Roy Glashan's Library
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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE MEDICINE MAN

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by Norman H. Hardy (ca. 1864-1914)


Ex Libris

First published in The Children's Newspaper, 31 August 1940

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-08

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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YOUNG Johnny Bain, busy leading a very old and leaky dugout, looked up into the red, angry face of a large man who stood above him on the muddy bank of the African river.

"What are you doing with that canoe?"

"You told me to go, didn't you, Mr Crowle?" he asked.

"I didn't tell you to take one of my canoes," retorted the big man fiercely.

"The boat is mine," said Johnny.

"Nothing of the sort. It belongs to the firm. Get out of it or I'll pull you out."

Johnny faced the big brute. "How do you expect me to leave here without a boat?"

"Walk," was the sneering answer.

"Walk!" repeated Johnny. "A hundred and fifty miles through the bush. And no carriers. You know it's impossible."

"Possible or impossible, you'll go. And you'll go today, or I'll know the reason why." He turned and stamped back into the store which was only a few yards inland from the broad, yellow stream.

CALLERS

JOHNNY BAIN was only fourteen but had been in Africa for three years. He was the nephew of Luke Bain, late manager of the trading post at Pindi, on the Kilvu River. His uncle had died of fever and Johnny, having no other relations, had stayed on.

Johnny was a nice-mannered boy who got on well with the natives, and it was for this very reason that Jabez Crowle, the new manager, had taken a violent dislike to him. Now he had turned him adrift without a penny and with little more than the clothes he stood up in. Johnny wondered if any chap had ever been in a worse fix.

As he stood there, under the blazing African sun, racking his brains for some way out, a new sound reached him. It was the put-put of a launch engine. A minute or two later a large white-painted launch came into sight and turned in towards the landing.

Johnny stared. He could hardly believe his eyes. For this was no ordinary trading launch. A tall white, man wearing a solar helmet was steering, and a girl—an English girl of about Johnny's own age—stood beside him.

Johnny looked round for Crowle, but the manager was not in sight. So when the launch came in only Johnny was on the landing. He caught the painter and made it fast and the tall man stepped ashore.

"My name is Ritson," he said pleasantly. "Is this Pindi?"

"Yes, sir," Johnny answered.

"Is Mr Bain here?"

"He's dead, sir," blurted out Johnny. "I am his nephew."

"Dead! I'm sorry. I met him often at Lagos. Who is manager now?"

"A man named Crowle," Johnny answered.

Mr Ritson looked hard at him. "You don't like him?"

"He doesn't like me, sir. He's just sacked me."

"Tell me," said the other, and Johnny told him. Only just in time. He had hardly finished before Crowle came hurrying, with a scowl on his thick face. Mr Ritson's lips tightened.

"Mr Crowle," he said curtly, "I had meant to buy stores here, but, after hearing this boy's story, the quicker I leave the better I shall be pleased." He had Johnny aboard and had cast off before Crowle got his breath back.

A NEW JOB

JOHNNY, hardly knowing whether he was awake or dreaming, found himself being introduced to Sylvia Ritson. Sylvia was tall, brown as a berry, pretty, and looked capable. How capable Johnny was to find later. She had listened to his story and was as indignant as her father. Johnny tried to thank them both but they would not listen.

"You're going to earn your keep, young fellow," said Mr Ritson genially. "We've a job before us.

"Ever hear of a chief called Kamadu?"

"Yes, I've heard of him. He has a big kraal on Deep Creek, 50 miles up. A good man, they say."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Mr Ritson. "Kamadu has a carved emerald. I have never seen it, but feel sure it is a relic from old Egypt. He wishes to sell it, but not for money. He has asked for medicines, gardening tools, and other useful things of which our hold is full. I hope he will trade."

"He'll trade," Johnny said quickly. "Kamadu wants to get rid of it. If Crowle heard of it he'd be after it like a shot, and he wouldn't pay for it."

"Then the sooner the job is done the better. Tell me, Johnny, do you speak any of the native languages?"

"Some of them," said Johnny modestly.

"Then you'll be worth your weight in gold to us," returned the other warmly.

The launch was fast and well found and her crew of three native boys did their work well. Dusk found them in the mouth of Deep Creek, and there they tied up for the night. Next day they pushed on up to Kamadu's kraal and went ashore.

Kamadu welcomed them in his big dome-shaped hut. He was a tall, dignified man who had had some schooling at Lagos. He spoke English and was very anxious to improve the lot of his very uncivilised people. He was delighted with the goods that Mr Ritson had brought, and at once handed over the emerald. Mr Ritson's eyes shone as he examined it.

"Yes, it's Egyptian," he declared. "I never saw anything like it before. It's very valuable, Chief."

"Too valuable," replied the chief quietly. "I shall be glad to be rid of it. Take it away as soon as possible; there are others who know its value and would rob you if they could."

"So I have heard," replied Mr Ritson. "We will leave to-morrow."

"The chief was jolly well right," Johnny said, as they walked down the narrow bush path to the landing. "Did you spot the medicine man, Mr Ritson?"

"That nasty-looking fellow with a lot of bones hung round his neck?"

"That's the man. His name is Zamba, and he's bad. He's after that stone."

"I'm not worrying about the sorcerer. Kamadu is his boss and he can't do much harm. But we'll leave in the morning."

JOHNNY'S DREAM

AS they got aboard Mr Ritson handed the emerald to Johnny.

"Hide it," he said. "And don't tell me where you put it."

Though the launch was anchored in mid-stream there was no breeze and the heat was sweltering. Johnny slept on deck and soon was sound asleep.

He had a horrid dream. He dreamed that a lion had jumped on him from a thicket and was pressing him flat with its great paws. He woke to find it was no dream. A man was kneeling on him, and a hard hand on his mouth prevented him from crying out. The voice that spoke hoarsely in his ear was Crowle's.

"Make a sound and it'll be your last," the man threatened.

He swung the boy up in his huge arms, carried him across the deck, and dropped him into a boat alongside. Sousa, Crowle's half-breed clerk, caught him. The boat moved silently towards the shore, and Johnny was dragged up the bank and in among the trees, where a small fire was burning. Crowle stood over him.

"Where's that emerald?" he demanded. Johnny's eyes were steady as he stared back into the brute's face.

"You can kill me, but I won't tell you," he said firmly.

"Think you're a little hero, don't you?" Crowle sneered. "Tie him up, Sousa."

With a grin on his yellow face, Sousa tore off Johnny's shirt and tied him tightly to a tree, Instantly clouds of mosquitoes settled on his bare skin.

"When you're ready to talk you can call us," Crowle said wickedly. He and Sousa had hammocks slung with nets over them. They got into these and lay comfortably.

Johnny was in torment. He could not move to brush off the savage insects. He felt as if every inch of his skin were afire. The agony was almost unbearable. Minutes dragged by. He heard Crowle snoring. He tightened his lips and vowed he would die before he betrayed his trust.

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN

HE heard a faint rustle in the darkness behind him. There was a voice in his ear. A native speaking.

"Keep silence!" it ordered.

He felt the cords drop away; a pair of powerful hands seized him, he was lifted and carried swiftly away. He heard the jingle of a bone necklace, and knew he was in the grip of the medicine man Zamba. The trees opened, a conical hut loomed up in a clearing. Zamba carried Johnny in and dropped him on the floor. A palm oil lamp lit the ugly place, the walls of which were hung with hideous masks, snake skin, and the like. But all this was familiar to Johnny: it didn't frighten him. Zamba spoke.

"Where is the emerald?" he demanded.

"Crowle has asked me that already and I wouldn't tell him. Do you think I will tell you?"

A savage light glowed in Zamba's fierce eyes. "I can make you tell, white boy. I will tie you here and you shall go without food or water until you speak."

Johnny said nothing, and Zamba tied him to a post in the centre of the hut, then sat on a leopard skin on the floor and glared at him. Johnny closed his eyes to shut out the ugly sight.

A long time passed, then Johnny heard Zamba move. He opened his eyes and saw the wizard standing at the door, looking out. Suddenly he was gone in the velvet darkness.

Johnny began to struggle to free himself, but it was useless. Soon he heard a slight sound. Zamba was coming back. Aching all over, Johnny slumped against the post.

"Johnny!" came a whisper.

Sylvia stood in the doorway. She had a knife in her hand. Johnny gasped.

"Get away!" he said urgently. "Zamba's coming!"

"So are you," replied Sylvia, and, stepping into the hut, sliced away the cords.

Johnny was so cramped he could hardly move. Sylvia caught him by the arm and pulled him out. A late moon had risen and it wasn't so dark as it had been.

"I've got our boat," Sylvia whispered. "Come on!"

"Wait!" said Johnny in a low voice. "Someone's coming, It's Zamba. We'll have to hide. But where?"

Johnny looked round. At one side of the clearing was a huge wild fig. Its vast branches swept the ground. He pointed to it and the two moved silently into its black shadow.

"Can you climb?" Johnny whispered.

"Try me," Sylvia answered, and Johnny led the way. In a minute or two they were high in the branches, completely hidden.

Beneath, a black shadow crossed the glade. Zamba entered the hut. At once he was out again. Johnny held his breath. He knew the cleverness of the man and feared him more than Crowle. Zamba cast round; he was looking for tracks, but the ground was hard and dry and the light dim. After a while he gave it up and went off in the direction of the village.

"Now's our chance," Sylvia whispered.

"Not yet, Sylvia. I'm pretty sure he's just waiting for us. He didn't see us on the path to the river so he knows we're hiding."

"But it will be light soon," said Sylvia.

"Not for another hour. Tell me, how did you get here?"

"I heard a noise on deck, got up, and found I was locked in. I looked out and saw a shadow moving away. I knew it was a boat, and guessed you had been kidnapped. Our dinghy was alongside, and I managed to get through the cabin window and drop into it. My first idea was to rouse Dad, but I could hear him breathing deeply and felt sure he was asleep. So I just came straight ashore. Then I saw a fire among the trees and crept up, and there were two men sleeping in hammocks, and you were tied to a tree. I crept round, but before I could reach you Zamba had you. So I followed, and waited outside the hut ever so long before he came out."

"Hush!" Johnny whispered. "Someone's coming up from the river. My word, it's Crowle and Sousa. They've waked up and missed me."

The men spotted the hut and went in. Johnny and Sylvia heard Crowle exclaim angrily. They came out again and prowled round. The two in the tree stayed quiet as mice.

"It was Zamba took him. I'll swear to that," they heard Crowle say. "But where's he took him? It wouldn't be up to the kraal. I'll lay he has him hidden somewhere round here." Sousa said something. They couldn't catch the words. Crowle smacked his great hands together.

"A good notion, Sousa! I'll do it!" He ran into the hut. Next minute there was a crackle—then a red glow.

"The fool! He's fired the hut," Johnny muttered. "Now look out for squalls."

THE ESCAPE

THEY hadn't long to wait. There was a thud of bare feet on the hard ground, and here came Zamba, with three or four of his men armed with spears and clubs. Crowle snapped a shot at Zamba, missed him, turned and ran, followed by Sousa.

"Now!" hissed Johnny, and he and Sylvia, active as cats, swung down from the tree and bolted for the river. Sylvia made straight for the dinghy, and in a few moments they were pulling out to the launch.

"Sylvia, is that you?" came her father's anxious voice.

"And Johnny," called Sylvia. "Dad, get the anchor up. Quick!" It was not till they were well down the creek that Sylvia explained what had happened. "And how did you get loose, Dad?" she asked.

"Broke the door down. Child, I was scared stiff when I found you gone. But I'm proud of you. And of you, too, Johnny. By the by, where did you hide the emerald?"

"Inside a yam in a sack in the galley, sir." He dived below and fetched up a big sweet potato.

Mr Ritson took the big emerald. "Johnny," he said, "you've earned your keep and a bit over. You're coming to Lagos with us. You'll go to school for a couple of years, then come into my office."

Sylvia clapped her hands. "That's fine, Dad!" she cried.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.