Read CHAPTER IV - THE FETISH STICK of Bones Being Further Adventures in Mr. Commissioner Sanders' Country , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on ReadCentral.com.

N’gori the Chief had a son who limped and lived.  This was a marvellous thing in a land where cripples are severely discouraged and malformity is a sure passport for heaven.

The truth is that M’fosa was born in a fishing village at a period of time when all the energies of the Akasava were devoted to checking and defeating the predatory raidings of the N’gombi, under that warlike chief G’osimalino, who also kept other nations on the defensive, and held the river basin, from the White River, by the old king’s territory, to as far south as the islands of the Lesser Isisi.

When M’fosa was three months old, Sanders had come with a force of soldiers, had hanged G’osimalino to a high tree, had burnt his villages and destroyed his crops and driven the remnants of his one-time invincible army to the little known recesses of the Itusi Forest.

Those were the days of the Cakitas or government chiefs, and it was under the beneficent sway of one of these that M’fosa grew to manhood, though many attempts were made to lure him to unfrequented waterways and blind crocodile creeks where a lame man might be lost, and no one be any the wiser.

Chief of the eugenists was Kobolo, the boy’s uncle, and N’gori’s own brother.  This dissatisfied man, with several of M’fosa’s cousins, once partially succeeded in kidnapping the lame boy, and they were on their way to certain middle islands in the broads of the river to accomplish their scheme ­which was to put out the eyes of M’fosa and leave him to die ­when Sanders had happened along.

He it was who set all the men of M’fosa’s village to cut down a high pine tree ­at an infernal distance from the village, and had men working for a week, trimming and planing that pine; and another week they spent carrying the long stem through the forest (Sanders had devilishly chosen his tree in the most inaccessible part of the woods), and yet another week digging large holes and erecting it.

For he was a difficult man to please.  Broad backs ran sweat to pull and push and hoist that great flagstaff (as it appeared with its strong pulley and smooth sides) to its place.  And no sooner was it up than my lord Sandi had changed his mind and must have it in another place.  Sanders would come back at intervals to see how the work was progressing.  At last it was fixed, that monstrous pole, and the men of the village sighed thankfully.

“Lord, tell me,” N’gori had asked, “why you put this great stick in the ground?”

“This,” said Sanders, “is for him who injures M’fosa your son; upon this will I hang him.  And if there be more men than one who take to the work of slaughter, behold!  I will have yet another tree cut and hauled, and put in a place and upon that will I hang the other man.  All men shall know this sign, the high stick as my fetish; and it shall watch the evil hearts and carry me all thoughts, good and evil.  And then I tell you, that such is its magic, that if needs be, it shall draw me from the end of the world to punish wrong.”

This is the story of the fetish stick of the Akasava and of how it came to be in its place.

None did hurt to M’fosa, and he grew to be a man, and as he grew and his father became first counsellor, then petty chief, and, at last, paramount chief of the nation, M’fosa developed in hauteur and bitterness, for this high pole rainwashed, and sun-burnt, was a reminder, not of the strong hand that had been stretched out to save him, but of his own infirmity.

And he came to hate it, and by some curious perversion to hate the man who had set it up.

Most curious of all to certain minds, he was the first of those who condemned, and secretly slew, the unfortunates, who either came into the world hampered by disfigurement, or who, by accident, were unfitted for the great battle.

He it was who drowned Kibusi the woodman, who lost three fingers by the slipping of the axe; he was the leader of the young men who fell upon the boy Sandilo-M’goma, who was crippled by fire; and though the fetish stood a menace to all, reading thoughts and clothed with authority, yet M’fosa defied spirits and went about his work reckless of consequence.

When Sanders had gone home, and it seemed that law had ceased to be, N’gori (as I have shown) became of a sudden a bold and fearless man, furbished up his ancient grievances and might have brought trouble to the land, but for a watchful Bosambo.

This is certain, however, that N’gori himself was a good-enough man at heart, and if there was evil in his actions be sure that behind him prompting, whispering, subtly threatening him, was his malignant son, a sinister figure with one eye half closed, and a figure that went limping through the city with a twisted smile.

An envoy came to the Ochori country bearing green branches of the Isisi palm, which signifies peace, and at the head of the mission ­for mission it was ­came M’fosa.

“Lord Bosambo,” said the man who limped, “N’gori the chief, my father, has sent me, for he desires your friendship and help; also your loving countenance at his great feast.”

“Oh, oh!” said Bosambo, drily, “what king’s feast is this?”

“Lord,” rejoined the other, “it is no king’s feast, but a great dance of rejoicing, for our crops are very plentiful, and our goats have multiplied more than a man can count; therefore my father said:  Go you to Bosambo of the Ochori, he who was once my enemy and now indeed my friend.  And say to him ‘Come into my city, that I may honour you.’”

Bosambo thought.

“How can your lord and father feast so many as I would bring?” he asked thoughtfully, as he sat, chin on palm, pondering the invitation, “for I have a thousand spearmen, all young men and fond of food.”

M’fosa’s face fell.

“Yet, Lord Bosambo,” said he, “if you come without your spearmen, but with your counsellors only ­”

Bosambo looked at the limper, through half-closed eyes.  “I carry spears to a Dance of Rejoicing,” he said significantly, “else I would not Dance or Rejoice.”

M’fosa showed his teeth, and his eyes were filled with hateful fires.  He left the Ochori with bad grace, and was lucky to leave it at all, for certain men of the country, whom he had put to torture (having captured them fishing in unauthorized waters), would have rushed him but for Bosambo’s presence.

His other invitation was more successful.  Hamilton of the Houssas was at the Isisi city when the deputation called upon him.

“Here’s a chance for you, Bones,” he said.

Lieutenant Tibbetts had spent a vain day, fishing in the river with a rod and line, and was sprawling under a deck-chair under the awning of the bridge.

“Would you like to be the guest of honour at N’gori’s little thanksgiving service?”

Bones sat up.

“Shall I have to make a speech?” he asked cautiously.

“You may have to respond for the ladies,” said Hamilton.  “No, my dear chap, all you will have to do will be to sit round and look clever.”

Bones thought awhile.

“I’ll bet you’re putting me on to a rotten job,” he accused, “but I’ll go.”

“I wish you would,” said Hamilton, seriously.  “I can’t get the hang of M’fosa’s mind, ever since you treated him with such leniency.”

“If you’re goin’ to dig up the grisly past, dear old sir,” said a reproachful Bones, “if you insist recalling events which I hoped, sir, were hidden in oblivion, I’m going to bed.”

He got up, this lank youth, fixed his eyeglass firmly and glared at his superior.

“Sit down and shut up,” said Hamilton, testily; “I’m not blaming you.  And I’m not blaming N’gori.  It’s that son of his ­listen to this.”

He beckoned the three men who had come down from the Akasava as bearers of the invitation.

“Say again what your master desires,” he said.

“Thus speaks N’gori, and I talk with his voice,” said the spokesman, “that you shall cut down the devil-stick which Sandi planted in our midst, for it brings shame to us, and also to M’fosa the son of our master.”

“How may I do this?” asked Hamilton, “I, who am but the servant of Sandi?  For I remember well that he put the stick there to make a great magic.”

“Now the magic is made,” said the sullen headman; “for none of our people have died the death since Sandi set it up.”

“And dashed lucky you’ve been,” murmured Bones.

“Go back to your master and tell him this,” said Hamilton.  “Thus says M’ilitani, my lord Tibbetti will come on your feast day and you shall honour him; as for the stick, it stands till Sandi says it shall not stand.  The palaver is finished.”

He paced up and down the deck when the men had gone, his hands behind him, his brows knit in worry.

“Four times have I been asked to cut down Sanders’ pole,” he mused aloud.  “I wonder what the idea is?”

“The idea?” said Bones, “the idea, my dear old silly old fellow, isn’t it as plain as your dashed old nose?  They don’t want it!”

Hamilton looked down at him.

“What a brain you must have, Bones!” he said admiringly.  “I often wonder you don’t employ it.”

II

By the Blue Pool in the forest there is a famous tree gifted with certain properties.  It is known in the vernacular of the land, and I translate it literally, “The-tree-that-has-no-echo-and-eats-up-sound.”  Men believe that all that is uttered beneath its twisted branches may be remembered, but not repeated, and if one shouts in its deadening shade, even they who stand no farther than a stride from its furthermost stretch of branch or leaf, will hear nothing.

Therefore is the Silent Tree much in favour for secret palaver, such as N’gori and his limping son attended, and such as the Lesser Isisi came to fearfully.

N’gori, who might be expected to take a very leading part in the discussion which followed the meeting, was, in fact, the most timorous of those who squatted in the shadow of the huge cedar.

Full of reservations, cautions, doubts and counsels of discretion was N’gori till his son turned on him, grinning as his wont when in his least pleasant mood.

“O, my father,” said he softly, “they say on the river that men who die swiftly say no more than ‘wait’ with their last breath; now I tell you that all my young men who plot secretly with me, are for chopping you ­but because I am like a god to them, they spare you.”

“My son,” said N’gori uneasily, “this is a very high palaver, for many chiefs have risen and struck at the Government, and always Sandi has come with his soldiers, and there have been backs that have been sore for the space of a moon, and necks that have been sore for this time,” he snapped finger, “and then have been sore no more.”

“Sandi has gone,” said M’fosa.

“Yet his fetish stands,” insisted the old man; “all day and all night his dreadful spirit watches us; for this we have all seen that the very lightnings of M’shimba M’shamba run up that stick and do it no harm.  Also M’ilitani and Moon-in-the-Eye ­”

“They are fools,” a counsellor broke in.

“Lord M’ilitani is no fool, this I know,” interrupted a fourth.

“Tibbetti comes ­and brings no soldiers.  Now I tell you my mind that Sandi’s fetish is dead ­as Sandi has passed from us, and this is the sign I desire ­I and my young men.  We shall make a killing palaver in the face of the killing stick, and if Sandi lives and has not lied to us, he shall come from the end of the world as he said.”

He rose up from the ground.  There was no doubt now who ruled the Akasava.

“The palaver is finished,” he said, and led the way back to the city, his father meekly following in the rear.

Two days later Bones arrived at the city of the Akasava, bringing with him no greater protection than a Houssa orderly afforded.

III

On a certain night in September Mr. Commissioner Sanders was the guest of the Colonial Secretary at his country seat in Berkshire.

Sanders, who was no society man, either by training or by inclination, would have preferred wandering aimlessly about the brilliantly lighted streets of London, but the engagement was a long-standing one.  In a sense he was a lion against his will.  His name was known, people had written of his character and his sayings; he had even, to his own amazement, delivered a lecture before the members of the Ethnological Society on “Native Folk-lore,” and had emerged from the ordeal triumphantly.  The guests of Lord Castleberry found Sanders a shy, silent man who could not be induced to talk of the land he loved so dearly.  They might have voted him a bore, but for the fact that he so completely effaced himself they had little opportunity for forming so definite a judgment.

It was on the second night of his visit to Newbury Grange that they had cornered him in the billiard-room.  It was the beautiful daughter of Lord Castleberry who, with the audacity of youth, forced him, metaphorically speaking, into a corner, from whence there was no escape.

“We’ve been very patient, Mr. Sanders,” she pouted; “we are all dying to hear of your wonderful country, and Bosambo, and fetishes and things, and you haven’t said a word.”

“There is little to say,” he smiled; “perhaps if I told you ­something about fetishes...?”

There was a chorus of approval.

Sanders had gained enough courage from his experience before the Ethnological Society, and began to talk.

“Wait,” said Lady Betty; “let’s have all these glaring lights out ­they limit our imagination.”

There was a click, and, save for one bracket light behind Sanders, the room was in darkness.  He was grateful to the girl, and well rewarded her and the party that sat round on chairs, on benches around the edge of the billiard-table, listening.  He told them stories ... curious, unbelievable; of ghost palavers, of strange rites, of mysterious messages carried across the great space of forests.

“Tell us about fetishes,” said the girl’s voice.

Sanders smiled.  There rose to his eyes the spectacle of a hot and weary people bringing in a giant tree through the forest, inch by inch.

And he told the story of the fetish of the Akasava.

“And I said,” he concluded, “that I would come from the end of the world ­”

He stopped suddenly and stared straight ahead.  In the faint light they saw him stiffen like a setter.

“What is wrong?”

Lord Castleberry was on his feet, and somebody clicked on the lights.

But Sanders did not notice.

He was looking towards the end of the room, and his face was set and hard.

“O, M’fosa,” he snarled, “O, dog!”

They heard the strange staccato of the Bomongo tongue and wondered.

Lieutenant Tibbetts, helmetless, his coat torn, his lip bleeding, offered no resistance when they strapped him to the smooth high pole.  Almost at his feet lay the dead Houssa orderly whom M’fosa had struck down from behind.

In a wide circle, their faces half revealed by the crackling fire which burnt in the centre, the people of the Akasava city looked on impressively.

N’gori, the chief, his brows all wrinkled in terror, his shaking hands at his mouth in a gesture of fear, was no more than a spectator, for his masterful son limped from side to side, consulting his counsellors.

Presently the men who had bound Bones stepped aside, their work completed, and M’fosa came limping across to his prisoners.

“Now,” he mocked.  “Is it hard for you this fetish stick which Sandi has placed?”

“You’re a low cad,” said Bones, dropping into English in his wrath.  “You’re a low, beastly bounder, an’ I’m simply disgusted with you.”

“What does he say?” they asked M’fosa.

“He speaks to his gods in his own tongue,” answered the limper; “for he is greatly afraid.”

Lieutenant Tibbetts went on: 

“Hear,” said he in fluent and vitriolic Bomongo ­for he was using that fisher dialect which he knew so much better than the more sonorous tongue of the Upper River ­“O hear, eater of fish, O lame dog, O nameless child of a monkey!”

M’fosa’s lips went up one-sidedly.

“Lord,” said he softly, “presently you shall say no more, for I will cut your tongue out that you shall be lame of speech ... afterwards I will burn you and the fetish stick, so that you all tumble together.”

“Be sure you will tumble into hell,” said Bones cheerfully, “and that quickly, for you have offended Sandi’s Ju-ju, which is powerful and terrible.”

If he could gain time ­time for some miraculous news to come to Hamilton, who, blissfully unconscious of the treachery to his second-in-command, was sleeping twenty miles downstream ­unconscious, too, of the Akasava fleet of canoes which was streaming towards his little steamer.

Perhaps M’fosa guessed his thoughts.

“You die alone, Tibbetti,” he said, “though I planned a great death for you, with Bosambo at your side; and in the matter of ju-jus, behold! you shall call for Sandi ­whilst you have a tongue.”

He took from the raw-hide sheath that was strapped to the calf of his bare leg, a short N’gombi knife, and drew it along the palm of his hand.

“Call now, O Moon-in-the-Eye!” he scoffed.

Bones saw the horror and braced himself to meet it.

“O Sandi!” cried M’fosa, “O planter of ju-ju, come quickly!”

“Dog!”

M’fosa whipped round, the knife dropping from his hand.

He knew the voice, was paralysed by the concentrated malignity in the voice.

There stood Sandi ­not half a dozen paces from him.

A Sandi in strange black clothing with a big white-breasted shirt ... but Sandi, hard-eyed and threatening.

“Lord, lord!” he stammered, and put up his hands to his eyes.

He looked again ­the figure had vanished.

“Magic!” he mumbled, and lurched forward in terror and hate to finish his work.

Then through the crowd stalked a tall man.

A rope of monkeys’ tails covers one broad shoulder; his left arm and hand were hidden by an oblong shield of hide.

In one hand he held a slim throwing spear and this he balanced delicately.

“I am Bosambo of the Ochori,” he said magnificently and unnecessarily; “you sent for me and I have come ­bringing a thousand spears.”

M’fosa blinked, but said nothing.

“On the river,” Bosambo went on, “I met many canoes that went to a killing ­behold!”

It was the head of M’fosa’s lieutenant, who had charge of the surprise party.

For a moment M’fosa looked, then turned to leap, and Bosambo’s spear caught him in mid-air.

“Jolly old Bosambo!” muttered Bones, and fainted.

Four thousand miles away Sanders was offering his apologies to a startled company.

“I could have sworn I saw ­something,” he said, and he told no more stories that night.