"Missouri Man makes $100.00 a week in spare time. You can do the same."

It was an advertizement of "Eezy Paynt":

"Not a Toy, but a MONEY MAKER"

"As a matter of fact. Ham," confessed Bones, "I'd already ordered No. 3
outfit, hoping, dear old sir, that you wouldn't mind a little art."

"On the whole," said Sanders gravely, "I think it would be wiser to hand
the outfit to Bosambo. I've no doubt he will make good use of it. And, on
your way up-country, see T'chala and give him a tin of preserves. There,
by the favour of heaven, is the only wise head in the Ochori!"

"Clever men are easy fallers," said Hamilton.

Sanders shook his head.

"T'chala is different. If he were a white man he would be remarkable. The
man is a true philosopher."

"Tell me what a man is afraid of," said the cynical Hamilton, "and I will
weigh up his philosophy!"

"He is afraid of nothing," said Sanders.

"The same as me," murmured Bones.

A month later, he explained to the fascinated paramount chief the art and
practice of stencilling. They were on the forebridge of the Zaire, which
had dropped Sanders at the Isisi city, and Bones had a whole day to
spare.

"Lord, this is a wonder," breathed Bosambo. "For you put these little
pieces of yellow paper and you jigger with your brush, and lo! there is a
picture of a beautiful flower, so real that a man may smell it!"

"And a man on horseback," murmured Bones. "Don't forget the jolly old man
on the jolly old horse, Bosambo. And a windmill, dear old savage."

Bosambo was too entranced by the new toy to be lured into English. "Now
all the people of the Ochori will see how great a magician I am," he
said. "Even T'chala, the wise man, cannot paint a flower with his eyes
shut."

This happened at a period when the Ochori, with every excuse in their
favour, had denied the full quota of taxation to their master. There was
a goat sickness and a blight on their corn; fish were scarce, and had
moved to other waters. But the truth of it was that there was in the
Ochori an epidemic of passive resistance, and the movement was so general
that Bosambo hesitated to use force to extract from his tight-fisted
nation the due which was his and Government's--especially his.

For the greater part of a week Bosambo sat with his wonderful box of
stencils, and experimented and thought, and then one night his great
lokali sent a message throughout the land, calling chiefs and headmen to
a great palaver of state.

They came, albeit reluctantly, and prepared to contest the inevitable
claims for further taxation, and they were surprised and delighted when
Bosambo's headmen gave them private word that no question of taxes was to
be discussed.

In the morning Bosambo sat in his chair of state under the thatched roof
of the palaver house, and addressed the squatting half-moon of
listeners.

"All people, listen!" he bellowed. "Sandi, who is my friend, and
Tibbetti, who is like my brother, have made a palaver with me. And Sandi
said this: 'There are good men in the Ochori and there are bad men. Put a
mark upon the good, that when I meet them I may know and reward them. For
this is the order of the great king who is my father.'"

The Ochori were suspicious and puzzled, and yet they understood the
theory of markings; for did not all the petty chiefs wear silver medals
about their necks in proof of their greatness? One old man, a notorious
sinner, who had escaped the rope on two occasions by the fraction of an
inch, rose up from the assembly and saluted.

"Bosambo," he said, "That is a good talk. Though people have spoken
against me evilly, yet I love Sandi, as you well know. Mark me, that I
may go back to my city  and show my people this wonder."

"That indeed I will, Osaku," said Bosambo readily, "and the four hundred
matakos that you shall pay me for this honour, and which I will send to
our lord Sandi, will be as nothing to a man of your great wealth."

Osaku jibbed at this, but the possibilities were alluring. He compromised
for three hundred matakos, and, lying flat on his stomach, allowed
Bosambo to stencil a beautiful green windmill on his left
shoulder-blade.

All day long Bosambo harangued and painted. Some of the headmen had
brought no brass rods with them, and pleaded for credit; but the wily
master of the Ochori was adamant to all such pleas. This question of
decoration, he said in effect, was to be conducted on a strictly cash
basis.

There were sceptics, but the majority, having seen the miracle performed,
and having followed those who were marked and blessed, the better to
observe the roses, windmills and baggy-trousered Dutchmen which
ornamented their fellows, departed instantly for home to gather their
treasures.

Many came who were not decorated. T'chala, the wise man of the Ochori,
walked ten miles through the forest to witness the markings, but when
Bosambo saw him he shook his head.

"These marks are for silly people who have no virtue, lord Bosambo," he
said. "Now I am wise and I have knowledge of life and death, and I know
that life is a dream and death is real. I neither seek reward nor
punishment."

"I will do this for you because I love you," said Bosambo, who needed the
testimonial of the wise man's approval, so that when the day came that
Sanders called him to account he might point to T'chala as a disciple.
"Also, these magic signs will give you long life and great safety."

But T'chala smiled gravely and went away.

On the third day came the petty chief who was husband of M'lema, and he
brought his wife with him. In return for a hundred matakos and a small
bag of salt he had the privilege of bearing a glistening red cow across
his stomach. But when he pushed forward his shrinking wife, Bosambo wiped
the sweat from his forehead and put down his overworked paint-brush.

"This woman I will not mark," he said, knowing well the chief's foolish
love for the girl; "for our lord Sandi has spoken against her."

"Bosambo," urged the chief, "she is a woman and, being a woman, has no
sense. Now I will give you a thousand matakos and two goats if you put
upon her the highest mark, so that when Sandi sees her he shall speak to
her kindly."

Bosambo haggled for another goat, got it, and decorated her in a novel
manner.

"Bosambo," protested the chief, "how can men see this wonderful mark? For
she is not a shameless N'gombi woman who walks without proper clothing."

Bosambo recognised the force of the argument, and repeated his design on
the nape of the woman's neck.

Later came O'fara, the penniless and friendless; and Bosambo, who had no
sentiment, and was moreover running short of paint, waved her loftily to
oblivion.

"These high mysteries are not for you, O'fara. Go find your woodman and
let him bring me a bag of salt or such other treasures as woodmen bury in
the ground."

So the sorrowful O'fara went back to the village and her solitude. And
there she found T'chala the wise brooding on truth, and she sat down at
his feet and told him of her poverty. T'chala was unusually distrait.

"I saw one mark like a great tree that Bosambo put upon an old man's
chest, and this gave him long life," he roused, and glanced at the girl.
"What need have you, woman, that Bosambo can fill? You are young--there
you have all. Now I am a very old man, and I never pass a grave by the
river's side but I stop to think what place will they dig for me. And
life comes and goes like the sun. It is no sooner morning than it is
night...a great red tree with branches that ran so."

She continued to lament her failure to be branded to the favour of Sandi.

"That I do not desire," he said, a trifle impatiently for such a holy
man; "for Sandi loves me because of my wisdom, and I am very high above
common men...Life is a dream, but some men love dreaming. And death is
real--but who desires reality when there are dreams?..."

News of the marking came to the little strip of land where the mad folks
dwelt, and Bologa, the Akasava, chafing at his injustice, saw here a
fulfilment of the God-man's promise. And a great idea taking shape in
his mind, he carried out a plan. In the dead of the night he crept past
the sleeping guard and, making his way to a fishing village, he stole a
canoe and passed down the river till he came to his own land, to find
that from one end of the country to the other the Akasava were in a state
of ferment. He did not see the Zaire chasing north at full speed, her
black smoke-stack belching sparks. Her decks were alive with soldiers,
and about her two guns the shrapnel shells were stacked in rows, for the
smell of war had reached the keen nostrils of Mr. Commissioner Sanders.

The story of the markings had gone up and down the river like wildfire,
and each tribe had placed its own interpretation upon the favours shown
to the Ochori. Bologa sought the king of the Akasava and expounded his
theory.

"The God-man said this, that some should be marked as sheep and some as
goats, and who are the sheep but the Ochori? For they were great cowards,
as you well know, until Bosambo came. And this is the mystery, that all
who are so marked shall be masters of our people and we shall be slaves
to them, just as the God-man foretold."

"This is a bad palaver," said the king of the Akasava, his face
darkening. "Let us go up to these sheep and make a killing."

Sanders was only twenty miles away when the Akasava king gathered a
thousand spears from his own city, and in the dark of a rainy night
passed up the river to the first great village of the Ochori. The lokali
rang out the alarm at daybreak, and Bosambo moved swiftly to the rescue
of his ravaged domains. He flung his finest regiment through the smoking
village and drove the Akasava spears in flight to their canoes and to the
Zaire that came in sight as they paddled to midstream. In the heat of the
afternoon Sanders accompanied a sobered Bosambo through the ruin. One
house stood intact, and before this sat the unmarked O'fara.

"Lord, they did not kill me because I had no magic mark upon me. But
M'lema they slew, also the chief, her husband, for they came upon us in
grey-light and the people were sleeping."

"Where is T'chala, for this is his hut?" said Sanders. "And well I know
that this wise man escaped the ruin."

Without a word she turned and walked into the hut, and Sanders followed.

T'chala was dead; the brass hilt of the broad-bladed elephant knife that
killed him stuck out from the branches of a big red tree that was crudely
painted on his breast.

"This magic painting I did because he asked me, and brought me camwood
and oil, and showed me how the magic tree was made," said O'fara, "for he
feared death very greatly."



X. THE SWEET SINGER


When Lieutenant Tibbetts had a great educational idea he usually reduced
it to writing. The Residency saw little of him and heard nothing, for at
meal-times he was very silent and taciturn, not to say irritable. He was
like this when he elaborated his scheme for translating into the Bomongo
tongue the nursery rhymes of his youth. For Bones was a restless
educationalist, and if he was not acquiring knowledge he was never so
happy as when he was passing along the fruits of his study. His nursery
rhymes were not too successful:

"Miri-miri had a small goat
With white hair
When Miri-miri walked by the river
The goat also walked.
It went to all place behind Miri-miri"--

was the literal translation of "Mary had a little lamb," and Bones made
an heroic effort to teach the children of the Isisi, the Akasava and the
Ochori this legend.

"Lord," complained one of the petty chiefs of the Isisi, "Tibbetti came
here and he called the children to a palaver, thus putting us men to
shame. Then he made them say certain things about a white goat, and as
you know, Sandi, a white goat is a terrible thing that brings bad luck.
Therefore we kill them when they are born. And since our children have
learned this magic saying, our crops have failed and the rubber trees
have dried up. Also one of the little children has died of a cough and
another has fallen into the river."

Nor was Bones more successful in his efforts to lead the immature minds
of little Akasava boys to an appreciation of "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son."
There was a complaint that he was teaching the Akasava children to steal
pigs.

"I think you had better leave their education in the hands of the
missionaries, Bones," said Sanders. "The trouble with our people is that
they take things too literally."

So the Bomongo translations were scrapped, and he sought around for new
inspiration.

"The man is tireless," said Hamilton. "Gosh! If I had his energy I'd work
an engine! He spent all this morning reading me jokes from Snappy Stuff,
which, I understand, is published in America. And Bones is getting ideas
out of these wretched American journals--he called me a 'tight-wad'
yesterday morning--I'll stand that, but if he calls me 'kid' again I'll
search for the humane killer!"

Those paragraphs in the popular periodical press which are too short to
tell the truth, exercise an uncanny fascination over a certain type of
reader. Bones invariably reserved the page headed "Things that are not
generally known" until the last. It was the old port and cigar of life's
dinner. Hunched up at the table where his patent Ski-Lite reading lamp
sometimes burnt and sometimes smoked, he read:

The amount of the National Debt in pennies would, if placed end to end,
reach three times round the world.

There are more acres in Yorkshire than words in the Bible.

500,000 per annum is earned in royalties by English playwrights.

Ink was invented by--etc., etc.

It may have been imagination on his part, or it may have been that the
editor of "Things that are not generally known" had a working arrangement
with the editor of "Queer Facts that are seldom realised," or that both
were hand in glove with the gentleman who directed the page in another
paper that was titled "Information in a Nut-shell," but certainly Bones
was always meeting that inspiring paragraph about authors' fees.

On a Sunday afternoon, when Sanders and the two soldiers were loafing on
the stoep, waiting and praying for the inevitable thunderstorm which had
threatened all day, Bones struggled up in his chair.

"Ham, old limpus, I'm goin' to write a play!"

Bones usually chose such moments as these for his most startling
announcements. The heat and the airlessness of the muggiest day never
reduced his mind to cabbage-level or sapped his vital juices.

Hamilton turned a moist face and a pleading eye in his direction.

"Wait till it's cooler. Bones," he begged. "Be a good fellow and shut up
till the rain comes--I thought I heard thunder just now."

"Off?" suggested Bones. "Thunder off, dear old dramatist?"

Hamilton groaned.

"Why not a play about the Territories?" demanded Bones. "This is the
plot. A young an' good-lookin' but perfectly jolly old lieutenant--the
hero, Ham--is fearfully hated by his naughty old captain, Ham. When
things go wrong it's always the jolly old lieutenant who gets people out
of a mess and always the wicked old skipper who gets the credit. Do you
follow me, Ham?"

Hamilton closed his eyes and moaned.

"Then a nice old lady comes to the station. Ham--beautiful eyes,
beautiful hair, beautiful figure, an' naturally she falls desperately in
love with the jolly old subaltern. Listenin', Ham?"

Hamilton's eyes were closed.

"Listenin', dear old sir?"

Hamilton moaned again.

"But this jolly old subaltern is fearfully honourable. He knows that--oh,
I forgot to tell you, Ham--that this beautiful old lady's father doesn't
like the jolly old officer an' that she's really not his daughter. What I
mean is, there's a villain named Captain Dark. Now, how do you think.
Ham, old sir, this jolly young subaltern saves the girl?"

"Which girl?" asked Hamilton drowsily.

"The girl I'm talking about. A ghost warns her!"

"And what does she do to the goat?" murmured his superior.

Bones made a noise indicative of annoyance.

"Ghost--G-O-S-T, ghost. He's physic--the jolly old subaltern, I mean."

Hamilton opened one eye. "Has physic?"

"Tut, tut. Ham! Physic! He could see ghosts an' things like that--call
'em up, dear old officer." Bones snapped his finger in illustration.
"Ghost, ghost, ghost! an' up they popped. This play will make a fortune.
Ham. There hasn't been a physic hero before--"

"Psychic, you poor frog!" snarled Hamilton. "And let me sleep, will you?"

A flicker of white lightning behind the Residency wood, a rumble that
rolled loudly to a deafening, head-splitting crash, and Hamilton opened
his eyes.

"There she blows!" he said cheerfully. "Oh, smell the loverly wind!"

The dust on the parade ground was swirling in little spirals, the roar of
the distant rain came to them before the first big drops fell.

Sanders woke from a doze, reached for his cigar-case and lit a black
cheroot, a smile in his tired eyes.

"This naughty old father, Ham, wants the girl to marry the other fellow,
an' of course the handsome old lieutenant knows this an' he jolly well
won't have anything to do with her--"

"Come inside, you talkative devil," said Hamilton, rising lazily as the
rain came down. "And if you put me in a play I'll break your infernal
head!"

With Bones, to think was to act. Before the storm had passed he was
committing to paper his immense idea.

Scene I. A uell-knowen Residency.

Enter Lieutenant Harold Darcey.

Lieut.H.D. Ah. Nobody here. Nobodey here. The golly old place is
deserted. Now for a wisky and soder. (Pours out a viisky and soder). Ah!
I mustnt waist time. My studys my studdis studdies must come first.

(Enter Dorman Mackalyster, a yung and butiful girl lovely eyes etc.)

D. M.--Oh, I didn't know you were here were here Lt. Darcey. Oh how I
love you.

Lt. H. D.--It can never be dear old Dorman our ways ways lay far apart
you are pleged to annother anotther Fairwell. I am Physic. I know that it
can never be.

D. M.--Oh do not leaf me Harold. Their is something you ort aught ourt to
know. My farther is not my father is not my farther but a foundling that
adopted me when I was but a child.

(Enter Captain Dark.)

Copt. D.--Ah what are you doing alown with this man alone. Curse you
Harold I will rune ruing ruin your life.

Somewhere about midnight, when Hamilton was going to bed. Bones brought
the first act. "Read it. Ham, old sir," he said a little nervously.
"Just tell me what you think of it. Give me your candid view, Ham.
Personally, I think it's the best play I ever wrote."

"How many have you written?" asked his astonished superior.

"It's the first, dear old critic," replied Bones shamelessly.

Hamilton turned the ink-stained manuscript. "I'll read it in bed," said
the mendacious man. In the morning he had time to read the first act.
"It's a rotten play," was his criticism at breakfast. "The spelling is
quite normal in places, but otherwise it has no redeeming features."

Bones sneered. "Ah ha! You recognised yourself, dear old Captain Dark!
Naturally, dear old sorebones, you didn't like it. But when you see the
second act--"

"There will be no second act," said Hamilton firmly.

"You don't know old Bones," said Bones, who did know old Bones.

The veto came from an unexpected quarter. Sanders objected mildly and
gently to the development of the plot.

"If you write about a party of American scientists being refused
admission to the Territory and it gets into print, I shall be kicked," he
said. "It is highly dramatic, but it is bad history."

Bones started to rewrite the second act--and a young dramatist who starts
in to rewrite second acts usually writes no more. As for the affair with
the American expedition--

All British officials are inclined to be a little supercilious to the
foreigner and disobliging to their own kind.

Mr. Commissioner Sanders was not popular with outsiders, because he hated
interference of all kinds and turned a hard face to all strangers. Across
the Territories might have been written in letters a mile high. "No
admittance except on business." He had turned down more exploration
parties, more prospectors and more traders than any ten commissioners in
Africa. He had had sermons preached against him in missionary circles,
and had been most offensively prayed for; he had been reported and
paragraphed, and very unpleasant leading articles had been written about
him. But his policy of non-interference was one that had the sneaking
approval of his superiors, though occasionally he had found himself in
conflict with the powers.

Notably in the case of the Cress-Rainer expedition, which set out from
the United States with the official benison of the British Ambassador.
They were specimen-hunting, and undoubtedly the Territory was rich in
strange mammals and unclassified bugs. But Sanders had shut the door, and
rightly. It was the time of the big war which decimated the nations and
crept southward, even to the doors of the Residency. There was a rumpus
about this, but in the weary end Sanders had triumphed and the expedition
went down to Angola.

Yet Sanders liked Americans, and, for all his so-called  antagonism to
"the work," loved one missionary who was not only American but of German
origin. He would have given half his pay to have kept this homely,
middle-aged woman under his eyes. But this was not to be.

When Mrs. Kleine of Cincinnati left the Isisi people there were loud
lamentations, for she was a God-mama so well beloved that a whole nation
accompanied her in their canoes for the first thirty miles of her
journey. She was a practical, hard-headed Christian, with all the fine
qualities of her ancestors. And she left the Isisi because the work was
too easy, and she went up into the horrible Ojubi country, electing to
live and die in a place where white men seldom came. And there she
procured an even greater devotion from her flock than she had known in
the Isisi. She was a great singer of hymns, had a beautiful contralto
voice, and was famous through the three great tribes; and when her health
broke down and she decided to return to the United States, the people of
Ojubi took counsel together, and one morning, when she was asleep, her
favourite lay preacher, with tears streaming down his face, went into her
hut and speared her--so swiftly and so skilfully that "only her eyelids
fluttered a little."

Sanders was eighty miles away when he picked up the news from the lokali,
and he made a forced march through forest and swamp and came up to the
Ojubi village in the first flush of dawn, when the beautiful little
flowers that Mama had planted before her hut were a blaze of glory.

He sat down, a tired, soiled-looking man, and held his palaver.

"Lord," said the slayer, "the Mama was very beautiful to us, and so we
killed her, that her holy body might stay with us always."

This was not only the slayer's view, but the view of all the people, even
of the chief who dominated the village and the district around.

Sanders was not shocked; he was not angry; he was a little sad at the
thought of this good life that had been cut short. He hanged the murderer
out of hand, and the man went to his doom singing a doleful hymn, and
approved by his fellow-citizens.

The chief he sent to the village of irons and appointed his successor.
There were other palavers to be held; poor Mrs. Kleine's effects to be
packed and dispatched to her home town; and on the last day of his stay
Sanders called the new chief aside and gave him a few words of counsel.

"This is a terrible thing which your people have done, chief," he said.
"More terrible because they think there is no sin in it. And although all
the world knows that the Ojubi are a silly people, yet they are more
foolish than men suppose."

"Lord, there was no folly in sending Mama to the spirits," said the new
chief astonishingly. "And well we know this, because last night many of
our young men heard her singing her beautiful songs in the forest. For
she told us that people did not die, and if people do not die how can
they be killed?"

The Commissioner had neither the time nor the desire to argue abstract
questions of theology. The story of the singing voice he dismissed as an
inevitable invention, and he went down to the Isisi to break the news to
the people, and, incidentally, to nip in the bud any plan of reprisal.
And it was well he did so, for the tidings had already reached the Isisi,
and a small but select expedition was in course of forming to settle with
the Ojubi people, though three hundred miles of river and forest
separated the two tribes.

There were certain unpleasant plans to deal with the chief of the Ojubi,
and one of these was to take him out on the Island of Snakes, where the
mad woman lived.

Where the great river meets the rushing waters of the Kasava is a little
pear-shaped island that is called the Place of Snakes. With good reason,
for certain big snakes live comfortably here, there being many trees
where vampire bats sleep in clusters by day--and bats are good eating for
the long, glistening things that climb trees so slowly that they do not
seem to move.

The island had had one inhabitant for many years. Here lived a woman who
loved snakes and bats and the other strange things that only she
understood. Lobili was her name, and she was a foreigner, having come to
the country in the year that Sanders was on his leave.

She was rich, not in stock and salt or rods, as people in this land are
rich, but by all accounts in money. There was no reason why Sanders
should visit her, and many reasons why he should not. The island stood in
a place where strong currents and cross-eddies made an anchorage
difficult. He knew she was there, guessed her to be a coast woman who had
come back to the land of her ancestors for some reason, and was content
to have his reports of her from neighbouring chiefs and from his spies,
who knew most things.

Amongst others, he learned that she smoked, and that her house was a
handsome hut erected by Isisi workmen whom she had bribed to venture into
this dreadful place; and that she paid her taxes to the chief; and that,
when she raised her hand, certain snakes fell dead. He gave the usual
discount to this miracle, attributed to all who are credited as graduates
in witchcraft.

The day he saw her was the day he met her. From the deck of the Zaire, as
it swung round in the current, he saw a grey-haired figure standing by
the edge of the water, holding the end of a fishing line. There was a
pipe in her mouth and she raised her hand in salute as he passed.

He was on his way to the Isisi village, which is sited opposite the
island, to inquire into an irregularity, for Obisi, son of a petty chief,
had been taken out of the water half dead, with a big lump on his
forehead. The man was a notorious ne'er-do-well, who hunted when the
game came so close that he could send his arrows flying from the bed on
which he loved to lie, and fished when he could squat in a canoe and
direct his first wife in her spearing. He showed energy only in one
pursuit: he was a conscienceless thief and had dwelt for a year in the
village of irons. Obisi was in bad case now, for there was a great
swelling on his forehead and a tiny punctured wound.

"Lord, I went to the island--where the mad woman lives," he wailed, "and
she came to me and spoke evil words, and when I answered her she put out
her hand and I felt a terrible pain in my head."

"At what hour did you go to the island?" asked Sanders, and the man
hesitated.

"Lord, it was in the darkness of the night," he said, "for I was ashamed
that any of my friends should see me on my way to speak to this mad
woman."

Sanders had to deal with primitive people, and be was invariably blunt
and to the point.

"You went there to steal!" he accused, and Obisi denied the charge
mechanically.

Sanders examined the wound and was puzzled. He naturally discounted
stories of magic, but here was certainly a mysterious happening that
called for further inquiry. With some difficulty he landed on the island,
and, walking warily along the well-trod path, his automatic in his hand
(for he hated snakes), he came at last to the big hut where the old woman
sat--a big, broad-shouldered woman who was neither Isisi nor Akasava.

She waited patiently, her hands folded in her lap.

"Lobili, I see you," he said. "Now they tell me a strange word about
you..."

He repeated Obisi's story and she listened without a word. When he had
finished:

"Lord, this man is worse than a thief," she said. "He came to this island
last night, and I think that one of the snakes that hang on the trees
struck him."

Which was a plausible explanation.

"Why do you live here all alone, Lobili? You are a woman and there are
dreadful things on this island."

"They are not dreadful to me, lord," she said, and made a little
whistling noise. And then, to Sanders's horror, he saw a flat,
spade-shaped head come obliquely round the corner of the door, heard the
angry hiss and whipped round, his pistol extended.

"Lord, he will not hurt you, for I have taken the poison from him," she
said, with the ghost of laughter in her brown eyes.

She made a clicking noise with her lips and the snake vanished.

"I am afraid of none of these things," she said. "There are worse
there"--she pointed to the Isisi bank. "For in a certain place in the
forest are big snakes that will crush a man to death and kill him with a
blow of their great heads. And there dwell also men who do evil for the
love of evil."

Sanders looked at her sharply, for the rumour had reached him also. He
did not question her, for she hinted of something about which no native
will speak.

He returned to the Zaire and to the village, and made a few inquiries
about certain strangers in the depth of the forest.

The Isisi people watched the Zaire apprehensively for the next few days.
It went aimlessly up and down the river, called at small fishing
villages, made visits to unfrequented middle islands and to isolated
settlements. And everywhere he heard the same story. Men had disappeared
mysteriously; fishermen had gone out in their boats and had not returned;
in one case a woman had gone into the forest and had vanished.

He was conscious that not only were the seen villages watching, but
unseen eyes in the forest followed the Zaire from place to place.

When at last his ship paddled out of sight down-stream there were many
relieved hearts in the Isisi.

Sanders brought the Zaire to the little quay and gave orders that steam
was to be kept and the boat held ready to leave at a minute's notice, and
when he met Hamilton he spoke neither of the wounded Obisi nor yet of the
snake-woman.

"There is a chopping palaver up in the Isisi," he said, in a tone of
despair. "And I only hanged D'firo-fusu six months ago!"

Hamilton whistled. "The swine!" he said softly.

The Isisi, the N'gombi and part of the Akasava are cannibal people. They
were always very frank about it. Man was meat, and there was the end of
it. Also, warriors fought better for the meal that followed victory.
Slowly but surely, the new law had ground out the practice. Many men had
been hanged on high trees; many were sent in irons to work for
Government; whip and rope had changed the habits of the people--but now
and again appeared a wandering band of devotees to the old custom, and
behind them was a strong business end.

"Bones must go up in the Zaire ostensibly on a marriage palaver--there is
one waiting settlement at the Ochori city. He must take as few men as
possible so as not to frighten the birds. We'll follow on the Wiggle with
all the men we can spare--you'll want machine-guns, Hamilton, by the
way. I think I have located them."

So Bones went up, and he took his unfinished play with him, and in quiet
woodings the adventures of the "physic" Harold and the evil Captain Dark
were developed so eerily that there were times when he leapt up at the
sound of a breaking twig.

Navigation was an art which Lieutenant Tibbetts had never thoroughly
acquired. The river was treacherous, never quite what it seemed on its
surface, and sandbanks had a habit of coming and going, so that where was
a deep channel overnight was a boat-trap in the morning.

Going up was a fairly simple business, for the river ran five knots after
the rain, and the Zaire made ten knots, which meant that when it was
doing five knots against the black water he was speeding.

But this trip of Bones had one exasperating feature which was unusual.
Every twenty miles along the river was a wooding, where great stacks of
chores and felled timber awaited the pleasure of Sandi. The men who cut
these offered their service and were exempt from other taxation. Roughly
speaking, a week's work once a year was the extent of their labours, for
the woodings were chosen in rotation, and sometimes the chores were not
brought on board the Zaire until a year after the billets had been cut.

And in the first wooding whereat Bones stopped, intending to spend the
night--there was no wood. The nearest stock was twenty miles away. Night
was coming on, and hereabouts navigation is not to be lightly undertaken
in the dark. Bones sent a Houssa through the darkening forest and
summoned before him the chief of the little village whose task it was to
supply the labour.

This man was very glib. "Lord," he said, "Sandi himself took our wood
two moons and one ago, and because my young men have been sick and very
weak we have not cut down the trees--"

Bones cut his explanation short. On the Zaire was a little book in which
was kept a very accurate record of the woodings visited, and this was
known as "57," and the Zaire had not tied up to the steep banks of the
forest for nearly eighteen months.

"You're a naughty old story-teller," said Bones, annoyed, and then, in
Bomongo: "You shall cut and pile twice the wood I require before my
return, Kibili. Also, I will draw taxation from you--so many strings of
fish and so much salt. Have this when I return."

The chief was a little terrified, crossed his arms over his thin chest
and clasped his sides, a gesture of supreme unhappiness.

"Lord, the fish you may have and the salt also, but the wood I cannot
give you, because my young men are sick, and, lord, we are terribly
frightened because of the great spirits which dwell hereabouts, as your
lordship knows."

"O fool!" said the aggravated young man. "What spirits are there in the
world?"

At that moment there flashed into his mind the memory of his "physic"
hero, and a ghost half-raised (on paper) in his cabin.

"There are many spirits here. Tibbetti," said the chief in a hushed
voice, "and because of them my young men are afraid to come into this
part of the wood. For here is heard the voice of the singing mama."

"Singing--"

Bones had known the singing mama, and a cold chill crept down his spine.
The little chief saw his advantage and followed it up.

"Often we have heard her beautiful songs as she walks through the dark
woods," he said; "and sometimes we fear for her because of the Killers--"

He had betrayed himself: the young officer saw him squirm in an ecstasy
of fear.

Now, Bones in his leisure and private moments was quite different from
the Bones on duty. His blue eyes narrowed until they seemed closed. He
had reached the jumping-off place where he left behind all that was not
deadly earnest.

"Speak, man," he said softly, "and tell me of these Killers who live in
the forest and chop men."

Now he knew why there was no wood to carry him to the next post: fear of
the Killers, who pick off solitary workmen and prey on the little bands
of woodmen.

"O, ko! I have talked too much!" gasped the chief, his face a mottled
grey. "Let me talk with my people, lord."

Bones nodded. He went back to the boat and flew a pigeon to Sanders, then
called Ali Mahmet, the corporal of his six soldiers.

"Two men will stay on the puc-a-puc and stand by the hawsers. Yoka the
engineer and his man shall keep steam ready. You and your four men will
come ashore with fifty rounds and go where I go."

Then he went on the land and the chief was waiting to speak with him.

"This is the truth, Tibbetti," he said. "The Killers live in the forest
half a night's journey away. There are two hands of them"--he held up two
hands with the fingers extended. "Now I think with your fine soldiers you
may catch them, for it is true that we are afraid. And once before, when
the Killers came here, in the days of my father, they took my own brother
away with them..."

Bones listened to the tragic history with great patience.

"You shall walk before me, chief," he said, "and if you are a Killer man
and lead me and my fine soldiers into danger, you shall walk in hell this
night."

There was a very definite path through the forest, it appeared, and Bones
remembered that once he had followed the first part of it in quest of a
certain white weakling who had broken the laws. He spent the rest of the
day coaching his men, anxiously awaiting news from Sanders. If he lost
this opportunity he might miss his quarry altogether.

He waited until the night came, a cool night of stars, and fell in his
little party. Kibili, the chief, led the way, and behind him came Bones.
They marched in silence for an hour, and then the man called a halt. From
time to time as they walked. Bones slipped his compass from his pocket
and examined the illuminated dial. It is next to impossible to get an
exact compass bearing on the march, but he saw enough to realise that
they had diverged from the northern track and were walking in a
half-circle eastwards. So far from entering the forest, they were
keeping an almost parallel course with the river. When they halted he
confirmed this. They were now moving towards the Isisi city. He put the
compass back in his pocket, and, taking out his automatic, kept his thumb
on the safety-catch.

For a minute he considered the advisability of returning to the Zaire.
But if the agreed plan was in operation, Sanders, who was, only ten hours
behind him, would be near the wooding by now. If he were tied up at a
lower depot he would certainly send a runner through the forest in search
of news.

The wood was very silent and still, and Bones, in a brief moment, thought
of ghosts and shivered.

"March," he said in a low tone, and the little column went on.

Again they stopped at the end of an hour. They were moving inland, but
still they were within easy reach of the river. The Zaire could have kept
pace with them if he had only understood the direction of the chase. For
the moment his suspicion of the guide was mechanical rather than acute.
The man might be following the safer path to the lair of the Red Men.

Another two hours brought them to rising ground.

"Lord, on the other side of this is the Place of the Red Men," whispered
the guide. He was reeking with perspiration, which was partly due to
fear.

Bones called Ali Mahmet to him.

"Let the men fix their little swords," he said in a low voice. "There
must be no shooting till I speak."

The bayonets had been blacked in the smoke of an oil wick before they
left the boat. He heard the click-click as they slipped into their
sockets...when he turned again to the guide he had vanished. As silent as
the forest about them, he had gone from view.

Bones thumbed down the safety-catch of his pistol and grinned
mirthlessly into the night.

"Shoulder to shoulder in a circle, Ahmet Ali!" he said, and felt his way
to the nearest man.

At that instant he heard a guttural Arabic oath and the "flug" of a
bayonet striking home, and simultaneously somebody caught him by the
ankles and he went down to earth with a crash that knocked the breath out
of him. Twice he fired at the body that fell upon him, and felt the
convulsive wiggle that followed, and then something struck him on the
side of the head and he went silly.

He was standing when he came to his senses, and he could feel the warm
wet blood that was rolling leisurely from his cheek. Somebody held him;
his gun was gone, and he heard a man sobbing with pain near his feet.

"Let us take them to the Killing Place," said a voice, and then another
called Kibili by name, only they used the N'gombi equivalent, which is
"N'osobu."

"He is dead," said a third voice. "Tibbetti chopped him with the little
gun that says 'ha ha!'"

The first speaker grunted something and the party moved on. Bones
listened to the footfalls and presently distinguished them all. His men
were still alive; he heaved a sigh of thankfulness and, appreciating the
small cause there was for relief, grinned again. His hands were tied
native fashion, which meant that they were fastened so tightly that
presently his hands would begin to swell. If he could persuade them to
let his hands go free there was a small Browning in the inside pocket of
his shirt.

"O man!" he called. "Why do you tie me, for you have my little gun that
says 'ha ha!' and you are many."

"A tied man does not cut his hands," was the ominous answer--the old
cannibal slogan.

He tried to reach his shirt-pocket, but the rough native rope that held
him was passed under his legs and knotted to his elbows behind.

Crossing a ridge. Bones had a momentary glimpse of the river, and far
away the twinkling light of a fire.

"Tibbetti, this night you die," said a voice. "There was a little dog who
followed a leopard into the wood, and all the time the leopard followed
him."

Silence followed, and then unexpectedly the unknown leader called a halt.

"I hear," he said, and they stood listening...a sharp steel point touched
Bones's throat.

"It is nothing--" Almost as he spoke, the voice came from the wood--the
voice of a woman singing.

"While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around."

Clear as a bell, yet soft and unspeakably sweet the voice sounded. It was
near them.

Bones went cold: he had never heard the voice of Mama Kleine, but this
was an American...

"O, ko! what is that?" asked a hoarse voice.

"It is the spirit of Mama-Jesu," came an answer. They waited, but there
was no other sound but the thud of hearts beating fiercely.

"We are there," said somebody. "Let us light the fire." Bones heard the
sound of wet leaves being brushed aside, and a dull glowing circle
appeared on the earth. An armful of dry brushwood was thrown on the
hidden fire, smoked fragrantly for a moment, and then burst into flames.

And now Bones saw--not ten, but forty of the Red Men, mainly N'gombi. One
who seemed to be in some position of authority had a great bump on his
forehead, and him the other addressed as Obisi.

Bones looked round for the survivors of his party and found them more or
less intact, and wondered why they had been spared. It was Obisi who
supplied the answer, as though he had interpreted the questioning glance.

"The live goat walks," he said, "but the dead goat we must carry."

"Sellin' us on the hoof," said Bones in English, and was hysterically
pleased with his ghastly jest.

"You, Tibbetti, we will kill because you are white and nobody would buy
you," said Obisi.

He took from the hands of one of the men a sickle-shaped weapon, broad
in the blade and crudely engraved.

"This--" he said, and then he fell down.

Bones heard the ping! and the smack of the thing that struck him, but he
was unprepared for the collapse of his executioner. A man yelled in
fright and ran to the prostrate Obisi and turned him on his back.

"This is magic!" he yelled, and his hand was fumbling for the sickle
knife when:

Ping!

The man dropped on his knees, his hand at his side, grimacing horribly.

From somewhere along the forest path came the sound of shots, and
presently three naked forms flew into the light of the fire and screamed
something over their shoulders. Bones heard the words and almost swooned.

"Speak well for me, Tibbetti," gasped a man, and hacked in two the rope
that bound him--and he was a lucky man. The bullet that whistled past
just missed him as he ducked his head to cut the last strands.

"All right, sir!" yelled Bones, as Sanders's pistol was raised.

"Thank the good Lord--" began Sanders. Then came the eerie interruption.
From the shadows of the wood came the voice of the sweet singer:

"Now thank we all our God..."

Sanders stared into the shadows.

"For the love of heaven!" he gasped, and then came the most astonishing
incident of that night.

Into view, walking very slowly, came the grey-haired snake-woman.

"O Lobili--" began Sanders, and she laughed, a low, chuckling laugh of
delight.

"I'm afraid I'm not called Lobili," she said, and Sanders could have
dropped, for this handsome old negress spoke English. "I'm Dr. Selina
Grant, of Gregorytown University, Curator and Lecturer on Biology. We
simply had to get somebody in this country, Mr. Sanders. My colour helped
a lot, I guess, but it required a great deal of heart-searching before a
woman of my age consented to assume the scanty attire of the indigenous
native."

"Good God!" said Sanders hollowly, and pinched himself to make sure that
he was awake. "You're--you're a negress?"

She nodded laughingly.

"Sure; that's how the Lord made me. My father was a doctor in Charlestown
and my mother was pure Bantu. Bomongo I learnt in six months from a
missionary who was on leave back home. I guess it came natural. It was
kind of lonely--I've been here three years--and if I hadn't wandered
around singing, I'd have forgotten what the American language sounded
like! And, Mr. Sanders, I've got the dandiest lot of unclassified Ophidia
you could wish to see--you must come to my island and inspect my
viporum..."

Sanders took off his helmet and held out his hand. "Shake, doctor," he
said; and Dr. Selina Grant stuck the air-pistol into her belt and
gripped his hand in her big palm.

"Excuse me, dear old ma'am." Bones found his voice. "It was you singin'?"

"Sure!" said Selina.

"An' your jolly old air-gun--?"

"Air-pistol--it's the only weapon I've had, but it's mighty useful."

"Excuse me, ma'am," said Bones, agitated.

"I'll bet none of you boys has got the makings?" she asked. "This
pipe-smoking's too primitive for Selina."

Bones found her a cigarette and lit it for her. "You're the first native
lady I've done that for," he said. It was indeed the most novel
experience of his life.



THE END



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