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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keepers Of The King's Peace - Chapter 12. The Hooded King
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The Keepers Of The King's Peace - Chapter 12. The Hooded King Post by :capecodder Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :2776

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The Keepers Of The King's Peace - Chapter 12. The Hooded King

CHAPTER XII. THE HOODED KING

There was a certain Portuguese governor--this was in the days when Colhemos was Colonial Minister--who had a small legitimate income and an extravagant wife. This good lady had a villa at Cintra, a box at the Real Theatre de Sao Carlos, and a motor-car, and gave five o'clocks at the Hotel Nunes to the aristocracy and gentry who inhabited that spot, of whom the ecstatic Spaniard said, "dejar a Cintra, y ver al mundo entero, es, con verdad caminar en capuchera."

Since her husband's salary was exactly $66.50 weekly and the upkeep of the villa alone was twice that amount, it is not difficult to understand that Senhor Bonaventura was a remarkable man.

Colhemos came over to the Foreign Office in the Praco de Commercio one day and saw Dr. Sarabesta, and Sarabesta, who was both a republican and a sinner, was also ambitious, or he had a Plan and an Ideal--two very dangerous possessions for a politician, since they lead inevitably to change, than which nothing is more fatal to political systems.

"Colhemos," said the doctor dramatically, "you are ruining me! You are bringing me to the dust and covering me with the hatred and mistrust of the Powers!"

He folded his arms and rose starkly from the chair, his beard all a-bristle, his deep little eyes glaring.

"What is wrong, Baptisa?" asked Colhemos.

The other flung out his arms in an extravagant gesture.

"Ruin!" he cried somewhat inadequately.

He opened the leather portfolio which lay on the table and extracted six sheets of foolscap paper.

"Read!" he said, and subsided into his padded armchair a picture of gloom.

The sheets of foolscap were surmounted by crests showing an emaciated lion and a small horse with a spiral horn in his forehead endeavouring to climb a chafing-dish which had been placed on edge for the purpose, and was suitably inscribed with another lion, two groups of leopards and a harp.

Colhemos did not stop to admire the menagerie, but proceeded at once to the literature. It was in French, and had to do with a certain condition of affairs in Portuguese Central Africa which "constituted a grave and increasing menace to the native subjects" of "Grande Bretagne." There were hints, "which His Majesty's Government would be sorry to believe, of raids and requisitions upon the native manhood" of this country which differed little from slave raids.

Further, "Mr. Commissioner Sanders of the Territories regretted to learn" that these labour requisitions resulted in a condition of affairs not far removed from slavery.

Colhemos read through the dispatch from start to finish, and put it down thoughtfully.

"Pinto has been overdoing it," he admitted. "I shall have to write to him."

"What you write to Pinto may be interesting enough to print," said Dr. Sarabesta violently, "but what shall I write to London? This Commissioner Sanders is a fairly reliable man, and his Government will act upon what he says."

Colhemos, who was really a great man (it was a distinct loss when he faced a firing platoon in the revolutionary days of '12), tapped his nose with a penholder.

"You can say that we shall send a special commissioner to the M'fusi country to report, and that he will remain permanently established in the M'fusi to suppress lawless acts."

The doctor looked up wonderingly.

"Pinto won't like that," said he, "besides which, the M'fusi are quite unmanageable. The last time we tried to bring them to reason it cost--Santa Maria!... and the lives!... phew!"

Colhemos nodded.

"The duc de Sagosta," he said slowly, "is an enthusiastic young man. He is also a royalist and allied by family ties to Dr. Ceillo of the Left. He is, moreover, an Anglomaniac--though why he should be so when his mother was an American woman I do not know. He shall be our commissioner, my dear Baptisa."

His dear Baptisa sat bolt upright, every hair in his bristling head erect.

"A royalist!" he gasped, "do you want to set Portugal ablaze?"

"There are moments when I could answer 'Yes' to that question," said the truthful Colhemos "but for the moment I am satisfied that there will be no fireworks. It will do no harm to send the boy. It will placate the Left and please the Clerics--it will also consolidate our reputation for liberality and largeness of mind. Also the young man will either be killed or fall a victim to the sinister influences of that corruption which, alas, has so entered into the vitals of our Colonial service."

So Manuel duc de Sagosta was summoned, and prepared for the subject of his visit by telephone, came racing up from Cintra in his big American juggernaut, leapt up the stairs of the Colonial Office two at a time, and came to Colhemos' presence in a state of mind which may be described as a big mental whoop.

"You will understand, Senhor," said Colhemos, "that I am doing that which may make me unpopular. For that I care nothing! My country is my first thought, and the glory and honour of our flag! Some day you may hold my portfolio in the Cabinet, and it will be well if you bring to your high and noble office the experience...."

Then they all talked together, and the dark room flickered with gesticulating palms.

Colhemos came to see the boy off by the M.N.P. boat which carried him to the African Coast.

"I suppose, Senhor," said the duc, "there would be no objection on the part of the Government to my calling on my way at a certain British port. I have a friend in the English army--we were at Clifton together----"

"My friend," said Colhemos, pressing the young man's hand warmly, "you must look upon England as a potential ally, and lose no opportunity which offers to impress upon our dear colleagues this fact, that behind England, unmoved, unshaken, faithful, stands the armed might of Portugal. May the saints have you in their keeping!"

He embraced him, kissing him on both cheeks.

* * * * *

Bones was drilling recruits at headquarters when Hamilton hailed him from the edge of the square.

"There's a pal of yours come to see you, Bones," he roared.

Bones marched sedately to his superior and touched his helmet.

"Sir!"

"A friend of yours--just landed from the Portuguese packet."

Bones was mystified, and went up to the Residency to find a young man in spotless white being entertained by Patricia Hamilton and a very thoughtful Sanders.

The duc de Sagosta leapt to his feet as Bones came up the verandah.

"Hullo, Conk!" he yelled hilariously.

Bones stared.

"God bless my life," he stammered, "it's Mug!"

There was a terrific hand-shaking accompanied by squawking inquiries which were never answered, uproarious laughter, back patting, brazen and baseless charges that each was growing fat, and Sanders watched it with great kindness.

"Here's old Ham," said Bones, "you ought to know Ham--Captain Hamilton, sir, my friend, the duke of something or other--but you can call him Mug--Miss Hamilton--this is Mug."

"We've already been introduced," she laughed. "But why do you let him call you Mug?"

The duc grinned.

"I like Mug," he said simply.

He was to stay to lunch, for the ship was not leaving until the afternoon, and Bones carried him off to his hut.

"A joyous pair," said Hamilton enviously. "Lord, if I was only a boy again!"

Sanders shook his head.

"You don't echo that wish?" said Pat.

"I wasn't thinking about that--I was thinking of the boy. I dislike this M'fusi business, and I can't think why the Government sent him. They are a pretty bad lot--their territory is at the back of the Akasava, and the Chief of the M'fusi is a rascal."

"But he says that he has been sent to reform them," said the girl.

Sanders smiled.

"It is not a job I should care to undertake--and yet----"

He knitted his forehead.

"And yet----?"

"I could reform them--Bones could reform them. But if they were reformed it would break Bonaventura, for he holds his job subject to their infamy."

At lunch Sanders was unusually silent, a silence which was unnoticed, save by the girl. Bones and his friend, however, needed no stimulation. Lunch was an almost deafening meal, and when the time came for the duc to leave, the whole party went down to the beach to see him embark.

"Good-bye, old Mug!" roared Bones, as the boat pulled away. "Whoop! hi! how!"

"You're a noisy devil," said Hamilton, admiringly.

"Vox populi, vox Dei," said Bones.

He had an unexpected visitor that evening, for whilst he was dressing for dinner, Sanders came into his hut--an unusual happening.

What Sanders had to say may not be related since it was quite unofficial, but Bones came to dinner that night and behaved with such decorum and preserved a mien so grave, that Hamilton thought he was ill.

The duc continued his journey down the African Coast and presently came to a port which was little more than a beach, a jetty, a big white house, and by far the most imposing end of the Moanda road. In due time, he arrived by the worst track in the world (he was six days on the journey) at Moanda itself, and came into the presence of the Governor.

Did the duc but know it, his Excellency had also been prepared for the young man's mission. The mail had arrived by carrier the day before the duc put in his appearance, and Pinto Bonaventura had his little piece all ready to say.

"I will give you all the assistance I possibly can," he said, as they sat at _dejeuner_, "but, naturally, I cannot guarantee you immunity."

"Immunity?" said the puzzled duc.

Senhor Bonaventura nodded gravely.

"Nothing is more repugnant to me than slavery," he said, "unless it be the terrible habit of drinking. If I could sweep these evils out of existence with a wave of my hand, believe me I would do so; but I cannot perform miracles, and the Government will not give me sufficient troops to suppress these practices which every one of us hold in abhorrence."

"But," protested the duc, a little alarmed, "since I am going to reform the M'fusi...."

The Governor choked over his coffee and apologized. He did not laugh, because long residence in Central Africa had got him out of the habit, and had taught him a certain amount of self-control in all things except the consumption of marsala.

"Pray go on," he said, wearing an impassive face.

"It will be to the interests of Portugal, no less than to your Excellency's interest," said the young man, leaning across the table and speaking with great earnestness, "if I can secure a condition of peace, prosperity, sobriety, and if I can establish the Portuguese law in this disturbed area."

"Undoubtedly," acknowledged the older man with profound seriousness.

So far from the duc's statement representing anything near the truth, it may be said that a restoration of order would serve his Excellency very badly indeed. In point of fact he received something like eight shillings for every "head" of "recruited labour." He also received a commission from the same interested syndicates which exported able-bodied labourers, a commission amounting to six shillings upon every case of square-face, and a larger sum upon every keg of rum that came into the country.

Sobriety and law would, in fact, spell much discomfort to the elegant lady who lived in the villa at Cintra, and would considerably diminish not only Senhor Bonaventura's handsome balance at the Bank of Brazil, but would impoverish certain ministers, permanent and temporary, who looked to their dear Pinto for periodical contributions to what was humorously described as "The Party Fund."

Yet the duc de Sagosta went into the wilds with a high heart and a complete faith, in his youthful and credulous soul, that he had behind him the full moral and physical support of a high-minded and patriotic Governor. The high-minded and patriotic Governor, watching the caravan of his new assistant disappearing through the woods which fringe Moanda, expressed in picturesque language his fervent hope that the mud, the swamp, the forest and the wilderness of the M'fusi country would swallow up this young man for evermore, amen. The unpopularity of the new Commissioner was sealed when the Governor learnt of his visit to Sanders, for "Sanders" was a name at which his Excellency made disapproving noises.

The predecessor of the duc de Sagosta was dead. His grave was in the duc's front garden, and was covered with rank grass. The new-comer found the office correspondence in order (as a glib native clerk demonstrated); he also found 103 empty bottles behind the house, and understood the meaning of that coarse grave in the garden. He found that the last index number in the letter-book was 951.

It is remarkable that the man he succeeded should have found, in one year, 951 subjects for correspondence, but it is the fact. Possibly nine hundred of the letters had to do with the terrible state of the Residency at Uango-Bozeri. The roof leaked, the foundations had settled, and not a door closed as it should close. On the day of his arrival the duc found a _mamba resting luxuriously in his one armchair, a discovery which suggested the existence of a whole colony of these deadly brutes--the _mamba bite is fatal in exactly ninety seconds--under or near the house.

The other fifty dispatches probably had to do with the late Commissioner's arrears of pay, for Portugal at that time was in the throes of her annual crisis, and ministries were passing through the Government offices at Lisbon with such rapidity that before a cheque could be carried from the Foreign Office to the bank, it was out of date.

Uango Bozeri is 220 miles by road from the coast, and is the centre of the child-like people of the M'fusi. Here the duc dwelt and had his being, as Governor of 2,000 square miles, and overlord of some million people who were cannibals with a passion for a fiery liquid which was described by traders as "rum." It was as near rum as the White City is to Heaven; that is to say, to the uncultivated taste it might have been rum, and anyway was as near to rum as the taster could expect to get.

This is all there is to be said about the duc de Sagosta, save that his headman swindled him, his soldiers were conscienceless natives committing acts of brigandage in his innocent name, whilst his chief at Moanda was a peculating and incompetent scoundrel.

At the time when the duc was finding life a bitter and humiliating experience, and had reached the stage when he sat on his predecessor's grave for company, a small and unauthorized party crossed the frontier from the British Territories in search of adventure.

Now it happened that the particular region through which the border-line passed was governed by the Chief of the Greater M'fusi, who was a cannibal, a drunkard, and a master of two regiments.

The duc had been advised not to interfere with the chief of his people, and he had (after one abortive and painful experience) obeyed his superiors, accepting the hut tax which was sent to him (and which was obviously and insolently inadequate) without demur.

No white man journeyed to the city of the M'fusi without invitation from the chief, and as Chief Karata never issued such invitation, the Greater M'fusi was a _terra incognita even to his Excellency the Governor-General of the Central and Western Provinces.

Karata was a drunkard approaching lunacy. It was his whim for weeks on end to wear on his head the mask of a goat. At other times, "as a mark of his confidence in devils," he would appear hidden beneath a plaited straw extinguisher which fitted him from head to foot. He was eccentric in other ways which need not be particularized, but he was never so eccentric that he welcomed strangers.

Unfortunately for those concerned, the high road from the Territories passed through the M'fusi drift. And one day there came a panting messenger from the keeper of the drift who flung himself down at the king's feet.

"Lord," said he, "there is a white man at the drift, and with him a certain chief and his men."

"You will take the men, bringing them to me tied with ropes," said the king, who looked at the messenger with glassy eyes and found some difficulty in speaking, for he was at the truculent stage of his second bottle.

The messenger returned and met the party on the road. What was his attitude towards the intruders it is impossible to say. He may have been insolent, secure in the feeling that he was representing his master's attitude towards white men; he may have offered fight in the illusion that the six warriors he took with him were sufficient to enforce the king's law. It is certain that he never returned.

Instead there came to the king's kraal a small but formidable party under a white man, and they arrived at a propitious moment, for the ground before the king's great hut was covered with square bottles, and the space in front of the palace was crowded with wretched men chained neck to neck and waiting to march to the coast and slavery.

The white man pushed back his helmet.

"Goodness gracious Heavens!" he exclaimed, "how perfectly horrid! Bosambo, this is immensely illegal an' terrificly disgustin'."

The Chief of the Ochori looked round.

"Dis feller be dam' bad," was his effort.

Bones walked leisurely to the shady canopy under which the king sat, and King Karata stared stupidly at the unexpected vision.

"O King," said Bones in the Akasavian vernacular which runs from Dacca to the Congo, "this is an evil thing that you do--against all law."

Open-mouthed Karata continued to stare.

To the crowded kraal, on prisoner and warrior, councillor and dancing woman alike, came a silence deep and unbroken.

They heard the words spoken in a familiar tongue, and marvelled that a white man should speak it. Bones was carrying a stick and taking deliberate aim, and after two trial strokes he brought the nobbly end round with a "swish!"

A bottle of square-face smashed into a thousand pieces, and there arose on the hot air the sickly scent of crude spirits. Fascinated, silent, motionless, King Karata, named not without reason "The Terrible," watched the destruction as bottle followed bottle.

Then as a dim realization of the infamy filtered through his thick brain, he rose with a growl like a savage animal, and Bones turned quickly. But Bosambo was quicker. One stride brought him to the king's side.

"Down, dog!" he said. "O Karata, you are very near the painted hut where dead kings lie."

The king sank back and glared to and fro.

All that was animal in him told of his danger; he smelt death in the mirthless grin of the white man; he smelt it as strongly under the hand of the tall native wearing the monkey-tails of chieftainship. If they would only stand away from him they would die quickly enough. Let them get out of reach, and a shout, an order, would send them bloodily to the ground with little kicks and twitches as the life ran out of them.

But they stood too close, and that order of his meant his death.

"O white man," he began.

"Listen, black man," said Bosambo, and lapsed into his English; "hark um, you dam' black nigger--what for you speak um so?"

"You shall say 'master' to me, Karata," said Bones easily, "for in my land 'white man' is evil talk."(8)

(Footnote 8: In most native countries "white man" is seldom employed save as a piece of insolence. It is equivalent to the practice of referring to the natives as niggers.)

"Master," said the king sullenly, "this is a strange thing--for I see that you are English and we be servants of another king. Also it is forbidden that any white--that any master should stand in my kraal without my word, and I have driven even Igselensi from my face."

"That is all foolish talk, Karata," said Bones. "This is good talk: shall Karata live or shall he die? This you shall say. If you send away this palaver and say to your people that we are folk whom you desire shall live in the shadow of the king's hut, then you live. Let him say less than this, Bosambo, and you strike quickly."

The king looked from face to face. Bones had his hand in the uniform jacket pocket. Bosambo balanced his killing-spear on the palm of his hand, the chief saw with the eye of an expert that the edge was razor sharp.

Then he turned to the group whom Bones had motioned away when he started to speak to the king.

"This palaver is finished," he said, "and the white lord stays in my hut for a night."

"Good egg," said Bones as the crowd streamed from the kraal.

Senhor Bonaventura heard of the arrival of a white man at the chief's great kraal and was not perturbed, because there were certain favourite traders who came to the king from time to time. He was more concerned by the fact that a labour draft of eight hundred men who had been promised by Karata had not yet reached Moanda, but frantic panic came from the remarkable information of Karata's eccentricities which had reached him from his lieutenant.

The duc's letter may be reproduced.

"ILLUSTRIOUS AND EXCELLENT SENHOR,

"It is with joy that I announce to you the most remarkable reformation of King Karata. The news was brought to me that the king had received a number of visitors of an unauthorized character, and though I had, as I have reported to you, Illustrious and Excellent Senhor, the most unpleasant experience at the hands of the king, I deemed it advisable to go to the city of the Greater M'fusi and conduct an inquiry.

"I learnt that the king had indeed received the visitors, and that they had departed on the morning of my arrival carrying with them one of their number who was sick. With this party was a white man. But the most remarkable circumstance, Illustrious and Excellent Senhor, was that the king had called a midnight palaver of his councillors and high people of state and had told them that the strangers had brought news of such sorrowful character that for four moons it would be forbidden to look upon his face. At the end of that period he would disappear from the earth and become a god amongst the stars.

"At these words, Illustrious and Excellent Senhor, the king with some reluctance took from one of the strangers a bag in which two eyes had been cut, and pulled it over his head and went back into his hut.

"Since then he has done many remarkable things. He has forbidden the importation of drink, and has freed all labour men to their homes. He has nominated Zifingini, the elder chief of the M'fusi, to be king after his departure, and has added another fighting regiment to his army.

"He is quite changed, and though they cannot see his face and he has banished all his wives, relatives and councillors to a distant village, he is more popular than ever.

"Illustrious and Excellent Senhor, I feel that at last I am seeing the end of the old regime and that we may look forward to a period of sobriety and prosperity in the M'fusi.

"Receive the assurance, Illustrious and Excellent Senhor, of my distinguished consideration."

His Excellency went purple and white.

"Holy mother!" he spluttered apoplectically, "this is ruin!"

With trembling hands he wrote a telegram. Translated in its sense it was to this effect--

"Recall de Sagosta without fail or there will be nothing doing on pay day."

He saw this dispatched on its way, and returned to his bureau. He picked up the duc's letter and read it again: then he saw there was a postscript.

"P.S.--In regard to the strangers who visited the king, the man they carried away on a closed litter was very sick indeed, according to the accounts of woodmen who met the party. He was raving at the top of his voice, but the white man was singing very loudly.

"P.SS.--I have just heard, Illustrious and Excellent Senhor, that the Hooded King (as his people call him) has sent off all his richest treasures and many others which he has taken from the huts of his deported relatives to one Bosambo, who is a chief of the Ochori in British Territory, and is distantly related to Senhor Sanders, the Commissioner of that Territory."


(THE END)
Edgar Wallace's Novel: Keepers of the King's Peace

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