Read CHAPTER I - HAMILTON OF THE HOUSSAS of Bones Being Further Adventures in Mr. Commissioner Sanders' Country , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on

Sanders turned to the rail and cast a wistful glance at the low-lying shore.  He saw one corner of the white Residency, showing through the sparse isisi palm at the end of the big garden ­a smudge of green on yellow from this distance.

“I hate going ­even for six months,” he said.

Hamilton of the Houssas, with laughter in his blue eyes, and his fumed-oak face ­lean and wholesome it was ­all a-twitch, whistled with difficulty.

“Oh, yes, I shall come back again,” said Sanders, answering the question in the tune.  “I hope things will go well in my absence.”

“How can they go well?” asked Hamilton, gently.  “How can the Isisi live, or the Akasava sow his barbarous potatoes, or the sun shine, or the river run when Sandi Sitani is no longer in the land?”

“I wouldn’t have worried,” Sanders went on, ignoring the insult, “if they’d put a good man in charge; but to give a pudden-headed soldier ­”

“We thank you!” bowed Hamilton.

“ ­with little or no experience ­”

“An insolent lie ­and scarcely removed from an unqualified lie!” murmured Hamilton.

“To put him in my place!” apostrophized Sanders, tilting back his helmet the better to appeal to the heavens.

“’Orrible!  ’Orrible!” said Hamilton; “and now I seem to catch the accusing eye of the chief officer, which means that he wants me to hop.  God bless you, old man!”

His sinewy paw caught the other’s in a grip that left both hands numb at the finish.

“Keep well,” said Sanders in a low voice, his hand on Hamilton’s back, as they walked to the gangway.  “Watch the Isisi and sit on Bosambo ­especially Bosambo, for he is a mighty slippery devil.”

“Leave me to deal with Bosambo,” said Hamilton firmly, as he skipped down the companion to the big boat that rolled and tumbled under the coarse skin of the ship.

“I am leaving you,” said Sanders, with a chuckle.

He watched the Houssa pick a finnicking way to the stern of the boat; saw the solemn faces of his rowmen as they bent their naked backs, gripping their clumsy oars.  And to think that they and Hamilton were going back to the familiar life, to the dear full days he knew!  Sanders coughed and swore at himself.

“Oh, Sandi!” called the headman of the boat, as she went lumbering over the clear green swell, “remember us, your servants!”

“I will remember, man,” said Sanders, a-choke, and turned quickly to his cabin.

Hamilton sat in the stern of the surf-boat, humming a song to himself; but he felt awfully solemn, though in his pocket reposed a commission sealed redly and largely on parchment and addressed to:  “Our well-beloved Patrick George Hamilton, Lieutenant, of our 133rd 1st Royal Hertford Regiment.  Seconded for service in our 9th Regiment of Houssas ­Greeting....”

“Master,” said his Kroo servant, who waited his landing, “you lib for dem big house?”

“I lib,” said Hamilton.

Dem big house,” was the Residency, in which a temporarily appointed Commissioner must take up his habitation, if he is to preserve the dignity of his office.

“Let us pray!” said Hamilton earnestly, addressing himself to a small snapshot photograph of Sanders, which stood on a side table.  “Let us pray that the barbarian of his kindness will sit quietly till you return, my Sanders ­for the Lord knows what trouble I’m going to get into before you return!”

The incoming mail brought Francis Augustus Tibbetts, Lieutenant of the Houssas, raw to the land, but as cheerful as the devil ­a straight stick of a youth, with hair brushed back from his forehead, a sun-peeled nose, a wonderful collection of baggage, and all the gossip of London.

“I’m afraid you’ll find I’m rather an ass, sir,” he said, saluting stiffly.  “I’ve only just arrived on the Coast an’ I’m simply bubbling over with energy, but I’m rather short in the brain department.”

Hamilton, glaring at his subordinate through his monocle, grinned sympathetically.

“I’m not a whale of erudition myself,” he confessed.  “What is your name, sir?”

“Francis Augustus Tibbetts, sir.”

“I shall call you Bones,” said Hamilton, decisively.

Lieut.  Tibbetts saluted.  “They called me Conk at Sandhurst, sir,” he suggested.

“Bones!” said Hamilton, definitely.

“Bones it is, skipper,” said Mr. Tibbetts; “an’ now all this beastly formality is over we’ll have a bottle to celebrate things.”  And a bottle they had.

It was a splendid evening they spent, dining on chicken and palm-oil chop, rice pudding and sweet potatoes.  Hamilton sang, “Who wouldn’t be a soldier in the Army?” and ­by request ­in his shaky falsetto baritone, “My heart is in the Highlands”; and Lieut.  Tibbetts gave a lifelike imitation of Frank Tinney, which convulsed, not alone his superior officer, but some two-and-forty men of the Houssas who were unauthorized spectators through various windows and door cracks and ventilating gauzes.

Bones was the son of a man who had occupied a position of some importance on the Coast, and though the young man’s upbringing had been in England, he had the inestimable advantage of a very thorough grounding in the native dialect, not only from Tibbetts, senior, but from the two native servants with whom the boy had grown up.

“I suppose there is a telegraph line to headquarters?” asked Bones that night before they parted.

“Certainly, my dear lad,” replied Hamilton.  “We had it laid down when we heard you were coming.”

“Don’t flither!” pleaded Bones, giggling convulsively; “but the fact is I’ve got a couple of dozen tickets in the Cambridgeshire Sweepstake, an’ a dear pal of mine ­chap named Goldfinder, a rare and delicate bird ­has sworn to wire me if I’ve drawn a horse.  D’ye think I’ll draw a horse?”

“I shouldn’t think you could draw a cow,” said Hamilton.  “Go to bed.”

“Look here, Ham ­” began Lieut.  Bones.

“To bed! you insubordinate devil!” said Hamilton, sternly.

In the meantime there was trouble in the Akasava country.


Scarcely had Sanders left the land, when the lokali of the Lower Isisi sent the news thundering in waves of sound.

Up and down the river and from village to village, from town to town, across rivers, penetrating dimly to the quiet deeps of the forest the story was flung.  N’gori, the Chief of the Akasava, having some grievance against the Government over a question of fine for failure to collect according to the law, waited for no more than this intelligence of Sandi’s going.  His swift loud drums called his people to a dance-of-many-days.  A dance-of-many-days spells “spears” and spears spell trouble.  Bosambo heard the message in the still of the early night, gathered five hundred fighting men, swept down on the Akasava city in the drunken dawn, and carried away two thousand spears of the sodden N’gori.

A sobered Akasava city woke up and rubbed its eyes to find strange Ochori sentinels in the street and Bosambo in a sky-blue table-cloth, edged with golden fringe, stalking majestically through the high places of the city.

“This I do,” said Bosambo to a shocked N’gori, “because my lord Sandi placed me here to hold the king’s peace.”

“Lord Bosambo,” said the king sullenly, “what peace do I break when I summon my young men and maidens to dance?”

“Your young men are thieves, and it is written that the maidens of the Akasava are married once in ten thousand moons,” said Bosambo calmly; “and also, N’gori, you speak to a wise man who knows that clockety-clock-clock on a drum spells war.”

There was a long and embarrassing silence.

“Now, Bosambo,” said N’gori, after a while, “you have my spears and your young men hold the streets and the river.  What will you do?  Do you sit here till Sandi returns and there is law in the land?”

This was the one question which Bosambo had neither the desire nor the ability to answer.  He might swoop down upon a warlike people, surprising them to their abashment, rendering their armed forces impotent, but exactly what would happen afterwards he had not foreseen.

“I go back to my city,” he said.

“And my spears?”

“Also they go with me,” said Bosambo.

They eyed each other:  Bosambo straight and muscular, a perfect figure of a man, N’gori grizzled and skinny, his brow furrowed with age.

“Lord,” said N’gori mildly, “if you take my spears you leave me bound to my enemies.  How may I protect my villages against oppression by evil men of Isisi?”

Bosambo sniffed ­a sure sign of mental perturbation.  All that N’gori said was true.  Yet if he left the spears there would be trouble for him.  Then a bright thought flicked: 

“If bad men come you shall send for me and I will bring my fine young soldiers.  The palaver is finished.”

With this course N’gori must feign agreement.  He watched the departing army ­paddlers sitting on swathes of filched spears.  Once Bosambo was out of sight, N’gori collected all the convertible property of his city and sent it in ten canoes to the edge of the N’gombi country, for N’gombi folk are wonderful makers of spears and have a saleable stock hidden against emergency.

For the space of a month there was enacted a comedy of which Hamilton was ignorant.  Three days after Bosambo had returned in triumph to his city, there came a frantic call for succour ­a rolling, terrified rat-a-plan of sound which the lokali man of the Ochori village read.

“Lord,” said he, waking Bosambo in the dead of night, “there has come down a signal from the Akasava, who are pressed by their enemies and have no spears.”

Bosambo was in the dark street instanter, his booming war-drum calling urgently.  Twenty canoes filled with fighting men, paddling desperately with the stream, raced to the aid of the defenceless Akasava.

At dawn, on the beach of the city, N’gori met his ally.  “I thank all my little gods you have come, my lord,” said he, humbly; “for in the night one of my young men saw an Isisi army coming against us.”

“Where is the army?” demanded a weary Bosambo.

“Lord, it has not come,” said N’gori, glibly; “for hearing of your lordship and your swift canoes, I think it had run away.”

Bosambo’s force paddled back to the Ochori city the next day.  Two nights after, the call was repeated ­this time with greater detail.  An N’gombi force of countless spears had seized the village of Doozani and was threatening the capital.

Again Bosambo carried his spears to a killing, and again was met by an apologetic N’gori.

“Lord, it was a lie which a sick maiden spread,” he explained, “and my stomach is filled with sorrow that I should have brought the mighty Bosambo from his wife’s bed on such a night.”  For the dark hours had been filled with rain and tempest, and Bosambo had nearly lost one canoe by wreck.

“Oh, fool!” said he, justly exasperated, “have I nothing to do ­I, who have all Sandi’s high and splendid business in hand ­but I must come through the rain because a sick maiden sees visions?”

“Bosambo, I am a fool,” agreed N’gori, meekly, and again his rescuer returned home.

“Now,” said N’gori, “we will summon a secret palaver, sending messengers for all men to assemble at the rise of the first moon.  For the N’gombi have sent me new spears, and when next the dog Bosambo comes, weary with rowing, we will fall upon him and there will be no more Bosambo left; for Sandi is gone and there is no law in the land.”


Curiously enough, at that precise moment, the question of law was a very pressing one with two young Houssa officers who sat on either side of Sanders’ big table, wet towels about their heads, mastering the intricacies of the military code; for Tibbetts was entering for an examination and Hamilton, who had only passed his own by a fluke, had rashly offered to coach him.

“I hope you understand this, Bones,” said Hamilton, staring up at his subordinate and running his finger along the closely printed pages of the book before him.

“‘Any person subject to military law,’” read Hamilton impressively, “’who strikes or ill-uses his superior officer shall, if an officer, suffer death or such less punishment as in this Act mentioned.’  Which means,” said Hamilton, wisely, “that if you and I are in action and you call me a liar, and I give you a whack on the jaw ­”

“You get shot,” said Bones, admiringly, “an’ a rippin’ good idea, too!”

“If, on the other hand,” Hamilton went on, “I called you a liar ­which I should be justified in doing ­and you give me a whack on the jaw, I’d make you sorry you were ever born.”

“That’s military law, is it?” asked Bones, curiously.

“It is,” said Hamilton.

“Then let’s chuck it,” said Bones, and shut up his book with a bang.  “I don’t want any book to teach me what to do with a feller that calls me a liar.  I’ll go you one game of picquet, for nuts.”

“You’re on,” said Hamilton.

“My nuts I think, sir.”

Bones carefully counted the heap which his superior had pushed over, “And ­hullo! what the dooce do you want?”

Hamilton followed the direction of the other’s eyes.  A man stood in the doorway, naked but for the wisp of skirt at his waist.  Hamilton got up quickly, for he recognized the chief of Sandi’s spies.

“O Kelili,” said Hamilton in his easy Bomongo tongue, “why do you come and from whence?”

“From the island over against the Ochori, Lord,” croaked the man, dry-throated.  “Two pigeons I sent, but these the hawks took ­a fisherman saw one taken by the Kasai, and my own brother, who lives in the Village of Irons, saw the other go ­though he flew swiftly.”

Hamilton’s grave face set rigidly, for he smelt trouble.  You do not send pleasant news by pigeons.

“Speak,” he said.

“Lord,” said Kelili, “there is to be a killing palaver between the Ochori and the Akasava on the first rise of the full moon, for N’gori speaks of Bosambo evilly, and says that the Chief has raided him.  In what manner these things will come about,” Kelili went on, with the lofty indifference of one who had done his part of the business, so that he had left no room for carelessness, “I do not know, but I have warned all eyes of the Government to watch.”

Bones followed the conversation without difficulty.

“What do people say?” asked Hamilton.

“Lord, they say that Sandi has gone and there is no law.”

Hamilton of the Houssas grinned.  “Oh, ain’t there?” said he, in English, vilely.

“Ain’t there?” repeated an indignant Bones, “we’ll jolly well show old Thinggumy what’s what.”

Bosambo received an envoy from the Chief of the Akasava, and the envoy brought with him presents of dubious value and a message to the effect that N’gori spent much of his waking moments in wondering how he might best serve his brother Bosambo, “The right arm on which I and my people lean and the bright eyes through which I see beauty.”

Bosambo returned the messenger, with presents more valueless, and an assurance of friendship more sonorous, more complete in rhetoric and aptness of hyperbole, and when the messenger had gone Bosambo showed his appreciation of N’gori’s love by doubling the guard about the Ochori city and sending a strong picket under his chief headman to hold the river bend.

“Because,” said this admirable philosopher, “life is like certain roots:  some that taste sweet and are bitter in the end, and some that are vile to the lips and pleasant to the stomach.”

It was a wild night, being in the month of rains.  M’shimba M’shamba was abroad, walking with his devastating feet through the forest, plucking up great trees by their roots and tossing them aside as though they were so many canes.  There was a roaring of winds and a crashing of thunders, and the blue-white lightning snicked in and out of the forest or tore sprawling cracks in the sky.  In the Ochori city they heard the storm grumbling across the river and were awakened by the incessant lightning ­so incessant that the weaver birds who lived in palms that fringed the Ochori streets came chattering to life.

It was too loud a noise, that M’shimba M’shamba made for the lokali man of the Ochori to hear the message that N’gori sent ­the panic-message designed to lure Bosambo to the newly-purchased spears.

Bones heard it ­Bones, standing on the bridge of the Zaïre pounding away upstream, steaming past the Akasava city in a sheet of rain.

“Wonder what the jolly old row is?” he muttered to himself, and summoned his sergeant.  “Ali,” said he, in faultless Arabic, “what beating of drums are these?”

“Lord,” said the sergeant, uneasily, “I do not know, unless they be to warn us not to travel at night.  I am your man, Master,” said he in a fret, “yet never have I travelled with so great a fear:  even our Lord Sandi does not move by night, though the river is his own child.”

“It is written,” said Bones, cheerfully, and as the sergeant saluted and turned away, the reckless Houssa made a face at the darkness.  “If old man Ham would give me a month or two on the river,” he mused, “I’d set ’em alight, by Jove!”

By the miraculous interposition of Providence Bones reached the Ochori village in the grey clouded dawn, and Bosambo, early astir, met the lank figure of the youth, his slick sword dangling, his long revolver holster strapped to his side, and his helmet on the back of his head, an eager warrior looking for trouble.

“Lord, of you I have heard,” said Bosambo, politely; “here in the Ochori country we talk of no other thing than the new, thin Lord whose beautiful nose is like the red flowers of the forest.”

“Leave my nose alone,” said Bones, unpleasantly, “and tell me, Chief, what killing palaver is this I hear?  I come from Government to right all wrongs ­this is evidently his nibs, Bosambo.”  The last passage was in his own native tongue and Bosambo beamed.

“Yes, sah!” said he in the English of the Coast.  “I be Bosambo, good chap, fine chap; you, sah, you look um ­you see um ­Bosambo!”

He slapped his chest and Bones unbent.

“Look here, old sport,” he said affably:  “what the dooce is all this shindy about ­hey?”

“No shindy, sah!” said Bosambo ­being sure that all people of his city were standing about at a respectful distance, awe-stricken by the sight of their chief on equal terms with this new white lord.

Dem feller he lib for Akasava, sah ­he be bad feller:  I be good feller, sah ­C’istian, sah!  Matt’ew, Marki, Luki, Johni ­I savvy dem fine.”

Happily, Bones continued the conversation in the tongue of the land.  Then he learned of the dance which Bosambo had frustrated, of the spears taken, and these he saw stacked in three huts.

Bones, despite the character he gave himself, was no fool, and, moreover, he had the advantage of knowing of the new N’gombi spears that were going out to the Akasava day by day; and when Bosambo told of the midnight summons that had come to him, Bones did the rapid exercise of mental figuring which is known as putting two and two together.

He wagged his head when Bosambo had finished his recital, did this general of twenty-one.  “You’re a jolly old sportsman, Bosambo,” he said very seriously, “and you’re in the dooce of a hole, if you only knew it.  But you trust old Bones ­he’ll see you through.  By Gad!”

Bosambo, bewildered but resourceful, hearing, without understanding, replied:  “I be fine feller, sah!”

“You bet your life you are, old funnyface,” agreed Bones, and screwed his eyeglass in the better to survey his protege.


Chief N’gori organized a surprise party for Bosambo, and took so much trouble with the details, that, because of his sheer thoroughness, he deserved to have succeeded. Lokali men concealed in the bush were waiting to announce the coming of the rescue party, when N’gori sent his cry for help crashing across the world.  Six hundred spearmen stood ready to embark in fifty canoes, and five hundred more waited on either bank ready to settle with any survivors of the Ochori who found their way to land.

The best of plans are subject to the banal reservation, “weather permitting,” and the signal intended to bring Bosambo to his destruction was swallowed up in the bellowings of the storm.

“This night being fine,” said N’gori, showing his teeth, “Bosambo will surely come.”

His Chief Counsellor, an ancient man of the royal tribe, had unexpected warnings to offer.  A man had seen a man, who had caught a glimpse of the Zaïre butting her way upstream in the dead of night.  Was it wise, when the devil Sandi waited to smite, and so close at hand, to engage in so high an adventure?

“Old man, there is a hut in the forest for you,” said N’gori, with significance, and the Counsellor wilted, because the huts in the forest are for the sick, the old, and the mad, and here they are left to starve and die; “for,” N’gori went on, “all men know that Sandi has gone to his people across the black waters, and the M’ilitani rules.  Also, in nights of storms there are men who see even devils.”

With more than ordinary care he prepared for the final settling with Bosambo the Robber, and there is a suggestion that he was encouraged by the chiefs of other lands, who had grown jealous of the Ochori and their offensive rectitude.  Be that as it may, all things were made ready, even to the knives of sacrifice and the young saplings which had not been employed by the Akasava for their grisly work since the Year of Hangings.

At an hour before midnight the tireless lokali sent out its call: 

“We of the Akasava” (four long rolls and a quick
succession of taps)

“Danger threatens” (a long roll, a short roll,
and a triple tap-tap)

“Isisi fighting” (rolls punctuated by shorter

“Come to me” (a long crescendo roll and
patter of taps)

“Ochori” (nine rolls, curiously like
the yelping of a dog)

So the message went out:  every village heard and repeated.  The Isisi threw the call northward; the N’gombi village, sent it westward, and presently first the Isisi, then the N’gombi, heard the faint answer:  “Coming ­the Breaker of Lives,” and returned the message to N’gori.

“Now I shall also break lives,” said N’gori, and sacrificed a goat to his success.

Sixteen hundred fighting men waited for the signal from the hidden lokali player, on the far side of the river bend.  At the first hollow rattle of his sticks, N’gori pushed off in his royal canoe.

“Kill!” he roared, and went out in the white light of dawn to greet ten Ochori canoes, riding in fanshape formation, having as their centre a white and speckless Zaïre alive with Houssas and overburdened with the slim muzzles of Hotchkiss guns.

“Oh, Ko!” said N’gori dismally, “this is a bad palaver!”

In the centre of his city, before a reproving squad of Houssas, a dumb man, taken in the act of armed aggression, N’gori stood.

“You’re a naughty boy,” said Bones, reproachfully, “and if jolly old Sanders were here ­my word, you’d catch it!”

N’gori listened to the unknown tongue, worried by its mystery.  “Lord, what happens to me?” he asked.

Bones looked very profound and scratched his head.  He looked at the Chief, at Bosambo, at the river all aglow in the early morning sunlight, at the Zaïre, with her sinister guns a-glitter, and then back at the Chief.  He was not well versed in the dialect of the Akasava, and Bosambo must be his interpreter.

“Very serious offence, old friend,” said Bones, solemnly; “awfully serious ­muckin’ about with spears and all that sort of thing.  I’ll have to make a dooce of an example of you ­yes, by Heaven!”

Bosambo heard and imperfectly understood.  He looked about for a likely tree where an unruly chief might sway with advantage to the community.

“You’re a bad, bad boy,” said Bones, shaking his head; “tell him.”

“Yes, sah!” said Bosambo.

“Tell him he’s fined ten dollars.”

But Bosambo did not speak:  there are moments too full for words and this was one of them.