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THE MAN WHO DID NOT SLEEP
No doubt whatever but that Lieutenant Tibbetts of the Houssas had a pretty taste for romance. It led him to exercise certain latent powers of imagination and to garnish his voluminous correspondence with details of happenings which had no very solid foundation in fact.
On one occasion he had called down the heavy sarcasm of his superior officer by a reference to lions--a reference which Hamilton's sister had seen and, in the innocence of her heart, had referred to in a letter to her brother.
Whereupon Bones swore to himself that he would carefully avoid corresponding with any person who might have the remotest acquaintance with the remotest of Hamilton's relatives.
Every mail night Captain Hamilton underwent a cross-examination which at once baffled and annoyed him.
Picture a great room, the walls of varnished match-boarding, the bare floor covered in patches by skins. There are twelve windows covered with fine mesh wire and looking out to the broad verandah which runs round the bungalow. The furniture is mainly wicker work, a table or two bearing framed photographs (one has been cleared for the huge gramophone which Bones has introduced to the peaceful life of headquarters). There are no pictures on the walls save the inevitable five--Queen Victoria, King Edward, Queen Alexandra, and in a place of honour above the door the King and his Consort.
A great oil lamp hangs from the centre of the boarded ceiling, and under this the big solid table at either side of which two officers write silently and industriously, for the morrow brings the mail boat.
Silent until Bones looked up thoughtfully.
"Do you know the Gripps, of Beckstead, dear old fellow?"
"None of your people know 'em?" hopefully.
"No--how the dickens do I know?"
"Don't get chuffy, dear old chap."
Then would follow another silence, until----
"Do you happen to be acquainted with the Lomands of Fife?"
"I suppose none of your people know 'em?"
Hamilton would put down his pen, resignation on his face.
"I have never heard of the Lomands--unless you refer to the Loch Lomonds; nor to the best of my knowledge and belief are any of my relations in blood or in law in any way acquainted with them."
"Cheer oh!" said Bones, gratefully.
Another ten minutes, and then:
"You don't know the Adamses of Oxford, do you, sir?"
Hamilton, in the midst of his weekly report, chucked down his pen.
"No; nor the Eves of Cambridge, nor the Serpents of Eton, nor the Angels of Harrow."
"I suppose----" began Bones.
"Nor are my relations on speaking terms with them. They don't know the Adamses, nor the Cains, nor the Abels, nor the Moseses, nor the Noahs."
"That's all I wanted to know, sir," said an injured Bones. "There's no need to peeve, sir."
Step by step Bones was compiling a directory of people to whom he might write without restraint, providing he avoided mythical lion hunts and confined himself to anecdotes which were suggestively complimentary to himself.
Thus he wrote to one pal of his at Biggestow to the effect that he was known to the natives as "The-Man-Who-Never-Sleeps," meaning thereby that he was a most vigilant and relentless officer, and the recipients of this information, fired with a sort of local patriotism, sent the remarkable statement to the Biggestow Herald and Observer and Hindhead Guardian, thereby upsetting all Bones' artful calculations.
"What the devil does 'Man-Who-Never-Sleeps' mean?" asked a puzzled Hamilton.
"Dear old fellow," said Bones, incoherently, "don't let's discuss it ... I can't understand how these things get into the bally papers."
"If," said Hamilton, turning the cutting over in his hand, "if they called you 'The-Man-Who-Jaws-So-Much-That-Nobody-Can-Sleep,' I'd understand it, or if they called you 'The-Man-Sleeps-With-His-Mouth-Open-Emitting-Hideous-Noises,' I could understand it."
"The fact is, sir," said Bones, in a moment of inspiration, "I'm an awfully light sleeper--in fact, sir, I'm one of those chaps who can get along with a couple of hours' sleep--I can sleep anywhere at any time--dear old Wellin'ton was similarly gifted--in fact, sir, there are one or two points of resemblance between Wellington and I, which you might have noticed, sir."
"Speak no ill of the dead," reproved Hamilton; "beyond your eccentric noses I see no points of resemblance."
It was on a morning following the dispatch of the mail that Hamilton took a turn along the firm sands to settle in his mind the problem of a certain Middle Island.
Middle Islands, that is to say the innumerable patches of land which sprinkle the river in its broad places, were a never-ending problem to Sanders and his successor. Upon these Middle Islands the dead were laid to rest--from the river you saw the graves with fluttering ragged flags of white cloth planted about them--and the right of burial was a matter of dispute when the mainland at one side of the river was Isisi land, and Akasava the other. Also some of the larger Middle Islands were colonized.
Hamilton had news of a coming palaver in relation to one of these.
Now, on the river, it is customary for all who desire inter-tribal palavers to announce their intention loudly and insistently. And if Sanders had no objection he made no move, if he did not think the palaver desirable he stopped it. It was a simple arrangement, and it worked.
Hamilton came back from his four-mile constitutional satisfied in his mind that the palaver should be held. Moreover, they had, on this occasion, asked permission. He could grant this with an easy mind, being due in the neighbourhood of the disputed territory in the course of a week.
It seemed that an Isisi fisherman had been spearing in Akasava waters, and had, moreover, settled, he and his family to the number of forty, on Akasava territory. Whereupon an Akasava fishing community, whose rights the intruder had violated, rose up in its wrath and beat Issmeri with sticks.
Then the king of the Isisi sent a messenger to the king of Akasava begging him to stay his hand "against my lawful people, for know this, Iberi, that I have a thousand spears and young men eager for fire."
And Iberi replied with marked unpleasantness that there were in the Akasava territory two thousand spears no less inclined to slaughter.
In a moment of admirable moderation, significant of the change which Mr. Commissioner Sanders had wrought in these warlike peoples, they accepted Hamilton's suggestion--sent by special envoy--and held a "small palaver," agreeing that the question of the disputed fishing ground should be settled by a third person.
And they chose Bosambo, paramount and magnificent chief of the Ochori, as arbitrator. Now, it was singularly unfortunate that the question was ever debatable. And yet it was, for the fishing ground in question was off one of the many Middle Islands. In this case the island was occupied by Akasava fishermen on the one shore and by the intruding Isisi on the other. If you can imagine a big "Y" and over it a little "o" and over that again an inverted "Y" thus "+" and drawing this you prolong the four prongs of the Y's, you have a rough idea of the topography of the place. To the left of the lower "Y" mark the word "Isisi," to the right the word "Akasava" until you reach a place where the two right hand prongs meet, and here you draw a line and call all above it "Ochori." The "o" in the centre is the middle island--set in a shallow lake through which the river (the stalk, of the Y's) runs.
Bosambo came down in state with ten canoes filled with counsellors and bodyguard. He camped on the disputed ground, and was met thereon by the chiefs affected.
"O, Iberi and T'lingi!" said he, as he stepped ashore, "I come in peace, bringing all my wonderful counsellors, that I may make you as brothers, for as you know I have a white man's way of knowing all their magic, and being a brother in blood to our Lord Tibbetti, Moon-in-the-Eye."
"This we know, Bosambo," said Iberi, looking askance at the size of Bosambo's retinue, "and my stomach is proud that you bring so vast an army of high men to us, for I see that you have brought rich food for them."
He saw nothing of the sort, but he wanted things made plain at the beginning.
"Lord Iberi," said Bosambo, loftily, "I bring no food, for that would have been shameful, and men would have said: 'Iberi is a mean man who starves the guests of his house.' But only one half of my wise people shall sit in your huts, Iberi, and the other half will rest with T'lingi of the Akasava, and feed according to law. And behold, chiefs and headmen, I am a very just man not to be turned this way or that by the giving of gifts or by kindness shown to my people. Yet my heart is so human and so filled with tenderness for my people, that I ask you not to feed them too richly or give them presents of beauty, lest my noble mind be influenced."
Whereupon his forces were divided, and each chief ransacked his land for delicacies to feed them.
It was a long palaver--too long for the chiefs.
Was the island Akasava or Isisi? Old men of either nation testified with oaths and swearings of death and other high matters that it was both.
From dawn to sunset Bosambo sat in the thatched palaver house, and on either side of him was a brass pot into which he tossed from time to time a grain of corn.
And every grain stood for a successful argument in favour of one or the other of the contestants--the pot to the right being for the Akasava, and that to the left for the Isisi.
And the night was given up to festivity, to the dancing of girls and the telling of stories and other noble exercises.
On the tenth day Iberi met T'lingi secretly.
"T'lingi," said Iberi, "it seems to me that this island is not worth the keeping if we have to feast this thief Bosambo and search our lands for his pleasure."
"Lord Iberi," agreed his rival, "that is also in my mind--let us go to this robber of our food and say the palaver shall finish to-morrow, for I do not care whether the island is yours or mine if we can send Bosambo back to his land."
"You speak my mind," said Iberi, and on the morrow they were blunt to the point of rudeness.
Whereupon Bosambo delivered judgment.
"Many stories have been told," said he, "also many lies, and in my wisdom I cannot tell which is lie and which is truth. Moreover, the grains of corn are equal in each pot. Now, this I say, in the name of my uncle Sandi, and my brother Tibbetti (who is secretly married to my sister's cousin), that neither Akasava nor Isisi shall sit in this island for a hundred years."
"Lord, you are wise," said the Akasava chief, well satisfied, and Iberi was no less cheered, but asked: "Who shall keep this island free from Akasava or Isisi? For men may come and there will be other palavers and perhaps fighting?"
"That I have thought of," said Bosambo, "and so I will raise a village of my own people on this island, and put a guard of a hundred men--all this I will do because I love you both--the palaver is finished."
He rose in his stately way, and with his drums beating and the bright spearheads of his young men a-glitter in the evening sunlight, embarked in his ten canoes, having expanded his territory without loss to himself like the Imperialist he was.
For two days the chiefs of the Akasava and the Isisi were satisfied with the justice of an award which robbed them both without giving an advantage to either. Then an uneasy realization of their loss dawned upon them. Then followed a swift exchange of messages and Bosambo's colonization scheme was unpleasantly checked.
Hamilton was on the little lake which is at the end of the N'gini River when he heard of the trouble, and from the high hills at the far end of the lake sent a helio message staring and blinking across the waste.
Bones, fishing in the river below Ikan, picked up the instructions, and went flying up the river as fast as the new naphtha launch could carry him.
He arrived in time to cover the shattered remnants of Bosambo's fleet as they were being swept northward from whence they came.
Bones went inshore to the island, the water jacket of a Maxim gun exposed over the bow, but there was no opposition.
"What the dooce is all this about--hey?" demanded Lieutenant Tibbetts fiercely, and Iberi, doubly uneasy at the sound of an unaccustomed language, stood on one leg in his embarrassment.
"Lord, the thief Bosambo----" he began, and told the story.
"Lord," he concluded humbly, "I say all this though Bosambo is your relation since you have secretly married his sister's cousin."
Whereupon Bones went very red and stammered and spluttered in such a way that the chief knew for sure that Bosambo had spoken the truth.
Bones, as I have said before, was no fool. He confirmed Bosambo's order for the evacuation of the island, but left a Houssa guard to hold it.
Then he hurried north to the Ochori.
Bosambo formed his royal procession, but there was no occasion for it, for Bones was in no processional mood.
"What the dooce do you mean, sir?" demanded a glaring and threatening Bones, his helmet over his neck, his arms akimbo. "What do you mean, sir, by saying I'm married to your infernal aunt?"
"Sah," said Bosambo, virtuous and innocent, "I no savvy you--I no compreney, sah! You lib for my house--I give you fine t'ings. I make um moosic, sah----"
"You're a jolly old rotter, Bosambo!" said Bones, shaking his finger in the chief's face. "I could punish you awfully for telling wicked stories, Bosambo. I'm disgusted with you, I am indeed."
"Lord who never sleeps," began Bosambo, humbly.
Bones stared at the other in amazement, suspicion, hope, and gratification in his face.
"O, Bosambo," said he mildly, and speaking in the native tongue, "why do you call me by that name?"
Now, Bosambo in his innocence had used a phrase (M'wani-m'wani) which signifies "the sleepless one," and also stands in the vernacular for "busy-body," or one who is eternally concerned with other people's business.
"Lord," said Bosambo, hastily, "by this name are you known from the mountains to the sea. Thus all men speak of you, saying: 'This is he who does not sleep but watches all the time.'"
Bones was impressed, he was flattered, and he ran his finger between the collar of his uniform jacket and his scraggy neck as one will do who is embarrassed by praise and would appear unconcerned under the ordeal.
"So men call me, Bosambo," said he carelessly "though my lord M'ilitani does not know this--therefore in the day when M'ilitani comes, speak of me as M'wani-m'wani that he may know of whom men speak when they say 'the sleepless one.'"
Everybody knows that Cala cala great chiefs had stored against the hour of their need certain stocks of ivory.
Dead ivory it is called because it had been so long cut, but good cow ivory, closer in grain than the bull elephant brought to the hunter, more turnable, and of greater value.
There is no middle island on the river about which some legend or buried treasure does not float.
Hamilton, hurrying forward to the support of his second-in-command, stopped long enough to interview two sulky chiefs.
"What palaver is this?" he demanded of Iberi, "that you carry your spears to a killing? For is not the river big enough for all, and are there no burying-places for your old men that you should fight so fiercely?"
"Lord," confessed Iberi, "upon that island is a treasure which has been hidden from the beginning of time, and that is the truth--N'Yango!"
Now, no man swears by his mother unless he is speaking straightly, and Hamilton understood.
"Never have I spoken of this to the Chief of the Isisi," Iberi went on, "nor he to me, yet we know because of certain wise sayings that the treasure stays and young men of our houses have searched very diligently though secretly. Also Bosambo knows, for he is a cunning man, and when we found he had put his warriors to the seeking we fought him, lord, for though the treasure may be Isisi or Akasava, of this I am sure it is not of the Ochori."
Hamilton came to the Ochori city to find a red-eyed Bones stalking majestically up and down the beach.
"What is the matter with you?" demanded Hamilton. "Fever?"
"Not at all," replied Bones, huskily; but with a fine carelessness.
"You look as if you hadn't had a sleep for months," said Hamilton.
Bones shrugged his shoulders.
"Dear old fellow," said he, "it isn't for nothing that I'm called 'the sleepless one'--don't make sceptical noises, dear old officer, but pursue your inquiries among the indigenous natives, especially Bosambo--an hour is all I want--just a bit of a snooze and a bath and I'm bright an' vigilant."
"Take your hour," said Hamilton briefly. "You'll need it."
His interview with Bosambo was short and, for Bosambo, painful. Nevertheless he unbent in the end to give the chief a job after his heart.
Launch and steamer turned their noses down the stream, and at sunset came to the island. In the morning, Hamilton conducted a search which extended from shore to shore and he came upon the cairn unexpectedly after a two hours' search. He uncovered two tons of ivory, wrapped in rotten native cloth.
"There will be trouble over this," he said, thoughtfully, surveying the yellow tusks. "I'll go downstream to the Isisi and collect information, unless these beggars can establish their claim we will bag this lot for government."
He left Bones and one orderly on the island.
"I shall be gone two days," he said. "I must send the launch to bring Iberi to me; keep your eyes peeled."
"Sir," said Bones, blinking and suppressing a yawn with difficulty, "you can trust the sleepless one."
He had his tent pitched before the cairn, and in the shade of a great gum he seated himself in his canvas chair.... He looked up and struggled to his feet. He was half dead with weariness, for the whole of the previous night, while Bosambo snored in his hut, Bones, pinching himself, had wandered up and down the street of the city qualifying for his title.
Now, as he rose unsteadily to his feet, it was to confront Bosambo--Bosambo with four canoes grounded on the sandy beach of the island.
"Hello, Bosambo!" yawned Bones.
"O Sleepless One," said Bosambo humbly, "though I came in silence yet you heard me, and your bright eyes saw me in the little-light."
"Little-light" it was, for the sun had gone down.
"Go now, Bosambo," said Bones, "for it is not lawful that you should be here."
He looked around for Ahmet, his orderly, but Ahmet was snoring like a pig.
"Lord, that I know," said Bosambo, "yet I came because my heart is sad and I have sorrow in my stomach. For did I not say that you had married my aunt?"
"Now listen whilst I tell you the full story of my wickedness, and of my aunt who married a white lord----"
Bones sat down in his chair and laid back his head, listening with closed eyes.
"My aunt, O Sleepless One," began Bosambo, and Bones heard the story in fragments. "... Coast woman ... great lord ... fine drier of cloth...."
Bosambo droned on in a monotonous tone, and Bones, open-mouthed, his head rolling from side to side, breathed regularly.
At a gesture from Bosambo, the man who sat in the canoe slipped lightly ashore. Bosambo pointed to the cairn, but he himself did not move, nor did he check his fluent narrative.
Working with feverish, fervent energy, the men of Bosambo's party loaded the great tusks in the canoes. At last all the work was finished and Bosambo rose.
* * * * * * *
"Wake up, Bones."
Lieutenant Tibbetts stumbled to his feet glaring and grimacing wildly.
"Parade all correct, sir," he said, "the mail boat has just come in, an' there's a jolly old salmon for supper."
"Wake up, you dreaming devil," said Hamilton.
Bones looked around. In the bright moonlight he saw the Zaire moored to the shelving beach, saw Hamilton, and turned his head to the empty cairn.
"Good Lord!" he gasped.
"O Sleepless One!" said Hamilton softly, "O bright eyes!"
Bones went blundering to the cairn, made a closer inspection, and came slowly back.
"There's only one thing for me to do, sir," he said, saluting. "As an officer an' a gentleman, I must blow my brains out."
"Brains!" said Hamilton scornfully.
* * * * * * *
"As a matter of fact I sent Bosambo to collect the ivory which I shall divide amongst the three chiefs--it's perished ivory, anyhow; and he had my written authority to take it, but being a born thief he preferred to steal it; you'll find it stacked in your cabin, Bones."
"In my cabin, sir!" said an indignant Bones; "there isn't room in my cabin, sir. How the dickens am I going to sleep?"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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