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   Chapter 4 THE DROWSY ONE.

Sanders of the River By Edgar Wallace Characters: 22173

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


There were occasions when Sanders came up against the outer world, when he learnt, with something like bewilderment, that beyond the farthermost forests, beyond the lazy, swelling, blue sea, there were men and women who lived in houses and carefully tabooed such subjects as violent death and such horrid happenings as were daily features of his life.

He had to treat with folk who, in the main, were illogical and who believed in spirits. When you deal in the abstract with government of races so influenced, a knowledge of constitutional law and economics is fairly valueless.

There is one type of man that can rule native provinces wisely, and that type is best represented by Sanders.

There are other types, as, for instance:

Once upon a time a young man came from England with a reputation. He was sent by the Colonial Office to hold a district under Sanders as Deputy Commissioner. He was a Bachelor of Law, had read Science, and had acquired in a methodical fashion a working acquaintance with Swaheli, bacteriology, and medicines. He was a very grave young man, and the first night of his arrival he kept Sanders (furtively yawning) out of his bed whilst he demonstrated a system whereby the aboriginal could be converted-not converted spiritually, but from unproductive vagrancy to a condition of good citizenship.

Sanders said nothing beyond using the conventional expressions of polite interest, and despatched the young man and his tremendous baggage to an up-country station, with his official blessing.

Torrington-this was the grave young man's name-established himself at Entoli, and started forth to instil into the heathen mind the elementary principles of applied mechanics. In other words he taught them, through the medium of Swaheli-which they imperfectly understood-and a tin kettle, the lesson of steam. They understood the kettle part, but could not quite comprehend what meat he was cooking, and when he explained for the fortieth time that he was only cooking water, they glanced significantly one at the other and agreed that he was not quite right in his head.

They did not tell him this much to his face, for cannibals have very good manners-though their table code leaves much to be desired.

Mr. Torrington tried them with chemical experiments, showing them how sulphuric acid applied to sugar produced Su2, Su4, or words to that effect. He gained a reputation as a magician as a result, and in more huts than one he was regarded and worshipped as a Great and Clever Devil-which in a sense he was. But the first time he came up against the spirit of the people, his science, his law, and his cut-and-dried theories went phutt! And that is where Sanders came in-Sanders who had forgotten all the chemistry he ever knew, and who, as a student of Constitutional Law, was the rankest of failures.

It came about in this way.

There was a young man in Isisi who prophesied that on such a day, at such an hour, the river would rise and drown the people. When Mr. Torrington heard of this prophecy he was amused, and at first took no notice of it. But it occurred to him that here might be a splendid opportunity for revealing to the barbarian a little of that science with which he was so plentifully endowed.

So he drew a large sectional plan, showing-

(a) the bed of the river;

(b) the height of the banks;

(c) the maximum rise of the river;

(d) the height of the surrounding country; and demonstrated as plainly as possible the utter absurdity of the prophecy.

Yet the people were unconvinced, and were preparing to abandon the village when Sanders arrived on the scene. He sent for the prophet, who was a young man of neurotic tendencies, and had a wooden prison cage built on the bank of the river, into which the youth was introduced.

"You will stay here," said Sanders, "and when the river rises you must prophesy that it will fall again, else assuredly you will be drowned."

Whereupon the people settled down again in their homes and waited for the river to drown the prophet and prove his words. But the river at this season of the year was steadily falling, and the prophet, like many another, was without honour in his own country.

Sanders went away; and, although somewhat discouraged, Mr. Torrington resumed his experiments. First of all, he took up sleeping sickness, and put in three months' futile work, impressing nobody save a gentleman of whom more must be written in a further chapter. Then he dropped that study suddenly and went to another.

He had ideas concerning vaccination, but the first baby he vaccinated died of croup, and Torrington came flying down the river telling Sanders a rambling story of a populace infuriated and demanding his blood. Then Torrington went home.

"The country is now quiet," wrote Sanders to the Administrator, with sardonic humour. "There are numerous palavers pending, but none of any particular moment. The Isisi people are unusually quiet, and Bosambo, the Monrovian, of whom I have written your Excellency, makes a model chief for the Ochori. No thefts have been traced to him for three months. I should be grateful if full information could be supplied to me concerning an expedition which at the moment is traversing this country under the style of the Isisi Exploitation Syndicate."

Curiously enough, Torrington had forgotten the fact that a member of this expedition had been one of the most interested students of his sleeping sickness clinics.

The Isisi Exploitation Syndicate, Limited, was born between the entrée and the sweet at the house of a gentleman whose Christian name was Isidore, and who lived in Maida Vale. At dinner one night with a dear friend-who called himself McPherson every day of the year except on Yum Kippur, when he frankly admitted that he had been born Isaacs-the question of good company titles came up, and Mr. McPherson said he had had the "Isisi Exploitation" in his mind for many years. With the aid of an atlas the Isisi country was discovered. It was one of those atlases on which are inscribed the staple products of the lands, and across the Isisi was writ fair "Rubber," "Kola-nut," "Mahogany," and "Tobacco."

I would ask the reader to particularly remember "Tobacco."

"There's a chief I've had some correspondence with," said Mr. McPherson, chewing his cigar meditatively; "we could get a sort of concession from him. It would have to be done on the quiet, because the country is a British Protectorate. Now, if we could get a man who'd put up the stuff, and send him out to fix the concession, we'd have a company floated before you could say knife."

Judicious inquiry discovered the man in Claude Hyall Cuthbert, a plutocratic young gentleman, who, on the strength of once having nearly shot a lion in Uganda, was accepted by a large circle of acquaintances as an authority on Africa.

Cuthbert, who dabbled in stocks and shares, was an acquisition to any syndicate, and on the understanding that part of his duty would be the obtaining of the concession, he gladly financed the syndicate to the extent of seven thousand pounds, four thousand of which Messrs. Isidore and McPherson very kindly returned to him to cover the cost of his expedition.

The other three thousand were earmarked for office expenses.

As Mr. McPherson truly said:

"Whatever happens, we're on velvet, my boy," which was perfectly true.

Before Cuthbert sailed, McPherson offered him a little advice.

"Whatever you do," he said, "steer clear of that dam' Commissioner Sanders. He's one of those pryin', interferin'--"

"I know the breed," said Cuthbert wisely. "This is not my first visit to Africa. Did I ever tell you about the lion I shot in Uganda?"

A week later he sailed.

* * *

In course of time came a strange white man through Sanders' domain. This white man, who was Cuthbert, was following the green path to death-but this he did not know. He threw his face to the forest, as the natives say, and laughed, and the people of the village of O'Tembi, standing before their wattle huts, watched him in silent wonder.

It was a wide path between huge trees, and the green of the undergrowth was flecked with sunlight, and, indeed, the green path was beautiful to the eye, being not unlike a parkland avenue.

N'Beki, chief of this village of the O'Tembi, a very good old man, went out to the path when the white man began his journey.

"White man," he said solemnly, "this is the road to hell, where all manner of devils live. Night brings remorse, and dawn brings self-hatred, which is worse than death."

Cuthbert, whose Swaheli was faulty, and whose Bomongo talk was nil, grinned impatiently as his coastboy translated unpicturesquely.

"Dam nigger done say, this be bad place, no good; he say bimeby you libe for die."

"Tell him to go to blazes!" said Cuthbert noisily; "and, look here, Flagstaff, ask him where the rubber is, see? Tell him we know all about the forest, and ask him about the elephants, where their playground is?"

Cuthbert was broad-shouldered and heavily built, and under his broad sun-helmet his face was very hot and moist.

"Tell the white man," said the chief quietly, "there is no rubber within seven days' journey, and that we do not know ivory; elephants there were cala cala-but not now."

"He's a liar!" was Cuthbert's only comment. "Get these beggars moving, Flagstaff. Hi, alapa', avanti, trek!"

"These beggars," a straggling line of them, resumed their loads uncomplainingly. They were good carriers, as carriers go, and only two had died since the march began.

Cuthbert stood and watched them pass, using his stick dispassionately upon the laggards. Then he turned to go.

"Ask him," he said finally, "why he calls this the road to what-d'ye-call-it?"

The old man shook his head.

"Because of the devils," he said simply.

"Tell him he's a silly ass!" bellowed Cuthbert and followed his carriers.

This natural path the caravan took extended in almost a straight line through the forest. It was a strange path because of its very smoothness, and the only drawback lay in the fact that it seemed to be the breeding-place of flies-little black flies, as big as the house-fly of familiar shape, if anything a little bigger.

They terrified the natives for many reasons, but principally because they stung. They did not terrify Cuthbert, because he was dressed in tapai cloth; none the less, there were times when these black flies found joints in his armour and roused him to anger. This path extended ten miles and made pleasant travelling. Then the explorer struck off into the forest, following another path, well beaten, but more difficult.

By devious routes Mr. Cuthbert came into the heart of Sanders' territories, and he was successful in this, that he avoided Sanders. He had with him a caravan of sixty men and an interpreter, and in due course he reached his objective, which was the village of a great chief ruling a remarkable province-Bosambo, of the Ochori, no less; sometime Krooman, stewar

d of the Elder Dempster line, chief on sufferance, but none the less an interesting person. Bosambo, you may be sure, came out to greet his visitor.

"Say to him," said Cuthbert to his interpreter, "that I am proud to meet the great chief."

"Lord chief," said the interpreter in the vernacular, "this white man is a fool, and has much money."

"So I see," said Bosambo.

"Tell him," said Cuthbert, with all the dignity of an ambassador, "that I have come to bring him wonderful presents."

"The white man says," said the interpreter, "that if he is sure you are a good man he will give you presents. Now," said the interpreter carefully, "as I am the only man who can speak for you, let us make arrangements. You shall give me one-third of all he offers. Then will I persuade him to continue giving, since he is the father of mad people."

"And you," said Bosambo briefly, "are the father of liars."

He made a sign to his guard, and they seized upon the unfortunate interpreter and led him forth. Cuthbert, in a sweat of fear, pulled a revolver.

"Master," said Bosambo loftily, "you no make um fuss. Dis dam' nigger, he no good; he make you speak bad t'ings. I speak um English proper. You sit down, we talk um."

So Cuthbert sat down in the village of Ochori, and for three days there was a great giving of presents, and signing of concessions. Bosambo conceded the Ochori country-that was a small thing. He granted forest rights of the Isisi, he sold the Akasava, he bartered away the Lulungo territories and the "native products thereof"-I quote from the written document now preserved at the Colonial Office and bearing the scrawled signature of Bosambo-and he added, as a lordly afterthought, the Ikeli district.

"What about river rights?" asked the delighted Cuthbert.

"What will you give um?" demanded Bosambo cautiously.

"Forty English pounds?" suggested Cuthbert.

"I take um," said Bosambo.

It was a remarkably simple business; a more knowledgeable man than Cuthbert would have been scared by the easiness of his success, but Cuthbert was too satisfied with himself to be scared at anything.

It is said that his leave-taking with Bosambo was of an affecting character, that Bosambo wept and embraced his benefactor's feet.

Be that as it may, his "concessions" in his pocket, Cuthbert began his coastward journey, still avoiding Sanders.

He came to Etebi and found a deputy-commissioner, who received him with open arms. Here Cuthbert stayed a week.

Mr. Torrington at the time was tremendously busy with a scheme for stamping out sleeping sickness. Until then, Cuthbert was under the impression that it was a pleasant disease, the principal symptom of which was a painless coma. Fascinated, he extended his stay to a fortnight, seeing many dreadful sights, for Torrington had established a sort of amateur clinic, and a hundred cases a day came to him for treatment.

"And it comes from the bite of a tsetse fly?" said Cuthbert. "Show me a tsetse."

Torrington obliged him, and when the other saw the little black insect he went white to the lips.

"My God!" he whispered, "I've been bitten by that!"

"It doesn't follow--" began Torrington; but Cuthbert was blundering and stumbling in wild fear to his carriers' camp.

"Get your loads!" he yelled. "Out of this cursed country we get as quick as we can!"

Torrington, with philosophical calm, endeavoured to reassure him, but he was not to be appeased.

He left Etebi that night and camped in the forest. Three days later he reached a mission station, where he complained of headaches and pains in the neck (he had not attended Torrington's clinics in vain). The missionary, judging from the man's haggard appearance and general incoherence that he had an attack of malaria, advised him to rest for a few days; but Cuthbert was all a-fret to reach the coast. Twenty miles from the mission, Cuthbert sent his carriers back, and said he would cover the last hundred miles of the journey alone.

To this extraordinary proposition the natives agree-from that day Cuthbert disappeared from the sight of man.

* * *

Sanders was taking a short cut through the forest to avoid the interminable twists and bends of the river, when he came suddenly upon a village of death-four sad little huts, built hastily amidst a tangle of underwood. He called, but nobody answered him. He was too wary to enter any of the crazy habitations.

He knew these little villages in the forest. It was the native custom to take the aged and the dying-especially those who died sleepily-to far-away places, beyond the reach of man, and leave them there with a week's food and a fire, to die in decent solitude.

He called again, but only the forest answered him. The chattering, noisy forest, all a-crackle with the movements of hidden things. Yet there was a fire burning which told of life.

Sanders resumed his journey, first causing a quantity of food to be laid in a conspicuous place for the man who made the fire.

He was on his way to take evidence concerning the disappearance of Cuthbert. It was the fourth journey of its kind he had attempted. There had been palavers innumerable.

Bosambo, chief of the Ochori, had sorrowfully disgorged the presents he had received, and admitted his fault.

"Lord!" he confessed, "when I was with the white man on the coast I learnt the trick of writing-it is a cursed gift-else all this trouble would not have come about. For, desiring to show my people how great a man I was, I wrote a letter in the English fashion, and sent it by messenger to the coast and thence to friends in Sierra Leone, telling them of my fortune. Thus the people in London came to know of the treasure of this land."

Sanders, in a few illuminative sentences, conveyed his impression of Bosambo's genius.

"You slave and son of a slave," he said, "whom I took from a prison to rule the Ochori, why did you deceive this white man, selling him lands that were not yours?"

"Lord!" said Bosambo simply, "there was nothing else I could sell."

But there was no clue here as to Cuthbert's whereabouts, nor at the mission station, nor amongst the carriers detained on suspicion. One man might have thrown light upon the situation, but Torrington was at home fulfilling the post of assistant examiner in mechanics at South Kensington (more in his element there) and filling in his spare time with lecturing on "The Migration of the Bantu Races."

So that the end of Sanders' fourth quest was no more successful than the third, or the second, or the first, and he retraced his steps to headquarters, feeling somewhat depressed.

He took the path he had previously traversed, and came upon the Death Camp late in the afternoon. The fire still burnt, but the food he had placed had disappeared. He hailed the hut in the native tongue, but no one answered him. He waited for a little while, and then gave orders for more food to be placed on the ground.

"Poor devil!" said Sanders, and gave the order to march. He himself had taken half a dozen steps, when he stopped. At his feet something glittered in the fading light. He stooped and picked it up. It was an exploded cartridge. He examined it carefully, smelt it-it had been recently fired. Then he found another. They were Lee-Metford, and bore the mark "'07," which meant that they were less than a year old.

He was still standing with the little brass cylinders in his hand, when Abiboo came to him.

"Master," said the Houssa, "who ties monkeys to trees with ropes?"

"Is that a riddle?" asked Sanders testily, for his mind was busy on this matter of cartridges.

Abiboo for answer beckoned him.

Fifty yards from the hut was a tree, at the foot of which, whimpering and chattering and in a condition of abject terror, were two small black monkeys tethered by ropes.

They spat and grinned ferociously as Sanders approached them. He looked from the cartridges to the monkeys and back to the cartridges again, then he began searching the grass. He found two more empty shells and a rusting lancet, such as may be found in the pocket-case of any explorer.

Then he walked back to the hut before which the fire burnt, and called softly-

"Mr. Cuthbert!"

There was no answer, and Sanders called again-

"Mr. Cuthbert!"

From the interior of the hut came a groan.

"Leave me alone. I have come here to die!" said a muffled voice.

"Come out and be civil," said Sanders coolly; "you can die afterwards."

After a few moments' delay there issued from the door of the hut the wreck of a man, with long hair and a month-old beard, who stood sulkily before the Commissioner.

"Might I ask," said Sanders, "what your little game is?"

The other shook his head wearily. He was a pitiable sight. His clothes were in tatters; he was unwashed and grimy.

"Sleeping sickness," he said wearily. "Felt it coming on-seen what horrible thing it was-didn't want to be a burden. Oh, my God! What a fool I've been to come to this filthy country!"

"That's very likely," said Sanders. "But who told you that you had sleeping sickness?"

"Know it-know it," said the listless man.

"Sit down," said Sanders. The other obeyed, and Sanders applied the superficial tests.

"If you've got sleeping sickness," said Sanders, after the examination, "I'm suffering from religious mania-man, you're crazy!"

Yet there was something in Cuthbert's expression that was puzzling. He was dull, heavy, and stupid. His movements were slow and lethargic.

Sanders watched him as he pulled a black wooden pipe from his ragged pocket, and with painful slowness charged it from a skin pouch.

"It's got me, I tell you," muttered Cuthbert, and lit the pipe with a blazing twig from the fire. "I knew it (puff) as soon as that fellow Torrington (puff) described the symptoms (puff);-felt dull and sleepy-got a couple of monkeys and injected my blood (puff)-they went drowsy, too-sure sign--"

"Where did you get that tobacco from?" demanded Sanders quickly.

Cuthbert took time to consider his answer.

"Fellow gave it me-chief fellow, Bosambo. Native tobacco, but not bad-he gave me a devil of a lot."

"So I should say," said Sanders, and reaching over took the pouch and put it in his pocket.

* * *

When Sanders had seen Mr. Cuthbert safe on board a homeward-bound steamer, he took his twenty Houssas to the Ochori country to arrest Bosambo, and expected Bosambo would fly; but the imperturbable chief awaited his coming, and offered him the customary honours.

"I admit I gave the white man the hemp," he said. "I myself smoke it, suffering no ill. How was I to know that it would make him sleep?"

"Why did you give it to him?" demanded Sanders.

Bosambo looked the Commissioner full in the face.

"Last moon you came, lord, asking why I gave him the Isisi country and the rights of the little river, because these were not mine to give. Now you come to me saying why did I give the white man native tobacco-Lord, that was the only thing I gave him that was mine."

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