Read CHAPTER VI - THE SOUL OF THE NATIVE WOMAN of Bones Being Further Adventures in Mr. Commissioner Sanders' Country , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on

Mail day is ever a day of supreme interest for the young and for the matter of that for the middle-aged, too.  Sanders hated mail days because the bulk of his correspondence had to do with Government, and Government never sat down with a pen in its hand to wish Sanders many happy returns of the day or to tell him scandalous stories about mutual friends.

Rather the Government (by inference) told him scandalous stories about himself ­of work not completed to the satisfaction of Downing Street ­a thoroughfare given to expecting miracles.

Hamilton had a sister who wrote wittily and charmingly every week, and there was another girl ...  Still, two letters and a bright pink paper or two made a modest postbag by the side of Lieutenant Tibbetts’ mail.

There came to Bones every mail day a thick wad of letters and parcels innumerable, and he could sit at the big table for hours on end, whistling a little out of tune, mumbling incoherently.  He had a trick of commenting upon his letters aloud, which was very disconcerting for Hamilton.  Bones wouldn’t open a letter and get half-way through it before he began his commenting.

“... poor soul ... dear! dear! ... what a silly old ass ... ah, would you ... don’t do it, Billy....”

To Hamilton’s eyes the bulk of correspondence rather increased than diminished.

“You must owe a lot of money,” he said one day.


“All these...!” Hamilton opened his hand to a floor littered with discarded envelopes.  “I suppose they represent demands....”

“Dear lad,” said Bones brightly, “they represent popularity ­I’m immensely popular, sir,” he gulped a little as he fished out two dainty envelopes from the pile before him; “you may not have experienced the sensation, but I assure you, sir, it’s pleasing, it’s doocidly pleasing!”

“Complacent ass,” said Hamilton, and returned to his own correspondence.

Systematically Bones went through his letters, now and again consulting a neat little morocco-covered note-book. (It would appear he kept a very careful record of every letter he wrote home, its contents, the date of its dispatch, and the reply thereto.) He had reduced letter writing to a passion, spent most of his evenings writing long epistles to his friends ­mostly ladies of a tender age ­and had incidentally acquired a reputation in the Old Country for his brilliant powers of narrative.

This, Hamilton discovered quite by accident.  It would appear that Hamilton’s sister had been on a visit ­was in fact on the visit when she wrote one letter which so opened Hamilton’s eyes ­and mentioned that she was staying with some great friends of Bones’.  She did not, of course, call him “Bones,” but “Mr. Tibbetts.”

“I should awfully like to meet him,” she wrote, “he must be a very interesting man.  Aggie Vernon had a letter from him yesterday wherein he described his awful experience lion-hunting.

“To be chased by a lion and caught and then carried to the beast’s lair must have been awful!

“Mr. Tibbetts is very modest about it in his letter, and beyond telling Aggie that he escaped by sticking his finger in the lion’s eye he says little of his subsequent adventure.  By the way, Pat, Aggie tells me that you had a bad bout of fever and that Mr. Tibbetts carried you for some miles to the nearest doctor.  I wish you wouldn’t keep these things so secret, it worries me dreadfully unless you tell me ­even the worst about yourself.  I hope your interesting friend returned safely from his dangerous expedition into the interior ­he was on the point of leaving when his letter was dispatched and was quite gloomy about his prospects....”

Hamilton read this epistle over and over again, then he sent for Bones.

That gentleman came most cheerfully, full of fine animal spirits, and ­

“Just had a letter about you, Bones,” said Hamilton carelessly.

“About me, sir!” said Bones; “from the War Office ­I’m not being decorated or anything!” he asked anxiously.

“No ­nothing so tragic; it was a letter from my sister, who is staying with the Vernons.”

“Oh!” said Bones going suddenly red.

“What a modest devil you are,” said the admiring Hamilton, “having a lion hunt all to yourself and not saying a word about it to anybody.”

Bones made curious apologetic noises.

“I didn’t know there were any lions in the country,” pursued Hamilton remorselessly.  “Liars, yes!  But lions, no!  I suppose you brought them with you ­and I suppose you know also, Bones, that it is considered in lion-hunting circles awfully rude to stick your finger into a lion’s eye?  It is bad sportsmanship to say the least, and frightfully painful for the lion.”

Bones was making distressful grimaces.

“How would you like a lion to stick his finger in your eye?” asked Hamilton severely; “and, by the way, Bones, I have to thank you.”

He rose solemnly, took the hand of his reluctant and embarrassed second and wrung.

“Thank you,” said Hamilton, in a broken voice, “for saving my life.”

“Oh, I say, sir,” began Bones feebly.

“To carry a man eighty miles on your back is no mean accomplishment, Bones ­especially when I was unconscious ­”

“I don’t say you were unconscious, sir.  In fact, sir ­” floundered Lieutenant Tibbetts as red as a peony.

“And yet I was unconscious,” insisted Hamilton firmly.  “I am still unconscious, even to this day.  I have no recollection of your heroic effort, Bones, I thank you.”

“Well, sir,” said Bones, “to make a clean breast of the whole affair ­”

“And this dangerous expedition of yours, Bones, an expedition from which you might never return ­that,” said Hamilton in a hushed voice, “is the best story I have heard for years.”

“Sir,” said Bones, speaking under the stress of considerable emotion, “I am clean bowled, sir.  The light-hearted fairy stories which I wrote to cheer, so to speak, the sick-bed of an innocent child, sir, they have recoiled upon my own head. Peccavi, mea culpi, an’ all those jolly old expressions that you’ll find in the back pages of the dictionary.”

“Oh, Bones, Bones!” chuckled Hamilton.

“You mustn’t think I’m a perfect liar, sir,” began Bones, earnestly.

“I don’t think you’re a perfect liar,” answered Hamilton, “I think you’re the most inefficient liar I’ve ever met.”

“Not even a liar, I’m a romancist, sir,” Bones stiffened with dignity and saluted, but whether he was saluting Hamilton, or the spirit of Romance, or in sheer admiration was saluting himself, Hamilton did not know.

“The fact is, sir,” said Bones confidentially, “I’m writing a book!”

He stepped back as though to better observe the effect of his words.

“What about?” asked Hamilton, curiously.

“About things I’ve seen and things I know,” said Bones, in his most impressive manner.

“Oh, I see!” said Hamilton, “one of those waistcoat pocket books.”

Bones swallowed the insult with a gulp.

“I’ve been asked to write a book,” he said; “my adventures an’ all that sort of thing.  Of course they needn’t have happened, really ­”

“In that case, Bones, I’m with you,” said Hamilton; “if you’re going to write a book about things that haven’t happened to you, there’s no limit to its size.”

“You’re bein’ a jolly cruel old officer, sir,” said Bones, pained by the cold cynicism of his chief.  “But I’m very serious, sir.  This country is full of material.  And everybody says I ought to write a book about it ­why, dash it, sir, I’ve been here nearly two months!”

“It seems years,” said Hamilton.

Bones was perfectly serious, as he had said.  He did intend preparing a book for publication, had dreams of a great literary career, and an ultimate membership of the Athenaeum Club belike.  It had come upon him like a revelation that such a career called him.  The week after he had definitely made up his mind to utilize his gifts in this direction, his outgoing mail was heavier than ever.  For to three and twenty English and American publishers, whose names he culled from a handy work of reference, he advanced a business-like offer to prepare for the press a volume “of 316 pages printed in type about the same size as enclosed,” and to be entitled: 



     AUGUSTUS TIBBETTS, Lieutenant of Houssas.

     Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; Fellow of the Royal
     Asiatic Society; Member of the Ethnological Society and Junior Army
     Service Club.

Bones had none of these qualifications, save the latter, but as he told himself he’d jolly soon be made a member if his book was a howling success.

No sooner had his letters been posted than he changed his mind, and he addressed three and twenty more letters to the publishers, altering the title to: 


Being Some Observations on the Habits and Customs
of Savage Peoples.



With a Foreword by Captain Patrick Hamilton.

“You wouldn’t mind writing a foreword, dear old fellow?” he asked.

“Charmed,” said Hamilton.  “Have you a particular preference for any form?”

“Just please yourself, sir,” said a delighted Bones, so Hamilton covered two sheets of foolscap with an appreciation which began: 

“The audacity of the author of this singularly uninformed work is to be admired without necessarily being imitated.  Two months’ residence in a land which offered many opportunities for acquiring inaccurate data, has resulted in a work which must stand for all time as a monument of murderous effort,” etc.

Bones read the appreciation very carefully.

“Dear old sport,” he said, a little troubled, as he reached the end; “this is almost uncomplimentary.”

You couldn’t depress Bones or turn him from his set purpose.  He scribed away, occupying his leisure moments with his great work.  His normal correspondence suffered cruelly, but Bones was relentless.  Hamilton sent him north to collect the hut tax, and at first Bones resented this order, believing that it was specially designed to hamper him.

“Of course, sir,” he said, “I’ll obey you, if you order me in accordance with regulations an’ all that sort of rot, but believe me, sir, you’re doin’ an injury to literature.  Unborn generations, sir, will demand an explanation ­”

“Get out!” said Hamilton crossly.

Bones found his trip a blessing that had been well disguised.  There were many points of interest on which he required first-hand information.  He carried with him to the Zaïre large exercise books on which he had pasted such pregnant labels as “Native Customs,” “Dances,” “Ju-jus,” “Ancient Legends,” “Folk-lore,” etc.  They were mostly blank, and represented projected chapters of his great work.

All might have been well with Bones.  More virgin pages might easily have been covered with his sprawling writing and the book itself, converted into honest print, have found its way, in the course of time, into the tuppenny boxes of the Farringdon book-mart, sharing its soiled magnificence with the work of the best of us, but on his way Bones had a brilliant inspiration.  There was a chapter he had not thought of, a chapter heading which had not been born to his mind until that flashing moment of genius.

Upon yet another exercise book, he pasted the label of a chapter which was to eclipse all others in interest.  Behold then, this enticing announcement, boldly printed and ruled about with double lines: 


It was a fine chapter title.  It was sonorous, it had dignity, it was full of possibilities.  “The Soul of the Native Woman,” repeated Bones, in an ecstasy of self-admiration, and having chosen his subject he proceeded to find out something about it.

Now, about this time, Bosambo of the Ochori might, had he wished and had he the literary quality, have written many books about women, if for no other reason than because of a certain girl named D’riti.

She was a woman of fifteen, grown to a splendid figure, with a proud head and a chin that tilted in contempt, for she was the daughter of Bosambo’s chief counsellor, grand-daughter of an Ochori king, and ambitious to be wife of Bosambo himself.

“This is a mad thing,” said Bosambo when her father offered the suggestion; “for, as you know, T’meli, I have one wife who is a thousand wives to me.”

“Lord, I will be ten thousand,” said D’riti, present at the interview and bold; “also, Lord, it was predicted at my birth that I should marry a king and the greater than a king.”

“That is me,” said Bosambo, who was without modesty; “yet, it cannot be.”

So they married D’riti to a chief’s son who beat her till one day she broke his thick head with an iron pot, whereupon he sent her back to her father demanding the return of his dowry and the value of his pot.

She had her following, for she was a dancer of fame and could twist her lithe body into enticing shapes.  She might have married again, but she was so scornful of common men that none dare ask for her.  Also the incident of the iron pot was not forgotten, and D’riti went swaying through the village ­she walked from her hips, gracefully ­a straight, brown, girl-woman desired and unasked.

For she knew men too well to inspire confidence in them.  By some weird intuition which certain women of all races acquire, she had probed behind their minds and saw with their eyes, and when she spoke of men, she spoke with a conscious authority, and such men, who were within earshot of her vitriolic comments, squirmed uncomfortably, and called her a woman of shame.

So matters stood when the Zaïre came flashing to the Ochori city and the heart of Bones filled with pleasant anticipation.

Who was so competent to inform him on the matter of the souls of native women as Bosambo of the Ochori, already a crony of Bones, and admirable, if for no other reason, because he professed an open reverence for his new master?  At any rate, after the haggle of tax collection was finished, Bones set about his task.

“Bosambo,” said he, “men say you are very wise.  Now tell me something about the women of the Ochori.”

Bosambo looked at Bones a little startled.

“Lord,” said he, “who knows about women?  For is it not written in the blessed Sura of the Djin that women and death are beyond understanding?”

“That may be true,” said Bones, “yet, behold, I make a book full of wise and wonderful things and it would be neither wise nor wonderful if there was no word of women.”

And he explained very seriously indeed that he desired to know of the soul of native womanhood, of her thoughts and her dreams and her high desires.

“Lord,” said Bosambo, after a long thought, “go to your ship:  presently I will send to you a girl who thinks and speaks with great wisdom ­and if she talks with you, you shall learn more things than I can tell you.”

To the Zaïre at sundown came D’riti, a girl of proper height, hollow backed, bare to the waist, with a thin skirting of fine silk cloth which her father had brought from the Coast, wound tightly about her, yet not so tightly that it hampered her swaying, lazy walk.  She stood before a disconcerted Bones, one small hand resting on her hip, her chin (as usual) tilted down at him from under lashes uncommonly long for a native.

Also, this Bones saw, she was gifted with more delicate features than the native woman can boast as a rule.  The nose was straight and narrow, the lips full, yet not of the negroid type.  She was in fact a pure Ochori woman, and the Ochori are related dimly to the Arabi tribes.

“Lord, Bosambo the King has sent me to speak about women,” she said simply.

“Doocidly awkward,” said Bones to himself, and blushed.

“O, D’riti,” he stammered, “it is true I wish to speak of women, for I make a book that all white lords will read.”

“Therefore have I come,” she said.  “Now listen, O my lord, whilst I tell you of women, and of all they think, of their love for men and of the strange way they show it.  Also of children ­”

“Look here,” said Bones, loudly.  “I don’t want any ­any ­private information, my child ­”

Then realizing from her frown that she did not understand him, he returned to Bomongo.

“Lord, I will say what is to be said,” she remarked, meekly, “for you have a gentle face and I see that your heart is very pure.”

Then she began, and Bones listened with open mouth ... later he was to feel his hair rise and was to utter gurgling protests, for she spoke with primitive simplicity about things that are never spoken about at all.  He tried to check her, but she was not to be checked.

“Goodness, gracious heavens!” gasped Bones.

She told him of what women think of men, and of what men think women think of them, and there was a remarkable discrepancy if she spoke the truth.  He asked her if she was married.

“Lord,” she said at last, eyeing him thoughtfully, “it is written that I shall marry one who is greater than chiefs.”

“I’ll bet you will, too,” thought Bones, sweating.

At parting she took his hand and pressed it to her cheek.

“Lord,” she said, softly, “to-morrow when the sun is nearly down, I will come again and tell you more....”

Bones left before daybreak, having all the material he wanted for his book and more.

He took his time descending the river, calling at sundry places.

At Ikan he tied up the Zaïre for the night, and whilst his men were carrying the wood aboard, he settled himself to put down the gist of his discoveries.  In the midst of his labours came Abiboo.

“Lord,” said he, “there has just come by a fast canoe the woman who spoke with you last night.”

“Jumping Moses!” said Bones, turning pale, “say to this woman that I am gone ­”

But the woman came round the corner of the deck-house, shyly, yet with a certain confidence.

“Lord,” she said, “behold I am here, your poor slave; there are wonderful things about women which I have not told you ­”

“O, D’riti!” said Bones in despair, “I know all things, and it is not lawful that you should follow me so far from your home lest evil be said of you.”

He sent her to the hut of the chief’s wife ­M’lini-fo-bini of Ikan ­with instructions that she was to be returned to her home on the following morning.  Then he went back to his work, but found it strangely distasteful.  He left nothing to chance the next day.

With the dawn he slipped down the river at full speed, never so much as halting till day began to fail, and he was a short day’s journey from headquarters.

“Anyhow, the poor dear won’t overtake me to-day,” he said ­only to find the “poor dear” had stowed herself away on the steamer in the night behind a pile of wood.

“It’s very awkward,” said Hamilton, and coughed.

Bones looked at his chief pathetically.

“It’s doocid awkward, sir,” he agreed dismally.

“You say she won’t go back?”

Bones shook his head.

“She said I’m the moon and the sun an’ all sorts of rotten things to her, sir,” he groaned and wiped his forehead.

“Send her to me,” said Hamilton.

“Be kind to her, sir,” pleaded the miserable Bones.  “After all, sir, the poor girl seems to be fond of me, sir ­the human heart, sir ­I don’t know why she should take a fancy to me.”

“That’s what I want to know,” said Hamilton, briefly; “if she is mad, I’ll send her to the mission hospital along the Coast.”

“You’ve a hard and bitter heart,” said Bones, sadly.

D’riti came ready to flash her anger and eloquence at Hamilton; on the verge of defiance.

“D’riti,” said Hamilton, “to-morrow I send you back to your people.”

“Lord, I stay with Tibbetti who loves women and is happy to talk of them.  Also some day I shall be his wife, for this is foretold.”  She shot a tender glance at poor Bones.

“That cannot be,” said Hamilton calmly, “for Tibbetti has three wives, and they are old and fierce ­”

“Oh, lord!” wailed Bones.

“And they would beat you and make you carry wood and water,” Hamilton said; he saw the look of apprehension steal into the girl’s face.  “And more than this, D’riti, the Lord Tibbetti is mad when the moon is in full, he foams at the mouth and bites, uttering awful noises.”

“Oh, dirty trick!” almost sobbed Bones.

“Go, therefore, D’riti,” said Hamilton, “and I will give you a piece of fine cloth, and beads of many colours.”

It is a matter of history that D’riti went.

“I don’t know what you think of me, sir,” said Bones, humbly, “of course I couldn’t get rid of her ­”

“You didn’t try,” said Hamilton, searching his pockets for his pipe.  “You could have made her drop you like a shot.”

“How, sir?”

“Stuck your finger in her eye,” said Hamilton, and Bones swallowed hard.