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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBones - Chapter 2. The Disciplinarians
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Bones - Chapter 2. The Disciplinarians Post by :tonyjohn Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :2731

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Bones - Chapter 2. The Disciplinarians

CHAPTER II. THE DISCIPLINARIANS

Lieutenant Augustus Tibbetts of the Houssas stood at attention before his chief. He stood as straight as a ramrod, his hands to his sides, his eyeglass jammed in his eye, and Hamilton of the Houssas looked at him sorrowfully.

"Bones, you're an ass!" he said at last.

"Yes, sir," said Bones.

"I sent you to Ochori to prevent a massacre, you catch a chief in the act of ambushing an enemy and instead of chucking him straight into the Village of Iron you fine him ten dollars."

"Yes, sir," said Bones.

There was a painful pause.

"Well, you're an ass!" said Hamilton, who could think of nothing better to say.

"Yes, sir," said Bones; "I think you're repeating yourself, sir. I seem to have heard a similar observation before."

"You've made Bosambo and the whole of the Ochori as sick as monkeys, and you've made me look a fool."

"Hardly my responsibility, sir," said Bones, gently.

"I hardly know what to do with you," said Hamilton, drawing his pipe from his pocket and slowly charging it. "Naturally, Bones, I can never let you loose again on the country." He lit his pipe and puffed thoughtfully. "And of course----"

"Pardon me, sir," said Bones, still uncomfortably erect, "this is intended to be a sort of official inquiry an' all that sort of thing, isn't it?"

"It is," said Hamilton.

"Well, sir," said Bones, "may I ask you not to smoke? When a chap's honour an' reputation an' all that sort of thing is being weighed in the balance, sir, believe me, smokin' isn't decent--it isn't really, sir."

Hamilton looked round for something to throw at his critic and found a tolerably heavy book, but Bones dodged and fielded it dexterously. "And if you must chuck things at me, sir," he added, as he examined the title on the back of the missile, "will you avoid as far as possible usin' the sacred volumes of the Army List? It hurts me to tell you this, sir, but I've been well brought up."

"What's the time?" asked Hamilton, and his second-in-command examined his watch.

"Ten to tiffin," he said. "Good Lord, we've been gassin' an hour. Any news from Sanders?"

"He's in town--that's all I know--but don't change the serious subject, Bones. Everybody is awfully disgusted with you--Sanders would have at least brought him to trial."

"I couldn't do it, sir," said Bones, firmly. "Poor old bird! He looked such an ass, an' moreover reminded me so powerfully of an aunt of mine that I simply couldn't do it."

No doubt but that Lieut. Francis Augustus Tibbetts of the Houssas, with his sun-burnt nose, his large saucer eyes, and his air of solemn innocence, had shaken the faith of the impressionable folk. This much Hamilton was to learn: for Tibbetts had been sent with a party of Houssas to squash effectively an incipient rebellion in the Akasava, and having caught N'gori in the very act of most treacherously and most damnably preparing an ambush for a virtuous Bosambo, Chief of the Ochori, had done no more than fine him ten dollars.

And this was in a land where even the Spanish dollar had never been seen save by Bosambo, who was reported to have more than his share of silver in a deep hole beneath the floor of his hut.

Small wonder that Captain Hamilton held an informal court-martial of one, the closing stages of which I have described, and sentenced his wholly inefficient subordinate to seven days' field exercise in the forest with half a company of Houssas.

"Oh, dash it, you don't mean that?" asked Bones in dismay when the finding of the court was conveyed to him at lunch.

"I do," said Hamilton firmly. "I'd be failing in my job of work if I didn't make you realize what a perfect ass you are."

"Perfect--yes," protested Bones, "ass--no. Fact is, dear old fellow, I've a temperament. You aren't going to make me go about in that beastly forest diggin' rifle pits an' pitchin' tents an' all that sort of dam' nonsense; it's too grisly to think about."

"None the less," said Hamilton, "you will do it whilst I go north to sit on the heads of all who endeavour to profit by your misguided leniency. I shall be back in time for the Administration Inspection--don't for the love of heaven forget that His Excellency----"

"Bless his jolly old heart!" murmured Bones.

"That His Excellency is paying his annual visit on the twenty-first."

A ray of hope shot through the gloom of Lieut. Tibbetts' mind.

"Under the circumstances, dear old friend, don't you think it would be best to chuck that silly idea of field training? What about sticking up a board and gettin' the chaps to paint, 'Welcome to the United Territories,' or 'God bless our Home,' or something."

Hamilton withered him with a glance.

His last words, shouted from the bridge of the _Zaire as her stern wheel went threshing ahead, were, "Remember, Bones! No shirking!"

_"Honi soit qui mal y pense_!" roared Bones.


II

Hamilton had evidence enough of the effect which the leniency of his subordinate had produced. News travels fast, and the Akasava are great talkers. Hamilton, coming to the Isisi city on his way up the river, found a crowd on the beach to watch his mooring, their arms folded hugging their sides--sure gesture of indifferent idleness--but neither the paramount chief, nor his son, nor any of his counsellors awaited the steamer to pay their respects.

Hamilton sent for them and still they did not come, sending a message that they were sick. So Hamilton went striding through the street of the city, his long sword flapping at his side, four Houssas padding swiftly in his rear at their curious jog-trot. B'sano, the young chief of the Isisi, came out lazily from his hut and stood with outstretched feet and arms akimbo watching the nearing Houssa, and he had no fear, for it was said that now Sandi was away from the country no man had the authority to punish.

And the counsellors behind B'sano had their bunched spears and their wicker-work shields, contrary to all custom--as Sanders had framed the custom.

"O chief," said Hamilton, with that ready smile of his, "I waited for you and you did not come."

"Soldier," said B'sano, insolently, "I am the king of these people and answerable to none save my lord Sandi, who, as you know, is gone from us."

"That I know," said the patient Houssa, "and because it is in my heart to show all people what manner of law Sandi has left behind, I fine you and your city ten thousand _matakos that you shall remember that the law lives, though Sandi is in the moon, though all rulers change and die."

A slow gleam of contempt came to the chief's eyes.

"Soldier," said he, "I do not pay _matako--wa_!"

He stumbled back, his mouth agape with fear. The long barrel of Hamilton's revolver rested coldly on his bare stomach.

"We will have a fire," said Hamilton, and spoke to his sergeant in Arabic. "Here in the centre of the city we will make a fire of proud shields and unlawful spears."

One by one the counsellors dropped their wicker shields upon the fire which the Houssa sergeant had kindled, and as they dropped them, the sergeant scientifically handcuffed the advisers of the Isisi chief in couples.

"You shall find other counsellors, B'sano," said Hamilton, as the men were led to the _Zaire_. "See that I do not come bringing with me a new chief."

"Lord," said the chief humbly, "I am your dog."

Not alone was B'sano at fault. Up and down the road old grievances awaited settlement: there were scores to adjust, misunderstandings to remove. Mostly these misunderstandings had to do with important questions of tribal superiority and might only be definitely tested by sanguinary combat.

Also picture a secret order, ruthlessly suppressed by Sanders, and practised by trembling men, each afraid of the other despite their oaths; and the fillip it received when the news went forth--"Sandi has gone--there is no law."

This was a fine time for the dreamers of dreams and for the men who saw portends and understood the wisdom of Ju-jus.

Bemebibi, chief of the Lesser Isisi, was too fat a man for a dreamer, for visions run with countable ribs and a cough. Nor was he tall nor commanding by any standard. He had broad shoulders and a short neck. His head was round, and his eyes were cunning and small. He was an irritable man, had a trick of beating his counsellors when they displeased him, and was a ready destroyer of men.

Some say that he practised sacrifice in the forests, he and the members of his society, but none spoke with any certainty or authority, for Bemebibi was chief, alike of a community and an order. In the Lesser Isisi alone, the White Ghosts had flourished in spite of every effort of the Administration to stamp them out.

It was a society into which the hazardous youth of the Isisi were initiated joyfully, for there is little difference in the temperament of youth, whether it wears a cloth about its loins or lavender spats upon its feet.

Thus it came about that one-half of the adult male population of the Lesser Isisi, had sworn by the letting of blood and the rubbing of salt:

(1) To hop upon one foot for a spear's length every night and morning.

(2) To love all ghosts and speak gently of devils.

(3) To be dumb and blind and to throw spears swiftly for the love of the White Ghosts.

One night Bemebibi went into the forest with six highmen of his order. They came to a secret place at a pool, and squatted in a circle, each man laying his hands on the soles of his feet in the prescribed fashion.

"Snakes live in holes," said Bemebibi conventionally. "Ghosts dwell by water and all devils sit in the bodies of little birds."

This they repeated after him, moving their heads from side to side slowly.

"This is a good night," said the chief, when the ritual was ended, "for now I see the end of our great thoughts. Sandi is gone and M'ilitini is by the place where the three rivers meet, and he has come in fear. Also by magic I have learnt that he is terrified because he knows me to be an awful man. Now, I think, it is time for all ghosts to strike swiftly."

He spoke with emotion, swaying his body from side to side after the manner of orators. His voice grew thick and husky as the immensity of his design grew upon him.

"There is no law in the land," he sang. "Sandi has gone, and only a little, thin man punishes in fear. M'ilitini has blood like water--let us sacrifice."

One of his highmen disappeared into the dark forest and came back soon, dragging a half-witted youth, named Ko'so, grinning and mumbling and content till the curved N'gombi knife, that his captor wielded, came "snack" to his neck and then he spoke no more.

Too late Hamilton came through the forest with his twenty Houssas. Bemebibi saw the end and was content to make a fight for it, as were his partners in crime.

"Use your bayonets," said Hamilton briefly, and flicked out his long, white sword. Bemebibi lunged at him with his stabbing spear, and Hamilton caught the poisoned spearhead on the steel guard, touched it aside, and drove forward straight and swiftly from his shoulder.

"Bury all these men," said Hamilton, and spent a beastly night in the forest.

So passed Bemebibi, and his people gave him up to the ghosts, him and his highmen.

There were other problems less tragic, to be dealt with, a Bosambo rather grieved than sulking, a haughty N'gori to be kicked to a sense of his unimportance, chiefs, major and minor, to be brought into a condition of penitence.

Hamilton went zigzagging up the river swiftly. He earned for himself in those days the name of "Dragon-fly," or its native equivalent, and the illustration was apt, for it seemed that the _Zaire would poise, buzzing angrily, then dart off in unexpected directions, and the spirit of complacency which had settled upon the land gave place to one of apprehension, which, in the old days, followed the arrival of Sanders in a mood of reprisal.

Hamilton sent a letter by canoe to his second-in-command. It started simply:

"Bones--I will not call you 'dear Bones,'" it went on with a hint of the rancour in the writer's heart, "for you are not dear to me. I am striving to clear up the mess you have made so that when His Excellency arrives I shall be able to show him a law-abiding country. I have missed you, Bones, but had you been near on more occasion than one, I should not have missed you. Bones, were you ever kicked as a boy? Did any good fellow ever get you by the scruff of your neck and the seat of your trousers and chuck you into an evil-smelling pond? Try to think and send me the name of the man who did this, that I may send him a letter of thanks.

"Your absurd weakness has kept me on the move for days. Oh, Bones, Bones! I am in a sweat, lest even now you are tampering with the discipline of my Houssas--lest you are handing round tea and cake to the Alis and Ahmets and Mustaphas of my soldiers; lest you are brightening their evenings with imitations of Frank Tinney and fanning the flies from their sleeping forms," the letter went on.

"Cad!" muttered Bones, as he read this bit.

There were six pages couched in this strain, and at the end six more of instruction. Bones was in the forest when the letter came to him, unshaven, weary, and full of trouble.

He hated work, he loathed field exercise, he regarded bridge-building over imaginary streams, and the whole infernal curriculum of military training, as being peculiarly within the province of the boy scouts and wholly beneath the dignity of an officer of the Houssas. And he felt horribly guilty as he read Hamilton's letter, for the night before it came he had most certainly entertained his company with a banjo rendering of the Soldiers' Chorus from "Faust."

He rumpled his beautiful hair, jammed down his helmet, squared his shoulders, and, with a fiendish expression on his face--an expression intended by Bones to represent a stern, unbending devotion to duty, he stepped forth from his tent determined to undo what mischief he had done, and earn, if not the love, at least the respect of his people.


III

There is in all services a subtle fear and hope. They have to do less with material consequence than with a sense of harmony which rejects the discordance of failure. Also Hamilton was a human man, who, whilst he respected Sanders and had a profound regard for his qualities, nourished a secret faith that he might so carry on the work of the heaven-born Commissioner without demanding the charity of his superiors.

He wished--not unnaturally--to spread a triumphant palm to his country and say "Behold! There are the talents that Sanders left--I have increased them, by my care, twofold."

He came down stream in some haste having completed the work of pacification and stopped at the Village of Irons long enough to hand to the Houssa warder four unhappy counsellors of the Isisi king.

"Keep these men for service against our lord Sandi's return."

At Bosinkusu he was delayed by a storm, a mad, whirling brute of a storm that lashed the waters of the river and swept the _Zaire broadside on towards the shore. At M'idibi, the villagers, whose duty it was to cut and stack wood for the Government steamers, had gone into a forest to meet a celebrated witch doctor, gambling on the fact that there was another wooding village ten miles down stream and that Hamilton would choose that for the restocking of his boat.

So that beyond a thin skeleton pile of logs on the river's edge--set up to deceive the casual observer as he passed and approved of their industry--there was no wood and Hamilton had to set his men to wood-cutting.

He had nearly completed the heart-breaking work when the villagers returned in a body, singing an unmusical song and decked about with ropes of flowers.

"Now," explained the headman, "we have been to a palaver with a holy man and he has promised us that some day there will come to us a great harvest of corn which will be reaped by magic and laid at our doors whilst we sleep."

"And I," said the exasperated Houssa, "promise you a great harvest of whips that, so far from coming in your sleep, will keep you awake."

"Master, we did not know that you would come so soon," said the humble headman; "also there was a rumour that your lordship had been drowned in the storm and your _puc-a-puc sunk, and my young men were happy because there would be no more wood to cut."

The _Zaire_, fuel replenished, slipped down the river, Hamilton leaning over the rail promising unpleasant happenings as the boat drifted out from the faithless village. He had cut things very fine, and could do no more than hope that he would reach headquarters an hour or so before the Administrator arrived by the mail-boat. If Bones could be trusted there would be no cause for worry. Bones should have the men's quarters whitewashed, the parade ground swept and garnished, and stores in excellent order for inspection, and all the books on hand for the Accountant-General to glance over.

But Bones!

Hamilton writhed internally at the thought of Francis Augustus and his inefficiency.

He had sent his second the most elaborate instructions, but if he knew his man, the languid Bones would do no more than pass those instructions on to a subordinate.

It was ten o'clock on the morning of the inspection that the _Zaire came paddling furiously to the tiny concrete quay, and Hamilton gave a sigh of relief. For there, awaiting him, stood Lieutenant Tibbetts in the glory of his raiment--helmet sparkling white, steel hilt of sword a-glitter, khaki uniform, spotless and well-fitting.

"Everything is all right, sir," said Bones, saluting, and Hamilton thought he detected a gruffer and more robust note in the tone.

"Mail-boat's just in, sir," Bones went on with unusual fierceness. "You're in time to meet His Excellency. Stores all laid out, books in trim, parade ground and quarters whitewashed as per your jolly old orders, sir."

He saluted again, his eyes bulging, his face a veritable mask of ferocity, and, turning on his heel, he led the way to the beach.

"Here, hold hard!" said Hamilton; "what the dickens is the matter with you?"

"Seen the error of my ways, sir," growled Bones, again saluting punctiliously. "I've been an ass, sir--too lenient--given you a lot of trouble--shan't occur again."

There was not time to ask any further questions.

The two men had to run to reach the landing place in time, for the surf boats were at that moment rolling to the yellow beach.

Sir Robert Sanleigh, in spotless white, was carried ashore, and his staff followed.

"Ah, Hamilton," said the great Bob, "everything all right?"

"Yes, your Excellency," said Hamilton, "there have been one or two serious killing palavers on which I will report."

Sir Robert nodded.

"You were bound to have a little trouble as soon as Sanders went," he said.

He was a methodical man and had little time for the work at hand, for the mail-boat was waiting to carry him to another station. Books, quarters, and stores were in apple-pie order, and inwardly Hamilton raised his voice in praise of the young man, who strode silently and fiercely by his side, his face still distorted with a new-found fierceness.

"The Houssas are all right, I suppose?" asked Sir Robert. "Discipline good--no crime?"

"The discipline is excellent, sir," replied Hamilton, heartily, "and we haven't had any serious crime for years."

Sir Robert Sanleigh fixed his _pince-nez upon his nose and looked round the parade ground. A dozen Houssas in two ranks stood at attention in the centre.

"Where are the rest of your men?" asked the Administrator.

"In gaol, sir." It was Bones who answered the question.

Hamilton gasped.

"In gaol--I'm sorry--but I knew nothing for this. I've just arrived from the interior, your Excellency."

They walked across to the little party.

"Where is Sergeant Abiboo?" asked Hamilton suddenly.

"In gaol, sir," said Bones, promptly, "sentenced to death--scratchin' his leg on parade after bein' warned repeatedly by me to give up the disgusting habit."

"Where is Corporal Ahmet, Bones?" asked the frantic Hamilton.

"In gaol, sir," said Bones. "I gave him twenty years for talkin' in the ranks an' cheekin' me when I told him to shut up. There's a whole lot of them, sir," he went on casually. "I sentenced two chaps to death for fightin' in the lines, an' gave another feller ten years for----"

"I think that will do," said Sir Robert, tactfully. "A most excellent inspection, Captain Hamilton--now, I think, I'll get back to my ship."

He took Hamilton aside on the beach.

"What did you call that young man?" he asked.

"Bones, your Excellency," said Hamilton miserably.

"I should call him Blood and Bones," smiled His Excellency, as he shook hands.

* * * * *

"What's the good of bullyin' me, dear old chap?" asked Bones indignantly. "If I let a chap off, I'm kicked, an' if I punish him I'm kicked--it's enough to make a feller give up bein' judicial----"

"Bones, you're a goop," said Hamilton, in despair.

"A goop, sir?--if you'd be kind enough to explain----?"

"There's an ass," said Hamilton, ticking off one finger; "and there's a silly ass," he ticked off the second; "and there's a silly ass who is such a silly ass that he doesn't know what a silly ass he is: we call him a goop."

"Thank you, sir," said Bones, without resentment, "and which is the goop, you or----?"

Hamilton dropped his hand on his revolver butt, and for a moment there was murder in his eyes.

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