Read CHAPTER VIII - A RIGHT OF WAY of Bones Being Further Adventures in Mr. Commissioner Sanders' Country , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on

The Borders of Territories may be fixed by treaty, by certain mathematical calculations, or by arbitrary proclamation.  In the territories over which Sanders ruled they were governed as between tribe and tribe by custom and such natural lines of demarkation as a river or a creek supplied.

In forest land this was not possible, and there had ever been between the Ochori and the Lombobo a feud and a grievance, touched-up border fights, for hereabouts there is good hunting.  Sanders had tried many methods and had hit upon the red gum border as a solution to a great difficulty.  For some curious reason there were no red gum trees in the northern fringe of the forest for five miles on the Ochori side of the great wood; it was innocent of this beautiful tree and Sanders’ fiat had gone forth that there should be no Ochori hunting in the red gum lands, and that settled the matter and Sanders hoped for good.

But Bosambo set himself to enlarge his borders by a single expedient.  Wherever his hunters came upon a red gum tree they cut it down.  B’limi Saka, the chief of the sullen Lombobo, retaliated by planting red gum saplings on the country between the forest and the river ­a fact of which Bosambo was not aware until he suddenly discovered a huge wedge of red gum driven into his lawful territory.  A wedge so definite as to cut off nearly a thousand square miles of his territory, for beyond this border lay the lower Ochori country.

“How may I reach my proper villages?” he asked Sanders, who had known something of the comedy which was being enacted.

“You shall have canoes at the place of the young gum trees and shall row to a place beyond them,” Sanders had said.  “I have given my word that the red gum lands are the territory of B’limi Saka, and since you have only your cunning to thank ­Oh, cutter of trees ­I cannot help you!”

Bosambo would have made short work of the young saplings, but B’limisaka established a guard not to be forced without bloodshed, and Bosambo could do no more in that way of reprisal than instruct his people to hurl insulting references to B’limisaka’s as they passed the forbidden ground.

For the maddening thing was that the slip of filched territory was less than a hundred yards wide and men of the Lombobo, who went out by night to widen it, never came out alive ­for Bosambo also had a guard.

Sometimes the minion spies of Government would come to headquarters with a twist of rice paper stuck in a quill, the quill inserted in the lobes of the ear in very much the same place as the ladies wore their earrings in the barbarous mid-Victorian period, and on the rice paper with the briefest introduction would be inserted, in perfect Arabic, scraps of domestic news for the information of the Government.

Sometimes news would carry from mouth to mouth and a weary man would squat before Hamilton and recite his lesson.

“Efobi of the Isisi has stolen goats, and because he is the brother of the chief’s wife goes unpunished; T’mara of the Akasava has put a curse upon the wife of O’femo the headman, and she has burnt his hut; N’kema of the Ochori will not pay his tax, saying that he is no Ochori man, but a true N’gombi; Bosambo’s men have beaten a woodman of B’limi Saka, because he planted trees on Ochori land; the well folk are on the edge of the N’gomb forest, building huts and singing ­”

“How long do they stay?” interrupted Hamilton.

“Lord, who knows?” said the man.

“Ogibo of the Akasava has spoken evilly of his king and mightily of himself ­”

“Make a note of that, Bones.”

“Make a note of which, sir?”

“Ogibo ­he looked like a case of sleep-sickness the last time I was in his village ­go on.”

“Ogibo also says that the father of his father was a great chief and was lord of all the Akasava ­”

“That’s sleeping sickness all right,” said Hamilton bitterly.  “Why the devil doesn’t he wait till Sanders is back before he goes mad?”

“Drop him a line, sir,” suggested Bones, “he’s a remarkable feller ­dash it all, sir, what the dooce is the good of bein’ in charge of the district if you can’t put a stop to that sort of thing?”

“What talk is there of spears in this?” asked Hamilton of the spy.

“Lord, much talk ­as I know, for I serve in this district.”

“Go swiftly to Ogibo, and summon him to me for a high lakimbo,” said Hamilton; “my soldiers shall carry you in my new little ship that burns water ­fly pigeons to me that I may know all that happens.”

“On my life,” said the spy, raised his hand in salute and departed.

“These well people you were talkin’ about, sir,” asked Bones, “who are they?”

But Hamilton could give no satisfactory answer to such a question, and, indeed, he would have been more than ordinarily clever had he been able to.

The wild territories are filled with stubborn facts, bewildering realities, and extraordinary inconséquences.  Up by the N’gombi lands lived a tribe who, for the purposes of office classification, were known as “N’gombi (Interior),” but who were neither N’gombi nor Isisi, nor of any known branch of the Bantu race, but known as “the people of the well.”  They had remarkable legends, sayings which they ascribed to a mythical Idoosi; also they have a song which runs: 

     O well in the forest! 
     Which chiefs have digged;
     No common men touched the earth,
     But chiefs’ spears and the hands of kings.

Now there is no doubt that both the sayings of Idoosi and the song of the well have come down from days of antiquity, and that Idoosi is none other than the writer of the lost book of the Bible, of whom it is written: 

“Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the history of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the vision of Idoo the seer?"....

And is not the Song of the Well identical with that brief extract from the Book of Wars of the Lord ­lost to us for ever ­which runs: 

     “Spring up, O well:  sing ye unto it:  The well, which the princes
     digged, Which the nobles of the people delved, With the sceptre ...
     with their staves."

Some men say that the People of the Well are one of the lost tribes, but that is an easy solution which suggests itself to the hasty-minded.  Others say that they are descendants of the Babylonian races, or that they came down from Egypt when Rameses II died, and there arose a new dynasty and a Pharaoh who did not know the wise Jewish Prime Minister who ruled so wisely, who worshipped in the little temple at Karnac, and whose statue you may see in Cairo with a strange Egyptian name.  We know him better as “Joseph” ­he who was sold into captivity.

Whatever they were, this much is known, to the discomfort of everybody, that they were great diggers of wells, and would, on the slightest excuse, spend whole months, choosing, for some mad reason, the top of hills for their operations, delving in the earth for water, though the river was less than a hundred yards away.

Of all the interesting solutions which have been offered with the object of identifying the People of the Well, none are so interesting as that which Bones put forward at the end of Hamilton’s brief sketch.

“My idea, dear old officer,” he said profoundly, “that all these Johnnies are artful old niggers who’ve run away from their wives in Timbuctoo ­and for this reason ­”

“Oh, shut up!” said Hamilton.

Two nights later the bugles were ringing through the Houssa lines, and Bones, sleepy-eyed, with an armful of personal belongings, was racing for the Zaïre, for Ogibo of the Akasava had secured a following.


The chief Ogibo who held the law and kept the peace for his master, the King of the Akasava, was bitten many times by the tsetse on a hunting trip into the bad lands near the Utur forest.  Two years afterwards, of a sudden, he was seized with a sense of his own importance, and proclaimed himself paramount chief of the Akasava, and all the lands adjoining.  And since it is against nature that any lunatic should be without his following, he had no difficulty in raising all the spears that were requisite for his immediate purpose, marched to Igili, the second most important town in the Akasava kingdom, overthrew the defensive force, destroyed the town, and leaving half his fighting regiment to hold the conquered city he moved through the forest toward the Akasava city proper.  He camped in the forest, and his men spent an uncomfortable night, for a thunderstorm broke over the river, and the dark was filled with quick flashes and the heavens crashed noisily.  There was still a rumbling and a growling above his head when he assembled his forces in the grey dawn, and continued his march.  He had not gone half an hour before one of his headmen came racing up to where he led his force in majesty.

“Lord,” said he, “do you hear no sound?”

“I hear the thunder,” said Ogibo.

“Listen!” said the headman.

They halted, head bent.

“It is thunder,” said Ogibo, as the rumble and moan of the distant storm came to him.  Then above the grumble of the thunder came a sharper note, a sound to be expressed in the word “blong!”

“Lord,” said the headman, “that is no thunder, rather is it the fire-thrower of M’ilitani.”

So Ogibo in his wrath turned back to crush the insolent white men who had dared attack the garrison he had left behind to hold Igili.

Bones with a small force was pursuing him, totally unaware of the strength that Ogibo mustered.  A spy brought to the chief news of the smallness of the following force.

“Now,” said Ogibo, “I will show all the world how great a chief I am, for my bravery I will destroy all these soldiers that are sent against me.”

He chose his ambush well ­though he had need to send scampering with squeals of terror half a hundred humble aliens who were at the moment of interruption digging a foolish well on the top of the hill where Ogibo was concealing his shaking force.

Bones with his Houssas saw how the path led up a tolerably steep hill ­one of the few in the country ­and groaned aloud, for he hated hills.

He was half-way up at the head of his men, when Ogibo on the summit gave the order, “Boma!” said he, which means kill, and three abreast, shields locked and spears gripped stomach high, the rebels charged down the path.  Bones saw them coming and slipped out his revolver.  There was no room to manoeuvre his men, the path was fairly narrow, dense undergrowth masked each side.

He heard the yell, saw above the bush, which concealed the winding way, the dancing head-dresses of the attackers, and advanced his pistol arm.  The rustle of bare feet on the path, a louder roar than ever ­then silence.

Bones waited, a Houssa squeezed on either side of him, but the onrushing enemy did not appear, and only a faint whimper of sound reached him.

“Lord! they go back!” gasped his sergeant; and Bones saw to his amazement a little knot of men making their frantic way up the hill.

At first he suspected an ambush within an ambush, but it was unlikely; he could never be more at Ogibo’s mercy than he had been.

Cautiously he felt his way up the hill path, a revolver in each hand.

He rounded a sharp corner of the path and saw....

A great square chasm yawned in the very centre of the pathway, the bushes on either side were buried under the earth which the diggers of wells had flung up, and piled one on the other, a writhing, struggling confusion of shining bodies, were Ogibo’s soldiers to the number of a hundred, with a silent Ogibo undermost, wholly indifferent to his embarrassing position, for his neck was broken.

Hamilton came up in the afternoon and brought villagers to assist at the work of rescue and afterwards he interviewed the chief of the shy and timid Well-folk.

“O chief,” said Hamilton, “it is an order of Sandi that you shall dig no wells near towns, and yet you have done this.”

“Bless his old heart!” murmured Bones.

“Lord, I break the law,” said the man, simply, “also I break all custom, for to-day, by your favour, I cross the river, I and my people.  This we have never done since time was.”

“Whither do you go?”

The chief of the wanderers, an old man remarkably gifted ­for his beard was long and white, and reached to his waist ­stuck his spear head down in the earth.

“Lord, we go to a place which is written,” he said; “for Idoosi has said, ’Go forth to the natives at war, they that fight by the river; on the swift water shall you go, even against the water’ ­many times have we come to the river, master, but ever have we turned back; but now it seems that the prophecy has been fulfilled, for there are bleeding men in these holes and the sound of thunders.”

The People of the Well crossed to the Isisi, using the canoes of the Akasava headmen, and made a slow progress through territory which gave them no opportunity of exercising their hobby, since water lay less than a spade’s length beneath the driest ground.

“Poor old Sanders,” said Hamilton ruefully, when he was again on the Zaïre, “I’ve so mixed up his people that he’ll have to get a new map made to find them again.”

“You might tell me off to show him round, sir,” suggested Bones, but Hamilton did not jump at the offer.

He was getting more than a little rattled.  Sanders was due back in a month, and it seemed that scarcely a week passed but some complication arose that further entangled a situation which was already too full of loose and straying threads for his liking.

“I suppose the country is settled for a week at any rate,” he said with a little sigh of relief ­but he reckoned without his People of the Well.

They moved, a straggling body of men and women, with their stiff walk and their doleful song, a wild people with strange, pinched faces and long black hair, along the river’s edge.

A week’s journeyings brought them to the Ochori country and to Bosambo, who was holding a most important palaver.

It was held on Ochori territory, for the forbidden strip was by this time so thickly planted with young trees that there was no place for a man to sit.

“Lord,” said Bosambo, “if you will return me the land which you have stolen, so that I may pass unhindered from one part of my territory to the other, I will give you many islands on the river.”

“That is a foolish palaver,” said B’limisaka; “for you have no islands to give.”

“Now I tell you, B’limisaka,” said Bosambo, “my young men are crying out against you, for, as you know, you have planted your trees on the high ground, and my people, taking to their canoes, must climb down to the water’s edge a long way, so that it wearies their legs, soon, I fear, I shall not hold them, for they are very fierce and full of arrogance.”

“Lord,” said B’limisaka, significantly, “my young men are also fierce.”

The palaver was dispersing, and the last of the Lombobo councillors were disappearing in the forest, when the Diggers of the Well came through the forbidden territory to the place where Bosambo sat.

“We are they of whom you have heard, O my Lord,” said the old man, who led them, “also we carry a book for you.”

He unwound the cloth about his thin middle, and with many fumblings produced a paper which Bosambo read.

     “From M’ilitani, by Ogibo’s village in the Akasava.

     “To Bosambo ­may God preserve him!

“I give this to the chief of Well diggers that you shall know they are favoured by me, being simple people and very timid.  Give them a passage through your territory, for they seek a holy land, and find them high places for the digging of holes, for they seek truth.  Now peace on your house, Bosambo.”

     “On my ship, by channel of rocks.”

“Lord, it is true,” said the old chief, “we seek a shining thing that will stay white when it is white, and black when it is black, and the wise Idoosi has said, ’Go down into the earth for truth, seek it in the deeps of the earth, for it lies in secret places, in centre of the world it lies.’”

Bosambo thought long and rapidly, then there came to him the bright light of an inspiration.

“What manner of holes do you dig, old man?”

“Lord, we dig them deep, for we are cunning workers, and do not fear death as common men do; also we dig them straightly ­into the very heart of hills we dig them.”

Bosambo looked at the sloping ground covered with hateful gum.

“Old man,” said he softly, “here shall you dig, you and your people, for in the heart of this hill is such a truth as you desire ­my young men shall bring you food and build huts for you, and I will place one who is cunning in the way of hills to show you the way.”

The old man’s eyes gleamed joyously, and he clasped the ankles of his magnanimous host.

“Lord,” said he humbly, “now is the prophecy fulfilled, for it was said by the great Idoosi, ’You shall come to a land where the barbarian rules, and he shall be to you as a brother!’”

“Nigger,” said Bosambo in his vile English ­yet with a certain hauteur, “you shall dig ’um tunnel ­you no cheek ’um, no chat ’um, you lib for dear tunnel one time.”

He watched them as, singing the song of the well, they went to work, women, men, and even little children undermining the Chief B’limisaka’s territory and creating for Bosambo the right of way for which his soul craved.