MoboReader > Literature > Sanders of the River

   Chapter 14 DOGS OF WAR.

Sanders of the River By Edgar Wallace Characters: 19284

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Chiefest of the restrictions placed upon the black man by his white protector is that which prevents him, when his angry passions rise, from taking his enemy by the throat and carving him with a broad, curved blade of native make. Naturally, even the best behaved of the tribes chafe under this prohibition the British have made.

You may be sure that the Akasava memory is very short, and the punishment which attended their last misdoing is speedily forgotten in the opportunity and the temptation which must inevitably come as the years progress. Thus, the Akasava, learning of certain misdoings on the part of the Ochori, found themselves in the novel possession of a genuine grievance, and prepared for war, first sending a message to "Sandi," setting forth at some length the nature of the insult the Ochori had offered them. Fortunately, Sanders was in the district, and came on the spot very quickly, holding palaver, and soothing an outraged nation as best he could. Sanders was a tactful man, and tact does not necessarily imply soft-handedness. For there was a truculent soul who sat in the council and interpolated brusque questions.

Growing bolder as the Commissioner answered suavely, he went, as a child or native will, across the border line which divides a good manner from a bad. Sanders turned on him.

"What base-born slave dog are you?" he asked; and whilst the man was carefully considering his answer, Sanders kicked him down the slope of the hill on which the palaver house stood, and harmony was once more restored.

Very soon on the heels of this palaver came a bitter complaint from the Isisi. It concerned fishing nets that had been ruthlessly destroyed by the Lulungo folk, and this was a more difficult matter for Sanders to settle. For one thing, all self-respecting people hate the Lulungo, a dour, wicked, mischievous people, without shame or salt. But the Isisi were pacified, and a messy war was averted. There were other and minor alarums-all these were in the days' work-but Sanders worried about the Lulungo, because of their general badness, and because of all his people, Isisi, Ikeli, Akasava, and Ochori, who hated the Lulungo folk with a deep-rooted hatred. In his own heart, Sanders knew that war could only be postponed, and so advised London, receiving in reply, from an agitated Under-Secretary in Whitehall, the urgent request that the postponement should cover and extend beyond the conclusion of "the present financial year-for heaven's sake!"

They had a proverb up in the Lulungo district-three days' march beyond the Akasava-and it is to this effect: "When a man hath a secret enemy and cannot find him, pull down his own hut and search among the débris." This is a cumbersome translation. There is another proverb which says, "Because of the enemy who lives in the shadow of your hut"; also another which says, "If you cannot find your enemy, kill your dearest friend." The tendency of all these proverbs is to show that the Lulungo people took a gloomy view of life, and were naturally suspicious.

Sanders had a cook of the Lulungo tribe, down at M'piti-which model city served as Mr. Commissioner's headquarters. He was a wanderer, and by way of being a cosmopolitan, having travelled as far north as Dacca, and as far south as Banana-and presumably up the Congo to Matadi. When he came to M'piti, applying for work, he was asked his name and replied in the "English" of the Coast:

"Master, dey one call me Sixpence all'time. I make 'um cook fine; you look 'um for better cook, you no find 'um-savvy."

"And what," said Sanders, in the Lulungo dialect, "what mongrel talk do you call this?"

"Master, it is English," said the abashed native.

"It is monkey talk," said Sanders, cruelly; "the talk of krooboys and half-bred sailors who have no language. What are you called by your people?"

"Lataki, master," said the cook.

"So shall you be called," said Sanders. "Further, you shall speak no language but your own, and your pay will be ten shillings a month."

Lataki made a good cook, and was a model citizen for exactly three months, at the end of which time Sanders, returning unexpectedly from a hunting trip, found Lataki asleep in his master's bed-Lataki being very drunk, and two empty gin bottles by the bedside testifying mutely to his discredit. Sanders called his police, and Lataki was thrown into the lock-up to sober down, which he did in twenty-four hours.

"I would have you understand," said Sanders to the culprit the next day, "that I cannot allow my servants to get drunk; more especially I cannot allow my drunken servants to sleep off their potations on my bed."

"Lord, I am ashamed," said Lataki cheerfully; "such things happen to a man who has seen much of the world."

"You may say the same about the whipping you are about to receive," said Sanders, and gave an order to the sergeant of police.

Lataki was no stoic and when, tied to a tree, ten strokes were laid upon his stout back by a bored Houssa, he cried out very loudly against Sanders, and against that civilisation of which Sanders was the chosen instrument.

After it was all over, and he had discovered that he was still alive, albeit sore, he confessed he had received little more than he deserved, and promised tearfully that the lesson should not be without result. Sanders, who had nothing more to say in the matter, dismissed him to his duties.

It was a week after this that the Commissioner was dining in solitude on palm-oil chop-which is a delicious kind of coast curry-and chicken. He had begun his meal when he stopped suddenly, went to his office, and brought in a microscope. Then he took a little of the "chop"-just as much as might go on the end of a pin-smeared it on a specimen glass, and focussed the instrument. What he saw interested him. He put away the microscope and sent for Lataki; and Lataki, in spotless white, came.

"Lataki," said Sanders carelessly, "knowing the ways of white men, tell me how a master might do his servant honour?"

The cook in the doorway hesitated.

"There are many ways," he said, after a pause. "He might--"

He stopped, not quite sure of his ground.

"Because you are a good servant, though possessed of faults," said Sanders, "I wish to honour you; therefore I have chosen this way; you, who have slept in my bed unbidden, shall sit at my table with me at my command."

The man hesitated, a little bewildered, then he shuffled forward and sat clumsily in the chair opposite his master.

"I will wait upon you," said Sanders, "according to the custom of your own people."

He heaped two large spoonfuls of palm-oil chop upon the plate before the man.

"Eat," he said.

But the man made no movement, sitting with his eyes upon the tablecloth.

"Eat," said Sanders again, but still Lataki sat motionless.

Then Sanders rose, and went to the open doorway of his bungalow and blew a whistle.

There was a patter of feet, and Sergeant Abiboo came with four Houssas.

"Take this man," said Sanders, "and put him in irons. To-morrow I will send him down country for judgment."

He walked back to the table, when the men had gone with their prisoner, carefully removed the poisoned dish, and made a meal of eggs and bananas, into neither of which is it possible to introduce ground glass without running the risk of instant detection.

Ground glass-glass powdered so fine that it is like precipitated chalk to the touch-is a bad poison, because when it comes in contact with delicate membranes right down inside a man, it lacerates them and he dies, as the bad men of the coast know, and have known for hundreds of years. In the course of time Lataki came before a judge who sat in a big thatched barn of a courthouse, and Lataki brought three cousins, a brother, and a disinterested friend, to swear that Sanders had put the glass in his own "chop" with malice aforethought. In spite of the unanimity of the evidence-the witnesses had no less than four rehearsals in a little hut the night before the trial-the prisoner was sentenced to fifteen years' penal servitude.

Here the matter would have ended, but for the Lulungo people, who live far away in the north, and who chose to regard the imprisonment of their man as a casus belli.

They were a suspicious people, a sullen, loveless, cruel people, and they were geographically favoured, for they lived on the edge of a territory which is indisputably French, and, moreover, unreachable.

Sanders sent flying messages to all the white people who lived within striking distance of the Lulungo. There were six in all, made up of two missions, Jesuit and Baptist. They were most unsatisfactory people, as the following letters show:

The first from the Protestant:

"Losebi Mission.

"Dear Mr. Commissioner,-My wife and I are very grateful to you for your warning, but God has called us to this place, and here we must stay, going about our Master's business, until He, in His wisdom, ordains that we shall leave the scene of our labours."

Father Holling wrote:

"Ebendo River.

"Dear Sanders,-I think you are wrong about the Lulungo people, several of whom I have seen recently. They are mighty civil, which is the only bad sign I have detected. I shall stay because I think I can fight off any attack they make. I have four Martini-Metford rifles, and three thousand rounds of ammunition, and this house, as you know, is built of stone. I hope you are wrong, but--"

Sanders took his steamboat, his Maxim gun, and his Houssa police, and went up the river, as far as the little stern-wheeler would carry

him. At the end of every day's journey he would come to a place where the forest had been cleared, and where, stacked on the beach, was an orderly pile of wood. Somewhere in the forest was a village whose contribution to the State this ever-replenished wood-pile was. Night and day two sounding men with long rods, sitting at the steamer's bow, "stubbed" the water monotonously. Shoal, sandbank, channel, shoal. Sometimes, with a shuddering jar, the boat would slide along the flat surface of a hidden bank, and go flop into the deep water on the other side; sometimes, in the night, the boat would jump a bank to find itself in a little "lake" from which impassable ridges of hidden sand barred all egress. Then the men would slip over the sides of the vessel and walk the sandy floor of the river, pushing the steamer into deep water. When sixty miles from the Baptist Mission, Sanders got news from a friendly native:

"Lord, the Lulungo came at early morning, taking away the missionary, his wife, and his daughter, to their city."

Sanders, yellow with fever, heavy-eyed from want of sleep, unshaven and grimy, wiped the perspiration from his head with the back of his hand.

"Take the steamer up the river," he said to Abiboo. "I must sleep."

He was awakened at four o'clock in the afternoon by the smashing of a water-bottle, which stood on a shelf by his bunk. It smashed for no apparent reason, and he was sprinkled with bits of glass and gouts of water.

Then he heard a rifle go "pang!" close at hand, and as he sprang up and opened the wire-woven door of his cabin, Abiboo came to report.

"There were two men firing from the bank," he said. "One I have shot."

They were nearing the village now, and turning a sharp bend of the river they came in sight of it, and the little Zaire's siren yelled and squealed defiantly.

Sanders saw a crowd of men come down to the beach, saw the glitter of spears, and through his glasses the paint on the bodies of the men. Then six canoes came racing out to meet the steamer.

A corporal of Houssas sat down nonchalantly on a little saddle-seat behind the brass Maxim, and gripped its handles.

"Five hundred yards," said Sanders, and the corporal adjusted the sight without perceptible hurry.

The canoes came on at a hurricane speed, for the current was with them. The man behind the gun polished a dull place on the brass water-jacket with the blue sleeves of his coat, and looked up.

Sanders nodded.

The canoes came nearer, one leading the rest in that race where hate nerved effort, and death was the prize.

Suddenly-

"Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" laughed the little gun sardonically, and the leading canoe swung round broadside to the stream, because the men who steered it were dead, and half of the oarsmen also.

"Ha-ha-ha-h-a-a!"

There was a wild scramble on the second canoe; it swayed, capsized, and the river was full of black heads, and the air resounded with shrill cries.

As for the remainder of the flotilla it swung round and made for safety; the machine-gun corporal slipped in another belt of cartridges, and made good practice up to nine hundred yards, from which two canoes, frantically paddled, were comparatively safe.

Sanders put his tiny telegraph over to full speed ahead and followed.

On the shore the Lulungo made a stand, and missiles of many kinds struck the little steamer. But the Maxim sprayed the village noisily, and soon there came a nervous man waving a palm leaf, and Sanders ceased firing, and shouted through his megaphone that the messenger must swim aboard.

"Lord, we feel great shame," said the man. He stood in a wet place on the deck, and little rills of water dripped from him. "We did not know we fought Sandi the lion, Sandi the buffalo, before the stamp of whose mighty feet--"

Sanders cut him short.

"There is a white man, a white woman, and a young girl in your city," he said. "Bring them to the ship, and then I will sit in the palaver-house, and talk this matter over."

The man shuffled uneasily.

"Master," he said, "the white man died of the sickness; the woman is ill also; as for the girl, I know nothing."

Sanders looked at him, his head on one side like an inquisitive bird.

"Bring me the white man, alive or dead," he said softly; "also the white woman, well or ill, and the girl."

In an hour they brought the unfortunate missionary, having taken some time to make him look presentable. The wife of the missionary came in another canoe, four women holding her, because she was mad.

"Where is the girl?" asked Sanders. He spoke very little above a whisper.

The messenger made no answer.

"The girl?" said Sanders, and lashed him across the face with his thin stick.

"Master," muttered the man, with his head on his chest, "the chief has her."

Sanders took a turn up and down the deck, then he went to his cabin and came out with two revolvers belted to his hips.

"I will go and see this chief," he said. "Abiboo, do you run the boat's nose into the soft sand of the bank, covering the street with the Maxim whilst I go ashore."

He landed without opposition; neither gun banged nor spear flew as he walked swiftly up the broad street. The girl lay before the chiefs hut quite dead, very calm, very still. The hand to cut short her young life had been more merciful than Sanders dared hope. He lifted the child in his arms, and carried her back to the ship. Once he heard a slight noise behind him, but three rifles crashed from the ship, and he heard a thud and a whimper of pain.

He brought the body on board, and laid it reverently on the little after-deck. Then they told him that the woman had died, and he nodded his head slowly, saying it was better so.

The Zaire backed out into mid-stream, and Sanders stood watching the city wistfully. He wanted the chief of the Lulungo badly; he wanted, in his cold rage, to stake him out in spread-eagle fashion, and kill him with slow fires. But the chief and his people were in the woods, and there were the French territories to fly to.

In the evening he buried the missionary and his family on a little island, then drove downstream, black rage in his soul, and a sense of his impotence, for you cannot fight a nation with twenty Houssa policemen.

He came to a little "wooding" at dusk, and tied up for the night. In the morning he resumed his journey, and at noon he came, without a moment's warning, into the thick of a war fleet.

There was no mistaking the character of the hundred canoes that came slowly up-stream four abreast, paddling with machine-like regularity. That line on the right were Akasava men; you could tell that by the blunt noses of the dug-outs. On the left were the Ochori; their canoes were streaked with red cornwood. In the centre, in lighter canoes of better make, he saw the white-barred faces of the Isisi people.

"In the name of heaven!" said Sanders, with raised eyebrows.

There was consternation enough in the fleet, and its irregular lines wavered and broke, but the Zaire went steaming into the midst of them. Then Sanders stopped his engines, and summoned the chiefs on board.

"What shame is this?" said Sanders.

Otako, of the Isisi, king and elder chief, looked uncomfortably to Ebeni of Akasava, but it was Bosambo, self-appointed ruler of the Ochori, who spoke.

"Lord," he said, "who shall escape the never-sleeping eye of Sandi? Lo! we thought you many miles away, but like the owl--"

"Where do you go?" asked Sanders.

"Lord, we will not deceive you," said Bosambo. "These great chiefs are my brothers, because certain Lulungo have come down upon our villages and done much harm, stealing and killing. Therefore, because we have suffered equally, and are one in misfortune, we go up against the Lulungo people, for we are human, and our hearts are sore."

A grin, a wicked, mirthless grin, parted Sanders' lips.

"And you would burn and slay?" he asked.

"Master, such was the pleasure we had before us."

"Burning the city and slaying the chief, and scattering the people who hide in the forest?"

"Lord, though they hide in hell we will find them," said Bosambo; "yet, if you, who are as a father to us all, say 'nay,' we will assemble our warriors and tell them it is forbidden."

Sanders thought of the three new graves on a little island.

"Go!" he said, pointing up the river.

He stood on the deck of the Zaire and watched the last canoe as it rounded the bend, and listened to the drone of many voices, growing fainter and fainter, singing the Song of the Slayer, such as the Isisi sing before action.

THE END.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] There is a tremendous amount of free hydrocyanic acid (prussic acid) in manioc.

[2] Lo Bengola, the King of the Matabele.

[3] Tusks.

[4] Bula Matidi, i.e., "Stone Breaker," is the native name for the Congo Government.

Transcriber's Notes:

original hyphenation, spelling and grammar have been preserved as in the original

Page 9, '"Chief, said Sanders' changed to '"Chief," said Sanders'

Page 14, "Cailbraith" changed to "Calbraith"

Page 107, "was simple there" changed to "was simple-there"

Page 110, "peace with him" changed to "peace with him."

Page 140, "his lips impatiently" changed to "his lips impatiently."

Page 145, "before the other?" changed to "before the other;"

Page 163, "for it we cannot" changed to "for if we cannot"

Page 163, "the way we go" changed to "the way we go."

Page 240, "midstream" changed to "mid-stream" [Ed. for consistency]

Page 242, "the Matebele rebels" changed to "the Matabele rebels"

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares