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   Chapter 5 THE REMEDY

The Keepers of the King's Peace By Edgar Wallace Characters: 23390

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Beyond the far hills, which no man of the Ochori passed, was a range of blue mountains, and behind this again was the L'Mandi country. This adventurous hunting men of the Ochori had seen, standing in a safe place on the edge of the Great King's country. Also N'gombi people, who are notoriously disrespectful of all ghosts save their own, had, upon a time, penetrated the northern forest to a high knoll which Nature had shaped to the resemblance of a hayrick.

A huntsman climbing this after his lawful quarry might gain a nearer view of the blue mountains, all streaked with silver at certain periods of the year, when a hundred streams came leaping with feathery feet from crag to crag to strengthen the forces of the upper river, or, as some said, to create through underground channels the big lakes M'soobo and T'sambi at the back of the N'gombi country.

And on summer nights, when the big yellow moon came up and showed all things in her own chaste way, you might see from the knoll of the hayrick these silver ribbons all a-glitter, though the bulk of the mountain was lost to sight.

The river folk saw little of the L'Mandi, because L'Mandi territory lies behind the country of the Great King, who looked with a jealous eye upon comings and goings in his land, and severely restricted the movement and the communications of his own people.

The Great King followed his uncle in the government of the pleasant O'Mongo lands, and he had certain advantages and privileges, the significance of which he very imperfectly interpreted.

His uncle had died suddenly at the hands of Mr. Commissioner Sanders, C.M.G., and the land itself might have passed to the protection of the Crown, for there was gold in the country in large and payable quantities.

That such a movement was arrested was due largely to the L'Mandi and the influence they were able to exercise upon the European Powers by virtue of their military qualities. Downing Street was all for a permanent occupation of the chief city and the institution of a conventional régime; but the L'Mandi snarled, clicked their heels, and made jingling noises with their great swords, and there was at that moment a Government in office in England which was rather impressed by heel-clicking and sword-jingling, and so the territory of the Great King was left intact, and was marked on all maps as Omongoland, and coloured red, as being within the sphere of British influence. On the other hand, the L'Mandi people had it tinted yellow, and described it as an integral portion of the German Colonial Empire.

There was little communication between L'Mandi and Sanders's territory, but that little was more than enough for the Commissioner, since it took the shape of evangelical incursions carried out by missionaries who were in the happy position of not being obliged to say as much as "By your leave," since they had secured from a Government which was, as I say, impressed by heel-clicking and sword-jingling, an impressive document, charging "all commissioners, sub-commissioners, magistrates, and officers commanding our native forces," to give facilities to these good Christian gentlemen.

There were missionaries in the Territories who looked askance at their brethren, and Ferguson, of the River Mission, made a journey to headquarters to lay his views upon the subject before the Commissioner.

"These fellows aren't missionaries at all, Mr. Sanders; they are just political agents utilizing sacred symbols to further a political propaganda."

"That is a Government palaver," smiled Sanders, and that was all the satisfaction Ferguson received. Nevertheless, Sanders was watchful, for there were times when the L'Mandi missioners and their friends strayed outside their sphere.

Once the L'Mandi folk had landed in a village in the middle Ochori, had flogged the headman, and made themselves free of the commodities which the people of the village had put aside for the payment of their taxation.

In his wrath, Bosambo, the chief, had taken ten war canoes; but Sanders, who had been in the Akasava on a shooting trip, was there before him, and had meted out swift justice to the evil-doers.

"And let me tell you, Bosambo," said Sanders severely, "that you shall not bring spears except at my word."

"Lord," said Bosambo, frankness itself, "if I disobeyed you, it was because I was too hot to think."

Sanders nodded.

"That I know," he said. "Now I tell you this, Bosambo, and this is the way of very wise men-that when they go to do evil things with a hot heart, they first sleep, and in their sleep their spirits go free and talk with the wise and the dead, and when they wake, their hearts are cool, and they see all the folly of the night, and their eyes are bright for their own faults."

"Master," said Bosambo, "you are my father and my mother, and all the people of the river you carry in your arms. Now I say to you that when I go to do an evil thing I will first sleep, and I will make all my people sleep also."

There are strange stories in circulation as to the manner in which Bosambo carried out this novel reform. There is the story of an Ochori wife-beater who, adjured by his chief, retired to slumber on his grievance, and came to his master the following morning with the information that he had not closed his eyes. Whereupon Bosambo clubbed him insensible, in order that Sanders's plan might have a fair chance.

At least, this is the story which Hamilton retailed at breakfast one morning. Sanders, appealed to for confirmation, admitted cautiously that he had heard the legend, but did not trouble to make an investigation.

"The art of governing a native country," he said, "is the art of not asking questions."

"But suppose you want to know something?" demanded Patricia.

"Then," said Sanders, with a twinkle in his eyes, "you must pretend that you know."

"What is there to do to-day?" asked Hamilton, rolling his serviette.

He addressed himself to Lieutenant Tibbetts, who, to Sanders's intense annoyance, invariably made elaborate notes of all the Commissioner said.

"Nothin' until this afternoon, sir," said Bones, closing his notebook briskly, "then we're doin' a little deep-sea fishin'."

The girl made a grimace.

"We didn't catch anything yesterday, Bones," she objected.

"We used the wrong kind of worm," said Bones confidently. "I've found a new worm nest in the plantation. Jolly little fellers they are, too."

"What are we doing to-day, Bones?" repeated Hamilton ominously.

Bones puckered his brows.

"Deep-sea fishin', dear old officer and comrade," he repeated, "an' after dinner a little game of tiddly-winks-Bones v. jolly old Hamilton's sister, for the championship of the River an' the Sanders Cup."

Hamilton breathed deeply, but was patient.

"Your King and your country," he said, "pay you seven and eightpence per diem--"

"Oh," said Bones, a light dawning, "you mean work?"

"Strange, is it not," mused Hamilton, "that we should consider--Hullo!"

They followed the direction of his eyes.

A white bird was circling groggily above the plantation, as though uncertain where to alight. There was weariness in the beat of its wings, in the irregularity of its flight. Bones leapt over the rail of the verandah and ran towards the square. He slowed down as he came to a place beneath the bird, and whistled softly.

Bones's whistle was a thing of remarkable sweetness-it was his one accomplishment, according to Hamilton, and had neither tune nor rhyme. It was a succession of trills, rising and falling, and presently, after two hesitating swoops, the bird rested on his outstretched hand. He came back to the verandah and handed the pigeon to Sanders.

The Commissioner lifted the bird and with gentle fingers removed the slip of thin paper fastened to its leg by a rubber band.

Before he opened the paper he handed the weary little servant of the Government to an orderly.

"Lord, this is Sombubo," said Abiboo, and he lifted the pigeon to his cheek, "and he comes from the Ochori."

Sanders had recognized the bird, for Sombubo was the swiftest, the wisest, and the strongest of all his messengers, and was never dispatched except on the most critical occasions.

He smoothed the paper and read the letter, which was in Arabic.

"From the servant of God Bosambo, in the Ochori City, to Sandi, where-the-sea-runs.

"There have come three white men from the L'Mandi country, and they have crossed the mountains. They sit with the Akasava in full palaver. They say there shall be no more taxes for the People of the River, but there shall come a new king greater than any. And every man shall have goats and salt and free hunting. They say the Akasava shall be given all the Ochori country, also guns like the white man. Many guns and a thousand carriers are in the mountains waiting to come. I hold the Ochori with all my spears. Also the Isisi chief calls his young men for your King.

"Peace be on your house in the name of Allah Compassionate and Merciful."

"M-m!" said Sanders, as he folded the paper. "I'm afraid there will be no fishing this afternoon. Bones, take the Wiggle and get up to the Akasava as fast as you can; I will follow on the Zaire. Abiboo!"

"Lord?"

"You will find me a swift Ochori pigeon. Hamilton, scribble a line to Bosambo, and say that he shall meet Bones by Sokala's village."

Half an hour later Bones was sending incomprehensible semaphore signals of farewell as the Wiggle slipped round the bend of the river.

Sokala, a little chief of the Isisi, was a rich man. He had ten wives, each of whom lived in her own hut. Also each wife wore about her neck a great ring of brass weighing twenty pounds, to testify to the greatness and wealth of her lord.

Sokala was wizened and lined of face, and across his forehead were many deep furrows, and it seemed that he lived in a state of perplexity as to what should become of all his riches when he died, for he was cursed with ten daughters-O'femi, Jubasami, K'sola, M'kema, Wasonga, Mombari, et cetera.

When Wasonga was fourteen, there was revealed to Sokala, her father, a great wonder.

The vision came at the tail end of a year of illness, when his head had ached for weeks together, and not even the brass wire twisted lightly about his skull brought him relief.

Sokala was lying on his fine bed of skins, wondering why strange animals sat by the fire in the centre of his hut, and why they showed their teeth and talked in human language. Sometimes they were leopards, sometimes they were little white-whiskered monkeys that scratched and told one another stories, and these monkeys were the wisest of all, for they discussed matters which were of urgency to the sick man rolling restlessly from side to side.

On this great night two such animals had appeared suddenly, a big grey fellow with a solemn face, and a very little one, and they sat staring into the fire, mechanically seeking their fleas until the little one spoke.

"Sokala is very rich and has ten daughters."

"That is true," said the other; "also he will die because he has no son."

Sokala's heart beat furiously with fear, but he listened when the little black monkey spoke.

"If Sokala took Wasonga, his daughter, into the forest near to The Tree and slew her, his daughters would become sons and he would grow well."

And the other monkey nodded.

As they talked, Sokala recognized the truth of all that they had said. He wondered that he had never thought of the matter before in this way. All night long he lay thinking-thinking-long after the fires had died down to a full red glow am

idst white ashes, and the monkeys had vanished. In the cold dawn his people found him sitting on the side of the bed, and marvelled that he should have lived the night through.

"Send me Wasonga, my daughter," he said, and they brought a sleepy girl of fourteen, tall, straight, and wholly reluctant. "We go a journey," said Sokala, and took from beneath his bed his wicker shield and his sharp-edged throwing-spear.

"Sokala hunts," said the people of the village significantly, and they knew that the end was very near, for he had been a great hunter, and men turn in death to the familiar pursuits of life.

Three miles on the forest road to the Isisi city, Sokala bade his daughter sit on the ground.

Bones had met and was in earnest conversation with the Chief of the Ochori, the Wiggle being tied up at a wooding, when he heard a scream, and saw a girl racing through the wood towards him.

Behind her, with the foolish stare on his face which comes to men in the last stages of sleeping sickness, his spear balanced, came Sokala.

The girl tumbled in a wailing, choking heap at Bones's feet, and her pursuer checked at the sight of the white man.

"I see you, Sokala,"[2] said Bones gently.

"Lord," said the old man, blinking at the officer of the Houssas, "you shall see a wonderful magic when I slay this woman, for my daughters shall be sons, and I shall be a well man."

Bones took the spear from his unresisting hand.

"I will show you a greater magic, Sokala, for I will give you a little white stone which will melt like salt in your mouth, and you shall sleep."

The old man peered from Lieutenant Tibbetts to the King of the Ochori. He watched Bones as he opened his medicine chest and shook out two little white pellets from a bottle marked "Veronal," and accepted them gratefully.

"God bless my life," cried Bones, "don't chew 'em, you dear old silly-swallow 'em!"

"Lord," said Sokala soberly, "they have a beautiful and a magic taste."

Bones sent the frightened girl back to the village, and made the old man sit by a tree.

"O Tibbetti," said Bosambo, in admiration, "that was a good palaver. For it is better than the letting of blood, and no one will know that Sokala did not die in his time."

Bones looked at him in horror.

"Goodness gracious heavens, Bosambo," he gasped, "you don't think I've poisoned him?"

"Master," said Bosambo, nodding his head, "he die one time-he not fit for lib-you give um plenty no-good stuff. You be fine Christian feller same like me."

Bones wiped the perspiration from his brow and explained the action of veronal. Bosambo was sceptical. Even when Sokala fell into a profound slumber, Bosambo waited expectantly for his death. And when he realized that Bones had spoken the truth, he was a most amazed man.

"Master," he said, in that fluid Ochori dialect which seems to be made up of vowels, "this is a great magic. Now I see very surely that you hold wonderful ju-jus, and I have wronged you, for I thought you were without wisdom."

"Cheer-oh!" said the gratified Bones.

* * *

Near by the city of the Akasava is a small hill on which no vegetation grows, though it rises from a veritable jungle of undergrowth. The Akasava call this place the Hill of the Women, because it was here that M'lama, the King of the Akasava, slew a hundred Akasava maidens to propitiate M'shimba M'shamba, the god of storms. It was on the topmost point of the hill that Sanders erected a fine gallows and hung M'lama for his country's good. It had always been associated with the spiritual history of the Akasava, for ghosts and devils and strange ju-jus had their home hereabouts, and every great decision at which the people arrived was made upon its slopes. At the crest there was a palaver house-no more than a straw-thatched canopy affording shelter for four men at the most.

On a certain afternoon all the chiefs, great and minor, the headmen, the warriors, and the leaders of fishing villages of the Akasava, squatted in a semicircle and listened to the oration of a bearded man, who spoke easily in the river dialect of the happy days which were coming to the people.

By his side were two other white men-a tall, clean-shaven man with spectacles, and a stouter man with a bristling white moustache.

Had the bearded man's address been in plain English, or even plain German, and had it been delivered to European hearers accustomed to taking its religion in allegories and symbols, it would have been harmless. As it was, the illustrations and the imagery which the speaker employed had no other interpretation to the simple-minded Akasava than a purely material one.

"I speak for the Great King," said the orator, throwing out his arms, "a king who is more splendid than any. He has fierce and mighty armies that cover the land like ants. He holds thunder and lightning in his hand, and is greater than M'shimba M'shamba. He is the friend of the black man and the white, and will deliver you from all oppression. He will give you peace and full crops, and make you capita over your enemies. When he speaks, all other kings tremble. He is a great buffalo, and the pawing of his hoofs shakes the earth.

"This he says to you, the warrior people of the Akasava--"

The message was destined to be undelivered.

Heads began to turn, and there was a whisper of words. Some of the audience half rose, some on the outskirts of the gathering stole quietly away-the lesser chiefs were amongst these-and others, sitting stolidly on, assumed a blandness and a scepticism of demeanour calculated to meet the needs of the occasion.

For Sanders was at the foot of the hill, a trim figure in white, his solar helmet pushed back to cover the nape of his neck from the slanting rays of the sun, and behind Sanders were two white officers and a company of Houssas with fixed bayonets. Not a word said Sanders, but slowly mounted the Hill of the Dead. He reached the palaver house and turned.

"Let no man go," he said, observing the disposition of the gathering to melt away, "for this is a great palaver, and I come to speak for these God-men."

The bearded orator glared at the Commissioner and half turned to his companions. The stout man with the moustache said something quickly, but Sanders silenced him with a gesture.

"O people," said Sanders, "you all know that under my King men may live in peace, and death comes quickly to those who make war. Also you may worship in what manner you desire, though it be my God or the famous gods of your fathers. And such as preach of God or gods have full liberty. Who denies this?"

"Lord, you speak the truth," said an eager headman.

"Therefore," said Sanders, "my King has given these God-men a book[3] that they may speak to you, and they have spoken. Of a great king they tell. Also of wonders which will come to you if you obey him. But this king is the same king of whom the God-cross men and the water-God men tell. For he lives beyond the stars, and his name is God. Tell me, preacher, if this is the truth?"

The bearded man swallowed something and muttered, "This is true."

"Also, there is no king in this world greater than my King, whom you serve," Sanders continued, "and it is your duty to be obedient to him, and his name is D'jorja." Sanders raised his hand to his helmet in salute. "This also the God-men will tell you."

He turned to the three evangelists.

Herr Professor Wiessmann hesitated for the fraction of a second. The pause was pardonable, for he saw the undoing of three months' good work, and his thoughts at that moment were with a certain party of carriers who waited in the mountains.

"The question of earthly and heavenly dominion is always debatable," he began in English, but Sanders stopped him.

"We will speak in the Akasava tongue," he said, "and let all men hear. Tell me, shall my people serve my King, or shall they serve another?"

"They shall serve your King," growled the man, "for it is the law."

"Thank you," said Sanders in English.

The gathering slowly dispersed, leaving only the white men on the hill and a few lingering folk at the foot, watching the stolid native soldiery with an apprehension born of experience.

"We should like you to dine with us," said Sanders pleasantly.

The leader of the L'Mandi mission hesitated, but the thin man with the spectacles, who had been silent, answered for him.

"We shall be pleased, Mr. Commissioner," he said. "After eating with these swine for a month, a good dinner would be very acceptable."

Sanders said nothing, though he winced at the inelegant description of his people, and the three evangelists went back to their huts, which had been built for their use by the Akasava chief.

An hour later that worthy sent for a certain witch-doctor.

"Go secretly," he said, "and call all headmen and chiefs to the Breaking Tree in the forest. There they shall be until the moon comes up, and the L'Mandi lords will come and speak freely. And you shall tell them that the word he spoke before Sandi was no true word, but to-night he shall speak the truth, and when Sandi is gone we shall have wonderful guns and destroy all who oppose us."

This the witch-doctor did, and came back by the river path.

Here, by all accounts, he met Bosambo, and would have passed on; but the Chief of the Ochori, being in a curious mind and being, moreover, suspicious, was impressed by the importance of the messenger, and made inquiries....

An old man is a great lover of life, and after the witch-doctor's head had been twice held under water-for the river was providentially near-he gasped the truth.

* * *

The three missioners were very grateful guests indeed. They were the more grateful because Patricia Hamilton was an unexpected hostess. They clicked their heels and kissed her hand and drank her health many times in good hock. The dinner was a feast worthy of Lucullus, they swore, the wine was perfect, and the coffee-which Abiboo handed round with a solemn face-was wonderful.

They sat chatting for a time, and then the bearded man looked at his watch.

"To bed, gentlemen," he said gaily. "We leave you, Herr Commissioner, in good friendship, we trust?"

"Oh, most excellent," said Sanders awkwardly, for he was a poor liar, and knew that his spies were waiting on the bank to "pick up" these potential enemies of his.

He watched them go ashore and disappear into the darkness of the forest path that leads to the village.

The moon was rising over the tall trees, and an expectant gathering of Akasava notables were waiting for a white spokesman who came not, when Bosambo and his bodyguard were engaged in lifting three unconscious men and laying them in a large canoe. He himself paddled the long boat to midstream, where two currents run swiftly, one to the sea and one to the Isisi River, which winds for a hundred miles until it joins the Congo.

"Go with God," said Bosambo piously, as he stepped into his own canoe, and released his hold of the other with its slumbering freight, "for if your king is so great, he will bring you to your own lands; and if he is not great, then you are liars. O Abiboo"-he spoke over his shoulder to the sergeant of Houssas-"tell me, how many of the magic white stones of Bonesi did you put in their drink?"

"Bosambo, I put four in each, as you told me, and if my lord Tibbetti misses them, what shall I say?"

"You shall say," said Bosambo, "that this is Sandi's own word-that when men plan evils they must first sleep. And I think these men will sleep for a long time. Perhaps they will sleep for ever-all things are with God."

* * *

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