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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keepers Of The King's Peace - Chapter 11. Eye To Eye
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The Keepers Of The King's Peace - Chapter 11. Eye To Eye Post by :marketing Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :1078

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The Keepers Of The King's Peace - Chapter 11. Eye To Eye

CHAPTER XI. EYE TO EYE

"Bones," said Captain Hamilton, in despair, "you will never be a Napoleon."

"Dear old sir and brother-officer," said Lieutenant Tibbetts, "you are a jolly old pessimist."

Bones was by way of being examined in subjects C and D, for promotion to captaincy, and Hamilton was the examining officer. By all the rules and laws and strict regulations which govern military examinations, Bones had not only failed, but he had seriously jeopardized his right to his lieutenancy, if every man had his due.

"Now, let me put this," said Hamilton. "Suppose you were in charge of a company of men, and you were attacked on three sides, and you had a river behind you on the fourth side, and you found things were going very hard against you. What would you do?"

"Dear old sir," said Bones thoughtfully, and screwing his face into all manner of contortions in his effort to secure the right answer, "I should go and wet my heated brow in the purling brook, then I'd take counsel with myself."

"You'd lose," said Hamilton, with a groan. "That's the last person in the world you should go to for advice, Bones. Suppose," he said, in a last desperate effort to awaken a gleam of military intelligence in his subordinate's mind, "suppose you were trekking through the forest with a hundred rifles, and you found your way barred by a thousand armed men. What would you do?"

"Go back," said Bones, "and jolly quick, dear old fellow."

"Go back? What would you go back for?" asked the other, in astonishment.

"To make my will," said Bones firmly, "and to write a few letters to dear old friends in the far homeland. I have friends, Ham," he said, with dignity, "jolly old people who listen for my footsteps, and to whom my voice is music, dear old fellow."

"What other illusions do they suffer from?" asked Hamilton offensively, closing his book with a bang. "Well, you will be sorry to learn that I shall not recommend you for promotion."

"You don't mean that," said Bones hoarsely.

"I mean that," said Hamilton.

"Well, I thought if I had a pal to examine me, I would go through with flying colours."

"Then I am not a pal. You don't suggest," said Hamilton, with ominous dignity, "that I would defraud the public by lying as to the qualities of a deficient character?"

"Yes, I do," said Bones, nodding vigorously, "for my sake and for the sake of the child." The child was that small native whom Bones had rescued and adopted.

"Not even for the sake of the child," said Hamilton, with an air of finality. "Bones, you're ploughed."

Bones did not speak, and Hamilton gathered together the papers, forms, and paraphernalia of examination.

He lifted his head suddenly, to discover that Bones was staring at him. It was no ordinary stare, but something that was a little uncanny. "What the dickens are you looking at?"

Bones did not speak. His round eyes were fixed on his superior in an unwinking glare.

"When I said you had failed," said Hamilton kindly, "I meant, of course----"

"That I'd passed," muttered Bones excitedly. "Say it, Ham--say it! 'Bones, congratulations, dear old lad'----"

"I meant," said Hamilton coldly, "that you have another chance next month."

The face of Lieutenant Tibbetts twisted into a painful contortion. "It didn't work!" he said bitterly, and stalked from the room.

"Rum beggar!" thought Hamilton, and smiled to himself.

"Have you noticed anything strange about Bones?" asked Patricia Hamilton the next day.

Her brother looked at her over his newspaper. "The strangest thing about Bones is Bones," he said, "and that I am compelled to notice every day of my life."

She looked up at Sanders, who was idly pacing the stoep of the Residency. "Have you, Mr. Sanders?"

Sanders paused. "Beyond the fact that he is rather preoccupied and stares at one----"

"That is it," said the girl. "I knew I was right--he stares horribly. He has been doing it for a week--just staring. Do you think he is ill?"

"He has been moping in his hut for the past week," said Hamilton thoughtfully, "but I was hoping that it meant that he was swotting for his exam. But staring--I seem to remember----"

The subject of the discussion made his appearance at the far end of the square at that moment, and they watched him. First he walked slowly towards the Houssa sentry, who shouldered his arms in salute. Bones halted before the soldier and stared at him. Somehow, the watchers on the stoep knew that he was staring--there was something so fixed, so tense in his attitude. Then, without warning, the sentry's hand passed across his body, and the rifle came down to the "present."

"What on earth is he doing?" demanded the outraged Hamilton, for sentries do not present arms to subaltern officers.

Bones passed on. He stopped before one of the huts in the married lines, and stared at the wife of Sergeant Abiboo. He stared long and earnestly, and the woman, giggling uncomfortably, stared back. Then she began to dance.

"For Heaven's sake----" gasped Sanders, as Bones passed on.

"Bones!" roared Hamilton.

Bones turned first his head, then his body towards the Residency, and made his slow way towards the group.

"What is happening?" asked Hamilton.

The face of Bones was flushed; there was triumph in his eye--triumph which his pose of nonchalance could not wholly conceal. "What is happening, dear old officer?" he asked innocently, and stared.

"What the dickens are you goggling at?" demanded Hamilton irritably. "And please explain why you told the sentry to present arms to you."

"I didn't tell him, dear old sir and superior captain," said Bones. His eyes never left Hamilton's; he stared with a fierceness and with an intensity that was little short of ferocious.

"Confound you, what are you staring at? Aren't you well?" demanded Hamilton wrathfully.

Bones blinked. "Quite well, sir and comrade," he said gravely. "Pardon the question--did you feel a curious and unaccountable inclination to raise your right hand and salute me?"

"Did I--what?" demanded his dumbfounded superior.

"A sort of itching of the right arm--an almost overpowerin' inclination to touch your hat to poor old Bones?"

Hamilton drew a long breath. "I felt an almost overpowering desire to lift my foot," he said significantly.

"Look at me again," said Bones calmly. "Fix your eyes on mine an' think of nothin'. Now shut your eyes. Now you can't open 'em."

"Of course I can open them," said Hamilton. "Have you been drinking, Bones?"

A burst of delighted laughter from the girl checked Bones's indignant denial. "I know!" she cried, clapping her hands. "Bones is trying to mesmerize you!"

"What?"

The scarlet face of Bones betrayed him.

"Power of the human eye, dear old sir," he said hurriedly. "Some people have it--it's a gift. I discovered it the other day after readin' an article in _The Scientific Healer_."

"Phew!" Hamilton whistled. "So," he said, with dangerous calm, "all this staring and gaping of yours means that, does it? I remember now. When I was examining you for promotion the other day, you stared. Trying to mesmerize me?"

"Let bygones be bygones, dear old friend," begged Bones.

"And when I asked you to produce the company pay-sheets, which you forgot to bring up to date, you stared at me!"

"It's a gift," said Bones feebly.

"Oh, Bones," said the girl slowly, "you stared at me, too, after I refused to go picnicking with you on the beach."

"All's fair in love an' war," said Bones vaguely. "It's a wonderful gift."

"Have you ever mesmerized anybody?" asked Hamilton curiously, and Bones brightened up.

"Rather, dear old sir," he said. "Jolly old Ali, my secretary--goes off in a regular trance on the slightest provocation. Fact, dear old Ham."

Hamilton clapped his hands, and his orderly, dozing in the shade of the verandah, rose up. "Go, bring Ali Abid," said Hamilton. And when the man had gone: "Are you under the illusion that you made the sentry present arms to you, and Abiboo's woman dance for you, by the magic of your eye?"

"You saw," said the complacent Bones. "It's a wonderful gift, dear old Ham. As soon as I read the article, I tried it on Ali. Got him, first pop!"

The girl was bubbling with suppressed laughter, and there was a twinkle in Sanders's eye. "I recall that you saw me in connection with shooting leave in the N'gombi."

"Yes, sir and Excellency," said the miserable Bones.

"And I said that I thought it inadvisable, because of the trouble in the bend of the Isisi River."

"Yes, Excellency and sir," agreed Bones dolefully.

"And then you stared."

"Did I, dear old--Did I, sir?"

His embarrassment was relieved by the arrival of Ali. So buoyant a soul had Bones, that from the deeps of despair into which he was beginning to sink he rose to heights of confidence, not to say self-assurance, that were positively staggering.

"Miss Patricia, ladies and gentlemen," said Bones briskly, "we have here Ali Abid, confidential servant and faithful retainer. I will now endeavour to demonstrate the power of the human eye."

He met the stolid gaze of Ali and stared. He stared terribly and alarmingly, and Ali, to do him justice, stared back.

"Close your eyes," commanded Bones. "You can't open them, can you?"

"Sir," said Ali, "optics of subject are hermetically sealed."

"I will now put him in a trance," said Bones, and waved his hand mysteriously. Ali rocked backward and forward, and would have fallen but for the supporting arm of the demonstrator. "He is now insensible to pain," said Bones proudly.

"Lend me your hatpin, Pat," said Hamilton.

"I will now awaken him," said Bones hastily, and snapped his fingers. Ali rose to his feet with great dignity. "Thank you, Ali; you may go," said his master, and turned, ready to receive the congratulations of the party.

"Do you seriously believe that you mesmerized that humbug?"

Bones drew himself erect. "Sir and captain," he said stiffly, "do you suggest I am a jolly old impostor? You saw the sentry, sir, you saw the woman, sir."

"And I saw Ali," said Hamilton, nodding, "and I'll bet he gave the sentry something and the woman something to play the goat for you."

Bones bowed slightly and distantly. "I cannot discuss my powers, dear old sir; you realize that there are some subjects too delicate to broach except with kindred spirits. I shall continue my studies of psychic mysteries undeterred by the cold breath of scepticism." He saluted everybody, and departed with chin up and shoulders squared, a picture of offended dignity.

That night Sanders lay in bed, snuggled up on his right side, which meant that he had arrived at the third stage of comfort which precedes that fading away of material life which men call sleep. Half consciously he listened to the drip, drip, drip of rain on the stoep, and promised himself that he would call upon Abiboo in the morning, to explain the matter of a choked gutter, for Abiboo had sworn, by the Prophet and certain minor relatives of the Great One, that he had cleared every bird's nest from the ducts about the Residency.

Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip!

Sanders sank with luxurious leisure into the nothingness of the night.

Drip-tap, drip-tap, drip-tap!

He opened his eyes slowly, slid one leg out of bed, and groped for his slippers. He slipped into the silken dressing-gown which had been flung over the end of the bed, corded it about him, and switched on the electric light. Then he passed out into the big common room, with its chairs drawn together in overnight comradeship, and the solemn tick of the big clock to emphasize the desolation. He paused a second to switch on the lights, then went to the door and flung it open.

"Enter!" he said in Arabic.

The man who came in was naked, save for a tarboosh on his head and a loin-cloth about his middle. His slim body shone with moisture, and where he stood on the white matting were two little pools. Kano from his brown feet to the soaked fez, he stood erect with that curious assumption of pride and equality which the Mussulman bears with less offence to his superiors than any other race.

"Peace on this house," he said, raising his hand.

"Speak, Ahmet," said Sanders, dropping into a big chair and stretching back, with his clasped hands behind his head. He eyed the man gravely and without resentment, for no spy would tap upon his window at night save that the business was a bad one.

"Lord," said the man, "it is shameful that I should wake your lordship from your beautiful dream, but I came with the river."(7) He looked down at his master, and in the way of certain Kano people, who are dialecticians to a man, he asked: "Lord, it is written in the Sura of Ya-Sin, 'To the sun it is not given to overtake the moon----'"

(Footnote 7: I came when I could.)

"'Nor doth the night outstrip the day; but each in his own sphere doth journey on,'" finished Sanders patiently. "Thus also begins the Sura of the Cave: 'Praise be to God, Who hath sent down the book to his servant, and hath put no crookedness into it.' Therefore, Ahmet, be plain to me, and leave your good speeches till you meet the abominable Sufi."

The man sank to his haunches. "Lord," he said, "from the bend of the river, where the Isisi divides the land of the N'gombi from the lands of the Good Chief, I came, travelling by day and night with the river, for many strange things have happened which are too wonderful for me. This Chief Busesi, whom all men call good, has a daughter by his second wife. In the year of the High Crops she was given to a stranger from the forest, him they call Gufuri-Bululu, and he took her away to live in his hut."

Sanders sat up. "Go on, man," he said.

"Lord, she has returned and performs wonderful magic," said the man, "for by the wonder of her eyes she can make dead men live and live men die, and all people are afraid. Also, lord, there was a wise man in the forest, who was blind, and he had a daughter who was the prop and staff of him, and because of his wisdom, and because she hated all who rivalled her, the woman D'rona Gufuri told certain men to seize the girl and hold her in a deep pool of water until she was dead."

"This is a bad palaver," said Sanders; "but you shall tell me what you mean by the wonder of her eyes."

"Lord," said the man, "she looks upon men, and they do her will. Now, it is her will that there shall be a great dance on the Rind of the Moon, and after she shall send the spears of the people of Busesi--who is old and silly, and for this reason is called good--against the N'gombi folk."

"Oh," said Sanders, biting his lip in thought, "by the wonder of her eyes!"

"Lord," said the man, "even I have seen this, for she has stricken men to the ground by looking at them, and some she has made mad, and others foolish."

Sanders turned his head at a noise from the doorway. The tall figure of Hamilton stood peering sleepily at the light.

"I heard your voice," he said apologetically. "What is the trouble?"

Briefly Sanders related the story the man had told.

"Wow!" said Hamilton, in a paroxysm of delight.

"What's wrong?"

"Bones!" shouted Hamilton. "Bones is the fellow. Let him go up and subdue her with his eye. He's the very fellow. I'll go over and call him, sir."

He hustled into his clothing, slipped on a mackintosh, and, making his way across the dark square, admitted himself to the sleeping-hut of Lieutenant Tibbetts. By the light of his electric torch he discovered the slumberer. Bones lay on his back, his large mouth wide open, one thin leg thrust out from the covers, and he was making strange noises. Hamilton found the lamp and lit it, then he proceeded to the heart-breaking task of waking his subordinate. "Up, you lazy devil!" he shouted, shaking Bones by the shoulder.

Bones opened his eyes and blinked rapidly. "On the word 'One!'" he said hoarsely, "carry the left foot ten inches to the left front, at the same time bringing the rifle to a horizontal position at the right side. One!"

"Wake up, wake up, Bones!"

Bones made a wailing noise. It was the noise of a mother panther who has returned to her lair to discover that her offspring have been eaten by wild pigs. "Whar-r-ow-ow!" he said, and turned over on his right side.

Hamilton pocketed his torch, and, lifting Bones bodily from the bed, let him fall with a thud.

Bones scrambled up, staring. "Gentlemen of the jury," he said, "I stand before you a ruined man. Drink has been my downfall, as the dear old judge remarked. I _did kill Wilfred Morgan, and I plead the unwritten law." He saluted stiffly, collapsed on to his pillow, and fell instantly into a deep child-like sleep.

Hamilton groaned. He had had occasion to wake Bones from his beauty sleep before, but he had never been as bad as this. He took a soda siphon from the little sideboard and depressed the lever, holding the outlet above his victim's head.

Bones leapt up with a roar. "Hello, Ham!" he said quite sanely. "Well dear old officer, this is the finish! You stand by the lifeboat an' shoot down anybody who attempts to leave the ship before the torpedoes are saved. I'm goin' down into the hold to have a look at the women an' children." He saluted, and was stepping out into the wet night, when Hamilton caught his arm.

"Steady, the Buffs, my sleeping beauty! Dress yourself. Sanders wants you."

Bones nodded. "I'll just drive over and see him," he said, climbed back into bed, and was asleep in a second.

Hamilton put out the light and went back to the Residency. "I hadn't the heart to cut his ear off," he said regretfully. "I'm afraid we shan't be able to consult Bones till the morning."

Sanders nodded. "Anyway, I will wait for the morning. I have told Abiboo to get stores and wood aboard, and to have steam in the _Zaire_. Let us emulate Bones."

"Heaven forbid!" said Hamilton piously.

Bones came blithely to breakfast, a dapper and a perfectly groomed figure. He received the news of the ominous happenings in the N'gombi country with that air of profound solemnity which so annoyed Hamilton.

"I wish you had called me in the night," he said gravely. "Dear old officer, I think it was due to me."

"Called you! Called you! Why--why----" spluttered Hamilton.

"In fact, we did call you Bones, but we could not wake you," smoothed Sanders.

A look of amazement spread over the youthful face of Lieutenant Tibbetts. "You called me?" he asked incredulously. "Called _me_?"

"_You!_" hissed Hamilton. "I not only called you, but I kicked you. I poured water on you, and I chucked you up to the roof of the hut and dropped you."

A faint but unbelieving smile from Bones. "Are you sure it was me, dear old officer?" he asked, and Hamilton choked. "I only ask," said Bones, turning blandly to the girl, "because I'm a notoriously light sleeper, dear old Miss Patricia. The slightest stir wakes me, and instantly I'm in possession of all my faculties. Bosambo calls me 'Eye-That-Never-Shuts----'"

"Bosambo is a notorious leg-puller," interrupted Hamilton irritably. "Really, Bones----"

"Often, dear old Sister," Bones went on impressively, "campin' out in the forest, an' sunk in the profound sleep which youth an' a good conscience brings, something has wakened me, an' I've jumped to my feet, a revolver in my hand, an' what do you think it was?"

"A herd of wild elephants walking on your chest?" suggested Hamilton.

"What do you think it was, dear old Patricia miss?" persisted Bones, and interrupted her ingenious speculation in his usual aggravating manner: "The sound of a footstep breakin' a twig a hundred yards away!"

"Wonderful!" sneered Hamilton, stirring his coffee. "Bones, if you could only spell, what a novelist you'd be!"

"The point is," said Sanders, with good-humoured patience, which brought, for some curious reason, a warm sense of intimacy to the girl, "you've got to go up and try your eye on the woman D'rona Gufuri."

Bones leant back in his chair and spoke with deliberation and importance, for he realized that he, and only he, could supply a solution to the difficulties of his superiors.

"The power of the human eye, when applied by a jolly old scientist to a heathen, is irresistible. You may expect me down with the prisoner in four days."

"She may be more trouble than you expect," said Sanders seriously. "The longer one lives in native lands, the less confident can one be. There have been remarkable cases of men possessing the power which this woman has----"

"And which I have, sir an' Excellency, to an extraordinary extent," interrupted Bones firmly. "Have no fear."

* * * * *

Thirty-six hours later Bones stood before the woman D'rona Gufuri.

"Lord," said the woman, "men speak evilly of me to Sandi, and now you have come to take me to the Village of Irons."

"That is true, D'rona," said Bones, and looked into her eyes.

"Lord," said the woman, speaking slowly, "you shall go back to Sandi and say, 'I have not seen the woman D'rona'--for, lord, is this not truth?"

"I'wa! I'wa!" muttered Bones thickly.

"You cannot see me Tibbetti, and I am not here," said the woman, and she spoke before the assembled villagers, who stood, knuckles to teeth, gazing awe-stricken upon the scene.

"I cannot see you," said Bones sleepily.

"And now you cannot hear me, lord?"

Bones did not reply.

The woman took him by the arm and led him through the patch of wood which fringes the river and separates beach from village. None followed them; even the two Houssas who formed the escort of Lieutenant Tibbetts stayed rooted to the spot.

Bones passed into the shadow of the trees, the woman's hand on his arm. Then suddenly from the undergrowth rose a lank figure, and D'rona of the Magic Eye felt a bony hand at her throat. She laughed.

"O man, whoever you be, look upon me in this light, and your strength shall melt."

She twisted round to meet her assailant's face, and shrieked aloud, for he was blind. And Bones stood by without moving, without seeing or hearing, whilst the strong hands of the blind witch-doctor, whose daughter she had slain, crushed the life from her body.

* * * * *

"Of course, sir," explained Bones, "you may think she mesmerized me. On the other hand, it is quite possible that she acted under my influence. It's a moot point, sir an' Excellency--jolly moot!"

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