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   Chapter 8 THE AKASAVAS.

Sanders of the River By Edgar Wallace Characters: 25929

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

You who do not understand how out of good evil may arise must take your spade to some virgin grassland, untouched by the hand of man from the beginning of time. Here is soft, sweet grass, and never a sign of nettle, or rank, evil weed. It is as God made it. Turn the soil with your spade, intent on improving His handiwork, and next season-weeds, nettles, lank creeping things, and coarse-leafed vegetation cover the ground.

Your spade has aroused to life the dormant seeds of evil, germinated the ugly waste life that all these long years has been sleeping out of sight-in twenty years, with careful cultivation, you may fight down the weeds and restore the grassland, but it takes a lot of doing.

Your intentions may have been the best in disturbing the primal sod; you may have had views of roses flourishing where grass was; the result is very much the same.

I apply this parable to the story of a missionary and his work. The missionary was a good man, though of the wrong colour. He had large ideas on his duty to his fellows; he was inspired by the work of his cloth in another country; but, as Sanders properly said, India is not Africa.

Kenneth McDolan came to Mr. Commissioner Sanders with a letter of introduction from the new Administration.

Sanders was at "chop" one blazing morning when his servant, who was also his sergeant, Abiboo, brought a card to him. It was a nice card, rounded at the corners, and gilt-edged, and in the centre, in old English type, was the inscription-


Underneath was scribbled in pencil: "On a brief visit." Sanders sniffed impatiently, for "reverend" meant "missionary," and "missionary" might mean anything. He looked at the card again and frowned in his perplexity. Somehow the old English and the reverendness of the visiting card did not go well with the rounded corners and the gilt edge.

"Where is he?" he demanded.

"Master," said Abiboo, "he is on the verandah. Shall I kick him off?" Abiboo said this very naturally and with simple directness, and Sanders stared at him.

"Son of sin!" he said sternly, "is it thus you speak of God-men, and of white men at that?"

"This man wears the clothes of a God-man," said Abiboo serenely; "but he is a black man, therefore of no consequence."

Sanders pulled a pair of mosquito boots over his pyjamas and swore to himself.

"White missionaries, yes," he said wrathfully, "but black missionaries I will not endure."

The Reverend Kenneth was sitting in Sanders' basket-chair, one leg flung negligently over one side of the chair to display a silk sock. His finger-tips were touching, and he was gazing with good-natured tolerance at the little green garden which was the Commissioner's special delight.

He was black, very black; but his manners were easy, and his bearing self-possessed.

He nodded smilingly to Sanders and extended a lazy hand.

"Ah, Mr. Commissioner," he said in faultless English, "I have heard a great deal about you."

"Get out of that chair," said Sanders, who had no small talk worth mentioning, "and stand up when I come out to you! What do you want?"

The Reverend Kenneth rose quickly, and accepted the situation with a rapidity which will be incomprehensible to any who do not know how thumbnail deep is the cultivation of the cultured savage.

"I am on a brief visit," he said, a note of deference in his tone. "I am taking the small towns and villages along the coast, holding services, and I desire permission to speak to your people."

This was not the speech he had prepared. He had come straight from England, where he had been something of a lion in Bayswater society, and where, too, his theological attainments had won him regard and no small amount of fame in even a wider circle.

"You may speak to my people," said Sanders; "but you may not address the Kano folk nor the Houssas, because they are petrified in the faith of the Prophet."

Regaining his self-possession, the missionary smiled.

"To bring light into dark places--" he began.

"Cut it out," said Sanders briefly; "the palaver is finished." He turned on his heel and re-entered the bungalow.

Then a thought struck him.

"Hi!" he shouted, and the retiring missionary turned back.

"Where did you pick up the 'Kenneth McDolan'?" he asked.

The negro smiled again.

"It is the patronymic bestowed upon me at Sierra Leone by a good Christian white man, who brought me up and educated me as though I were his own son," he recited.

Sanders showed his teeth.

"I have heard of such cases," he said unpleasantly.

The next day the missionary announced his intention of proceeding up country. He came in to see Sanders as though nothing had happened. Perhaps he expected to find the Commissioner a little ashamed of himself; but if this was so he was disappointed, for Sanders was blatantly unrepentant.

"You've got a letter from the Administration," he said, "so I can't stop you."

"There is work for me," said the missionary, "work of succour and relief. In India some four hundred thousand--"

"This is not India," said Sanders shortly; and with no other word the native preacher went his way.

Those who know the Akasava people best know them for their laziness-save in matter of vendetta, or in the settlement of such blood feuds as come their way, or in the lifting of each other's goats, in all which matters they display an energy and an agility truly inexplicable. "He is an Akasava man-he points with his foot," is a proverb of the Upper River, and the origin of the saying goes back to a misty time when (as the legend goes) a stranger happened upon a man of the tribe lying in the forest.

"Friend," said the stranger, "I am lost. Show me the way to the river"; and the Akasava warrior, raising a leg from the ground, pointed with his toe to the path.

Though this legend lacks something in point of humour, it is regarded as the acme of mirth-provoking stories from Bama to the Lado country.

It was six months after the Reverend Kenneth McDolan had left for his station that there came to Sanders at his headquarters a woeful deputation, arriving in two canoes in the middle of the night, and awaiting him when he came from his bath to the broad stoep of his house in the morning-a semi-circle of chastened and gloomy men, who squatted on the wooden stoep, regarding him with the utmost misery.

"Lord, we are of the Akasava people," said the spokesman, "and we have come a long journey."

"So I am aware," said Sanders, with acrid dryness, "unless the Akasava country has shifted its position in the night. What do you seek?"

"Master, we are starving," said the speaker, "for our crops have failed, and there is no fish in the river; therefore we have come to you, who are our father."

Now this was a most unusual request; for the Central African native does not easily starve, and, moreover, there had come no news of crop failure from the Upper River.

"All this sounds like a lie," said Sanders thoughtfully, "for how may a crop fail in the Akasava country, yet be more than sufficient in Isisi? Moreover, fish do not leave their playground without cause, and if they do they may be followed."

The spokesman shifted uneasily.

"Master, we have had much sickness," he said, "and whilst we cared for one another the planting season had passed; and, as for the fish, our young men were too full of sorrow for their dead to go long journeys." Sanders stared.

"Therefore we have come from our chief asking you to save us, for we are starving."

The man spoke with some confidence, and this was the most surprising thing of all. Sanders was nonplussed, frankly confounded. For all the eccentric course his daily life took, there was a certain regularity even in its irregularity. But here was a new and unfamiliar situation. Such things mean trouble, and he was about to probe this matter to its depth.

"I have nothing to give you," he said, "save this advice-that you return swiftly to where you came from and carry my word to your chief. Later I will come and make inquiries."

The men were not satisfied, and an elder, wrinkled with age, and sooty-grey of head, spoke up.

"It is said, master," he mumbled, through his toothless jaws, "that in other lands when men starve there come many white men bringing grain and comfort."


Sanders' eyes narrowed.

"Wait," he said, and walked quickly through the open door of his bungalow.

When he came out he carried a pliant whip of rhinoceros-hide, and the deputation, losing its serenity, fled precipitately.

Sanders watched the two canoes paddling frantically up stream, and the smile was without any considerable sign of amusement. That same night the Zaire left for the Akasava country, carrying a letter to the Reverend Kenneth McDolan, which was brief, but unmistakable in its tenor.

"Dear Sir,"-it ran-"You will accompany the bearer to headquarters, together with your belongings. In the event of your refusing to comply with this request, I have instructed my sergeant to arrest you. Yours faithfully,

"H. Sanders, Commissioner."

"And the reason I am sending you out of this country," said Sanders, "is because you have put funny ideas into the heads of my people."

"I assure you--" began the negro.

"I don't want your assurance," said Sanders, "you are not going to work an Indian Famine Fund in Central Africa."

"The people were starving--"

Sanders smiled.

"I have sent word to them that I am coming to Akasava," he said grimly, "and that I will take the first starved-looking man I see and beat him till he is sore."

The next day the missionary went, to the intense relief, be it said, of the many white missionaries scattered up and down the river; for, strange as it may appear, a negro preacher who wears a black coat and silk socks is regarded with a certain amount of suspicion.

True to his promise, Sanders made his visit, but found none to thrash, for he came to a singularly well-fed community that had spent a whole week in digging out of the secret hiding-places the foodstuffs which, at the suggestion of a too zealous seeker after fame, it had concealed.

"Here," said Sanders, wickedly, "endeth the first lesson."

But he was far from happy. It is a remarkable fact that once you interfere with the smooth current of native life all manner of things happen. It cannot be truthfully said that the events that followed on the retirement from active life of the Reverend Kenneth McDolan were immediately traceable to his ingenious attempt to engineer a famine in Akasava. But he had sown a seed, the seed of an idea that somebody was responsible for their well-being-he had set up a beautiful idol of Pauperism, a new and wonderful fetish. In the short time of his stay he had instilled into the heathen mind the dim, vague, and elusive idea of the Brotherhood of Man.

This Sanders discovered, when, returning from his visit of inspection, he met, drifting with the stream, a canoe in which lay a prone man, lazily setting his course with half-hearted paddle strokes.

Sanders, on the bridge of his tiny steamer, pulled the little string that controlled the steam whistle, for the canoe lay in his track. Despite the warning, the man in the canoe made no effort to get out of his way, and since both were going with the current, it was only by putting the wheel over and scraping a sandbank that the steamer missed sinking the smaller craft.

"Bring that man on board!" fumed Sanders, and when the canoe had been unceremoniously hauled to the Zaire's side by a boat-hook, and the occupant rudely pulled on board, Sanders let himself go.

"By your infernal laziness," he said, "I see that you are of the Akasava people; yet that is no reason why you should take the middle of the channel to yourself."

"Lord, it is written in the books of your gods," said the man, "that the river is for us all, black and white, each being equal in the eyes of the white gods."

Sanders checked his lips impatiently.

"When you and I are dead," he said, "we shall be equal, but since I am quick and you are quick, I shall give you ten strokes with a whip to correct the evil teaching that is within you."

He made a convert.

But the mischief was done.

Sanders knew the native mind much better than any man living, and he spent a certain period every day for the next month cursing the Reverend Kenneth McDolan. So far, however, no irreparable mischief had been done, but Sanders was not the kind of man to be caught napping. Into the farthermost corners of his little kingdom his secret-service men were dispatched, and Sanders sat down to await developments.

At first the news was good; the spies sent back stories of peace, of normal happiness; then the reports became less satisfactory. The Akasava country is unfortunately placed, for it is the very centre territory, the ideal position for t

he dissemination of foolish propaganda, as Sanders had discovered before.

The stories the spies sent or brought were of secret meetings, of envoys from tribe to tribe, envoys that stole out from villages by dead of night, of curious rites performed in the depth of the forest and other disturbing matters.

Then came a climax.

Tigili, the king of the N'Gombi folk, made preparations for a secret journey. He sacrificed a goat and secured good omens; likewise three witch-doctors in solemn conclave gave a favourable prophecy.

The chief slipped down the river one night with fourteen paddlers, a drummer, his chief headsman, and two of his wives, and reached the Akasava city at sunset the next evening. Here the chief of the Akasava met him, and led him to his hut.

"Brother," said the Akasava chief, not without a touch of pompousness, "I have covered my bow with the skin of a monkey."

Tigili nodded gravely.

"My arrows are winged with the little clouds," he said in reply.

In this cryptic fashion they spoke for the greater part of an hour, and derived much profit therefrom.

In the shadow of the hut without lay a half-naked man, who seemed to sleep, his head upon his arm, his legs doubled up comfortably.

One of the Akasava guard saw him, and sought to arouse him with the butt of his spear, but he only stirred sleepily, and, thinking that he must be a man of Tigili's retinue, they left him.

When the king and the chief had finished their palaver, Tigili rose from the floor of the hut and went back to his canoe, and the chief of the Akasava stood on the bank of the river watching the craft as it went back the way it had come.

The sleeper rose noiselessly and took another path to the river. Just outside the town he had to cross a path of moonlit clearing, and a man challenged him.

This man was an Akasava warrior, and was armed, and the sleeper stood obedient to the summons.

"Who are you?"

"I am a stranger," said the man.

The warrior came nearer and looked in his face.

"You are a spy of Sandi," he said, and then the other closed with him.

The warrior would have shouted, but a hand like steel was on his throat. The sentinel made a little sound like the noise a small river makes when it crosses a shallow bed of shingle, then his legs bent limply, and he went down.

The sleeper bent down over him, wiped his knife on the bare shoulder of the dead man, and went on his way to the river. Under the bush he found a canoe, untied the native rope that fastened it, and stepping in, he sent the tiny dug-out down the stream.

* * *

"And what do you make of all this?" asked Sanders. He was standing on his broad stoep, and before him was the spy, a lithe young man, in the uniform of a sergeant of Houssa Police.

"Master, it is the secret society, and they go to make a great killing," said the sergeant.

The Commissioner paced the verandah with his head upon his breast, his hands clasped behind his back.

These secret societies he knew well enough, though his territories had been free of them. He knew their mushroom growth; how they rose from nothingness with rituals and practices ready-made. He knew their influence up and down the Liberian coast; he had some knowledge of the "silent ones" of Nigeria, and had met the "white faces" in the Kassai. And now the curse had come to his territory. It meant war, the upsetting of twenty years' work-the work of men who died and died joyfully, in the faith that they had brought peace to the land-it meant the undermining of all his authority.

He turned to Abiboo.

"Take the steamer," he said, "and go quickly to the Ochori country, telling Bosambo, the chief, that I will come to him-the palaver is finished." He knew he could depend upon Bosambo if the worst came.

In the days of waiting he sent a long message to the Administration, which lived in ease a hundred miles down the coast. He had a land wire running along the seashore, and when it worked it was a great blessing. Fortunately it was in good order now, but there had been times when wandering droves of elephants had pulled up the poles and twisted a mile or so of wire into a hopeless tangle.

The reply to his message came quickly.

"Take extreme steps to wipe out society. If necessary arrest Tigili. I will support you with four hundred men and a gunboat; prefer you should arrange the matter without fuss.


Sanders took a long walk by the sea to think out the situation and the solution. If the people were preparing for war, there would be simultaneous action, a general rising. He shook his head. Four hundred men and a gunboat more or less would make no difference. There was a hope that one tribe would rise before the other; he could deal with the Akasava; he could deal with the Isisi plus the Akasava; he was sure of the Ochori-that was a comfort-but the others? He shook his head again. Perhaps the inherent idleness of the Akasava would keep them back. Such a possibility was against their traditions.

He must have come upon a solution suddenly, for he stopped dead in his walk, and stood still, thinking profoundly, with his head upon his breast. Then he turned and walked quickly back to his bungalow.

What date had been chosen for the rising we may never know for certain. What is known is that the Akasava, the N'Gombi, the Isisi, and the Boleki folk were preparing in secret for a time of killing, when there came the great news.

Sandi was dead.

A canoe had overturned on the Isisi River, and the swift current had swept the Commissioner away, and though men ran up and down the bank no other sign of him was visible but a great white helmet that floated, turning slowly, out of sight.

So a man of the Akasava reported, having learnt it from a sergeant of Houssas, and instantly the lo-koli beat sharply, and the headmen of the villages came panting to the palaver house to meet the paramount chief of the Akasava.

"Sandi is dead," said the chief solemnly. "He was our father and our mother and carried us in his arms; we loved him and did many disagreeable things for him because of our love. But now that he is dead, and there is none to say 'Yea' or 'Nay' to us, the time of which I have spoken to you secretly has come; therefore let us take up our arms and go out, first against the God-men who pray and bewitch us with the sprinkling of water, then against the chief of the Ochori, who for many years have put shame upon us."

"Master," said a little chief from the fishing village which is near to the Ochori border, "is it wise-our Lord Sandi having said there shall be no war?"

"Our Lord Sandi is dead," said the paramount chief wisely; "and being dead, it does not greatly concern us what he said; besides which," he said, as a thought struck him, "last night I had a dream and saw Sandi; he was standing amidst great fires, and he said, 'Go forth and bring me the head of the chief of the Ochori.'"

No further time was wasted.

That night the men of twenty villages danced the dance of killing, and the great fire of the Akasava burnt redly on the sandy beach to the embarrassment of a hippo family that lived in the high grasses near by.

In the grey of the morning the Akasava chief mustered six hundred spears and three score of canoes, and he delivered his oration:

"First, we will destroy the mission men, for they are white, and it is not right that they should live and Sandi be dead; then we will go against Bosambo, the chief of the Ochori. When rains came in the time of kidding, he who is a foreigner and of no human origin brought many evil persons with him and destroyed our fishing villages, and Sandi said there should be no killing. Now Sandi is dead, and, I do not doubt, in hell, and there is none to hold our pride."

Round the bend of the river, ever so slowly, for she was breasting a strong and treacherous current, came the nose of the Zaire. It is worthy of note that the little blue flag at her stern was not at half-mast. The exact significance of this was lost on the Akasava. Gingerly the little craft felt its way to the sandy strip of beach, a plank was thrust forth, and along it came, very dapper and white, his little ebony stick with the silver knob swinging between his fingers, Mr. Commissioner Sanders, very much alive, and there were two bright Maxim-guns on either side of the gangway that covered the beach.

A nation, paralysed by fear and apprehension, watched the debarquement, the chief of the Akasava being a little in advance of his painted warriors.

On Sanders' face was a look of innocent surprise. "Chief," said he, "you do me great honour that you gather your young men to welcome me; nevertheless, I would rather see them working in their gardens."

He walked along one row of fighting men, plentifully besmeared with cam-wood, and his was the leisurely step of some great personage inspecting a guard of honour.

"I perceive," he went on, talking over his shoulder to the chief who, fascinated by the unexpected vision, followed him, "I perceive that each man has a killing spear, also a fighting shield of wicker work, and many have N'Gombi swords."

"Lord, it is true," said the chief, recovering his wits, "for we go hunting elephant in the Great Forest."

"Also that some have the little bones of men fastened about their necks-that is not for the elephant."

He said this meditatively, musingly, as he continued his inspection, and the chief was frankly embarrassed.

"There is a rumour," he stammered, "it is said-there came a spy who told us-that the Ochori were gathering for war, and we were afraid--"

"Strange," said Sanders, half to himself, but speaking in the vernacular, "strange indeed is this story, for I have come straight from the Ochori city, and there I saw nothing but men who ground corn and hunted peacefully; also their chief is ill, suffering from a fever."

He shook his head in well-simulated bewilderment.

"Lord," said the poor chief of the Akasava, "perhaps men have told us lies-such things have happened--"

"That is true," said Sanders gravely. "This is a country of lies; some say that I am dead; and, lo! the news has gone around that there is no law in the land, and men may kill and war at their good pleasure."

"Though I die at this minute," said the chief virtuously, "though the river turn to fire and consume my inmost stomach, though every tree become a tiger to devour me, I have not dreamt of war."

Sanders grinned internally.

"Spare your breath," he said gently. "You who go hunting elephants, for it is a long journey to the Great Forest, and there are many swamps to be crossed, many rivers to be swum. My heart is glad that I have come in time to bid you farewell."

There was a most impressive silence, for this killing of elephants was a stray excuse of the chief's. The Great Forest is a journey of two months, one to get there and one to return, and is moreover through the most cursed country, and the Akasava are not a people that love long journeys save with the current of the river.

The silence was broken by the chief.

"Lord, we desire to put off our journey in your honour, for if we go, how shall we gather in palaver?"

Sanders shook his head.

"Let no man stop the hunter," quoth he. "Go in peace, chief, and you shall secure many teeth."[3] He saw a sudden light come to the chief's eyes, but continued, "I will send with you a sergeant of Houssas, that he may carry back to me the story of your prowess"-the light died away again-"for there will be many liars who will say that you never reached the Great Forest, and I shall have evidence to confound them."

Still the chief hesitated, and the waiting ranks listened, eagerly shuffling forward, till they ceased to bear any semblance to an ordered army, and were as a mob.

"Lord," said the chief, "we will go to-morrow--"

The smile was still on Sanders' lips, but his face was set, and his eyes held a steely glitter that the chief of the Akasava knew.

"You go to-day, my man," said Sanders, lowering his voice till he spoke in little more than a whisper, "else your warriors march under a new chief, and you swing on a tree."

"Lord, we go," said the man huskily, "though we are bad marchers and our feet are very tender."

Sanders, remembering the weariness of the Akasava, found his face twitching.

"With sore feet you may rest," he said significantly; "with sore backs you can neither march nor rest-go!"

At dawn the next morning the N'Gombi people came in twenty-five war canoes to join their Akasava friends, and found the village tenanted by women and old men, and Tigili, the king, in the shock of the discovery, surrendered quietly to the little party of Houssas on the beach.

"What comes to me, lord?" asked Tigili, the king.

Sanders whistled thoughtfully.

"I have some instructions about you somewhere," he said.

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