Read CHAPTER X - HENRY HAMILTON BONES of Bones Being Further Adventures in Mr. Commissioner Sanders' Country , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on

Lieutenant Francis Augustus Tibbetts of the Houssas was at some disadvantage with his chief and friend.  Lieutenant F. A. Tibbetts might take a perfectly correct attitude, might salute on every possible occasion that a man could salute, might click his heels together in the German fashion (he had spent a year at Heidelberg), might be stiffly formal and so greet his superior that he contrived to combine a dutiful recognition with the cut direct, but never could he overcome one fatal obstacle to marked avoidance ­he had to grub with Hamilton.

Bones was hurt.  Hamilton had behaved to him as no brother officer should behave.  Hamilton had spoken harshly and cruelly in the matter of a commission with which he had entrusted his subordinate, and with which the aforesaid subordinate had lamentably failed to cope.

Up in the Akasava country a certain wise man named M’bisibi had predicted the coming of a devil-child who should be born on a night when the moon lay so on the river and certain rains had fallen in the forest.

And this child should be called “Ewa,” which is death; and first his mother would die and then his father; and he would grow up to be a scourge to his people and a pestilence to his nation, and crops would wither when he walked past them, and the fish in the river would float belly up in stinking death, and until Ewa M’faba himself went out, nothing but ill-fortune should come to the N’gombi-Isisi.

Thus M’bisibi predicted, and the word went up and down the river, for the prophet was old and accounted wise even by Bosambo of the Ochori.

It came to Hamilton quickly enough, and he had sent Bones post-haste to await the advent of any unfortunate youngster who was tactless enough to put in an appearance at such an inauspicious moment as would fulfil the prediction of M’bisibi.

And Bones had gone to the wrong village, and that in the face of his steersman’s and his sergeant’s protest that he was going wrong.  Fortunately, by reliable account, no child had been born in the village, and the prediction was unfulfilled.

“Otherwise,” said Hamilton, “its young life would have been on your head.”

“Yes, sir,” said Bones.

“I didn’t tell you there were two villages called Inkau,” Hamilton confessed, “because I didn’t realize you were chump enough to go to the wrong one.”

“No, sir,” agreed Bones, patiently.

“Naturally,” said Hamilton, “I thought the idea of saving the lives of innocent babes would have been sufficient incentive.”

“Naturally, sir,” said Bones, with forced geniality.

“I’ve come to one conclusion about you, Bones,” said Hamilton.

“Yes, sir,” said Bones, “that I’m an ass, sir, I think?”

Hamilton nodded ­it was too hot to speak.

“It was an interestin’ conclusion,” said Bones, thoughtfully, “not without originality ­when it first occurred to you, but as a conclusion, if you will pardon my criticism, sir, if you will forgive me for suggestin’ as much ­in callin’ me an ass, sir:  apart from its bein’ contrary to the spirit an’ letter of the Army Act ­God Save the King! ­it’s a bit low, sir.”  And he left his superior officer without another word.  For three days they sat at breakfast, tiffin and dinner, and neither said more than: 

“May I pass you the bread, sir?”

“Thank you, sir; have you the salt, sir?”

Hamilton was so busy a man that he might have forgotten the feud, but for the insistence of Bones, who never lost an opportunity of reminding his N that he was mortally hurt.

One night, dinner had reached the stage where two young officers of Houssas sat primly side by side on the verandah sipping their coffee.  Neither spoke, and the séance might have ended with the conventional “Good night” and that punctilious salute which Bones invariably gave, and which Hamilton as punctiliously returned, but for the apparition of a dark figure which crossed the broad space of parade ground hesitatingly as though not certain of his way, and finally came with dragging feet through Sanders’ garden to the edge of the verandah.

It was the figure of a small boy, very thin; Hamilton could see this through the half-darkness.

The boy was as naked as when he was born, and he carried in his hand a single paddle.

“O boy,” said Hamilton, “I see you.”

“Wanda!” said the boy in a frightened tone, and hesitated, as though he were deciding whether it would be better to bolt, or to conclude his desperate enterprise.

“Come up to me,” said Hamilton, kindly.

He recognized by the dialect that the visitor had come a long way, as indeed he had, for his old canoe was pushed up amongst the elephant grass a mile away from headquarters, and he had spent three days and nights upon the river.  He came up, an embarrassed and a frightened lad, and stood twiddling his toes on the unaccustomed smoothness of the big stoep.

“Where do you come from, and why have you come?” asked Hamilton.

“Lord, I have come from the village of M’bisibi,” said the boy; “my mother has sent me because she fears for her life, my father being away on a great hunt.  As for me,” he went on, “my name is Tilimi-N’kema.”

“Speak on, Tilimi the Monkey,” said Hamilton, “tell me why the woman your mother fears for her life.”

The boy was silent for a spell; evidently he was trying to recall the exact formula which had been dinned into his unreceptive brain, and to repeat word for word the lesson which he had learned parrotwise.

“Thus says the woman my mother,” he said at last, with the blank, monotonous delivery peculiar to all small boys who have been rehearsed in speech, “on a certain day when the moon was at full and the rain was in the forest so that we all heard it in the village, my mother bore a child who is my own brother, and, lord, because she feared things which the old man M’bisibi had spoken she went into the forest to a certain witch doctor, and there the child was born.  To my mind,” said the lad, with a curious air of wisdom which is the property of the youthful native from whom none of the mysteries of life or death are hidden, “it is better she did this, for they would have made a sacrifice of her child.  Now when she came back, and they spoke to her, she said that the boy was dead.  But this is the truth, lord, that she had left this child with the witch doctor, and now ­” he hesitated again.

“And now?” repeated Hamilton.

“Now, lord,” said the boy, “this witch doctor, whose name is Bogolono, says she must bring him rich presents at the full of every moon, because her son and my brother is the devil-child whom M’bisibi has predicted.  And if she brings no rich presents he will take the child to the village, and there will be an end.”

Hamilton called his orderly.

“Give this boy some chop,” he said; “to-morrow we will have a longer palaver.”

He waited till the man and his charge were out of earshot, then he turned to Bones.

“Bones,” he said, seriously, “I think you had better leave unobtrusively for M’bisibi’s village, find the woman, and bring her to safety.  You will know the village,” he added, unnecessarily, “it is the one you didn’t find last time.”

Bones left insubordinately and made no response.


Bosambo, with his arms folded across his brawny chest, looked curiously at the deputation which had come to him.

“This is a bad palaver,” said Bosambo, “for it seems to me that when little chiefs do that which is wrong, it is an ill thing; but when great kings, such as your master Iberi, stand at the back of such wrongdoings, that is the worst thing of all, and though this M’bisibi is a wise man, as we all know, and indeed the only wise man of your people, has brought out this devil-child, and makes a killing palaver, then M’ilitani will come very quickly with his soldiers and there will be an end to little chiefs and big chiefs alike.”

“Lord, that will be so,” said the messenger, “unless all chiefs in the land stand in brotherhood together.  And because we know Sandi loves you, and M’ilitani also, and that Tibbetti himself is as tender to you as a brother, M’bisibi sent this word saying, ’Go to Bosambo, and say M’bisibi, the wise man, bids him come to a great and fearful palaver touching the matter of several devils.  Tell him also that great evil will come to this land, to his land and to mine, to his wife and the wives of his counsellors, and to his children and theirs, unless we make an end to certain devils.’”

Bosambo, chin on clenched fist, looked thoughtfully at the other.

“This cannot be,” said he in a troubled voice; “for though I die and all that is wonderful to me shall pass out of this world, yet I must do no thing which is unlawful in the eyes of Sandi, my master, and of the great ones he has left behind to fulfil the law.  Say this to M’bisibi from me, that I think he is very wise and understands ghosts and such-like palavers.  Also say that if he puts curses upon my huts I will come with my spearmen to him, and if aught follows I will hang him by the ears from a high tree, though he sleeps with ghosts and commands whole armies of devils; this palaver is finished.”

The messenger carried the word back to M’bisibi and the council of the chiefs and the eldermen who sat in the palaver house, and old as he was and wise by all standards, M’bisibi shivered, for, as he explained, that which Bosambo said would he do.  For this is peculiar to no race or colour, that old men love life dearer than young.

“Bogolono, you shall bring the child,” he said, turning to one who sat at his side, string upon string of human teeth looped about his neck and his eyes circled with white ashes, “and it shall be sacrificed according to the custom, as it was in the days of my fathers and of their fathers.”

They chose a spot in the forest, where four young trees stood at corners of a rough square.  With their short bush knives they lopped the tender branches away, leaving four pliant poles that bled stickily.  With great care they drew down the tops of these trees until they nearly met, cutting the heads so that there was no overlapping.  To these four ends they fastened ropes, one for each arm and for each ankle of the devil child, and with other ropes they held the saplings to their place.

“Now this is the magic of it,” said M’bisibi, “that when the moon is full to-night we shall sacrifice first a goat, and then a fowl, casting certain parts into the fire which shall be made of white gum, and I will make certain marks upon the child’s face and upon his belly, and then I will cut these ropes so that to the four ends of the world we shall cast forth this devil, who will no longer trouble us.”

That night came many chiefs, Iberi of the Akasava, Tilini of the Lesser Isisi, Efele (the Tornado) of the N’gombi, Lisu (the Seer) of the Inner Territories, but Lilongo (as they called Bosambo of the Ochori), did not come.


Bones reached the village two hours before the time of sacrifice and landed a force of twenty Houssas and a small Maxim gun.  The village was peaceable, and there was no sign of anything untoward.  Save this.  The village was given over to old people and children.  M’bisibi was an hour ­two hours ­four hours in the forest.  He had gone north ­east ­south ­none knew whither.

The very evasiveness of the replies put Bones into a fret.  He scouted the paths and found indications of people having passed over all three.

He sent his gun back to the Zaïre, divided his party into three, and accompanied by half a dozen men, he himself took the middle path.

For an hour he trudged, losing his way, and finding it again.  He came upon a further division of paths and split up his little force again.

In the end he found himself alone, struggling over the rough ground in a darkness illuminated only by the electric lamp he carried, and making for a faint gleam of red light which showed through the trees ahead.

M’bisibi held the child on his outstretched hands, a fat little child, with large, wondering eyes that stared solemnly at the dancing flames, and sucked a small brown thumb contentedly.

“Behold this child, oh chiefs and people,” said M’bisibi, “who was born as I predicted, and is filled with devils!”

The baby turned his head so that his fat little neck was all rolled and creased, and said “Ah!” to the pretty fire, and chuckled.

“Even now the devils speak,” said M’bisibi, “but presently you shall hear them screaming through the world because I have scattered them,” and he made his way to the bowed saplings.

Bones, his face scratched and bleeding, his uniform torn in a dozen places, came swiftly after him.

“My bird, I think,” said Bones, and caught the child unscientifically.

Picture Bones with a baby under his arm ­a baby indignant, outraged, infernally uncomfortable, and grimacing a yell into being.

“Lord,” said M’bisibi, breathing quickly, “what do you seek?”

“That which I have,” said Bones, waving him off with the black muzzle of his automatic Colt.  “Tomorrow you shall answer for many crimes.”

He backed quickly to the cover of the woods, scenting the trouble that was coming.

He heard the old man’s roar.

“O people ... this white man will loose devils upon the land!”

Then a throwing spear snicked the trunk of a tree, and another, for there were no soldiers, and this congregation of exorcisers were mad with wrath at the thought of the evil which Tibbetti was preparing for them.


A spear struck Bones’ boot.

“Shut your eyes, baby,” said Bones, and fired into the brown.  Then he ran for his life.  Over roots and fallen trees he fell and stumbled, his tiny passenger yelling desperately.

“Oh, shut up!” snarled Bones, “what the dickens are you shouting about ­hey?  Haven’t I saved your young life, you ungrateful little devil?”

Now and again he would stop to consult his illuminated compass.  That the pursuit continued he knew, but he had the dubious satisfaction of knowing, too, that he had left the path and was in the forest.

Then he heard a faint shot, and another, and another, and grinned.

His pursuers had stumbled upon a party of Houssas.

From sheer exhaustion the baby had fallen asleep.  Babies were confoundedly heavy ­Bones had never observed the fact before, but with the strap of his sword belt he fashioned a sling that relieved him of some of the weight.

He took it easier now, for he knew M’bisibi’s men would be frightened off.  He rested for half an hour on the ground, and then came a snuffling leopard walking silently through the forest, betraying his presence only by the two green danger-lamps of his eyes.

Bones sat up and flourished his lamp upon the startled beast, which growled in fright, and went scampering through the forest like the great cat that he was.

The growl woke Bones’ charge, and he awoke hungry and disinclined to further sleep without that inducement and comfort which his nurse was in no position to offer, whereupon Bones snuggled the whimpering child.

“He’s a wicked old leopard!” he said, “to come and wake a child at this time of the night.”

The knuckle of Bones’ little finger soothed the baby, though it was a poor substitute for the nutriment it had every right to expect, and it whimpered itself to sleep.

Lieutenant Tibbetts looked at his compass again.  He had located the shots to eastward, but he did not care to make a bee-line in that direction for fear of falling upon some of the enemy, whom he knew would be, at this time, making their way to the river.

For two hours before dawn he snatched a little sleep, and was awakened by a fierce tugging at his nose.  He got up, laid the baby on the soft ground, and stood with arms akimbo, and his monocle firmly fixed, surveying his noisy companion.

“What the dooce are you making all this row about?” he asked indignantly.  “Have a little patience, young feller, exercise a little suaviter in modo, dear old baby!”

But still the fat little morsel on the ground continued his noisy monologue, protesting in a language which is of an age rather than of a race, against the cruelty and the thoughtlessness and the distressing lack of consideration which his elder and better was showing him.

“I suppose you want some grub,” said Bones, in dismay; and looked round helplessly.

He searched the pocket of his haversack, and had the good fortune to find a biscuit; his vacuum flask had just half a cup of warm tea.  He fed the baby with soaked biscuit and drank the tea himself.

“You ought to have a bath or something,” said Bones, severely; but it was not until an hour later that he found a forest pool in which to perform the ablution.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, as near as he could judge, for his watch had stopped, he struck a path, and would have reached the village before sundown, but for the fact that he again missed the path, and learnt of this fact about the same time he discovered he had lost his compass.

Bones looked dismally at the wide-awake child.

“Dear old companion in arms,” he said, gloomily, “we are lost.”

The baby’s face creased in a smile.

“It’s nothing to laugh about, you silly ass,” said Bones.


“Master, of our Lord Tibbetti I do not know,” said M’bisibi sullenly.

“Yet you shall know before the sun is black,” said Hamilton, “and your young men shall find him, or there is a tree for you, old man, a quick death by Ewa!”

“I have sought, my lord,” said M’bisibi, “all my hunters have searched the forest, yet we have not found him.  A certain devil-pot is here.”

He fumbled under a native cloth and drew forth Bones’ compass.

“This only could we find on the forest path that leads to Inilaki.”

“And the child is with him?”

“So men say,” said M’bisibi, “though by my magic I know that the child will die, for how can a white man who knows nothing of little children give him life and comfort?  Yet,” he amended carefully, since it was necessary to preserve the character of the intended victim, “if this child is indeed a devil child, as I believe, he will lead my lord Tibbetti to terrible places and return himself unharmed.”

“He will lead you to a place more terrible,” said M’ilitani, significantly, and sent a nimble climber into the trees to fasten a block and tackle to a stout branch, and thread a rope through.

It was so effective that M’bisibi, an old man, became most energetically active. Lokali and swift messengers sent his villages to the search.  Every half-hour the Hotchkiss gun of the Zaïre banged noisily; and Hamilton, tramping through the woods, felt his heart sink as hour after hour passed without news of his comrade.

“I tell you this, lord,” said the headman, who accompanied him, “that I think Tibbetti is dead and the child also.  For this wood is filled with ghosts and savage beasts, also many strong and poisonous snakes.  See, lord!” He pointed.

They had reached a clearing where the grass was rich and luxuriant, where overshadowing branches formed an idealic bower, where heavy white waxen flowers were looped from branch to branch holding the green boughs in their parasitical clutch.  Hamilton followed the direction of his eyes.  In the middle of the clearing a long, sinuous shape, dark brown, and violently coloured with patches of green and vermillion, that was swaying backward and forward, hissing angrily at some object before it.

“Good God!” said Hamilton, and dropped his hand on his revolver, but before it was clear of his holster, there came a sharp crack, and the snake leapt up and fell back as a bullet went snip-snapping through the undergrowth.  Then Hamilton saw Bones.  Bones in his shirtsleeves, bareheaded, his big pipe in his mouth, who came hurriedly through the trees pistol in hand.

“Naughty boy!” he said, reproachfully, and stooping, picked up a squalling brown object from the ground.  “Didn’t Daddy tell you not to go near those horrid snakes?  Daddy spank you ­”

Then he caught sight of the amazed Hamilton, clutched the baby in one hand, and saluted with the other.

“Baby present and correct, sir,” he said, formally.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked Hamilton, after Bones had indulged in the luxury of a bath and had his dinner.

“Do with what, sir?” asked Bones.

“With this?”

Hamilton pointed to a crawling morsel who was at that moment looking up to Bones for approval.

“What do you expect me to do, sir?” asked Bones, stiffly; “the mother is dead and he has no father.  I feel a certain amount of responsibility about Henry.”

“And who the dickens is Henry?” asked Hamilton.

Bones indicated the child with a fine gesture.

“Henry Hamilton Bones, sir,” he said grandly.  “The child of the regiment,” he went on; “adopted by me to be a prop for my declining years, sir.”

“Heaven and earth!” said Hamilton, breathlessly.

He went aft to recover his nerve, and returned to become an unseen spectator to a purely domestic scene, for Bones had immersed the squalling infant in his own india-rubber bath, and was gingerly cleaning him with a mop.