Sanders of the River - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Sanders of the River ebook

Edgar Wallace



The book is actually a collection of short stories that are loosely tied together by Sanders himself, his steamship and an unlikely African chief called Bosambo. In the jungles of West Africa, Commissioner Sanders is the highest representative of the British crown. The health and safety of a quarter-million natives who speak countless languages and worship untold gods are his responsibility. Whether disciplining a boy king, expelling troublesome missionaries, or fighting to contain outbreaks of sleeping sickness and beri-beri, Sanders and his lieutenants must be quick, decisive, and fair. Offering readers an action-packed glimpse into a period of history that is often overlooked.

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Liczba stron: 288

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MR COMMISSIONER SANDERS had graduated to West Central Africa by such easy stages that he did not realize when his acquaintance with the back lands began.

Long before he was called upon by the British Government to keep a watchful eye upon some quarter of a million cannibal folk, who ten years before had regarded white men as we regard the unicorn; he had met the Basuto, the Zulu, the Fingo, and Pondo, Matabele, Mashona, Barotse, Hottentot, and Bechuana. Then curiosity and interest took him westward and northward, and he met the Angola folk, then northward to the Congo, westward to the Masai, and finally, by way of the Pigmy people, he came to his own land.

Now, there is a subtle difference between all these races, a difference that only such men as Sanders know.

It is not necessarily a variety of colour, though some are brown and some yellow, and some–a very few–jet black. The difference is in character. By Sanders’ code you trusted all natives up to the same point, as you trust children, with a few notable exceptions. The Zulu were men, the Basuto were men, yet childlike in their grave faith. The black men who wore the fez were subtle, but trustworthy; but the browny men of the Gold Coast, who talked English, wore European clothing, and called one another “Mr.” were Sanders’ pet abomination.

Living so long with children of a larger growth, it follows that he absorbed many of their childlike qualities. Once, on furlough in London, a confidence trick was played on him, and only his natural honesty pulled him out of a ridiculous scrape.

For, when the gold-brick man produced his dull metal ingot, all Sanders’ moral nerves stood endways, and he ran the confiding “bunco steerer” to the nearest station, charging him, to the astonishment of a sorely-puzzled policeman, with “I.G.B.,” which means illicit gold buying. Sanders did not doubt that the ingot was gold, but he was equally certain that the gold was not honestly come by. His surprise when he found that the “gold” was gold-leaf imposed upon the lead of commerce was pathetic.

You may say of Sanders that he was a statesman, which means that he had no exaggerated opinion of the value of individual human life. When he saw a dead leaf on the plant of civilization, he plucked it off, or a weed growing with his ‘flowers’ he pulled it up, not stopping to consider the weed’s equal right to life. When a man, whether he was capita or slave, by his bad example endangered the peace of his country, Sanders fell upon him. In their unregenerate days, the Isisi called him “Ogani Isisi,” which means “The Little Butcher Bird,” and certainly in that time Sanders was prompt to hang. He governed a people three hundred miles beyond the fringe of civilization. Hesitation to act, delay in awarding punishment, either of these two things would have been mistaken for weakness amongst a people who had neither power to reason, nor will to excuse, nor any large charity.

In the land which curves along the borders of Togo the people understand punishment to mean pain and death, and nothing else counts. There was a foolish Commissioner who was a great humanitarian, and he went up to Akasava–which is the name of this land–and tried moral suasion.

It was a raiding palaver. Some of the people of Akasava had crossed the river to Ochori and stolen women and goats, and I believe there was a man or two killed, but that is unimportant. The goats and the women were alive, and cried aloud for vengeance. They cried so loud that down at headquarters they were heard and Mr Commissioner Niceman–that was not his name, but it will serve–went up to see what all the noise was about. He found the Ochori people very angry, but more frightened.

“If,” said their spokesman, “they will return our goats, they may keep the women, because the goats are very valuable.” So Mr Commissioner Niceman had a long, long palaver that lasted days and days, with the chief of the Akasava people and his councillors, and in the end moral suasion triumphed, and the people promised on a certain day, at a certain hour, when the moon was in such a quarter and the tide at such a height, the women should be returned and the goats also.

So Mr Niceman returned to headquarters, swelling with admiration for himself and wrote a long report about his genius and his administrative abilities, and his knowledge of the native, which was afterwards published in Blue Book (Africa) 7943-96.

It so happened that Mr Niceman immediately afterwards went home to England on furlough, so that he did not hear the laments and woeful wailings of the Ochori folk when they did not get their women or their goats.

Sanders, working round the Isisi River, with ten Houssas and an attack of malaria, got a helio message: “Go Akasava and settle that infernal woman palaver.–ADMINISTRATION.” So Sanders girded up his loins, took 25 grains of quinine, and leaving his good work–he was searching for M’Beli, the witch-doctor, who had poisoned a friend–trekked across country for the Akasava.

In the course of time he came to the city and was met by the chief.

“What about these women?” he asked.

“We will have a palaver,” said the chief. “I will summon my headmen and my councillors.”

“Summon nothing,” said Sanders shortly. “Send back the women and the goats you stole from the Ochori.”

“Master,” said the chief, “at full moon, which is our custom, when the tide is so, and all signs of gods and devils are propitious, I will do as you bid.”

“Chief,” said Sanders, tapping the ebony chest of the other with the thin end of his walking-stick, “moon and river, gods or devils, those women and the goats go back to the Ochori folk by sunset, or I tie you to a tree and flog you till you bleed.”

“Master,” said the chief, “the women shall be returned.”

“And the goats,” said Sanders.

“As to the goats,” said the chief airily, “they are dead, having been killed for a feast.”

“You will bring them back to life,” said Sanders.

“Master, do you think I am a magician?” asked the chief of the Akasava.

“I think you are a liar,” said Sanders impartially, and there the palaver finished.

That night goats and women returned to the Ochori, and Sanders prepared to depart.

He took aside the chief, not desiring to put shame upon him or to weaken his authority.

“Chief,” he said, “it is a long journey to Akasava, and I am a man fulfilling many tasks. I desire that you do not cause me any further journey to this territory.”

“Master,” said the chief truthfully, “I never wish to see you again.” Sanders smiled aside, collected his ten Houssas, and went back to the Isisi River to continue his search for M’Beli.

It was not a nice search for many causes, and there was every reason to believe, too, that the king of Isisi himself was the murderer’s protector. Confirmation of this view came one morning when Sanders, encamped by the Big River, was taking a breakfast of tinned milk and toast. There arrived hurriedly Sato-Koto, the brother of the king, in great distress of mind, for he was a fugitive from the king’s wrath. He babbled forth all manner of news, in much of which Sanders took no interest whatever. But what he said of the witch-doctor who lived in the king’s shadow was very interesting indeed, and Sanders sent a messenger to headquarters, and, as it transpired, headquarters despatched in the course of time Mr Niceman–who by this time had returned from furlough–to morally ‘suade’ the king of the Isisi.

From such evidence as we have been able to collect it is evident that the king was not in a melting mood. It is an indisputable fact that poor Niceman’s head, stuck on a pole before the king’s hut, proclaimed the king’s high spirits.

H.M.S. St. George, H.M.S. Thrush, H.M.S. Philomel, H.M.S. Phoebe sailed from Simonstown, and H.M.S. Dwarf came down from Sierra Leone hec dum, and in less than a month after the king killed his guest he wished he hadn’t.

Headquarters sent Sanders to clear up the political side of the mess.

He was shown round what was left of the king’s city by the flag-lieutenant of the St George.

“I am afraid,” said that gentleman, apologetically, “I am afraid that you will have to dig out a new king; we’ve rather killed the old one.”

Sanders nodded. “I shall not go into mourning,” he said.

There was no difficulty in finding candidates for the vacant post. Sato-Koto, the dead king’s brother, expressed his willingness to assume the cares of office with commendable promptitude.

“What do you say?” asked the admiral, commanding the expedition.

“I say no, sir,” said Sanders, without hesitation. “The king has a son, a boy of nine; the kingship must be his. As for Sato-Kato, he shall be regent at pleasure.” And so it was arranged, Sato-Koto sulkily assenting.

They found the new king hidden in the woods with the women folk, and he tried to bolt, but Sanders caught him and led him back to the city by the ear.

“My boy,” he said kindly, “how do people call you?”

“Peter, master,” whimpered the wriggling lad; “in the fashion of the white people.”

“Very well,” said Sanders, “you shall be King Peter, and rule this country wisely and justly according to custom and the law. And you shall do hurt to none, and put shame on none nor shall you kill or raid or do any of the things that make life worth living, and if you break loose, may the Lord help you!” Thus was King Peter appointed monarch of the Isisi people, and Sanders went back to head-quarters with the little army of bluejackets and Houssas, for M’Beli, the witch-doctor, had been slain at the taking of the city, and Sanders’ work was finished.

The story of the taking of Isisi village, and the crowning of the young king, was told in the London newspapers, and lost nothing in the telling. It was so described by the special correspondents, who accompanied the expedition, that many dear old ladies of Bayswater wept, and many dear young ladies of Mayfair said: “How sweet!” and the outcome of the many emotions which the description evoked was the sending out from England of Miss Clinton Calbraith, who was an M.A., and unaccountably pretty.

She came out to “mother” the orphan king, to be a mentor and a friend. She paid her own passage, but the books which she brought and the school paraphernalia that filled two large packing cases were subscribed for by the tender readers of Tiny Toddlers, a magazine for infants. Sanders met her on the landing-stage, being curious to see what a white woman looked like.

He put a hut at her disposal and sent the wife of his coast clerk to look after her.

“And now, Miss Calbraith,” he said, at dinner that night, “what do you expect to do with Peter?”

She tilted her pretty chin in the air reflectively. “We shall start with the most elementary of lessons–the merest kindergarten, and gradually work up. I shall teach him callisthenics, a little botany–Mr Sanders, you’re laughing.”

“No, I wasn’t,” he hastened to assure her; “I always make a face like that–er–in the evening. But tell me this–do you speak the language–Swaheli, Bomongo, Fingi?”

“That will be a difficulty,” she said thoughtfully.

“Will you take my advice?” he asked.

“Why, yes.”

“Well, learn the language.” She nodded. “Go home and learn it.” She frowned. “It will take you about twenty-five years.”

“Mr Sanders,” she said, not without dignity, “you are pulling–you are making fun of me.”

“Heaven forbid!” said Sanders piously, “that I should do anything so wicked.” The end of the story, so far as Miss Clinton Calbraith was concerned, was that she went to Isisi, stayed three days, and came back incoherent.

“He is not a child!” she said wildly; “he is–a–a little devil!”

“So I should say,” said Sanders philosophically.

“A king? It is disgraceful! He lives in a mud hut and wears no clothes. If I’d known!”

“A child of nature,” said Sanders blandly. “You didn’t expect a sort of Louis Quinze, did you?”

“I don’t know what I expected,” she said desperately; “but it was impossible to stay–quite impossible.”

“Obviously,” murmured Sanders.

“Of course, I knew he would be black,” she went on; “and I knew that–oh, it was too horrid!”

“The fact of it is, my dear young lady,” said Sanders, “Peter wasn’t as picturesque as you imagined him; he wasn’t the gentle child with pleading eyes; and he lives messy–is that it?” This was not the only attempt ever made to educate Peter. Months afterwards, when Miss Calbraith had gone home and was busily writing her famous book, “Alone in Africa: by an English Gentlewoman,” Sanders heard of another educative raid.

Two members of an Ethiopian mission came into Isisi by the back way. The Ethiopian mission is made up of Christian black men, who, very properly, basing their creed upon Holy Writ, preach the gospel of Equality. A black man is as good as a white man any day of the week, and infinitely better on Sundays if he happens to be a member of the Reformed Ethiopian Church.

They came to Isisi and achieved instant popularity, for the kind of talk they provided was very much to the liking of Sato-Koto and the king’s councillors.

Sanders sent for the missioners. The first summons they refused to obey, but they came on the second occasion, because the message Sanders sent was at once peremptory and ominous.

They came to headquarters, two cultured American negroes of good address and refined conversation. They spoke English faultlessly, and were in every sense perfect gentlemen.

“We cannot understand the character of your command,” said one, “which savours somewhat of interference with the liberty of the subject.”

“You’ll understand me better,” said Sanders, who knew his men, “when I tell you that I cannot allow you to preach sedition to my people.”

“Sedition, Mr Sanders!” said the negro in shocked tones. “That is a grave charge.”

Sanders took a paper from a pigeon-hole in his desk; the interview took place in his office.

“On such a date,” he said, “you said this, and this, and that.” In other words he accused them of overstepping the creed of Equality and encroaching upon the borderland of political agitation.

“Lies!” said the elder of the two, without hesitation.

“Truth or lies,” he said, “you go no more to Isisi.”

“Would you have the heathen remain in darkness?” asked the man, in reproach. “Is the light we kindle too bright, master?”

“No,” said Sanders, “but a bit too warm.” So he committed the outrage of removing the Ethiopians from the scene of their earnest labours, in consequence of which questions were asked in Parliament.

Then the chief of the Akasava people–an old friend–took a hand in the education of King Peter. Akasava adjoins that king’s territory, and the chief came to give hints in military affairs.

He came with drums a-beating, with presents of fish and bananas and salt.

“You are a great king!” he said to the sleepy-eyed boy who sat on a stool of state, regarding him with open-mouthed interest. “When you walk the world shakes at your tread; the mighty river that goes flowing down to the big water parts asunder at your word, the trees of the forest shiver, and the beasts go slinking to cover when your mightiness goes abroad.”

“Oh, ko, ko!” giggled the king, pleasantly tickled.

“The white men fear you,” continued the chief of the Akasava; “they tremble and hide at your roar.”

Sato-Koto, standing at the king’s elbow, was a practical man. “What seek ye, chief?” he asked, cutting short the compliments.

So the chief told him of a land peopled by cowards, rich with the treasures of the earth, goats, and women.

“Why do you not take them yourself?” demanded the regent.

“Because I am a slave,” said the chief; “the slave of Sandi, who would beat me. But you, lord, are of the great; being king’s headman, Sandi would not beat you because of your greatness.” There followed a palaver, which lasted two days.

“I shall have to do something with Peter,” wrote Sanders despairingly to the Administrator; “the little beggar has gone on the war-path against those unfortunate Ochori. I should be glad if you would send me a hundred men, a Maxim, and a bundle of rattan canes; I’m afraid I must attend to Peter’s education myself.”

*     *


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