Bosambo of the River - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Bosambo of the River ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Opis

Many years ago the Monrovian Government sent one Bosambo, a native of the Kroo coast and consequently a thief, to penal servitude for the term of his natural life. Bosambo, who had other views on the matter, was given an axe and a saw in the penal settlement and told to cut down and trim certain mahogany trees in company with other unfortunate men similarly circumstanced. Those who love classic adventure especially set against an African backdrop will discover a rich vein of reading pleasure in „Bosambo of the River”. Another exciting title in the Sanders of the River adventure series, featuring Commissioner Sanders.

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Liczba stron: 292

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Contents

I. ARACHI THE BORROWER

II. THE TAX RESISTERS

III. THE RISE OF THE EMPEROR

IV. THE FALL OF THE EMPEROR

V. THE KILLING OF OLANDI

VI. THE PEDOMETER

VII. THE BROTHER OF BOSAMBO

VIII. THE CHAIR OF THE N'GOMBI

IX. THE KI-CHU

X. THE CHILD OF SACRIFICE

XI. "THEY"

XII. THE AMBASSADORS

XIII. GUNS IN THE AKASAVA

I. ARACHI THE BORROWER

MANY years ago the Monrovian Government sent one Bosambo, a native of the Kroo coast and consequently a thief, to penal servitude for the term of his natural life. Bosambo, who had other views on the matter, was given an axe and a saw in the penal settlement–which was a patch of wild forest in the back country–and told to cut down and trim certain mahogany trees in company with other unfortunate men similarly circumstanced.

To assure themselves of Bosambo’s obedience, the Government of Liberia set over him a number of compatriots, armed with weapons which had rendered good service at Gettysburg, and had been presented to the President of Liberia by President Grant. They were picturesque weapons, but they were somewhat deficient in accuracy, especially when handled by the inexpert soldiers of the Monrovian coast. Bosambo, who put his axe to an ignoble use, no less than the slaying of Captain Peter Cole–who was as black as the ten of clubs, but a gentleman by the Liberian code–left the penal settlement with passionate haste. The Gettysburg relics made fairly good practice up to two hundred yards, but Bosambo was a mile away before the guards, searching the body of their dead commander for the key of the ammunition store, had secured food for their lethal weapons.

The government offered a reward of two hundred and fifty dollars for Bosambo, dead or alive. But, although the reward, was claimed and paid to the half-brother of the Secretary of War, it is a fact that Bosambo was never caught. On the contrary, he made his way to a far land, and became, by virtue of his attainments, chief of the Ochori.

Bosambo was too good a sportsman to leave his persecutors at peace. There can be little doubt that the Kroo insurrection, which cost the Liberian Government eight hundred and twenty-one pounds sixteen shillings to suppress, was due to the instigation and assistance of Bosambo. Of this insurrection, and the part that Bosambo played, it may be necessary to speak again.

The second rebellion was a more serious and expensive affair; and it was at the conclusion of this that the Liberian Government made representations to Britain. Sanders, who conducted an independent inquiry into the question of Bosambo’s complicity, reported that there was no evidence whatever that Bosambo was directly or indirectly responsible. And with that the Liberian Government was forced to be content; but they expressed their feelings by offering a reward of two thousand dollars for Bosambo alive or dead–preferably alive. They added, for the benefit of minor government officials and their neighbours, that they would, in the language of the advertisement, reject all substitutes. The news of this price went up and down the coast and very far into the interior, yet strangely enough Arachi of the Isisi did not learn of it until many years afterward.

Arachi was of the Isisi people, and a great borrower. Up and down the river all men knew him for such, so that his name passed into the legendary vocabulary of the people whilst he yet lived; and did the wife of Yoka beg from the wife of O’taki the service of a cooking-pot, be sure that O’taki’s wife would agree, but with heavy pleasantry scream after the retiring pot: “O thou shameless Arachi!” whereupon all the village folk who heard the jest would rock with laughter,

Arachi was the son of a chief, but in a country where chieftainship was not hereditary, and where, moreover, many chiefs’ sons dwelt without distinction, his parentage was of little advantage. Certainly it did not serve him as, in his heart, he thought he should be served.

He was tall and thin, and his knees were curiously knobbly. He carried his head on one side importantly, and was profoundly contemptuous of his fellows.

Once he came to Sanders.

“Lord,” he said, “I am a chief’s son, as you know, and I am very wise. Men who look upon me say, ‘Behold, this young man is full of craft,’ because of my looks. Also I am a great talker.”

“There are many in this land who are great talkers, Arachi,” said Sanders, unpleasantly, “yet they do not travel for two days downstream to tell me so.”

“Master,” said Arachi impressively, “I came to you because I desire advancement. Many of your little chiefs are fools, and, moreover, unworthy. Now I am the son of a chief, and it is my wish to sit down in the place of my father. Also, lord, remember this, that I have dwelt among foreign people, the Angola folk, and speak their tongue.”

Sanders sighed wearily.

“Seven times you have asked me, Arachi,” he said, “and seven times I have told you you are no chief for me. Now I tell you this–that I am tired of seeing you, and if you come to me again I will throw you to the monkeys. [Colloquial: ‘Make you look foolish.’–E.W.] As for your Angola palaver, I tell you this–that if it happen–which may all gods forbid!–that a tribe of Angola folk sit down with me, you shall be chief.”

Unabashed, Arachi returned to his village, for he thought in his heart that Sandi was jealous of his great powers. He built a large hut at the end of the village, borrowing his friends’ labour; this he furnished with skins and the like, and laid in stores of salt and corn, all of which he had secured from neighbouring villages by judicious promises of payment.

It was like a king’s hut, so glorious were the hangings of skin and the stretched bed of hide, and the people of his village said “Ko!” believing that Arachi had dug up those hidden treasures which every chief is popularly supposed to possess in secret places to which his sons may well be privy.

Even those who had helped to supply the magnificence were impressed and comforted.

“I have lent Arachi two bags of salt,” said Pidini, the Chief of Kolombolo, the fishing village, “and my stomach was full of doubt, though he swore by Death, that he would repay me three days after the rains. Now I see that he is indeed very rich, as he told me he was, and if my salt does not return to me I may seize his fine bed.”

In another village across the River Ombili, a headman of the Isisi confided to his wife:

“Woman, you have seen the hut of Arachi, now I think you will cease your foolish talk. For you have reproached me bitterly because I lent Arachi my fine bed,”

“Lord, I was wrong,” said the woman meekly; “but I feared he would not pay you the salt he promised; now I know that I was foolish, for I saw many bags of salt in his hut.”

The story of Arachi’s state spread up and down the river, and when the borrower demanded the hand of Koran, the daughter of the chief of the Putani (“The Fishers of the River”), she came to him without much palaver, though she was rather young.

A straight and winsome girl well worth the thousand rods and the twenty bags of salt which the munificent Arachi promised, by Death, devils, and a variety of gods, should be delivered to her father when the moon and the river stood in certain relative positions.

Now Arachi did no manner of work whatever, save to walk through the village street at certain hours clad in a robe of monkey tails which he had borrowed from the brother of the king of the Isisi. He neither fished nor hunted nor dug in the fields.

He talked to Korari his wife, and explained why this was so. He talked to her from sunset until the early hours of the morning, for he was a great talker, and when he was on his favourite subject–which was Arachi–he was very eloquent. He talked to her till the poor child’s head rocked from side to side, and from front to back, in her desperate sleepiness.

He was a great man, beloved and trusted of Sandi. He had immense thoughts and plans–plans that would ensure him a life of ease without the distressing effects of labour. Also, Sanders would make him chief–in good time.

She should be as a queen–she would much rather have been in her bed and asleep....

Though no Christian, Arachi was a believer in miracles. He pinned his faith to the supreme miracle of living without work, and was near to seeing the fulfilment of that wonder. But the miracle which steadfastly refused to happen was the miracle which would bring him relief at the moment when his numerous creditors were clamouring for the repayment of the many and various articles which they had placed in his care.

It is an axiom that the hour brings its man–most assuredly it brings its creditor.

There was a tumultuous and stormy day when the wrathful benefactors of Arachi gathered in full strength, and took from him all that was takable, and this in the face of the village, to Korari’s great shame. Arachi, on the contrary, because of his high spirit, was neither ashamed nor distressed, even though many men spoke harshly.

“O thief and rat!” said the exasperated owner of a magnificent stool of ceremony, the base of which Arachi had contrived to burn. “Is it not enough that you should steal the wear of these things? Must you light your fires by my beautiful stool?”

Arachi replied philosophically and without passion: they might take his grand furnishings–which they did; they might revile him in tones and in language the most provocative–this also they did; but they could not take the noble hut which their labours had built, because that was against the law of the tribe; nor could they rob him of his faith in himself, because that was contrary to the laws of nature–Arachi’s nature.

“My wife,” he said to the weeping girl, “these things happen. Now I think I am the victim of Fate, therefore I propose changing all my gods. Such as I have do not serve me, and, if you remember, I spent many hours in the forest with my bete.”

Arachi had thought of many possible contingencies–as, for instance:

Sandi might relent, and appoint him to a great chieftainship.

Or he might dig from the riverbed some such treasure as U’fabi, the N’gombi man, did once upon a time.

Arachi entranced with this latter idea, went one morning before sunrise to a place by the shore and dug. He turned two spadefuls of earth before an infinite weariness fell upon him, and he gave up the search.

“For,” he argued, “if treasure is buried in the riverbed, it might as well be there as elsewhere. And if it be not there, where may it be?”

Arachi bore his misfortune with philosophy. He sat in the bare and bleak interior of his hut, and explained to his wife that the men who had robbed him–as he said–hated him, and were jealous of him because of his great powers, and that one day, when he was a great chief, he would borrow an army from his friends the N’gombi, and put fire to their houses.

Yes, indeed, he said “borrow,” because it was his nature to think in loans.

His father-in-law came on the day following the deporting, expecting to save something from the wreckage on account of Koran’s dowry. But he was very late.

“O son of shame!” he said bitterly. “Is it thus you repay for my priceless daughter? By Death! but you are a wicked man.”

“Have no fear, fisherman,” said Arachi loftily, “for I am a friend of Sandi, and be sure that he will do that for me which will place me high above common men. Even now I go to make a long palaver with him, and, when I return, you shall hear news of strange happenings.”

Arachi was a most convincing man, possessing the powers of all great borrowers, and he convinced his father-in-law–a relation who, from the beginning of time, has always been the least open to conviction.

He left his wife, and she, poor woman, glad to be relieved of the presence of her loquacious husband, probably went to sleep.

At any rate, Arachi came to headquarters at a propitious moment for him. Headquarters at that moment was an armed camp at the junction of the Isisi and Ikeli rivers.

On the top of all his other troubles, Sanders had the problem of a stranger who had arrived unbidden. His orderly came to him and told him that a man desired speech of him.

“What manner of man?” asked Sanders, wearily.

“Master,” said the orderly, “I have not seen a man like him before.”

Sanders went out to inspect his visitor. The stranger rose and saluted, raising both hands, and the Commissioner looked him over. He was not of any of the tribes he knew, being without the face-cuts laterally descending either cheek which mark the Bomongo. Neither was he tattooed on the forehead, like the people of the Little River.

“Where do you come from?” asked Sanders, in Swahili–which is the lingua franca of the continent–but the man shook his head.

So Sanders tried him again, this time in Bomongo, thinking, from his face-marks, that he must be a man of the Bokeri people. But he answered in a strange tongue.

“Quel nom avez vous?” Sanders asked, and repeated the question in Portuguese. To this latter he responded, saying that he was a small chief of the Congo Angola, and that he had left his land to avoid slavery.

“Take him to the men’s camp and feed him,” said Sanders, and dismissed him from his mind.

Sanders had little time to bother about stray natives who might wander into his camp. He was engaged in searching for a gentleman who was known as Abdul Hazim, a great rascal, trading guns and powder contrary to the law,

“And,” said Sanders to the captain of the Houssas, “if I catch him he’ll be sorry.”

Abdul Hazim shared this view, so kept out of Sanders’s way to such purpose that, after a week’s further wanderings, Sanders returned to his headquarters.

Just about then he was dispirited, physically low from the after-effects of fever, and mentally disturbed.

Nothing went right with the Commissioner. There had been a begging letter from headquarters concerning this same Abdul Hazim. He was in no need of Houssa palavers, yet there must needs come a free fight amongst these valiant soldier-men, and, to crown all, two hours afterwards, the Houssa skipper had gone to bed with a temperature of 104.6,

“Bring the swine here,” said Sanders inelegantly, when the sergeant of Houssas reported the fight. And there were marched before him the strange man, who had come to him from the back-lands, and a pugnacious soldier named Kano.

“Lord,” said the Houssa, “by my god, who is, I submit, greater than most gods, I am not to blame. This Kaffir dog would not speak to me when I spoke; also, he put his hands to my meat, so I struck him.”

“Is that all?” asked Sanders.

“That is all, lord.”

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