THE WHEEL O' FORTUNE
Author of "The Wings of the Morning," "The Pillar of Light," "The
Captain of the Kansas" etc.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JAMES MONTGOMERY FLAGG
CHAPTER I. WHEREIN FORTUNE TURNS HER WHEEL
CHAPTER II. THE COMPACT
CHAPTER III. A CHANGE OF SKY, BUT NOT OF HABIT
CHAPTER IV. VON KERBER EXPLAINS
CHAPTER V. MISS FENSHAWE SEEKS AN ALLY
CHAPTER VI. AT THE PORTAL
CHAPTER VII. MRS. HAXTON RECEIVES A SHOCK
CHAPTER VIII. MASSOWAH ASSERTS ITSELF
CHAPTER IX. A GALLOP IN THE DARK
CHAPTER X. THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
CHAPTER XI. A WOMAN INTERVENES
CHAPTER XII. STUMP DEPENDS ON OBSERVATION
CHAPTER XIII. THE SIGN IN THE SKY
CHAPTER XIV. WHEREIN A BISHARIN CAMEL BECOMES USEFUL
CHAPTER XV. THE DESERT AWAKES
CHAPTER XVI. A FLIGHT—AND A FIGHT
CHAPTER XVII. HOW THREE ROADS LED IN ONE DIRECTION
CHAPTER XVIII. THE FINDING OF THE TREASURE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"By the Prophet!" he exclaimed, "I am overjoyed at seeing you"
"I don't want your charity, I want work!"
"Let your prisoner go, Mr. King"
"Good morning, Mr. King," she cried
"You need no promise from me, Miss Fenshawe"
The Arab appraised Royson with critical eye
He did not dare meet the glance suddenly turned upon him
"Go, Dick, but come back to me in safety"
WHEREIN FORTUNE TURNS HER WHEEL
At ten o'clock on a morning in October—a dazzling, sunlit morning
after hours of wind-lashed rain—a young man hurried out of Victoria
Station and dodged the traffic and the mud-pools on his way towards
Victoria Street. Suddenly he was brought to a stand by an unusual
spectacle. A procession of the "unemployed" was sauntering out of
Vauxhall Bridge Road into the more important street. Being men of
leisure, the processionists moved slowly. The more alert pedestrian who
had just emerged from the station did not grumble at the delay—he even
turned it to advantage by rolling and lighting a cigarette. The ragged
regiment filed past, a soiled, frayed, hopeless-looking gang. Three
hundred men had gathered on the south side of the river, and were
marching to join other contingents on the Thames Embankment, whence
some thousands of them would be shepherded by policemen up
Northumberland Avenue, across Trafalgar Square, and so, by way of Lower
Regent Street and Piccadilly, to Hyde Park, where they would hoarsely
cheer every demagogue who blamed the Government for their miseries.
London, like Richard Royson, would stand on the pavement and watch
them. Like him, it would drop a few coins into the collecting boxes
rattled under its nose, and grin at the absurd figure cut by a very fat
man who waddled notably, among his leaner brethren, for hunger and
substance are not often found so strangely allied. But, having salved
its conscience by giving, and gratified its sarcastic humor by
laughing, London took thought, perhaps, when it read the strange device
on the banner carried by this Vauxhall contingent. "Curse your
charity—we want work," said the white letters, staring threateningly
out of a wide strip of red cotton. There was a brutal force in the
phrase. It was Socialism in a tabloid. Many a looker-on, whose lot was
nigh as desperate as that of the demonstrators, felt that it struck him
between the eyes.
It had some such effect on Royson. Rather abruptly he turned away, and
reached the less crowded Buckingham Palace Road. His face was darkened
by a frown, though his blue eyes had a glint of humor in them. The
legend on the banner had annoyed him. Its blatant message had
penetrated the armor of youth, high spirits, and abounding good health.
It expressed his own case, with a crude vigor. The "unemployed" genius
who railed at society in that virile line must have felt as he, Dick
Royson, had begun to feel during the past fortnight, and the knowledge
that this was so was exceedingly distasteful. It was monstrous that he
should rate himself on a par with those slouching wastrels. The mere
notion brought its own confutation. Twenty-four years of age, well
educated, a gentleman by birth and breeding, an athlete who stood six
feet two inches high in his stockings, the gulf was wide, indeed,
between him and the charity-cursers who had taken his money. Yet—the
Evidently, he was fated to be a sight-seer that morning. When he
entered Buckingham Palace Road, the strains of martial music banished
the gaunt specter called into being by the red cotton banner. A
policeman, more cheerful and spry than his comrades who marshaled the
procession shuffling towards Westminster, strode to the center of the
busy crossing, and cast an alert eye on the converging lines of
traffic. Another section of the ever-ready London crowd lined up on the
curb. Nursemaids, bound for the parks, wheeled their perambulators into
strategic positions, thus commanding a clear view and blocking the edge
of the pavement. Drivers of omnibuses, without waiting for the lifted
hand of authority, halted in Lower Grosvenor Gardens and Victoria
Street. Cabs going to the station, presumably carrying fares to whom
time meant lost trains, spurted to cross a road which would soon be
barred. And small boys gathered from all quarters in amazing profusion.
In a word, the Coldstream Guards were coming from Chelsea Barracks to
do duty at St. James's, coming, too, in the approved manner of the
Guards, with lively drumming and clash of cymbals, while brass and
reeds sang some jaunty melody of the hour.
The passing of a regimental band has whisked many a youngster out of
staid Britain into the far lands, the lilt and swing of soldiers on the
march have a glamour all the more profound because it is evanescent.
That man must indeed be careworn who would resist it. Certainly, the
broad-shouldered young giant who had been momentarily troubled by the
white-red ghost of poverty was not so minded. He could see easily, over
the heads of the people standing on the edge of the pavement, so he did
not press to the front among the rabble, but stood apart, with his back
against a shop window. Thus, he was free to move to right or left as he
chose. That was a slight thing in itself, an unconscious trick of
aloofness—perhaps an inherited trait of occupying his own territory,
so to speak. But it is these slight things which reveal character. They
oft-times influence human lives, too; and no man ever extricated
himself more promptly from the humdrum of moneyless existence in London
than did Richard Royson that day by placing the width of the sidewalk
between himself and the unbroken row of spectators. Of course, he knew
nothing of that at the moment. His objective was an appointment at
eleven' o'clock in the neighborhood of Charing Cross, and, now that he
was given the excuse, he meant to march along the Mall behind the
Guards. Meanwhile, he watched their advance.
Above the tall bearskins and glittering bayonets he caught the flourish
of energetic drumsticks. The big drum gave forth its clamor with
window-shaking insistence; it seemed to be the summons of power that
all else should stand aside. On they came, these spruce Guards, each
man a marching machine, trained to strut and pose exactly as his
fellows. There was a sense of omnipotence in their rhythmic movement.
And they all had the grand manner—from the elegant captain in command
down to the smallest drummer-boy. Although the sun was shining brightly
now, the earlier rain and hint of winter in the air had clothed all
ranks in dark gray great-coats and brown leggings. Hence, to the
untrained glance, they were singularly alike. Officers, sergeants,
privates and bandsmen might have been cast in molds, after the style of
toy soldiers. There were exceptions, of course, just as the fat man
achieved distinction among the unemployed. The crimson sashes of the
officers, the drum-major, with his twirling staff, the white apron of
the big drummer, drew the eye. A slim subaltern, carrying the
regimental color, held pride of place in the picture. The rich hues of
the silk lent a barbaric splendor to his sober trappings. And he took
himself seriously. A good-looking lad, with smooth contours not yet
hardened to the military type, his face had in it a set gravity which
proclaimed that he would bear that flag whithersoever his country's
need demanded. And it was good to see him so intent on the mere charge
of it in transit between Chelsea Barracks and the Guard-room at St.
James's Palace. That argued earnestness, an excellent thing, even in
the Household Brigade.
Royson was amusing himself with the contrast between the two types of
banner-bearers he had gazed at in the short space of five minutes—he
was specially tickled by the fact that the Guards, also, were under
police protection—when he became aware that the features of the
color-lieutenant were familiar to him. A man in uniform, with forehead
and chin partly hidden by warlike gear, cannot be recognized easily, if
there be any initial doubt as to his identity. To determine the matter,
Royson, instead of following in the rear as he had intended, stepped
out brightly and placed himself somewhat ahead of the officer. He was
near the drums before he could make sure that he was actually within a
few yards of a former classmate. The knowledge brought a rush of blood
to his face. Though glad enough to see unexpectedly one who had been a
school friend, it was not in human nature that the marked difference
between their present social positions should not be bitter to him.
Here was "Jack" marching down the middle of the road in the panoply of
the Guards, while "Dick" his superior during six long years at Rugby,
was hurrying along the pavement, perhaps nearing the brink of that gulf
already reached by the Vauxhall processionists.
So Dick Royson's placid temper was again ruffled, and he might have
said nasty things about Fate had not that erratic dame suddenly
thought, fit to alter his fortunes. As the street narrowed between
lofty buildings, so did the blaring thunder of the music increase. The
mob closed in on the soldiers' heels; the whole roadway was packed with
moving men. A somber flood of humanity—topped by the drumsticks, the
flag, the glistening bayonets and the bearskins—it seemingly engulfed
all else in its path. The sparkle of the band, intensified by the
quick, measured tramp of the soldiers, aroused a furtive enthusiasm.
Old men, bearded and bent, men whom one would never suspect of having
borne arms, straightened themselves, stood to attention, and saluted
the swaying flag. Callow youths, hooligans, round-shouldered slouchers
at the best, made shift to lift their heads and keep step. And the
torrent caught the human flotsam of the pavement in its onward swirl.
If Royson had not utilized that clear space lower down the street, it
would have demanded the exercise of sheer force to reach the van of the
dense gathering of nondescripts now following the drum.
Nevertheless, a clearance was made, and speedily, with the startling
suddenness of a summer whirlwind. A pair of horses, attached to an open
carriage, were drawn up in a by-street until the Guards had passed. So
far as Royson was concerned, they were on the opposite side of the
road, with their heads towards him. But he happened to be looking that
way, because his old-time companion, the Hon. John Paton Seymour, was
in the direct line of sight, and his unusual stature enabled him to see
that both horses reared simultaneously. They took the coachman by
surprise, and their downward plunge dragged him headlong from the box.
Instantly there was a panic among the mob. It melted away from the
clatter of frenzied hoofs as though a live shell had burst in the
locality. Two staccato syllables from the officer in command stopped
the music and brought the Guards to a halt. The horses dashed madly
forward, barely missing the color and its escort. A ready-witted
sergeant grabbed at the loose reins flapping in the air, but they
eluded him with a snake-like twist. The next wild leap brought the
carriage pole against a lamp-post, and both were broken. Then one of
the animals stumbled, half turned, backed, and locked the front wheels.
A lady, the sole occupant, was discarding some heavy wraps which
impeded her movements, evidently meaning to spring into the road, but
she was given no time. The near hind wheel was already off the ground.
In another second the carriage must be overturned, had not Royson,
brought by chance to the right place, seized the off wheel and the back
of the hood, and bodily lifted the rear part of the victoria into
momentary safety. It was a fine display of physical strength, and quick
judgment. He literally threw the vehicle a distance of several feet.
But that was not all. He saw his opportunity, caught the reins, and
took such a pull at the terrified horses that a policeman and a soldier
were able to get hold of their heads. The coachman, who had fallen
clear, now ran up. With him came a gentleman in a fur coat. Royson was
about to turn and find out what had become of the lady, when some one
"Well saved, King Dick!"
It was the Hon. John Seymour who spoke. Rigid as a statue, and almost
as helpless, he was standing in the middle of the road, with his left
hand holding the flag and a drawn sword in his right. Yet a school
nickname bridged five years so rapidly that the man who had just been
reviling Fate smiled at the picturesque officer of the Guards in the
old, tolerant way, the way in which the hero of the eleven or fifteen
permits his worshipers to applaud.
But this mutual recognition went no further. The Guards must on to St.
James's. Some incomprehensible growls set them in motion again, the
drum banged with new zest, and the street gradually emptied, leaving
only a few curious gapers to surround the damaged victoria and the
trembling horses. The fresh outburst of music brought renewed prancing,
but the pair were in hand now, for Royson held the reins, and the
mud-bedaubed coachman was ready to twist their heads off in his wrath.
"Don't know what took 'em," he was gasping to the policeman. "Never
knew 'em be'ave like this afore. Quiet as sheep, they are, as a ryule."
"Too fat," explained the unemotional constable. "Give 'em more work an'
less corn. Wot's your name an' address? There's this 'ere lamp-post to
pay for. Cavalry charges in Buckingham Palace Road cost a bit."
An appreciative audience grinned at the official humor. But Royson was
listening to the somewhat lively conversation taking place behind him.
"Are you injured in any way?" cried the gentleman in the far coat,
obviously addressing the lady in the victoria. The too accurate cadence
in his words bespoke the foreigner, the man who has what is called "a
perfect command" of English.
"Not in the least, thank you," was the answer. The voice was clear,
musical, well-bred, and decidedly chilling. The two concluding words
really meant "no thanks to you," The lady was, however, quite
self-possessed, and, as a consequence, polite.
"But why in the world did you not jump out when I shouted to you?"
demanded the man.
"Because you threw your half of the rug over my feet, and thus hindered
"Did I? Ach, Gott! Do you think I deserted you, then?"
"No, no, I did not mean that, Baron von Kerber. The affair was an
accident, and you naturally thought I would follow your example, I did
try, twice, to spring clear, but I lost my balance each time. We have
no cause to blame one another. My view is that Spong was caught
napping. Instead of arguing about things we might have done, we really
ought to thank this gentleman, who prevented any further developments
in some wonderful way not quite known to me yet."
The lady was talking herself into less caustic mood. Perhaps she had
not expected the Baron to shine in an emergency. Her calmness seemed to
irritate him, though he was most anxious to put himself right with her.
"My object in jumping out so quickly was to run to the horses' heads,"
he said. "Unfortunately, I tripped and nearly fell. But why sit there?
We must take a hansom. Or perhaps you would prefer to go by train?"
"Oh, a cab, by all means."
The horses were now standing so quietly that Royson handed the reins to
the coachman, who was examining the traces. Then he was able to turn
and look at the lady. He saw that she was young and pretty, but the
heavy furs she wore half concealed her face, and the fact that his own
garments were frayed, while his hands and overcoat were plastered with
mud off the wheels, did not help to dissipate a certain embarrassment
that gripped him, for he was a shy man where women were concerned. She,
too, faltered a little, and the reason was made plain by her words.
"I do not know how to thank you," she said, and he became aware that
she had wonderful brown eyes. "I think—you saved my life. Indeed, I am
sure you did. Will you—call—at an address that I will give you? Mr.
Fenshawe will be most anxious to—to—acknowledge your services."
"Oh, pray leave that to me, Miss Fenshawe," broke in the Baron, whose
fluent English had a slight lisp. "Here is my card," he went on
rapidly, looking at Royson with calm assurance. "Come and see me this
evening, at seven o'clock, and I will make it worth your while."
A glance at Royson's clothes told him enough, as he thought, to
appraise the value of the assistance given. And he had no idea that his
fair companion had really been in such grave danger. He believed that
the shattering of the pole against the lamp standard had stopped the
bolting horses, and that the tall young man now surveying him with a
measuring eye had merely succeeded in catching the reins.
Royson lifted his hat to the lady, who had alighted, and was daintily
gathering her skirts out of the mud.
"I am glad to have been able to help you, madam," he said. He would
have gone without another word had not von Kerber touched his arm.
"You have not taken my card," said the man imperiously.
Some mischievous impulse, born of the turbulent emotions momentarily
quelled by the flurry of the carriage accident, conquered Royson's
better instincts. Though the Baron, was tall, he towered above him. And
he hardly realized the harshness, the vexed contempt, of his muttered
"I don't want your charity, I want work."
At once he was conscious of his mistake. He had sunk voluntarily to the
level of the Vauxhall paraders. He had even stolen their thunder. A
twinge of self-denunciation drove the anger from his frowning eyes. And
the Baron again thought he read his man correctly.
"Even so," he said, in a low tone, "take my card. I can find you work,
of the right sort, for one who has brains and pluck, yes?"
The continental trick of ending with an implied question lent a subtle
meaning to his utterance, and he helped it with covert glance and sour
smile. Thus might Caesar Borgia ask some minion if he could use a
dagger. But Royson was too humiliated by his blunder to pay heed to
hidden meanings. He grasped the card in his muddied fingers, and looked
towards Miss Fenshawe, who was now patting one of the horses. Her
aristocratic aloofness was doubly galling. She, too, had heard what he
said, and was ready to classify him with the common herd. And, indeed,
he had deserved it. He was wholly amazed by his own churlish outburst.
Not yet did he realize that Fate had taken his affairs in hand, and
that each step he took, each syllable he uttered in that memorable
hour, were part and parcel of the new order of events in his life.
Quite crestfallen, he hurried away. He found himself inside the gates
of the park before he took note of direction. Then he went to the edge
of the lake, wetted his handkerchief, and rubbed off the worst of the
mud-stains. While engaged in this task he calmed down sufficiently to
laugh, not with any great degree of mirth, it is true, but with a grain
of comfort at the recollection of Seymour's eulogy.
"King Dick!" he growled. "Times have changed since last I heard that
name. By gad, five years can work wonders."
And, indeed, so can five seconds, when wonders are working, but the
crass ignorance of humanity oft prevents the operation being seen. Be
that as it may, Royson discovered that it was nearly eleven o'clock
before he had cleaned his soiled clothes sufficiently to render himself
presentable. As he set out once more for his rendezvous, he heard the
band playing the old Guard back to quarters. The soldiers came down the
Mall, but he followed the side of the lake, crossed the Horse-guards
Parade, and reached the office for which he was bound at ten minutes
past eleven. He had applied for a secretaryship, a post in which "a
thorough knowledge of French" was essential, and he was received by a
pompous, flabby little man, with side whiskers, for whom he conceived a
violent dislike the moment he set eyes on him. Apparently, the feeling
was mutual. Dick Royson was far too distinguished looking to suit the
requirements of the podgy member for a county constituency, a
legislator who hoped to score in Parliament by getting the Yellow Books
of the French Chamber translated for his benefit.
"You are late, Mr. Royson," began the important one.
"Yes," said Dick.
"Exactly, but I was mixed up in a slight mishap to a carriage."
"As I was about to remark," said the M.P., in his most impressive
manner, "punctuality in business is a sine quâ non. I have already
appointed another secretary."
"Poor devil!" said Dick.
"How dare you, sir, speak to me in that manner?"
"I was thinking of him. I don't know him, but, having seen you, I am
sorry for him."
"You impudent rascal—"
But Royson had fled. Out in the street, he looked up at the sky. "Is
there a new moon?" he asked himself, gravely. "Am I cracked? Why did I
pitch into that chap? If I'm not careful, I shall get myself into
trouble to-day. I wonder if Jack Seymour will lend me enough to take me
to South Africa? They say that war is brewing there. That is what I
want—gore, bomb-shells, more gore. If I stay in London—"
Then he encountered a procession coming up Northumberland Avenue.
Police, mounted and on foot, headed it. Behind marched the unemployed,
thousands of them.
"If I stay in London," he continued, quite seriously, "I shall pick out
a beefy policeman and fight him. Then I shall get locked up, and my
name will be in the papers, and my uncle will see it, and have a fit,
and die. I don't want my uncle to have a fit, and die, or I shall feel
that I am responsible for his death. So I must emigrate."
Suddenly he recalled the words and manner of the Baron von Kerber. They
came to him with the vividness of a new impression. He sought for the
card in his pocket. "Baron Franz von Kerber, 118, Queen's Gate, W.," it
"Sounds like an Austrian name," he reflected. "But the girl was
English, a thoroughbred, too. What was it he said? 'Work of the right
sort, for a man with brains and pluck.' Well, I shall give this joker a
call. If he wants me to tackle anything short of crime, I'm his man.
Failing him, I shall see Jack to-morrow, when he is off duty."
A red banner was staggering up Northumberland Avenue, and he caught a
glimpse of a fat man in the midst of the lean ones.
"Oh, dash those fellows, they give me the hump," he growled, and he
turned his back on them a second time. But no military pomp or startled
horses offered new adventure that day. He wandered about the streets,
ate a slow luncheon, counted his money, seventeen shillings all told,
went into the British Museum, and dawdled through its galleries until
he was turned out. Then he bought a newspaper, drank some tea, and
examined the shipping advertisements.
His mind was fixed on South Africa. Somehow, it never occurred to him
that the fur-clothed Baron might find him suitable employment.
Nevertheless, he went to 118, Queen's Gate, at seven o'clock. The
footman who opened the door, seemed to be expecting him.
"Mr. King?" said the man.
This struck Royson as distinctly amusing.
"Something like that," he answered, but the footman had the face of a
"This way, Mr. King."
And Royson followed him up a wide staircase, marveling at the aptness
of the name.
The Baron Franz von Kerber was in evening dress. He was engrossed in
the examination of a faded, or discolored, document when Royson was
shown into an apartment, nominally the drawing-room, which the present
tenant had converted into a spacious study. An immense map of the Red
Sea littoral, drawn and colored by hand, hung on one of the walls;
there were several chart cases piled on a table; and a goodly number of
books, mainly ancient tomes, were arranged on shelves or stacked on
floor and chairs. This was the room of a worker. Von Kerber's elegant
exterior was given a new element of importance by his surroundings.
That was as much as Royson could note before the Baron looked up from
the letter he was reading. It demanded close scrutiny, because it was
written in Persi-Arabic.
"Ah, glad to see you, Mr. King," he said affably. "Sit there," and he
pointed to an empty chair. Dick knew that this seat in particular was
selected because it would place him directly in front of a cluster of
electric lights. He waited until the door was closed.
"By the way," he said, "why do you call me 'King'? That is not my name,
but it is rather extraordinary that you should have hit on it, because
it is part of a nickname I had at school."
He was fully at ease now. Poverty and anxiety can throw even a Napoleon
out of gear, but Richard Royson was hard as granite in some ways, and
the mere decision to go to South Africa had driven the day's
distempered broodings from his mind.
"I thought I heard the officer who spoke to you in Buckingham Palace
Road address you as King," explained von Kerber.
"Yes, that is true," admitted Royson. He felt that it would savor of
the ridiculous, in his present circumstances, were he to state his
nickname in full and explain the significance of it. In fact, he was
resolved to accept the five-pound note which the Baron would probably
offer him, and be thankful for it. Hence, the pseudonym rather soothed
Von Kerber placed the Arabic scrawl under a paperweight. He was a man
who plumed himself on a gift of accurate divination. Such a belief is
fatal. For the third time that day, he misunderstood the Englishman's
"What's in a name?" he quoted, smilingly. "Suppose I continue to call
you King? It is short, and easily remembered, and your English names
puzzle me more than your language, which is difficult enough, yes?"
"Then we can leave it at that," agreed Royson.
"I thought so. Well, to come to business. What can you do?"
"It would be better, perhaps, if you told me what you want me to do."
"Can you ride?"
"Have you ever been to sea?"
Royson pricked up his ears at this. "The sea!" suggested undreamed-of
possibilities. And von Kerber certainly had the actor's facial art of
conveying much more than the mere purport of his words. The map, the
charts, assumed a new meaning. Were they scenic accessories? Had this
foreigner taken the whim to send him abroad on some mission? He decided
to be less curt in his statements.
"If I simply answered your question I should be compelled to say 'No,'"
he replied. "So far as my actual sea-going is concerned, it has
consisted of trips across the Channel when I was a boy. Yet I am a fair
sailor. I can handle a small yacht better than most men of my age. My
experience is confined to a lake, but it is complete in that small way.
And I taught myself the rudiments of navigation as a pastime."
The Baron expressed both surprise and gratification by the
monosyllable. Royson was weighing his companion closely now, and he
came to the conclusion, that there were qualities in that tall, thin,
somewhat effeminate personality which he had not detected during their
brief meeting of the morning. Von Kerber was good-looking, with
something of the dignity and a good deal of the aspect of a bird of
prey. His slender frame was well-knit. His sinuous hands hinted at
unexpected strength. Were Royson told that his possible employer was a
master of the rapier he would have credited it. And the Baron, for his
part, was rapidly changing the first-formed estimate of his guest.
"Pray forgive me if I seem to intrude on your personal affairs," he
said; "but, taking your own words, you are—how do you say
"Hard up. Yes."
"What? You speak German, or is it French?"
"German, a little. I am understandable in French."
Again von Kerber paused. Royson smiled. Had he striven to mislead the
other man as to his character he could not have succeeded so admirably.
And the Baron read the smile according to his own diagnosis. He was
sure that this well-educated, gentlemanly, yet morose-mannered young
Englishman was under a cloud—that he had broken his country's laws,
and been broken himself in the process. And von Kerber was searching
for men of that stamp. They would do things that others, who pinned
their faith to testimonials, certificates, and similar vouchers of
repute, might shy at.
"I think you are one to be trusted?" he went on.
"I am glad you think that."
"Yes. I soon make up my mind. And to-day you acted as one man among a
thousand. Miss Fenshawe, the lady in the carriage, enlightened me
afterwards. I saw only part of your fine behavior. You were quick and
fearless. Those are the qualities I seek, but I demand obedience, too,
and a still tongue, yes?"
"I would not betray a man who trusted me," said Dick. "If I disagreed
with you I would leave you. I fell out with the son of my last
employer, so I left him, a fortnight ago. Yet I have kept my reasons to
The memory of that falling out was yet vivid. He had filled the
position of foreign correspondence clerk to an export firm in the city.
One evening, returning late to the office, he surprised the typist, a
rather pretty girl, in tears. She blurted out some broken words which
led him to interview the young gentleman who represented the budding
talent of the house; and the result was lamentable. The senior partner
dismissed him next day, telling him he was lucky he had escaped arrest
for a murderous assault, and, as for the girl, she was like the rest of
her class, anxious only to inveigle a rich young fool into marriage.
The point of view of both father and son was novel to Royson, and their
ethics were vile, but he gave the girl, who was sent away at the same
time, half of the six pounds he had in his pocket, and wished he had
used his fist instead of his open hand on the junior partner's face.
This, of course, had singularly little bearing on his declaration to
von Kerber, who metaphorically stuck his talons into that portion of
Royson's utterance which interested him. He bent across the table,
leaning on his curved fingers, spread apart, like claws.
"Ah," he said slowly. "That is good. You would not betray a man who
trusted you. You mean that?"
"Very well, then. I offer you the position of second mate on my yacht,
the Aphrodite. She is a sailing vessel, with auxiliary steam, a
seaworthy craft, of two hundred and eighty tons. I pay well, but I ask
good service. The salary is £20 per month, all found. The captain, two
officers, and fourteen men receive ten per cent of the gross profits of
a certain undertaking—the gross profits, remember—divided in
proportion to their wages. If successful, your share, small though it
sounds, will be large enough to make you a comparatively rich man. Do
you accept, yes?"
Dick Royson felt his heart thumping against his ribs. "Why, of course,
I accept," he cried. "But your terms are so generous, to a man without
a profession, that I must ask you one thing? Is the affair such as an
honest man can take part in?"
"It is. No one can cavil at its honesty. Yet we may encounter
difficulties. There may be fighting, not against a government, but to
defend our—our gains—from those who would rob us."
"I'm with you, heart and soul," cried Royson, stirred out of his
enforced calmness. "Indeed, I am exceedingly obliged to you. I am at a
loss to account for my amazing good luck."
The Baron snapped his fingers with a fine air. "Good luck!" he
exclaimed. "There is no such thing. A man with intelligence and nerve
grasps the opportunity when it presents itself. You took it this
morning. You may say that you might not have been given the chance.
Nonsense, my dear Mr. King! Missing that, you would have found another.
Let me tell you that I have created a place for you on the ship's roll.
You took my fancy. I had already secured my crew. They are all
Englishmen—stupid fellows, some of them, but trustworthy. You are a
trustworthy race, yes?"
"That is our repute. I have met exceptions."
"Oh, as for that, every man has his price. That is why I pay well. Now,
I am going out to dine. The Aphrodite sails this week. You will sign
an agreement, yes?"
"Delighted," said Dick, though bitter experience had taught him that
von Kerber's last question might reveal some disagreeable feature
hitherto unseen, just as the sting of the scorpion lies in its tail.
The Baron handed him a printed document.
"Read that," he said. "You need have no fear of legal quibbles. It
contains nothing unreasonable, but I insist on its observance in letter
Certainly, no unfair demand was made by the brief contract which Royson
glanced at. He noticed that the Aphrodite was described as "owned by
Hiram Fenshawe, Esq., of Chalfount Manor, Dorset, and Emperor's Gate,
London, W.," while Baron Franz von Kerber figured as "controller and
head of the expedition." The agreement was to hold good for six months,
with an option, "vesting solely in the said Baron Franz von Kerber," to
extend it, month by month, for another equal period. There were blanks
for dates and figures—, and one unusual clause read:
"The undersigned hereby promises not to divulge the vessel's
destination or mission, should either, or both, become known to him;
not to give any information which may lead to inquiry being made by
others as to her destination or mission, and not to make any statement,
in any form whatsoever, as to the success or otherwise of the voyage at
its conclusion, unless at the request of the said Baron Franz von
Kerber. The penalty for any infringement of this clause, of which Baron
Franz von Kerber shall be the judge, shall be dismissal, without any
indemnity or payment of the special bonus hereinafter recited."
Then followed the salary clause, and a stipulation as to the ten per
cent share of the gross profits. The Baron's promises could not have
been phrased in more straightforward style.
"Give me a pen," said Royson, placing the paper on a blotting pad.
There was an unconscious masterfulness in his voice and manner which
seemed to startle von Kerber. In very truth, the younger man was
overjoyed at the astounding turn taken by his fortunes. The restraint
he had imposed on himself earlier was gone. He wanted to wring the
Baron's hand and hail him as his best friend. Perhaps the other deemed
this attitude a trifle too free and easy in view of the relations that
would exist between them in the near future.
"You will find a pen on the ink-stand," said he, quietly, stooping,
over some papers on a corner of the table. Then he added, apparently as
"Don't forget your name, Mr. King."
The hint brought Royson back to earth. He signed "Richard King," dried
the ink carefully, and marveled a little at his re-christening and its
"When and where shall I report myself for duty, sir?" he asked.
Von Kerber looked up. His tone grew affable again, and Dick had learnt
already that it is a token of weakness when a man insists on his own
"First let me fill in a date and the amount of your salary." The Baron
completed and signed a duplicate. "Get that stamped at Somerset House,
in case of accident," he continued, "I might have been killed this very
day, you know. One of my servants will witness both documents. Before
he comes in, put this envelope in your pocket. It contains half of your
first month's salary in advance, and you will find in it a card with
the address of a firm of clothiers, who will supply your outfit free of
charge. Call on them early to-morrow, as the time is short, and you are
pretty long, yes? Report yourself to the same people at four o'clock on
Wednesday afternoon. They will have your baggage ready, and give you
full directions. From that moment you are in my service. And now, the
order is silence, yes?"
While the Baron was speaking he touched an electric bell. The
waxen-faced man-servant appeared, laboriously wrote "William Jenkins"
where he was bid, and escorted Royson to the door. The Baron merely
nodded when Dick said "Good night, sir." He had picked up an opera hat
and overcoat from a chair, but was bestowing a hasty farewell glance on
the Persi-Arabic letter.
A closed carriage and pair of horses were standing in front of the
house, and Royson recognized the coachman. It was that same Spong who
had groveled in the mud of Buckingham Palace Road nine hours ago. And
the man knew him again, for he raised his whip in a deferential salute.
"Not much damage done this morning?" cried Dick.
"No, sir. I drove 'em home afterwards, broken pole an' all," said Spong.
"That's not the same pair, is it?"
"No, sir. This lot is theayter, the bays is park."
So Mr. Hiram Fenshawe, whoever he was, owned the yacht, and ran at
least two fine equipages from his town house. He must be a wealthy man.
Was he the father of that patrician maid whose gratitude had not stood
the strain of Royson's gruffness? Or, it might be, her brother, seeing
that he was associated with von Kerber in some unusual enterprise? What
was it? he wondered. "There may be fighting," said von Kerber. Dick was
glad of that. He had taken a solemn vow to his dying mother that he
would not become a soldier, and the dear lady died happy in the belief
that she had snatched her son from the war-dragon which had bereft her
of a husband. The vow lay heavy on the boy's heart daring many a year,
for he was a born man-at-arms, but he had kept it, and meant to keep
it, though not exactly according to the tenets of William Penn.
Somehow, his mother's beautiful face, wanly exquisite in that unearthly
light which foreshadows the merging of time into eternity, rose before
him now as he passed from the aristocratic dimness of Prince's Gate
into the glare and bustle of Knightsbridge. A newsboy rushed along,
yelling at the top of his voice. The raucous cry took shape: "Kroojer's
reply. Lytest from Sarth Hafricar." That day's papers had spoken of
probable war, and Royson wanted to be there. He had dreamed of doing
some work for the press, and was a reader and writer in his spare time,
while he kept his muscles fit by gymnastics. But those past yearnings
were merged in his new calling. He was a sailor now, a filibuster of
sorts. The bo's'n's whistle would take the place of the bugle-call.
Would that have pleased his mother? Well, poor soul, she had never
imagined that her son would be compelled to chafe his life out at a
city desk. The very, air of London had become oppressive; the hurrying
crowd was unsympathetic to his new-found joy of living; so, without any
well-defined motive, he sought the ample solitude of the park.
Be it noted that he usually went straight from point to point without
regard to obstacles. Hence, in his devious wanderings of that
remarkable day, he was departing from fixed habit, and, were he a
student of astrology, he would assuredly have sought to ascertain what
planets were in the ascendant at a quarter-past ten in the morning, and
half-past seven in the evening. For he had scarcely reached the quiet
gloom of the trees when a man, who had followed him since he quitted
von Kerber's house, overtook him and touched his arm.
"Beg pardon," said the stranger, "but are you the gentleman who called
on Baron von Kerber half an hour ago?"
"Yes." Taken unawares, Dick was thrown off his guard for the instant.
"And you left his house just now?"
"To prevent a mistake, may I ask your name?"
"Certainly. It is Royson, Richard Royson."
A curious ring of satisfaction in the newcomer's voice carried a
warning note with it. Dick was conscious, too, that he had departed
from the new role assigned to him by his employer, yet it would be
absurd to begin explaining that he was not known as Royson, but as
King, in connection with von Kerber. The blunder annoyed him, and he
faced his questioner squarely.
"Before I give you any more information I want to know who you are," he
His downright way of speaking appeared to carry conviction.
"Well, Mr. Royson, I don't mind telling you that I am a private inquiry
agent," was the ominous answer. "I am retained by a gentleman who
brings a very serious charge against von Kerber, and, as I have reason
to believe that you are only slightly mixed up in this affair at
present, I am commissioned to offer you a handsome reward for any
valuable information you may give my client or procure for him in the
"Indeed!" said Dick, who was debating whether or not to knock the man
"Yes. We mean business, I assure you. This is no common matter. Von
Kerber is an Austrian, and my client is an Italian. Perhaps you know
how they hate each other as nations, and these two have a private
quarrel as well."
"What does your employer want to find out?" asked Dick.
"Well, as a start, he wants to know why von Kerber is shipping a crew
for a yacht called the Aphrodite."
"Then he has learned something already?"
"Oh, that was too easy. Any one can pump a half-drunken sailor."
The private inquiry agent spoke confidentially. He fancied he had
secured the sort of aide he needed, a spy of superior intelligence.
"Suppose I give you that first item of news, what is the figure?"
"Say a fiver."
"But I am almost willing to pay that much for the pleasure of spreading
your nose over your face."
There was a sudden gap between the two. Perhaps the stranger felt that
the rawness of the atmosphere demanded brisk movement.
"Oh, is that it?" snarled he.
"Yes, that is it."
"You had better be careful what you are doing." Dick had advanced a
pace, but the agent sheered off twice as far, as though the air between
them was not only cold but resilient.
"I shall be quite careful. Just one small punch, say a sovereign's
worth. Come, that is cheap enough."
Then the man ran off at top speed. Royson could have caught him in a
few strides, but he did not move. He had not meant to hit, only to
scare, yet the incident was perplexing, and the more he pondered over
it the less pleased he was at his own lack of finesse, as he might have
learnt something without fear of indiscretion, seeing that he had
nothing to tell. Nevertheless, his final decision was in favor of the
first impulse. Von Kerber had treated him with confidence—why should
he wish to possess any disturbing knowledge of von Kerber?
But he refused to be shadowed like a thief. He stepped out, left the
park at Stanhope Gate, jumped on to a passing omnibus, changed it for
another in the middle of Oxford Street, and walked down. Regent Street
with a well-founded belief that he had defeated espionage for the time.
Thereafter, he behaved exactly like several hundred thousand young men
In London that night. He dined, bought some cigars, rare luxuries to
him, went to a music-hall, soon wearied of its inanities, and traveled
by an early train to Brixton, where he rented cheap lodgings.
He slept the sleep of sound digestion, which is so often confused with
a good conscience, and rose betimes. At a city tailoring establishment
he was measured dubiously, being far removed from stock size. But a
principal made light of difficulties, and Royson noticed that he was to
be supplied with riding breeches and boots in addition to a sea-faring
kit, while a sola topi, or pith helmet, appeared, in the list.
He asked no questions, was assured that all would be in readiness at
four o'clock that day, and found himself turned loose again in London
at an early hour with nothing to do. And what do you think he did? He
caught a Mansion-House train to Victoria, waylaid the Guards a second
time, marched with them valiantly to St. James's, and took a keen
delight in their stately pageant. He saw his friend, Seymour, strolling
to and fro with a brother officer in the tiny square, and watched him
march; back to Chelsea with the relieved guard.
Then, with all the zest of seeing London from a new standpoint, that of
moneyed idleness, he strolled towards Hyde Park. He took the road known
as the Ladies' Mile, crossed the Serpentine by the bridge, and came
back by the Row. There, near the Albert Gate crossing, a lady had
reined in her chestnut hunter and was talking to an old gentleman
standing near the rails. Had Royson stared at her, he might have
remembered the eyes, and the finely-cut contours of nose, lips and
chin. But his acquaintance with fashionable society had been severed so
completely that he was not aware of the new code which permits its
votaries to stare at a pretty woman; and a riding-habit offers sharp
contrast to a set of sables. He was passing, all unconscious of the
interest he had aroused in the lady, when he heard her say:
"Why, grandfather, there he is. Good morning, Mr. King. Mr. Fenshawe
and I were just talking about you."
Royson would have known her voice anywhere. It had the rare distinction
of music and perfect diction. Amidst the shrill vulgarity which
counterfeited wit in the average upper class gathering of the period
such a voice must have sounded like the song of a robin in a crowded
The unexpected greeting brought a rush of color to Dick's face. But
yesterday's cloud had vanished, and his natural embarrassment was
obviously that of a well-bred man young enough to be delighted by the
recognition. Moreover, he was not covered with mud, nor had his
sensibilities been jarred by standards representing the hell and heaven
of modern existence.
He lifted his hat.
"I am glad to see you have experienced no ill effects from yesterday's
shock, Miss Fenshawe," he said.
"Not in the least. It was a wonderful escape. Even the victoria leaves
hospital this afternoon, I am told."
Mr. Fenshawe, whose silvery-white hair and wrinkled skin betokened an
age that his erect, spare frame would otherwise have concealed, patted
"You did well, Mr. King, very well. I am much beholden to you. And I
was pleased to hear from Baron von Kerber last night that you have
joined our expedition."
Though of middle height, Mr. Fenshawe had to raise his hand as high as
his own forehead to reach Dick's back. His eyes were shrewd and keen,
with the introspective look of the student. Though it was more than
probable that he was very wealthy, judging from the meager details
within Royson's ken, he had the semblance of a university professor
rather than a millionaire.
"I think the good fortune is wholly mine, sir," said Dick, trying to
answer both at once, and puzzled to determine how he could repudiate
the name which von Kerber had fastened on to him.
"No, we will not put it that way," and the other seemed to sweep some
confusing thought from before his mental vision. "Let us say that the
reward will be commensurate with the deed. We do not forget, we
Fenshawes, do we, Irene? Good day, Mr. King. I hope to make your better
acquaintance. We shall see much of each other ere long."
Thus dismissed, with another friendly tap on the shoulder, Royson had
no option but to raise his hat again. He received a very gracious smile
from Miss Fenshawe, and he left the two with a curious consciousness
that there was at least one woman in the world who had the power to
send his blood whirling through his veins.
As he walked off under the trees, the eyes of grandfather and
granddaughter followed him.
"A useful man that, for work in the desert," said Mr. Fenshawe.
"Yes. Quite a Crusader in appearance," mused the girl aloud.
The old man laughed noiselessly.
"I find you are only half persuaded as to the peaceable nature of our
task, Irene," he said.
"I find it even more difficult to persuade you that Count von Kerber
fears interference, grandad."
"My dear child, these foreigners are all nerves. Look at me. I have
spent twenty years of my life among the Arabs, and felt safer there
than in a London crowd."
"Yes, you dear old thing, but you are not Count von Kerber."
"Nerves, Irene, nothing else. At any rate, your Mr. King should adjust
the average in that respect. And if you begin to talk of risk I shall
have to reconsider my decision to take you with us."
The chestnut threw up his head, and pranced excitedly, having been
warned that a gallop was imminent.
"No, you don't," laughed Irene. "If we Fenshawes do not forget, we also
stick together. By-by. See you at lunch."
And she was gone, sitting her horse with the ease and sureness of one
of those Arabs in whom her grandfather placed such confidence.
A CHANGE OF SKY, BUT NOT OF HABIT
Royson had time and to spare for the analysis of events during the
remainder of the day. In spite of von Kerber's repudiation of luck, he
believed that the fickle jade sometimes favored a man, and he counted
himself thrice fortunate in having met with an adventure leading to
such an unforeseen opening. He realized too, that had he been better
dressed—were his words and manners modeled on smooth convention—he
would not have received the offer of employment on board the
Aphrodite. Looked at in cold blood, there was nothing sinister in von
Kerber's wish to keep his business affairs private. If the Baron were
mixed up in a quarrel with some unknown Italian, his association with
people like Mr. Fenshawe and his granddaughter supplied a valid excuse
for observing a certain secrecy.
To guess the nature of the yacht's mission was more difficult. Any
reader of newspapers was aware that Morocco, Montenegro and Armenia,
not to mention the political volcanoes of Finland, Poland, and Carlist
centers in Spain, provided scope for international intrigue even in
these prosaic days. But it was a vain thing to imagine that the
Fenshawes would be involved in any wild-cat scheme of that sort. The
natural sequel to this thought was—who were they? and the nearest Free
Library answered promptly:
"Fenshawe, Hiram, C.M.G., 2d Class Osmanieh Hon. Fellow of Caius
College, Cambridge, landowner and colliery proprietor, an enthusiastic
Egyptologist, vice-President of Upper Egypt Exploration Society; has
devoted immense sums of money and many years of his life to Egyptian
archaeological research. His private collection of coins, pottery,
gold, silver and bronze ornaments, and other works of art having
special reference to the Roman occupation of Egypt, is probably
unequaled…. Born at Liverpool, March 20, 1830; married, June 10,
1854. Hilda, daughter of Sir Adolphus Livingston, Nairn. Only son,
Hildebrand, born April 27, 1856; married, December 20, 1880. Irene, 2d
daughter of the late Dr. Alfred Stowell, LL.D., Master of Trinity Hall,
Cambridge…. Mr. and Mrs. Hildebrand Fenshawe were lost in the wreck
of the P. & O. liner Bokhara, off the Pescadores Islands, 1892,
leaving one daughter, Irene Hildegarde, born February 11, 1882."
The book supplied other details, but Royson obtained from the foregoing
extracts a sufficiently clear idea of the identity of the two people
whom he had encountered in the park. Of course, he set his wits to work
instantly to construct new avenues for the promised activity of the
Aphrodite, but, these imaginings being as hopelessly mistaken as are
most other human peeps into futurity, they served only to keep him on
tenterhooks until he revisited the outfitters' establishment. There he
was handed the keys of two large steel trunks, canvas-covered, and
requested to assure himself that they contained all the articles set
forth on a list. The manager also gave him a first-class ticket for
Marseilles, and a typewritten instruction that he was to travel by the
nine o'clock train from Victoria that evening. On arriving at the
French port he would find the Aphrodite moored in No. 3. Basin, and
he was requested not to wear any portion of his uniform until on board
The nature of the arrangements, the prodigal supply of clothing, rather
took Dick's breath away. Even the initials, "R. K.," were painted on
the trunks and stitched on to the canvas.
"My employer seems to have done things pretty thoroughly," he could not
The shopman dug a compliment out of the remark.
"Our house has a reputation to maintain," he answered, "and Mr.
Fenshawe is one of our best and oldest customers."
There was no mention of Count von Kerber, which added a ripple to the
wave of astonishment in Royson's breast. He took his baggage to Charing
Cross in a cab, and deposited it there. Meanwhile, he learned from a
further scrutiny of the list that his own few belongings were hardly
wanted. He had not been so well equipped since he left Heidelberg to
rush to his mother's death-bed. Nevertheless, having already gathered
in a valise some books, photographs, letters, and other odds and ends,
he went to Brixton to obtain them.
While giving a farewell glance around his dingy room, an old envelope,
thrown aside overnight, reminded him of a half-formed idea, which
appealed to him strongly now that he knew his port of departure.
So he wrote a short letter:
Dear Mr. Forbes:
"You were kind to me four years ago, as kind as Sir Henry Royson would
permit you to be towards one who had wilfully and irreparably insulted
him. My feelings with regard to him have undergone no change. He may be
dead, for all I know, or care. But you, I suppose, are still the
trusted solicitor of the Cuddesham estate, and Sir Henry Royson, if
alive, may have remained unmarried. In that event, I am heir to a
barren title, and it may save you some trouble if I inform you that I
am leaving England. For reasons of no consequence, I am passing under
the name of Richard King. If I return, or settle down in some other
land, I will write to you, say, after the lapse of a year. Please
regard this note as strictly private, and do not interpret it as
foreshadowing any attempt on my part to arrive at a reconciliation with
Sir Henry Royson."
He was about to add the briefest announcement of his new career, but he
checked himself; had not von Kerber forbidden the giving of any
He signed the letter, and addressed it to the senior partner of a firm
of solicitors in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Then, indeed, he felt that he
had snapped the last slender link that bound him to the dull life of
the city. Like Kent, he vowed that "freedom lies hence, and banishment
is here." And he had always hated Brixton, which was unjust to that
pleasant suburb, but the days of his sojourn there had been days of
He was among the first to secure a seat in the Continental mail. Having
registered those superb trunks through to Marseilles, and reserved a
comfortable corner by depositing his valise there, he strolled up and
down the platform, and quietly scrutinized his fellow passengers. So
far as he could judge, none of the earlier arrivals were prospective
shipmates. Two bronzed men, of free gait, with that trick of carrying
the hands back to front which singles out the sailor from the rest of
humanity, drew him like a lodestone. But he soon discovered that they
were P. & O. officers, bidding farewell to a friend bound for Egypt.
At last he came upon a man and a woman, a remarkable pair under any
circumstances, but specially interesting to him, seeing that the man
gripped an ancient carpet bag on which was pasted a label with the
glaring superscription: "Captain John Stump, yacht Aphrodite,
Marsails." The address was half written, half printed, and the quaintly
phonetic spelling of the concluding word betrayed a rugged independence
of thought which was certainly borne out by Captain John Stump's
appearance. The written label might be wrong; not so that stamped by
Neptune on a weather-beaten face and a figure like a capstan. Little
more than five feet in height, he seemed to be quite five feet wide. If
it be true that a poet is born, not made, Captain Stump was a master
mariner from his cradle. Royson had never before seen such a man. Drawn
out to Royson's stature he would yet have remained the broader of the
two. The lady with him, evidently Mrs. Stump, was mated for him by
happy chance. Short mean usually marry tall women, and your sons of
Anak will select wives of fairy-like proportions. But Mrs. Stump was
even shorter than her husband, and so plump withal, that a tape measure
round her shoulders might have given her the prize for girth.
Captain Stump was examining the interior of each carriage suspiciously
when he set eyes on the P. & O. officers.
"Port yer helium, Becky," he growled, and the two turned to the
right-about. It happened that he entered Royson's compartment. There
were not many first-class passengers that night, so Royson promptly
took possession of his own corner, lit a pipe, and unobtrusively
watched his future commander. This was not difficult, as Stump stood
near the open door, and each word he uttered was audible.
"Don't want to berth alongside sailor-men to-night, Becky," he said,
after sizing up Dick in a comprehensive glance. "Them's my sailin'
orders. 'Hoist no colors,' sez he, 'until you bring to at Marseilles.'"
"What's your first port of call, John?" asked his wife.
"Dunno. I'll send you a wire."
A pause. Then Mrs. Stump:
"Will you be long in Marseilles, John?"
Dick thought that this would be impossible anywhere, but Stump answered:
"Mebbe half an hour, mebbe a week. You know all that I know, Becky."
Captain Stump spat, and agreed that it was—emphatically funny. A
ticket inspector approached.
"Going on, sir?" he asked.
"Goin' on? Of course I am. What in thunder d'ye think I'm stannin' here
for?" demanded the captain.
"But if you stand there, sir, you'll get left," said the official
"Better get in, John, an' don't argy with the gentleman," said Mrs.
Her husband obeyed, grudgingly. The inspector examined his ticket, and
Royson's, and locked the door.
"Nice thing!" grumbled Stump. "I can't give you a good-by hug now,
This was literally true. The captain's breadth of beam had never been
contemplated by the designers of South-Eastern railway carriages. Even
when the door was open, he had to enter sideways, and the brass rail
across the window rendered it a physical impossibility to thrust head
and shoulders outside.
The shrill whistle of a guard was answered by a colleague.
"Take care of yourself, John," said Becky.
"No fear! And mind you wait till the 'bus stops to-night. The other
Royson never learnt what had befallen Mrs. Stump on that other evening.
At the moment the train began to move, he saw a man peeping into the
carriage as if he were looking for some one. He believed it was the
private inquiry agent whom he had shaken off so effectively in Hyde
Park. The gloom of the station, and the fact that the man's face was in
shadow, made him doubtful, but as the train gathered speed, the watcher
on the platform nodded to him and smiled derisively. Captain Stump had
quick eyes. He turned to Royson.
"Beg pardon, mister, but is that a friend of yours?" he asked.
"No," said Dick.
"Well, he was signalin' somebody, an' it wasn't me."
Then remarking that the unknown craft looked like a curiously-colored
pirate, the captain squeezed himself into a seat. When the train ran
into and backed out of Cannon Street, Stump was puzzled. He opened the
carpet-bag, and drew forth a ship's compass, which he consulted. After
a few minutes' rapid traveling his doubts seemed to subside, and he
replaced the compass. Producing a cake of tobacco, he cut off several
shavings with an exceedingly sharp knife, rolled them between his broad
palms, filled a pipe, lit it, and whetted the knife on the side of his
boot. Dick noticed that all his actions were wonderfully nimble for a
man of his build. Any stranger who imagined that this squat Hercules
was slow and ponderous in movement would be wofully mistaken if he
based hostilities on that presumption.
Perhaps the captain missed the companionship of the stout lady he had
parted from at Charing Cross, or it might be that his gruffness was a
matter of habit—at any rate, after a puff or two, he spoke to Royson
"D'ye know wot time we're due at Dover?" he asked.
"Yes, at 10.50."
"We don't stop long there?"
"No. The boat sails ten minutes later."
"Good. I don't cotton on to these blessed trains. Every time they jolt
I fancy we're on the rocks. Give me a ship, an' the steady beat of the
screw, sez I. Then I know where I am."
"I quite agree with you, captain, but you must put up with a fair spell
of railway bumping before you reach Marseilles."
Stump gave him a questioning look. Royson did not resemble the type of
land shark with which he was familiar. Yet his eyes gleamed like those
of a perplexed bull.
"I s'pose you heard my missus an' me talking of Marseilles," he
growled, "but how do you know I'm a captain."
"It is written on your bag."
"Well, my missus wrote that—"
"Moreover," went on Dick, determined to break the ice, "I'm your second
"Wot?" roared Stump, leaning forward and placing a hand on each knee,
while his fiery glance took in every detail of Royson's appearance.
The words formed a crescendo of contemptuous analysis. But Dick faced
the storm boldly.
"Yes," he said. "I don't see any harm in stating the fact, now that I
know who you are."
"Harm! Who said anything about harm? Wot sort of sailor d'ye call
yerself? Who ever heard of a sailor in knickers?"
Then it dawned on Royson that the captain's wrath was comprehensible.
There is in every male Briton who goes abroad an ingrained instinct
that leads him to don a costume usually associated with a Highland
moor. Why this should be no man can tell, but nine out of ten
Englishmen cross the Channel in sporting attire, and Royson was no
exception to the rule. In his case a sheer revolt against the "office"
suit had induced him to dress in clothes which recalled one glorious
summer on the Westmoreland hills. Their incongruity did not appeal to
him until Captain Stump forcibly drew attention thereto, and his hearty
laugh at the way in which he was enlightened did not tend to soothe his
"Second mate!" bellowed Stump again, calling the heavens to witness
that there never was such another, "Where's yer ticket? Seein' is
believin', they say. Who did you go to sea with? When did you pass?"
"I have no certificate, if that is what you mean, and I have never been
to sea," said Royson.
This remark impressed Stump as an exquisite joke. His rage yielded to a
rumble of hoarse laughter.
"Lord love a duck!" he guffawed. "If only I'd ha' knowed, I could have
told my missus. It would have cheered her up for a week. Never mind.
We've a few minutes in Dover. I'll send her a picture postcard. It'll
'arf tickle 'er to death."
Evidently the captain meant to add certain explanatory remarks which
would account for that Gargantuan tickling. Dick, anxious not to offend
his future commander, smiled sheepishly, and said:
"Sorry I can't supply you with a photograph."
Stump's gaze rested on his stockings, loose breeches, Norfolk jacket
and deerstalker cap.
"Damme," he grinned, "it's better than a pantomime. Second mate! Is
there any more like you on the train? P'haps that chap in the next
caboose, in a fur coat an' top hat, is the steward. An' wot'll Tagg
"I don't know," said Dick, half inclined to resent this open scorn.
"Who is Tagg, anyhow?"
Stump instantly became silent. He seemed to remember his "sailing
orders." He muttered something about "playin' me for a sucker," and
shut his lips obstinately. Not another word did he utter until they
reached Dover. He smoked furiously, gave Royson many a wrathful glance,
but bottled up the tumultuous thoughts which troubled him. On board the
steamer, however, curiosity conquered prudence. After surveying Dick's
unusual proportions from several points of view, he came up and spoke
in what he intended to be a light comedy tone.
"I say, Mr. Second Mate," he said, "I don't see the Plimsoll Mark on
the funnel. Do you?"
"No, captain. I expect it has been washed off."
"If I was you I'd write to the Board of Trade about it."
"Best let sleeping dogs lie, captain."
"Because they might look for yours, and as it ought to be round your
neck they would say you were unseaworthy."
"So you know what it is, you long swab?"
"Yes. Come and have a drink. That will reach your load-line all right."
Royson had hit on the right method of dealing with Stump. The skipper
promised himself some fun, and they descended to the saloon. The
Channel was in boisterous mood, and Dick staggered once or twice in
transit. Stump missed none of this, and became more jovial. Thus might
one of the Hereford stots he resembled approach a green pasture.
"If you ask the steward he'll bring you some belayin' tackle," he said.
"I am a trifle crank just now," admitted Royson, "but when the wind
freshens I'll take in a reef or two."
Stump looked up at him.
"You've put me clean, out of reckonin'. Never bin to sea, you say?
Wot's yer name?"
"King, Richard King."
"Damme, I'm comin' to like you. You're a bit of a charak-ter. By the
time the Aphrodite points her nose home again I'll 'ave you licked
They were crossing the saloon, and were sufficiently noteworthy by
force of contrast to draw many eyes. Indeed, were Baron von Kerber on
board, he must have been disagreeably impressed by the fact that in
sending the short skipper and the long second mate of the Aphrodite
to Marseilles in company he had supplied an unfailing means of tracking
their movements. Of course, he was not responsible for the chance that
threw them together, but the mere presence of two such men on the same
vessel would be remembered quite easily by those who make it their
business to watch trans-Channel passengers.
Royson gave no thought to this factor in the queer conditions then
shaping his life. Had Stump remained taciturn, it might have occurred
to him that they were courting observation. But it needed the exercise
of much resourcefulness to withstand the stream of questions with which
his commander sought to clear the mystery attached to a second mate who
knew not the sea. Luckily, he emerged from the flood with credit; nay,
the examiner himself was obliged at times to assume a knowledge which
he did not possess, for, if Stump knew how to con a ship from port to
port, Royson could give reasons for great circle sailing which left
Stump gasping. At last, the stout captain could no longer conceal his
amazement when Royson had recited correctly the rules of the road for
If to my Starboard Red appear,
It is my duty to keep clear;
Act as Judgment says is proper—
"Port"—or "Starboard"—"Back"—or "Stop her!"
But when, upon my Port is seen
A steamer's Starboard light of green,
For me there's naught to do, but see
That Green to Port keeps clear of me.
"Come, now," he growled, "wot's your game? D'ye mean to say you've bin
humbuggin' me all this time?"
His little eyes glared redly from underneath his shaggy eyebrows. He
was ready to sulk again, without hope of reconciliation, so Royson
"I have no objection to telling you, captain, how I came to acquire a
good deal of unusual information about the sea, but I want to
stipulate, once and for all, that I shall not be further questioned as
to my past life."
"Go ahead! That's fair."
"Well, I have spent many a day, since I was a boy of ten until I was
nearly twenty, sailing a schooner-rigged yacht on Windermere. My
companion and tutor was a retired commander of the Royal Navy, and he
amused himself by teaching me navigation. I learnt it better than any
of the orthodox sciences I had to study at school. You see, that was my
hobby, while a wholesome respect for my skipper led me to work hard. I
have not forgotten what I was taught, though the only stretch of water
I have seen during the last few years is the Thames from its bridges,
and I honestly believe that if you will put up with my want of
experience of the sea for a week or so, I shall be quite capable of
doing any work you may entrust to me."
"By gad!" said Stump admiringly, "you're a wonder. Come on deck. I'll
give you a tip or two as we go into Calais."
During the journey across France it was natural that Royson should take
the lead. He spoke the language fluently, whereas Stump's vocabulary
was limited to a few forcible expressions he had picked up from brother
mariners. There was a break-down on the line near Dijon, which delayed
them eight hours, and Stump might have had apoplexy were not Royson at
hand to translate the curt explanations of railway officials. But the
two became good friends, which was an excellent thing for Dick, and the
latter soon discovered, to his great surprise, that Stump had never set
eyes on the Aphrodite.
"No," he said, when some chance remark from Royson had elicited this
curious fact, "she's a stranger to me. Me an' Tagg—Tagg is my first
mate, you see—had just left the Chirria when she was sold to the
Germans out of the East Indian trade, an' we was lookin' about for wot
might turn up when the man who chartered the Aphrodite put us on to
this job. Tagg has gone ahead with most of the crew, but I had to stop
in London a few days—to see after things a bit."
Stump had really remained behind in order to buy a complete set of
charts, but he checked his confidences at that point, nor did Royson
endeavor to probe further into the recent history of the yacht.
Instead of traversing Marseilles at night, they drove through its
picturesque streets in broad daylight. Both Royson and the captain were
delighted with the lines of the Aphrodite when they saw her in the
spacious dock. Her tapering bows and rakish build gave her an
appearance of greater size than her tonnage warranted. Royson was
sailor enough to perceive that her masts and spars were intended for
use, and, when he reached her deck, to which much scrubbing and
vigorous holy-stoning had given the color of new bread, he knew that
none but men trained on a warship had coiled each rope and polished
every inch of shining brass.
And his heart sank a little then. The looks and carriage of the few
sailors visible at the moment betokened their training. How could he
hope to hold his own with them? The first day at sea must reveal his
incompetence. He would be the laughing-stock of the crew.
He was almost nervous when an undersized hairy personage shoved a
grinning face up a companionway, and hailed Stump joyfully. Then the
captain did a thing which went far to prove that true gentility is not
a matter of deportment or mincing phrase.
"Keep mum before this crowd," he muttered. "Stand by, and I'll pull you
Stump extended a gigantic hand to the hairy one. "Glad to see you
again, old Never-fail," he roared. "Let me introjuice our second mate.
Mr. Tagg—Mr. King. An' now, Tagg, wot's for breakfast? Mr. King an' me
can eat a Frenchman if you have nothin' tastier aboard."
Royson was relieved to find that he had practically no duties to
perform until the yacht sailed. She had been coaled and provisioned by
a Marseilles firm of shipping agents, and only awaited telegraphic
orders to get up steam, in case the wind were unfavorable for beating
down the Gulf of Lions, when Mr. Fenshawe and his party arrived.
Every member of the crew was of British birth, and Britons are not, as
a rule, endowed with the gift of tongues. Hence, Royson was the only
man on board who spoke French, and this fact led directly to his active
participation in the second act of the drama of love and death in
which, all unconsciously, he was playing a leading part. On the day
after his arrival in the French port, the head partner of the firm of
local agents came on board and explained that, by inadvertence, some
cases of claret of inferior vintage had been substituted for the wine
ordered. The mistake had been discovered in the counting-house, and he
was all apologies.
Royson and he chatted together while the goods were being exchanged,
and, in the end, the polite Frenchman invited messieurs les officiers
to dine with him, and visit the Palais de Glace, where some daring
young lady was announced to do things in a motor-car, which, in
England, are only attempted by motor omnibuses.
Stump, who would not leave the yacht, permitted Tagg and Royson to
accept the proffered civility. They passed a pleasant evening, and saw
the female acrobat negotiate a thirty-feet jump, head downward, taken
through space by the automobile. Then they elected to walk to No. 3.
Basin, a distance of a mile and a half. It was about eleven o'clock and
a fine night. The docks road, a thoroughfare cut up by railway lines
holding long rows of empty wagons, seemed to be quite deserted. Tagg,
who was slightly lame, though active as a cat on board ship, was not
able to walk fast. The two discussed the performance, and other matters
of slight interest, and they paid little heed to the movements of half
a dozen men, who appeared from behind some coal trucks, until the
strangers advanced towards them in a furtive and threatening way. But
nothing happened. The prowlers sheered off as quickly as they came.
Tagg, who had the courage which Providence sends to puny men, glanced
up at Royson and laughed.
"Your size saved us from a fight," he said. "That gang is up to
"I wonder what they are planning," said Royson, looking back to see if
he could distinguish any other wayfarers on the ill-lighted road.
"Robbery, with murder thrown in," was Tagg's brief comment.
"They had the air of expecting somebody. Did you think that? What do
you say if we wait in the shadow a few minutes?"
"Better mind our own business," said Tagg, but he did not protest
further, and the two halted in the gloom of a huge warehouse.
There was nothing visible along the straight vista of the road, but,
after a few seconds' silence, they heard the clatter and rumble of a
vehicle crossing a distant drawbridge.
"Some skipper comin' to his ship," muttered Tagg. "It can't be ours. By
George, if those chaps tackled him they would be sorry for themselves."
"Captain Stump is a good man in a row, I take it?"
"'Good' isn't the word. He's a terror. I've seen him get six of his men
out of a San Francisco crimp's house, an' I s'pose you 'aven't bin to
sea without knowing wot that means."
"Ah!" said Royson admiringly. He had found safety many times during the
past two days by some such brief comment. Thus did he steer clear of
The carriage drew nearer, and became dimly visible—it was one of the
tiny voiturettes peculiar to French towns. Suddenly the listeners heard
a shout. The horse's feet ceased their regular beat on the roadway.
Royson began to run, but Tagg vociferated:
"Wait for me, you long ijiot! If you turn up alone they'll knife you
before you can say 'Jack Robinson.'"
Dick had no intention of saying "Jack Robinson," but he moderated his
pace, and helped Tagg over the ground by grasping his arm. They soon
saw that two men had pulled the driver off the box, and were holding
him down—indeed, tying him hand and foot. Royson prevented the success
of this operation by a running kick and an upper cut which placed two
Marseillais out of action. Then he essayed to plunge into a fearsome
struggle that was going on inside the carriage. Frantic oaths in German
and Italian lent peculiar significance to a flourishing of naked
knives. But that which stirred the blood in his veins was his
recognition of Baron von Kerber's high-pitched voice, alternately
cursing and pleading for life to assailants who evidently meant to show
scant mercy. One man who, out of the tail of his eye, had witnessed
Dick's discomfiture of the coachman's captors, drew a revolver, a
weapon not meant for show, as its six loaded chambers proved when Dick
picked it up subsequently.
Royson had no love of unnecessary risk. Stooping quickly, he grasped
the hub of the off front wheel, and, just varying the trick which saved
Miss Fenshawe in Buckingham Palace Road, threw the small vehicle over
on its side. No doubt the patient animal in the shafts wondered what
was happening, but the five struggling men in the interior were even
more surprised when they were pitched violently into the road.
Royson sprang into the midst of them, found von Kerber, and said:
"You're all right now, Baron. We can whip the heads off these rascals."
The sound of his English tongue seemed to take all the fight out of the
remaining warriors. Tagg had closed valiantly with one, and the others
made off. Von Kerber rose to his feet, so Royson went to Tagg's
assistance. He heard the Baron shriek, in a falsetto of rage:
"You may have recovered the papyrus, Alfieri, but it is of no value to
you. Name of an Italian dog! I have outwitted you even now!"
While kneeling to pinion the footpad's arms behind his back, thus
rescuing Tagg from a professor of the savate, Dick tried to guess von
Kerber's motive in hurling such an extraordinary taunt after one of his
runaway adversaries, and in French, too, whereas the other had an
Italian name, and, in all likelihood, spoke only Italian. Was this
Alfieri the man who "hated" von Kerber—who "brought a very serious
charge" against him? But Royson was given no time for consecutive
thought. The Baron, breathing heavily, and seemingly in pain, came to
him and said, in the low tone of one who does not wish to be overheard:
"Let your prisoner go, Mr. King. I am all right, and everlastingly
obliged to you, but I do not wish to be detained in Marseilles while
the slow French law gets to work. So let him go. He is nothing—a mere
hireling, yes? And we sail to-morrow."
VON KERBER EXPLAINS
"You've left your trademark on this chap," broke in Tagg. He was
bending over a prostrate body, and the cab-driver was bewailing the
plight of his voiturette.
Royson righted the carriage; then he lifted the man to a sitting
position, and listened to his stertorous breathing. The blow had been
delivered on that facial angle known to boxers as the "point," while
its scientific sequel is the "knock-out."
"He is all right," was the cool verdict. "He will wake up soon and feel
rather sick. The general effect will be excellent. In future he will
have a wholesome respect for British sailors."
He laid the almost insensible form on the road again, pocketed the
revolver, which he found close at hand, and gave an ear to von Kerber's
settlement with the cocher. The latter was now volubly indignant in
the assessment of damages to his vehicle, hoping to obtain a louis as
compensation. When he was given a hundred francs his gratitude became
The Baron cut him short, stipulating sternly that he must forget what
had happened. Then he turned to Royson.
"If you think we can leave the fellow on the ground with safety, I want
to reach the yacht," he said.
"Are you wounded?" inquired Dick.
"Slightly. Those scoundrels did not dare to strike home. They knew my
papers would identify them."
"But they robbed you?"
"No, not of anything valuable. Why do you ask?"
"Because you sang out to one of them, an Italian, I should judge—"
"Ah, you heard that? You are, indeed, quick in an emergency. Can we go
"Certainly. I will just lift our dazed friend into the victoria, and
tell the cocher to give him a glass of cognac at the first café he
This was done. Five minutes later, the first and second officers of the
Aphrodite assisted their employer up the yacht's gangway. Leaving
Tagg to explain to Stump what had happened, Royson took von Kerber to
his cabin, and helped to remove his outer clothing. A superficial wound
on the neck, and a somewhat deeper cut on the right forearm, were the
only injuries; the contents of a medicine chest, applied under von
Kerber's directions, soon staunched the flow of blood.
"I do not wish anything to be said about this affair," began the Baron,
when Royson would have left him.
"Tagg must have given the captain full details already," said Dick.
"But did he hear that name, Alfieri?"
"I think not."
"And he would not understand, about the—er—document?"
"The papyrus," suggested Royson.
"No. I don't suppose he would understand the word In English, whereas
you spoke French."
"Ah, yes, of course. Well, that is between you and me. Will you ask
Captain Stump and Mr. Tagg to join as in a bottle of wine? I would put
matters in my own way, yes?"
The Baron, after a slight hesitancy, made his wishes clear. Mr.
Fenshawe and his party would arrive at Marseilles by the train de
luxe next morning, and preparations must be made for instant departure
as soon as they came on board. They would be alarmed needlessly if told
of the affray on the quay, so it was advisable that nothing should be
said about it.
"You see," purred the Baron affably, refilling the glasses which Stump
and Tagg had emptied at a gulp, "ladies, especially young ones, are apt
to be nervous."
"Have we wimmen aboard this trip?" growled Stump in a deep rumble of
"Ladies, yes. Two, and a maid."
Stump bore round on his chief.
"Wot did I tell ye, Tagg?" he demanded fiercely, "Didn't I say that
them fixins aft meant no good?"
"You did," agreed Tagg, with equal asperity.
Von Kerber caught the laughter in Dick's eyes, and checked the angry
protest ready to bubble forth.
"The two ladies," he said, speaking with an emphasis which strove to
cloak his annoyance at Stump's offhanded manner, "are Miss Fenshawe,
granddaughter of the gentleman who owns this yacht, and her companion,
Mrs. Haxton. Without their presence this trip would not have been
undertaken, and that fact had better be recognized at the outset. But
now, gentlemen, I have come on ahead to have a quiet talk with you.
Captain Stump knows our destination, but none of you is aware of the
object of our voyage. I propose to take you fully into my confidence in
that respect. By this time, you have become more or less acquainted
with the crew, and, if you think any of the men are unsuitable, we must
get rid of them at once."
He paused, and looked at Stump. That broad-beamed navigator emptied his
glass again, and gazed into it fixedly, apparently wondering why
champagne was so volatile a thing. Tagg followed the skipper's example,
but fixed his eyes on the bottle, perhaps in calculation. Royson,
deeming it wise to hold his tongue, contented himself with closing the
medicine chest, and thus making it possible for von Kerber to sit down.
The latter was obviously ill at ease. Although he was the master of
these three men, he was their inferior in individual strength of
character. But he was a polished man of the world, and he promptly
extricated himself from a difficult position, though Royson, at least,
detected the effort he was compelled to make.
"I see you are thinking that one bottle does not go far among four of
us, Mr. Tagg," he exclaimed, with a pleasantly patronizing air. "Kindly
tell the steward to bring another, Mr. King. And some cigars. Then we
can discuss matters at our ease. And will you make sure that we are not
overheard? What I have to say is meant for the ship's officers alone at
this moment, though, when the time for action comes, every man on board
must be with us absolutely."
Dick summoned the steward, and ascertained that the watch were quietly
chatting and smoking forward, whereas the Baron's stateroom was
situated aft. The delay enabled von Kerber to collect his thoughts.
When he resumed the promised disclosure, his voice was under control,
and he spoke with less constraint.
"It is probable that you gentlemen are not familiar with the history of
Egypt," he said, "but you may take it from me that the facts I now lay
before you are accurate. At one time, about the beginning of the
Christian era, the Romans were all-powerful in the Nile delta. They
pushed their stations a long way south, almost to the borders of
Abyssinia, but it is important, to remember that they followed the
lines of the river, not the sea. In the year 24 B.C., the Roman
Governor, hearing of the great wealth of a people called the Sabaeans,
whose country lay in Arabia, in the hinterland of Mocha and Aden, sent
an expedition there under the command of Aelius Gallus. This legion is
historically reported to have met with reverses. That is true, in the
sense that its galleys were beset by a terrible storm on the return
voyage. Though the Red Sea is usually a fair-weather lake, you can have
a stiff blow there at times, I believe, Captain Stump?"
Thus appealed to, Stump had to open his mouth.
"I've known it blow like sin," he said. "Isn't that so, Tagg?"
"Wuss nor sin, cap'n. Ord'nary manslaughter isn't in it with a
nor'-east gale on a dark night off them islands north o' Perim."
"Exactly," agreed the Baron eagerly. "That is where the Roman triremes
were caught. They were driven ashore in a little bay in what is now
Italian territory. Their vessels were wrecked, but they saved the loot
they had taken from the Sabaeans. The nature and value of that loss can
hardly be estimated in these days, but you can draw your own
conclusions when you learn that the city of Saba is more familiar to us
under its Biblical name, Sheba. It was thence that the famous queen
came who visited Solomon. Nearly a thousand years later, when the Roman
legion sacked it with fire and sword, it was at the height of its
Von Kerber, fairly launched in a recital glib on his lips, regained the
dominance of manner which the attitude of his subordinates had
momentarily imperiled. Increased composure brought with it a certain
hauteur, and he paused again—perhaps to gratify the actor's instinct
in him rather than observe the effect of his words. But the break was
unfortunate. Tagg removed the cigar he was half chewing, half smoking,
and said oracularly:
"The Queen o Sheba! I once knew a ship o' that name. D'ye remember her,
"Shall I ever forgit 'er?" granted Stump, "I wish them Romans had
looted her. W'en I was goin' down the Hooghly, she was comin' up, in
tow. Her rope snapped at the wrong moment, an' she ran me on top of the
James an' Mary shoal. Remember 'er, damn 'er!"
The Austrian, winced at this check to his story. These stolid mariners
had no imagination. He wished to enthuse them, to fire them with the
vision of countless wealth, but they had side-tracked ideality for some
stupid reminiscence of a collision. In a word, they did him good, and
he reached the point of his narration all the more speedily.
"As I was saying," he broke in rapidly, "the expedition met with
disaster by sea. It was equally unfortunate on land. The commander
built a small encampment, and sent for assistance the only seaworthy
vessel left to him. He waited six months, but no help came. Then he
determined to march inland—to strike a bold course for the Nile—but
he was soon compelled to entrench himself against the attacks of
hostile tribes. The probability is that the Sabaeans had interests on
the western shores of the Red Sea as well as in Arabia. Indeed, the
Abyssinians hold the belief to this day that their kings are descended
from a son of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon. However that may be,
Aelius Gallus buried his treasure, threw aside all useless impediments,
and, like the daring soldier he was, decided in favor of attack. He
fought his way for twenty marches, but was finally overthrown, with all
his men, by a Nubian clan. The Romans were slain without mercy. Their
conquerors knew nothing of the gold and jewels hidden in the desert
three hundred miles distant, and that marvelous hoard, gathered from
Persia and India by generations of traders, has lain there for nearly
two thousand years."
This time he was sure he had riveted the attention of his hearers. They
would have been dull, indeed, if their wits were not stirred by the
possibilities underlying that last sentence. Royson, of course, jumped
to conclusions which the others were slow to reach. But Stump was not
backward in summing up the facts in his own way.
"Am I right in supposin' that you know where this stuff is hid, Mr. von
Kerber?" he asked, his small eyes twinkling under the strain of
"Are you positive?"
"Does anybody else know?"
Royson felt that the Baron did not expect this question, but the answer
"Mr. Fenshawe knows, and the two ladies who accompany him have a
species of general knowledge."
"If I took c'rect bearin's, accordin' to your yarn the cargo is planted
some distance from the coast?"
"About forty miles."
"An', while some of us goes after it, the yacht will stand off, an' on,
waitin' orders, an' mebbe runnin' to Perim or Aden for letters."
"You have grasped the situation, exactly, Captain Stump."
The skipper shifted his cigar from one corner of his mouth to another.
"Sink me," he growled, "I thought it couldn't be gun-runnin' when there
was wimmin mixed up in it. Didn't I say so, Tagg?"
"You did," agreed Tagg again.
"Gun-running!" repeated von Kerber, "You mean carrying contraband arms,
yes? What put that into your head?"
"I've not bin cap'n of a ship nigh on fifteen years without larnin' the
importance of knowin' wot she's loaded with," said Stump. "Big or
little, in package or bulk, I go through her manifest, an' cheek, it,
The Baron laughed softly. He was pale, probably as the result' of his
wounds, but he was inflexible in his resolve to arrive at an
understanding with his lieutenants before the remaining passengers put
in an appearance.
"Ganz gut, herr capitan!" he cried. "You must have seen our supply of
firearms and cartridges, yes?"
"Twenty rifles, twenty-five revolvers, an' enough ammunition to fight a
small war." Stamp ticked off each item slowly and looked at Tagg as
though he expected him to cry "Tally!"
"Ah! That is well put, yes? If we are called on to fight a small war,
as you say, have we got the right sort of men on board? I had to trust
to chance. It was the only way. I could not talk plainly in England,
"I don't know much about 'em," said Stump. "I can answer for myself an'
Tagg, an' from wot I hear, Mr. King has a heart of the right size. As
for the others, I'll run the rule over 'em between here an' Port Said.
If I have any doubts about one or two, we can ship 'em home on a P. an'
O. But, from the cut of their jibs, most of 'em are deserters from the
Royal Navy, an' the remainder are army reserve men. That sort of crowd
is pretty tough, eh, Tagg?"
"Tough!" echoed Tagg. "If they're 'lowed to eat three solid meals every
day like the Lord Mayor's banquets they've put out o' sight since they
kem aboard, there'll be no holdin' 'em."
"Oh, yes, there will. I'll hold 'em," said Stump.
"And you approve of my reticence thus far?" asked the Baron.
"Of your wot, mister?"
"I mean, that it was wise not to tell them the object of the voyage."
"Take my advice an' tell 'em nothin'. Wait till they're frizzlin' in
the Red Sea, an' I've worked some of the grease out of 'em. By that
time, wot between prickly heat an' high livin', they'll be ready to
kill any Gord's quantity of I-talians."
"Italians!" snapped von Kerber irritably, "Why do you speak of
"It's your fairy-tale, mister, not mine. You said that wot's 'is name,
the Roman who went through the Shebeens, had planted his takin's in
"Ah!" The Austrian gasped a little, and his pallor increased. "That is
of no consequence—the place—is a desert—we shall meet with no
Then Royson spoke. Hitherto, he had taken no share in the conversation,
but he saw that von. Kerber was unable to withstand any further strain.
The man was bearing up gallantly, yet he had reached the limit of
endurance, and the trouble, whatever it was, seemed to be wearing his
"Neither Captain Stump nor Mr. Tagg knows that you are wounded, sir,"
said Dick. "Perhaps it would, be advisable to defer our talk until the
Von Kerber shaded his face with his hands.
"I cannot add much to what I have said already," he answered. "I think
you understand me, I want silence—and good service. Give me these and
I shall repay you tenfold."
They went on deck. Stump dug Royson in the ribs.
"It would ha' done me a treat to see you upper cut that Frog," he
whispered, his mouth widening in a grin. "I'm good at a straight punch
myself, but I'm too short for a swing. Lord love a duck, I wish I'd bin
So the burly skipper of the Aphrodite paid slight heed to the wonders
half revealed by von Kerber's story. He had been stirred but for a
moment when the project was laid bare. Already his mind was rejecting
it. The only matter that concerned him was to bring his ship to her
destination in a seaman-like manner, and let who would perplex their
brains with fantasy. Indeed, he was beginning to regard the Baron as a
harmless lunatic, whom Providence had entrusted with the spending of a
rich man's money for the special benefit of the seafaring community.
"A straight punch!" he repeated, gazing with a species of solemn joy at
the men leaning against the rails forward. "They're a hard-bitten lot
from wot I've seen of 'em, an' they'll have to have it before they're
at sea with me very long. Won't they, Tagg?"
"They will," said. Tagg, eying the unconscious watch with equal fixity.
Dick went to his cabin firm in the belief that he would lie awake half
the night. But his brain soon refused to bother itself with problems
which time might solve in a manner not yet conceivable, and he slept
soundly until he was roused at an early hour. Day dawned bright and
clear. A pleasant northwesterly breeze swept the smoke haze from off
the town and kissed the blue waters of the land-locked harbor into
white-crested wavelets. He took the morning watch, from four o'clock
until eight, and all he had to do was to make sure that the men tried
to whiten decks already spotless, and cleaned brass which shone in the
sun the instant that luminary peeped over the shoulder of Notre Dame de
la Garde. Although the Aphrodite lay inside the mole, her bridge and
promenade deck were high enough to permit him to see the rocky islet
crowned by the Château d'If. He knew that the hero of Dumas'
masterpiece had burrowed a tunnel out of that grim prison, to swim
ashore an outcast, a man with a price on his head, yet bearing with him
the precious paper whose secret should make him the fabulously rich
Count of Monte Christo. It was only a soul-stirring romance, a dim
legend transformed into vivid life by the genius of the inspired
quadroon. But its extraordinary appositeness to the Aphrodite's quest
suddenly occurred to the young Englishman watching the sunlit isle. He
was startled at the thought, especially when he contrasted his present
condition with his depressed awakening in Brixton five days earlier.
Then he laughed, and a sailor, busily engaged in polishing the glass
front of the wheel-house, followed the direction of his gaze and half
interpreted his daydream.
"It's a bit of a change from the West India Dock Road, ain't it, sir?"
Royson agreed with him, and the two conversed a while, but when the man
led the chat round to the probable destination of the yacht, the second
mate's thoughts fell from romance to reality.
"You will be told soon enough where we're bound for," he answered
"I'm sorry, sir, if I've said anything I shouldn't," said the other.
"But the chaps forrard made out that there's a bit of a mystery in it,
an' I argied they was talkin' nonsense."
"You were quite right. The owner and a party of ladies will be on board
to-day, and then you will find out our destination."
"Ladies, you say, sir? That settles it. This is no Riff pirates job,
Royson turned on his heel. So others, as well as Captain Stump, had
drawn conclusions from those boxes of arms and ammunition? If Baron
Franz von Kerber deemed it necessary to provide a warlike equipment,
how could he permit an elderly gentleman like Mr. Fenshawe, and a
charming girl like Irene, to say nothing of others yet unknown to
Royson, to share in the risk of a venture demanding such safeguards?
That was a puzzle, but it disturbed Dick not a whit. Somehow, the
mention of the desert and its secret hoard had stirred him strangely.
It seemed to touch unknown springs in his being. He felt the call of
the far-flung solitude, and his heart was glad that fortune had bound
up his lot with that of the winsome woman who smiled on him so
graciously when they parted in Hyde Park.
Then a steward announced breakfast, and the mirage vanished. Captain
Stump's greeting showed that his slumbers had not been disturbed by
"Mornin'," he said. "I've just bin tellin' Tagg." Seeing that his
second officer was not enlightened by this remark he went on:
"You'll want his help if I'm not alongside. Bless your 'eart, you can
depend on Tagg. He'll never give you away. He thinks the world of you
The reminder was useful, though not in the sense intended, by Stamp. It
brought Royson back to earth. He felt that he must justify himself if
he would win his way among these rough sea-dogs. Hence, when a railway
omnibus lumbered along the quay, and pulled up in front of the yacht's
gangway, he remembered that he was Mr. King, probationary second mate
on a small vessel, and not Richard Royson, heir to a baronetcy and
rightful successor to an estate with a rent-roll of five thousand a
Mr. Fenshawe, exceedingly alert for one of his age, helped two ladies
to alight. The first was Irene. Her admiring glance at the Aphrodite,
no less than an exclamation of delighted interest, revealed that she,
too, like everyone else, was a stranger to the ship. She was followed
by a pretty woman, whose clothes and furs were of a fashion which told
even a mere man that she was a person of consequence. This was Mrs.
Haxton, and her first action caused Dick to dislike her, because she
deliberately turned her back on the smart yacht, and gave heed only to
the safe lowering of certain trunks from the roof of the omnibus. He
heard the manner of her speech to a neatly dressed maid and its languid
insolence did not help to dissipate that unfavorable impression.
Miss Fenshawe ran along the gangway. Royson had stationed a sailor at
the shoreward end, while he held the rail to steady it on deck.
"Good morning, Mr. King," she cried. "Has not Baron von Kerber arrived?"
"Yes," he said. "He came aboard late last night."
"Then why is he not here to meet us?"
"I believe he is fatigued after the long journey, Miss Fenshawe."
"Fatigued! Fiddlesticks! Look at my grandfather. Is he fatigued? And we
have traveled over the same route. But I will deal with the lie-abed
Baron when I see him. What a nice boat the Aphrodite is. I am in love
with her already. And is that Captain Stump? Good morning, captain. I
have heard about you. Baron von Kerber says you will bite my head off
if I come on the bridge. Is that true?"
"Shows how little Mr. von Kerber reely knows about me, ma'am," said
Stump gallantly, beaming on her over the rail of the small upper deck.
By this time, Mrs. Haxton had satisfied herself that the Aphrodite's
crew might be trusted to bring her boxes on board without smashing
them, and she gathered her skirts carefully to keep them clear of the
quay. She raised a lorgnon, mounted on a tortoise-shell and silver
handle, and examined the yacht with measured glance. She honored the
stalwart second officer with a prolonged stare.
"Is that the captain?" she said to Mr. Fenshawe, who was waiting to
escort her on board.
"No. That is Mr. King, the young man Irene told you about."
"Oh, indeed! Rather an Apollo Belvidere, don't you think?"
"He seems to be a nice young fellow, quite well-mannered, and that sort
of thing. And it imposes somewhat of a strain on the imagination to
picture him in the scant attire popular at Delphi."
Mr. Fenshawe was not without a dry humor, but Mrs. Haxton was pleased
to be amused.
"What a light-hearted creature you are!" she cried, "I envy you your
high spirits. Personally, I feel utterly downcast at the prospect of a
sea voyage. It always blows a mistral, or some other horrid thing, when
I cross the Mediterranean. Are you sure that little bridge won't move
the instant I step on it? I have quite an aversion to such jim-crack
Mrs. Haxton's timidity did not prevent her from noting the arrival of a
telegraph messenger on a bicycle. He was reading the name of the yacht
when she said:
"Come here, boy. Have you a telegram for me?"
She used excellent French, and the messenger handed her the small blue
envelope he was carrying. The lady dropped her eyeglasses, and scanned
the address quickly before she read it aloud.
"Richard Royson, British Yacht Aphrodite, Marseilles," she announced,
after a moment's pause.
"Who is Richard Royson?" she went on, looking from Mr. Fenshawe to the
nearest officer of the ship, who happened to be Royson himself.
The incident was so unexpected that Dick reddened and hesitated. Yet he
saw no reason why he should not proclaim himself.
"That message is meant for me, madam," he said.
"For you? But Mr. Fenshawe has just said that your name is King?"
"Baron von Kerber bestowed that name on me, but he acted under a
misapprehension. My name is Royson."
"How odd! How excessively odd!"
Mrs. Haxton seemed to forget her fear of the gangway. Advancing with
sure and easy tread she gave Dick his telegram. And he was conscious,
during one unhappy minute, that Irene, and Captain Stump, and Mr.
Fenshawe, each in varying degree, shared Mrs. Haxton's opinion as to
the exceeding oddity of the fact that any one should be masquerading on
board the Aphrodite under an assumed name.
MISS FENSHAWE SEEKS AN ALLY
Royson was not in the least nonplussed by this recurrence of a dilemma
for which he was not responsible. Von Kerber, of course, could have
extricated him with a word, but von Kerber, for reasons of his own,
remained, invisible. So Dick threw his head back in a characteristic
way which people soon learnt to associate with a stubborn resolve to
see a crisis through to the end. He ignored Mrs. Haxton, and spoke to
"I am glad the question of my right name has been raised," he said.
"When Baron von Kerber comes on deck I shall ask him to settle the
matter once and for all."
"Just so," said Stump, "I would if I was you."
"The really important thing is the whereabouts of our cabins,"
interrupted Mrs. Haxton's clear drawl.
"Take the ladies aft,—Mr. Royson,—an' let 'em choose their quarters,"
directed Stump curtly.
Dick would have obeyed in silence had not Miss Fenshawe thought fit to
help him. She had found Mrs. Haxton's airs somewhat tiresome during the
long journey from London, and she saw no reason why that lady should be
so ready to bring a hornet's nest about Royson's ears.
"We are not in such a desperate hurry to bestow our belongings that you
cannot read your telegram," she said to Dick. Then she favored Stump
with a frank smile. "I know you mean to start almost immediately,
captain, and it is possible that Mr. Royson may wish to send an answer
before we leave Marseilles. You won't be angry if he waits one moment
before he shows us to our staterooms?"
"Not at all, miss," said the skipper, "he's at your service. I can do
Stump was angry with Dick, and did not hesitate to show it. A blunt
man, of plain speech, he resented anything in the nature of
double-dealing. Royson's remarkable proficiency in most matters bearing
on the navigation of a ship had amazed him in the first instance, and
this juggling with names led him to suspect some deep-laid villainy
with which the midnight attack on von Kerber was not wholly unconnected.
But the person most taken aback by Irene's self-assertion was Mrs.
Haxton. A firm attitude on the girl's part came as an unpleasing
novelty. An imperious light leaped to her eyes, but she checked the
words which might have changed a trivial incident into a sharp tussle
"I am sorry," she said quietly. "Telegrams are important things,
sometimes. And the messenger is waiting, too."
Thus, under the fire of many eyes, Royson tore open the petit bleu,
and read its typewritten contents. The words were brief, but
"Better return to England forthwith. I undertake full responsibility
for advice, and guarantee you against loss, Forbes."
"Forbes," undoubtedly, was his uncle's solicitor. But how was it
possible that he should have discovered the name of the yacht and her
port of departure? And why did he, a methodical old lawyer, not only
disobey his client's strict injunctions that no help or assistance of
any sort was to be given to a rebellious nephew, but ignore Dick's own
wishes, and address him as Royson, not as King?
There were twenty questions which might be asked, but staring at the
flimsy bit of paper, with its jerky lettering, would not answer any of
them. And the issue called for instant decision. Already, in obedience
to a signal from Stump, men were standing by the fixed capstans on the
mole ready to cast off the yacht's hawsers. Perhaps Sir Henry Royson
was dying? Even in that unlikely event, of what avail was a title with
nothing a year? Certainly, the solicitor's cautious telegram might be
construed into an offer of financial aid. That reading implied a more
cheerful view than he had taken hitherto of his prospects with regard
to the Cuddesham estate. Yet, the only way in which he could meet Mr.
Forbes's wishes was to spring ashore then and there, if such a
proceeding were practicable, and abandon the adventure whose strange
by-ways were already opening up before his mind's eye.
Then Irene said sympathetically:
"I hope you have not received any bad news, Mr.—Royson."
The captain's pause before addressing him by his real name was intended
to be ironical. Not so the girl's hesitancy. Interpreting Dick's mood
with her woman's intuition, she felt that he wished to drop any
subterfuge now, no matter what his motive might have been in adopting
Her voice broke the spell which the telegram, with its curious
phrasing, had cast on him.
"No, Miss Fenshawe, not bad news, certainly. Indeed, it was the absence
of any sort of news that troubled me for a moment. Chasseur!"
"Oui, m'sieu'," and the messenger raised his hat.
"Voila!" Dick threw him a franc. "Il n'a pas de reponse."
"Merci bien, m'sieu'."
That spinning of a coin through the air showed that Royson had made up
his mind. He had tossed with Fortune, and cared not who won.
The messenger drew away from the gangway, and entered into a
conversation with the driver of the omnibus. Stump nodded to a man on
the quay. The forward mooring rope was cleared, and fell into the water
with a loud splash. Two sailors ran the gangway on board. An electric
bell jarred in the engine-room, and the screw revolved, while the
rattle of the steering chains showed that the helm was put hard a-port.
When the Aphrodite moved slowly astern, her bow swung towards the
mouth of the dock. The indicator rang again, twice, and the yacht,
after a pause, began to forge ahead. Another splash, and the second
hawser was cast loose. The mole, the neighboring ships, the landward
quays and the warehouses thereon, seemed to diminish in size without
any perceptible cause, and, in a space of time that might have been
measured by seconds rather than minutes, the Aphrodite was throbbing
Mrs. Haxton, whose eagerness to inspect her stateroom had gone, was
hailed pleasantly by Irene.
"Now, because I asked you to wait, you shall have first choice," she
said, "Lead on, Mr. Royson. Let us see our dens."
But Baron von Kerber came running along the deck, all smiles and
welcoming words, and it was evident that some reason other than
physical unfitness had kept him out of sight until the yacht's voyage
was actually commenced. Dick heard him explaining coolly that he had
met with a slight accident on arriving at Marseilles overnight. Some
difficulty in dressing, he said, combined with the phenomenal
punctuality of the train de luxe, accounted for his tardy appearance,
but the ladies would find that the steward had everything in readiness,
and Mr. Fenshawe was too experienced a voyageur not to make himself
at home instantly. Rattling on thus agreeably, he led the way aft.
In the midst of his explanations, he saw that Dick was accompanying the
party, and told him, rather abruptly, that his services were not
required. In no amiable mood, therefore, the second officer went to the
upper deck, where the skipper was growling his views to Tagg about the
mysterious incident of the telegram. It was a moment of tension, and
something might have been said that would tend to place Royson and the
captain at arm's length if the Aphrodite had not taken it into her
head to emulate Miss Fenshawe's action by coming to Dick's assistance.
The little vessel remembered that which Stump paid small heed to, and
Notwithstanding her half-deck saloon, with the tiny chart-house perched
thereon, and the narrow bridge that gave her a steamer-like aspect, she
was rigged as a topsail schooner, her sharp lines and consequent extra
length affording full play to her fore-and-aft sails. Her first owner
had designed her with set purpose. It was his hobby to remain in
out-of-the-way parts of the world for years at a time, visiting savage
lands where coal was not procurable, and he trusted more to sails than
to engine-power. But Stump, and his chief officer, and nearly every
sailor on board, being accustomed to steam, despised windjammers, and
pinned their faith to the engines.
With a favorable wind such as was blowing at the moment, or to steady
the yacht in a cross sea, the captain would have set a foresail and
jib. To help the propeller was good seamanship, but to bank the
engine-room fires and depend wholly on sails was the last thing he
would think of. Hence, the Aphrodite straightway taught him a sharp
lesson. While Stump was ruminating on the exact, form of some scathing
remark for Royson's benefit, a sudden stoppage of the screw, and an
ominously easy roll over the crest of the next sea, showed that the
engines were idle.
Stump hurled a lurid question down the speaking-tube. The engineer's
equally emphatic reply told him that there was a breakdown, cause not
stated. Now, the outer roadstead of Marseilles harbor is one of the
most awkward places in the Mediterranean for a disabled vessel. Though
the Gulf of Lions is almost tideless, it has strong and treacherous
currents. The configuration of the rocky coast, guarded as it is by
small islands and sunken reefs, does not allow much seaway until a
lighthouse, some miles distant from the mainland, is passed. Stump, of
course, would have made use of the ship's sails before she drifted into
peril. But he was purple with wrath, and the necessary commands were
not familiar to his tongue.
Therefore, he hesitated, though he was far from remaining silent, and
Royson, never at a loss when rapidity of thought and action was
demanded, took the lead. He woke up the crew with a string of orders,
rushed from foremast to mainmast and back to the bows again to see that
the men hauled the right ropes and set the sails in the right way, and,
had the Aphrodite bowling along under canvas in less than two minutes
after the stopping of the screw. Not until every sheet was drawing and
the yacht running free did it occur to him that he had dared to assume
unto himself the captain's prerogative.
Rather red-faced and breathless, not only from his own exertions but by
reason of the disconcerting notion which possessed him, he raced up the
short companion-ladder leading from the fore deck to the bridge. Stump
seemed to be awaiting him with a halter.
"I hope I did right, sir, in jumping in like that," gasped Dick. "I
thought it best to get steering way on the yacht without delay, and—"
"Wot's yer name now?" roared Stump, glowering at him in a manner which
led Dick to believe he had committed an unpardonable offense.
"Still the same, sir—Royson."
"I thought p'raps it might ha' bin Smith, as you're such a lightnin'
change artist. Just bung in to the engine-room, will you, an' find out
wot that son of a gun below there is a-doing of?"
"I will go if you like, sir, but I know nothing about engines."
"Take charge here, then. Keep her steady as she goes. You've a clear
course half a mile to westward of that light."
Stump disappeared, and Royson found himself entrusted with full charge
of the vessel ere she had been ten minutes at sea. His gruff commander
could have paid him no greater compliment.
In the engineer, a man from West Hartlepool, the captain met one who
spoke the vernacular.
"It's no good a-dammin' me because there's a flaw in a connectin' rod,"
he protested, when Stamp's strenuous questioning allowed him to explain
matters. "I can't see inside a piece of crimson steel any more'n you
"None of your lip, my lad, or I'll find flaws all over you, P. D. Q.
Can you fix this mess at sea, or must we put back?"
The engineer quailed under Stump's bovine eye.
"It would be better to put back, sir. I may be able to manage, but it's
Stump went aft to consult von Kerber. So speedily had the yacht's
mishap been dealt with that no member of the saloon party was aware of
it, though any sailor among them, would have recognized instantly that
the vessel was traveling under canvas. The Baron, when he heard what
had taken place, was most emphatic in vetoing the suggestion that the
Aphrodite should return to Marseilles, and Stamp was equally
determined hot to sail through, the Straits of Bonifacio in half a gale
of wind. As a compromise, a course was shaped for Toulon, and that port
was made during the afternoon. It was the wisest thing to do, under the
circumstances. Toulon is the French naval base for the Mediterranean,
and her marine chantiers not only repaired the engines in a few
hours, but supplied a set of spare parts, a wise precaution in view of
the yacht's probable sojourn in a locality where castings would be
Thenceforth the voyage proceeded smoothly. Royson took the first
opportunity of explaining to von Kerber how and why the mistake as to
his name had arisen, and the Baron only smiled, in his superior way,
having recovered his somewhat domineering manner from the hour that the
French coast-line sank beneath the horizon.
Stump soon ascertained that the Aphrodite made better weather and
faster running as a schooner than as a steamship when the wind suited,
and Royson's position on board was rendered all the more secure
thereby. For the rest, Dick lived the humdrum life of the ship.
Naturally, he saw a good deal of the occupants of the saloon, but the
acquaintance did not progress beyond formalities. The two ladies read,
and walked, and played bridge with Mr. Fenshawe and the Baron. They
took much interest in Stromboli and the picturesque passage through the
Straits of Messina, and the red glare of Etna kept them on deck for
hours. Then the yacht settled down for the run to Port Said, and
arrived at that sunlit abode of rascality on the first of November.
Here the stores and coal bunkers were replenished, but no member of the
crew was allowed to land. Cablegrams, letters, and newspapers came in
bundles for the cabin-folk. The only communication of any sort for
officers or men was a letter addressed to Royson by name. Von Kerber
constituted himself postman, and he brought the missive to Dick in
person, but not until the Aphrodite had entered the canal after
shipping her French pilot and search-light.
He was annoyed, though he veiled his ill-humor under an affected
"How came you to give Port Said as a port of call to one of your
correspondents?" he asked.
"I did not," said Dick, whose surprise was genuine enough to disarm
"Then some one has made a very accurate guess, yes?" sneered the other.
"I expected no letter from any person under the sun, and I certainly
told no one I was passing through Port Said, for the sufficient reason
that I never even thought of the place until you informed me yourself,
sir, that we were bound for the Red Sea."
"It is strange. Well, here is your letter. Perhaps, when you have read
it, you may understand how the thing happened. I wished our destination
to remain hidden, from the general public, and you are the only man on
board, except Mr. Fenshawe and myself, whose whereabouts are known in
Now it chanced that the postmark was illegible, and, furthermore, that
von Kerber had already read the letter by adopting the ingenious plan
of the Russian censor, who grips the interior sheet in an instrument
resembling a long, narrow curling-tongs, and twists steadily until he
is able to withdraw it uninjured. But Stiff legal note-paper is apt to
bear signs of such treatment. Somewhat later in the day, Royson saw
these things, and was perplexed. At the moment, he merely broke open
It was a brief communication from Mr. Forbes. "I telegraphed to you at
Marseilles," it said, "and have ascertained that my message was
delivered to you. I regret your apparent decision not to fall in with
my request. Sir Henry Royson is ill, almost dangerously so, and I have
reason to believe that he wishes to make amends to you for his past
attitude. I received your letter, wherein you stated that you were
shipping on some vessel under the name of King, but I had little
difficulty in tracing you to Mr. Fenshawe's yacht, and I do not feel
justified in recognizing your unnecessary alias. Again, I advise you to
return. I am sure that your employer, a most estimable man, will not
place any difficulties in your way. If you leave the Aphrodite at
Port Said or Ismalia, and send me a cablegram, I will remit by cable
funds sufficient for your needs."
Dick had deemed this disturbing problem dead and done with. He had not
hesitated at Marseilles, nor was he less decided now. He held out the
letter to von Kerber frankly, little thinking how close a scrutiny had
been given to his face while he was learning its contents.
"Read it," he said, "and you will see for yourself that I am in no way
Von Kerber seemed to be taken aback by this display of confidence.
"No, no," he said loftily. "I do not wish it. I have your word. That is
"May I send an answer?"
"Yes, from Suez."
And the incident might have ended there had it not been brought into
sharp prominence that evening. Mr. Tagg took the first watch, from
eight o'clock to midnight. Under ordinary conditions, Royson, who was
free until four in the morning, would have gone to his cabin and slept
soundly. But, like many another who passes through the great canal for
the first time, he could not resist the fascination of the ship's
noiseless, almost stealthy, passage through the desert.
After supper, while enjoying a pipe before turning in, he went forward
and stood behind the powerful electric lamp fitted in the bows to
illumine the narrow water-lane which joins East and West. The broad
shaft of light lent a solemn beauty to the bleak wastes on either hand.
In front, the canal's silvery riband shimmered in magic life. Its
nearer ripples formed a glittering corsage for the ship's tapered stem,
and merged into a witches' way of blackness beyond. The red signal of a
distant gare, or station, or the white gleam of an approaching
vessel's masthead light, shone from the void like low-pitched stars.
Overhead the sky was of deepest blue, its stupendous arch studded with
stars of extraordinary radiance, while low on the west could be seen
the paler sheen of departing day. At times his wondering eyes fell on
some Arab encampment on the neighboring bank, where shrouded figures
sat round a fire, and ghostly camels in the background raised ungainly
heads and gazed at the ever-mysterious sight of the moving ship.
The marvelous scene was at once intimate and remote. Its
distinguishable features had the sense of nearness and actuality of
some piece of splendid stagecraft, yet he seemed to be peering not at
the rigid outlines of time but rather into the vague, almost
terrifying, depths of eternity. And it was a bewildering fact that this
glimpse into the portals of the desert was no new thing to him. Though
never before had his mortal eyes rested on the far-flung vista, he
absorbed its soothing glamour with all the zest of one who came back to
a familiar horizon after long sojourn in pent streets and tree-shrouded
Time and again he strove to shake off this eerie feeling, but it was
not to be repelled. He fought against its dominance, and denounced its
folly, yet his heart whispered that he was not mistaken, that the
majestic silence conveyed some thrilling message which he could not
understand. How long he stood there, and how utterly he had yielded to
the strange prepossession of his dream, he scarce realized until he
heard a soft voice close behind him.
"Is that you, Mr. Royson?" it said, and he was called back from the
unknown to find Miss Fenshawe standing near.
"I beg your pardon," he stammered. "I was—so taken up with this—to
me—most entrancing experience—"
"That you did not hear my fairy footsteps," she broke in, with a quiet
laugh. "Do not apologize for that. I am wearing list slippers, so my
ghostlike approach is easily accounted for. And I am really very
greatly relieved at having found you at all. I was afraid you had left
the ship without my knowledge."
"But how could that be possible, Miss Fenshawe?" he asked, startled out
of his reverie by her peculiar phrase.
"Please don't speak so loudly," she said, dropping her voice almost to
a whisper. "I have been looking for you during the past half hour. I
came here twice, but you were so wrapped up in shadow that I failed to
see you, and I was becoming quite anxious, because one of the men
assured me you were not in your cabin."
Dick caught a flurried note in her utterance, a strained desire to
avoid the semblance of that anxiety which she had just admitted. It
puzzled him quite as much as the curious sense of familiarity with his
surroundings, a sense which the girl's unexpected appearance had by no
means dispelled. And he was oddly conscious of a breaking away of the
social barrier of whose existence she, at least, must have been
convinced. The mere whispering together in this lonely part of the ship
might account for it, to some extent, so he braced himself for the
effort to restore her self-control.
"I came here to have a good look at the desert by night," he said. "You
may be sure, Miss Fenshawe, that I had little notion you were searching
for me. It was by the merest accident that I was able to stow myself
out of sight in this particular locality."
She laughed softly again, and her manner became perceptibly less
"A big man and a small ship—is that it?" she asked. "Tell me, Mr.
Royson, why did that officer of the Guards call you 'King Dick' on the
morning of the carriage accident?"
Had the girl racked her brain for a day to frame a question intended to
perplex Royson she could not have hit on one of more penetrating
effect. He was astounded not because she had heard Paton's exclamation,
but by reason of the flood of light which her recollection of it at
that moment poured on his own wandering thoughts.
"It is a most amazing thing that you should ask me that, Miss
Fenshawe," he cried.
"Sh-s-s-h. I have always imagined you to be a man who would smile in
the midst of earthquakes, yet here you are quite dazzled by a harmless
bit of feminine curiosity. Don't you wish me to know how you came by
that nickname? I suppose it is one?"
"There is no other in whom I would confide so willingly," he said.
"Promise you will not laugh at me if I tell you more than you bargain
"What? Is there humor in the story?"
"Let us see. I am hardly a fair judge. At present I am more than
mystified. It is easy enough to explain why I was called 'King Dick' at
school. That is a mere preface to my romance. One of the cherished
traditions of my family is that we are lineal descendants of King
Richard the First of England."
"The statement lends itself to disbelief, I admit—"
"Why do you think me disbelieving?"
"Pray forgive me, Miss Fenshawe. I am in doubting mood myself to-night.
At any rate, the lineage of the Roysons has not been disputed during
many centuries. Our name is part of our proof, and there has been a
Richard Royson associated with Westmoreland ever since Coeur-de-Lion
returned from Palestine. That is the kind of family asset a boy will
brag of. Joined to a certain proficiency in games, it supplies a
ready-made nickname. But the wonderful and wholly inexplicable thing is
that while I have been standing here, watching our head-light dancing
over the desert, the fantastic conceit has invaded my very soul that I
share with my kingly ancestor his love of this land, his ambition to
accomplish great deeds in its secret places, his contempt and scorn of
all opposing influences. Do you remember how he defied a rain of blood
which scared his courtiers? One of his friends has placed on record the
opinion that if an angel from heaven bade Richard abandon his work he
would have answered with a curse. Well, I am poor, and of slight
consequence in the world to-day, but at least it has been vouchsafed me
to understand what a strong man and a king can feel when there are
those who would thwart his will. At present, I am powerless, as little
able to give effect to my energies as Richard himself when pent in an
Austrian prison, but I do ask that some Blondel shall free me, no
matter what the ransom, and that Fate shall set me a task worthy of the
man who fought and dreamed and planned empires out there eight
Royson threw back his head, and stretched his right hand toward the
desert where lay Jaffa and Jerusalem. He was quite carried away by the
magic of the hour. He had brushed aside the cobwebs of society, and
spoke to Irene as a gallant and fearless youth might address the maid
at whose feet he hoped to lay the trophies gained in winning his
knighthood. And she, as might be expected, responded to the passionate
chord which sounded this challenge to fortune. She, too, forgot
convention, for which Heaven be praised!
"You have my prayers for your success," she whispered. "What is more, I
believe in you, and that is why I am here now, for I have come to ask
you, for my sake and the sake of one whom I love, not to leave this
ship until I bid you."
At any other moment such a request must have had a sinister sound.
Coming then, it seemed to be a direct answer to Dick's excited appeal
to the unseen power that governs men's lives. He turned and looked into
her eyes. She was so near to him that he could see the wondrous light
shining in their limpid depths. He felt the fragrance of her presence,
the glow of her tender beauty, and she did not shrink from him when he
placed a protecting hand on her shoulder.
"You need no promise from me, Miss Fenshawe," he said, with a labored
utterance that was wholly unaccountable to him. "Twice already have I
refused to leave you, though I have been summoned to England to resume
an inheritance wrongfully withheld. We are stubborn, we Richards, and
we are loyal, too. It was you, I now believe, who snatched me from
misery, almost from despair. Have no fear, therefore, that I shall
"You have taken a load from my heart," she answered softly. "You are
the only man on board In whom I have any real confidence. I fear that
my grandfather has been misled, wilfully and shamefully misled, but I
am unable to prevent it for lack of proof. But to-night, after dinner,
I chanced to overhear a conversation with reference to you which
redoubled the doubts I have felt ever since this expedition was decided
on. I feel that I must tell you. Baron von Kerber distrusts you because
you are a gentleman. He fears you will act as one if you have to choose
between his interests and your own honor. And today, since your letter
"Yes, ma'am," they heard Captain Stump shout from the bridge, "Miss
Fenshawe is forrard, with Mr. Royson. You'll find it a very pretty
sight goin' through the canal on a night like this."
And Mrs. Haxton, hunting the ship for Irene—not to speak of Royson and
the girl herself when in calmer mood—may have wondered why Stump
should trumpet forth his information as though he wished all on board
to hear it. Perhaps it was, as Dick already well knew, that the stout
skipper had good eyesight as well as a kind heart.
AT THE PORTAL
"Why in the world did you hide yourself in this part of the ship,
Irene?" cried Mrs. Haxton, advancing with a rapidity that was in marked
contrast to her usual languid movements. "I have been searching for you
"I have not hidden myself, and you must have missed a rather large
section out of your everywhere," said the girl, with a coolness that
Royson found admirable.
"But Mr. Fenshawe wants you. He has been vainly awaiting his partner at
the bridge table during the past twenty minutes."
"I would never have believed grandfather could be so callous. Play
cards here! Where every prospect pleases and only bridge is vile! Let
me bring him forth at once. Good night, Mr. Royson! Thank you so much
for a nice talk. I think I shall be able now to pass an examination in
the history and geography of the Suez Canal."
Dick lifted his cap, silently thanking Providence that women were more
adroit than men. Mrs. Haxton seemed to take no notice of him. Indeed,
she had scarcely spoken to him since they met at Marseilles, and, were
he a vain man, such studied neglect on the part of a pretty woman might
have supplied food for thought. Yet it is possible that Mrs. Haxton
herself would confess to a certain chagrin if she realized how small a
place she occupied in his mind as he followed her along the deck. Irene
flitted in front, light-limbed and agile, humming gaily a verse of some
song, but breaking off in the midst to ask Captain Stump not to be very
angry if she brought a party of invaders to his tiny domain. She was
young enough, not to feel fluttered by the knowledge that Mrs. Haxton
had broken in on a somewhat dangerous interchange of confidences. She
knew that she wanted a friend—some one less opinionative than Mr.
Fenshawe—to whom she could appeal for help and guidance when
difficulties arose. Royson was already a hero in her eyes, and what
more natural than that she should turn to him, especially under the
circumstances which had come to her knowledge that evening? As for
Dick, he fancied that the Suez Canal was one of the roads to Heaven.
Before he climbed into his bunk, however, he re-read Mr. Forbes's
letter, and noticed then that it bore signs of interference, while von
Kerber, if he had not opened it, must have jumped to the conclusion
that it came from London solely because the stamp was an English one.
Added to Irene's veiled warning that all was not well on board, this
apparent tampering with his correspondence bore an ugly look. It almost
suggested that the Baron feared he was what the London inquiry agent
had asked him to become—the paid spy of Alfieri. He wondered what hold
the Italian had on the man. Now that he was able to examine recent
events in perspective, he saw that von Kerber had traveled alone from
London with the hope of throwing off his track any one who was watching
him—and had failed. It was evident, too, that neither Mr. Fenshawe nor
his granddaughter, nor Mrs. Haxton for that matter, took pains to keep
their whereabouts unknown, because Dick had seen an announcement of the
Aphrodite's cruise in a London newspaper brought on board by the
pilot. Von Kerber's name was not mentioned, but the others were
described briefly, the reference to Mrs. Haxton being that she was "a
persona grata in Anglo-Egyptian society." Why, then, did the Austrian
demand such secrecy from the yacht's crew, and be so perturbed by the
advent of a letter addressed to one of them? But Royson's disposition
was far too happy-go-lucky to permit of serious ponderings on other
people's business. He laughed and reddened a little when his mind swung
round to the more pleasing memory of the girl's frank sympathy, and he
told himself, with deep and convincing earnestness, that next time they
met he must guard his unruly tongue, else it might run away with him
again, and find her in less receptive mood.
Then he fell asleep, and slept soundly, too, in blissful ignorance of a
conversation then taking place in the chart-house, though it had the
most direct bearing on his own future.
For von Kerber had seized the opportunity, when Mr. Fenshawe and the
two ladies went below, to draw Stump into private conclave.
"We reach Suez to-morrow, captain," he said, "and that will be our last
chance of getting rid of any of the crew whom you think unsuitable."
"That's so," agreed Stump, "but I can't say I've blacklisted any of
'em. The on'y fault I find with 'em is that there's too many hands for
"Ah, you regard them as dependable, yes?"
"Good for any game you like to put before 'em," was the brisk summary.
"That is what I want. But tell me, captain, will you be able to replace
Mr. Royson? I believe he is useful when it comes to sailing the yacht,
yet I have no doubt you can dispense with him?"
Stomp was shrewd in a limited way. He caught the drift of von Kerber's
comment, and it did not help to further the scheme which the latter had
"Mr. Royson?" came the quick growl. "What of him? Next to Tagg, he's
the best man in the crowd."
"Possibly, but I have reason to believe that he wishes to return to
"He hasn't said so."
"Not to you, perhaps, but I know it is so, and I do not wish to detain
him when our numbers are already ample for all purposes. I am awkwardly
placed in the matter, as Mr. Fenshawe feels under a slight obligation
to him, so I shall be glad if you will pay him off to-morrow, on a
generous basis, of course, with every allowance for the expenses of the
"Wot?" said Stump, moving restlessly under von Kerber's fixed gaze.
"D'ye mean it, mister?"
"I do, most certainly."
"Then you'd better fix the business yourself. You engaged him, like the
rest of us. I like the lad, and I'd take it ill to be axed to fire him.
No, sir. That ain't in my department this trip. It'd be a bird of
another color if he was no good. But he's a first-rater, an' I, for
one, will be sorry to lose him. If you don't take my word for it, ax
Tagg. He knows a man when he see him, does Tagg, an' he hasn't
forgotten that upper cut Mr. Royson gev' a land shark in Marseilles
when the crowd set about you."
Stump was profoundly moved, or he would not have made such a long
speech, and von Kerber knew that his flank attack had failed. Indeed,
the gruff sailor had as good as charged him with rank ingratitude.
"Oh, if you think that way about it," said he coolly, "we can let the
project drop for the present. I was only considering Mr. Royson's own
interests. Whether he goes or stays, it does not concern me in the
least. Have a cigarette? Ah, you prefer a pipe, yes? Well, good night,
captain. We shall not be rocked to sleep by the wild waves to-night, I
Stump joined Tagg on the bridge. He jerked a thumb after the Baron's
"That German swab wants me to boot Royson," he muttered.
"Boot Royson? The idee! Wot for?"
"He piled it on thick about wot he called Royson's own interests, but I
knew better'n that. It don't suit his book for our dandy second mate to
be sparkin' the owner's granddaughter abaft the lantern. You take my
tip, Tagg, that other woman, Mrs. Haxton, is as mean as, sin, an' she
blew the gaff to-night when she dropped on 'em after supper."
"I've always thought her a bit of a cat," agreed Tagg.
"An' wot did you say?"
"Say, I tole 'im to do his dirty work hisself. Mark my words, Tagg,
he'll not tackle the job for fear it comes to the gal's ears. You watch
him close up like an oyster."
Stump was a prophet worthy of honor, though Dick did not appreciate the
Baron's friendly solicitude about his affairs until long afterwards.
But he did learn by chance how amply justified Irene was in her fear
that he might be asked to leave the ship. The Aphrodite was spinning
down the Gulf of Suez late next day, under all her snowy spread of
sail, when Royson went aloft to assure himself that a stiff pulley on
the fore yard was in good working order. He found that it needed a
slight readjustment, and the alteration, was troublesome owing to the
strain of a steady breeze. He persevered, put matters right, and was
climbing down to the deck when, through the foresail, he heard voices
discussing none other than himself.
Mrs. Haxton and von Kerber had strolled, forward, and were leaning over
the side of the ship, never dreaming that the man they were talking of
was within a few feet of them above their heads, though hidden by the
"I was exceedingly surprised to find that he was not sent ashore with
the pilot at Suez," the lady was saying. "No matter what his present
position may be, he is a baronet's nephew and prospective heir it would
seem. It is sheer madness on your part to keep a man like him on board."
"But I tell you that I asked Stump to discharge him, and met with a
blank refusal," replied the Baron irritably.
"That is even more amazing. Are not these men your servants?"
"Yes, in a sense. Try to understand me, Maud. I had to select men of
good character, or they might fail me in the hour of real need. If you
hire pirates you must expect them to act like pirates, yes? Stump
favors Royson, so he pointed out that as I had engaged him I must
dismiss him. And you know quite well, if you would only be reasonable,
that any such action on my part could hardly fail to arouse some
measure of doubt in Fenshawe's mind, which is the very thing we wish to
"I think you are wrong, nevertheless."
"You should not say that if you are not prepared to tell me how I could
arrange an awkward business better. And what are you afraid of? He is
as keen as any of us for the adventure, and he will be well paid if it
"You are a poor conspirator, my dear Franz," laughed Mrs. Haxton
disagreeably. "If you were really the clever person you think yourself
you would know that such a man may leaven the whole crew with his ideas
of honor. And, when the pressure comes, he will have an excellent
helper in that girl. She, too, should have been left at home. Oh,
nonsense! Had you given me the ordering of affairs neither she nor this
young down-at-heels aristocrat would be here today. I am not saying
this merely to annoy you, as you seem to believe, but to warn you. Be
on your guard, Franz. Things are going too smoothly. No great fortune
was ever yet won without a hitch or two on the road, and we are not far
from the Five Hills now."
They moved away. Dick went back to his pulley, surveyed the deck over
the fore yard, and deferred his descent until "Franz" and "Maud" were
at the other end of the vessel. Since they came on board they had been
"Baron von Kerber" and "Mrs. Haxton" in the presence of others. What
desperate game were they playing that demanded these small
deceits—what hazard of fortune was it that gave rise to the woman's
Cassandra-like forebodings? Von Kerber had been candid enough in the
statement he put forward voluntarily at Marseilles. Any one could guess
the uncertainties of a quest depending on a document two thousand years
old, while its dangers were manifest. Mr. Fenshawe and Irene must be
cognizant of the open risks, and it was idle to suppose that they did
not appreciate the unobtrusive way in which the yacht was being hurried
to her destination. Why, then, should von Kerber and Mrs. Haxton share
some secret understanding, the outcome of which was doubtful, and,
above all else, why should they fear the influence that a young and
unknown man might exercise on the crew?
"Egypt is the land of riddles," mused Dick, as he gazed at the russet
and purple hills which spring up so suddenly to guard the strange sea
thrust by nature into the bosom of a fiery land. "My best course is to
adopt the attitude of the Sphinx. I shall keep my eyes open and say
He forgot, however, that the chief characteristic of the Sphinx is an
enduring patience, and he chafed at the colorless monotony of the next
few days. The Aphrodite crept under sail five hundred miles to the
south, until the wind died of sheer exhaustion. Then the engines took
their turn, and the yacht exchanged the steady roll of a topsail
schooner for the quivering uneasiness of a steam-driven ship. But sail
or steam, the pace was slow, and the passage of the Red Sea left its
record on the smart little vessel in the shape of blistered paint,
gaping seams, and planks from which the sweated pitch was no sooner
holy-stoned than it oozed forth again to smear their purity. Though
stout awnings defied the direct fury of the sun they could not shut out
its glare and furnace heat. And the human barometer showed the stress
of life. Stump was a caldron in himself, Tagg a bewhiskered malediction
in damp linen. The temper of the crew, stifling in crowded quarters,
suggested—that they were suffering from a plague of bolls. As a mere
pastime, there was an occasional fight in the forecastle. Unhappily for
the disputants, Stump had a ready ear for these frays, and he would
rush in to settle them with a vigor that left the pugilists prostrate.
Then he would recover his caustic humor for half an hour, and regale
Royson with yarns of things wot happened when the Bed Sea was reelly
hot. This weather was on'y warm. Why, once when he was aboard the
Ocean Queen, her bunker gev' out six hours north o' Perim, but he
whipped the awnin's off, an' the sun kep' up a head o' steam in the
boilers until she ran into port.
The saloon party found existence more endurable. They had adjustable
window-shades, and electric fans, and there was a sheltered deck over
their heads. So they dozed away the hot hours placidly until the
memorable day dawned when Stump, after much close scrutiny of charts,
ventured to leave the safe channel down the center of the Red Sea and
stand in towards the African coast.
"Massowah!" was on every tongue, and the general listlessness vanished.
Soon a dim land-line appeared. It grew into a range of barren
mountains, broken by narrow, precipice-guarded valleys. Then a thin
strip of flat fore-shore became visible. It deepened into a flat
island, barely two miles long, and assumed a habitable aspect. A
lighthouse marked a fine harbor. A custom-house, a fort, several
jetties, and a town of fairly tall buildings stood clear from a
scattered gathering of coral-built Arab houses and hundreds of grass
and mat huts. In a word, man had conquered the wilderness, and a busy
community had sprung into being between the silent sea and the arid
While the Aphrodite was picking her way cautiously to the anchorage
ground, Dick, who was on the bridge with the captain, heard some broken
talk between Mr. Fenshawe and the Baron. The latter, with subdued
energy, was urging some point which the older man refused to yield. The
discussion was keen, and the millionaire betrayed a polite resentment
of his companion's views.
"I am sure the Italian authorities will place no obstacle in our way,"
he declared at last. "When all is said and done, the interest of our
trip is mainly archeological. Why should you hold this absurd notion
that we may be refused official sanction?"
He spoke emphatically, with unveiled impatience. Dick could not make
out the Austrian's reply, but Mr. Fenshawe's next words showed that,
whatever the matter in dispute, he had a will of his own, and meant to
"It is useless to try to convince me on that head," he exclaimed. "I
would turn back this instant rather than act in the way you suggest.
You must allow me to follow my original plan. We shall obtain a valid
permit from the Governor. If, contrary to my expectation, he refers the
final decision to the Italian Foreign Department, we shall await cabled
instructions. Our ambassador at Rome can vouch for us. He is an old
friend of mine, and I only regret that I did not obey my first impulse
and write to him before I left London."
Von Kerber asserted that there was some danger of the Somali Arabs
becoming excited If they heard of the expedition. Mr. Fenshawe laughed.
"Arabs!" he cried. "How long has that bee buzzed In your bonnet. The
only lawless tribes In this country are far away in the interior. And
even they are apt to think many times before they offer active
resistance to the passing of a strong and well-intentioned kafila.
Besides, my dear fellow, we must purchase some portion of our equipment
here. It is secrecy, not candor, that would endanger our mission.
Believe me, you are suffering from Red Sea spleen. It distorts your
normal vision. You certainly took a different view of the situation
when we determined its main features in London."
Royson was careful not to look at the speakers. Between him and them
was seated Mrs. Haxton, and he knew that she, too, was an attentive
listener. Von Kerber began to explain the reasons which lay behind his
change of opinion, but Stump's voice suddenly recalled Dick to his
"Stand by the anchor, Mr. Royson," he said, "and see that everything is
clear when I tell you to let go."
Irene heard the order.
"I want to watch the anchor flop overboard," she announced, springing
up from a deck chair. "I think I shall accompany you, Mr. Royson."
Dick held out his hand to help her down the short companionway. They
had not exchanged many words since that memorable night in the canal,
and the penetrating look in the girl's eyes warned Royson now that she
was about to say something not meant for others to hear.
"You have not forgotten?" she murmured.
"No," he answered.
"When we go ashore you must come with us."
"How can I make sure of that?"
"Ask Captain Stump to send you in charge of the boat. Do you know that
an attempt was made to get rid of you at Suez?"
"Yes, I know that, too."
"Who told you?"
"I overheard a conversation. I could not help it."
"Well, once we are ashore I may have a chance of explaining things
fully. If necessary, tell Captain Stump I wish you to escort us."
They could say no more. The telegraph rang from "Slow" to "Stop her."
Two sailors were waiting in the bows, and had already cleared the
anchor from its chocks. Irene leaned against the rail. She wore a pith
hat, and was dressed in white muslin for shore-going, while a
pink-lined parasol helped to dispel a pallor which was the natural
result of an exhausting voyage. Dick thought he had never seen a woman
with a face and figure to match hers, and it is to be feared that hi
mind wandered a little until he was roused by a bellow from the bridge.
"Stand by, forrard. Let go-o-o!"
Luckily, Dick's office was a sinecure. The men knew what to do, and did
it. With a roar and a rattle the chain cable rushed through the
hawse-pipe, and the Aphrodite rested motionless on the green water of
The yacht's arrival created some stir on shore. Several boats put off,
their swarthy crews contending strenuously which should have the
valuable privilege of landing the expected passengers. Stump bustled
down from the bridge with the important air of a man who had achieved
something, and thus gave Royson an unforeseen opportunity of asking him
about the boat. The skipper swung himself back to the upper deck, and
approached Mr. Fenshawe.
"Are you goin' ashore at once, sir?" he inquired.
"Yes, the sooner the better, or the Government Offices will be closed
for the day."
"Mr. Royson," shouted Stump, "pipe the crew of the jolly-boat, an'
"An Arab boat will be much speedier and more roomy," broke in Mrs.
Haxton, quick to observe that von Kerber was not paying heed to the
"You can land in one of those weird-looking craft If you like," said
Irene, "but I am sure Mr. Fenshawe and I would prefer our own state
barge. It is much more dignified, too, and I really think we ought to
impress the natives. Don't you agree with me, Baron von Kerber?"
There was nothing more to be said. The boat was lowered so smartly that
Dick was seated at the tiller, and four ash blades were driving her
rapidly shoreward, before the leading crew of panting Somalis reached
the ship's side. They secured two passengers, however. Mrs. Haxton, who
had declined a seat in the jolly-boat on the score of the intense heat,
changed her mind, and the captain elected to go with her.
"I want to cable my missus," he announced, "an' Massowah is likely to
be our last port for some time. If she don't hear from me once a month,
she frets. That's where Tagg has the pull. He's an orfin."
Mrs. Haxton smiled delightedly. She was watching the distant
jolly-boat, and something seemed to please her.
"Your second mate has not visited Massowah before?" she said.
"We shall be ashore first, after all. He is heading for the Government
jetee, where a sentry will warn him off."
"Oh, you know the ropes here, then?" said Stump. "Not many English
ladies have coasted in these waters."
Mrs. Haxton thought, perhaps, that she had aired her knowledge
unnecessarily, but she explained that when her husband was alive she
had accompanied him during a long cruise in the Red Sea. "He was
interested in cable construction," she said, "and we visited Massowah
when it was first taken In hand by the Italians."
"Excuse me, ma'am, but have you bin long a widdy?"
"Nearly five years."
"By gad," said Stump admiringly, "you must ha' bin a small slip of a
gal when you was married!"
She laughed, with the quiet assurance of a beautiful and well-dressed
woman. Mrs. Haxton could be charming when she chose, and she wanted
Stump to act exactly in accord with her own plans when they reached the
town. By this time the two boats were nearly level, but separated by a
hundred yards or more. The captain had half risen to hail Dick when
Mrs. Haxton stopped him.
"Let them go on," she cried. "They would not take my advice. Now they
will find that we have beaten them by a good five minutes."
Stump knew quite well, of course, that a broad-beamed English boat
could not compete with the long, slim Somali craft, but he was aware
also that Miss Fenshawe and Royson wished to land in company. So he
grinned, and sat down again.
The outcome of these cross purposes was curious in many ways. As Mrs.
Haxton foresaw, the jolly-boat was forbidden to land at the main wharf,
and Royson discovered that the Austrian did not understand Italian. It
was Irene who translated the orders shouted at them by a
brigandish-looking soldier, and they had to pull off in the direction
of a smaller pier where Mrs. Haxton and Captain Stump had already
disembarked in the midst of a crowd of jabbering natives.
"Now, captain," said Mrs. Haxton, with her sweetest smile, pointing to
a white building in the distance, "that is the telegraph-office. We
need not both remain here until our friends arrive. Suppose you go and
send your cablegram in peace. By the time you have written it we shall
be close behind you. Pray don't wait on my account. You see I want to
crow over Miss Fenshawe."
"Just as you like, ma'am," said Stump, lifting his cap awkwardly. He
went at the noisy mob like a battering-ram. "Sheer off, you
black-an'-tan mongrels!" he roared at them. "Go an' ax some one to play
on you with a hose-pipe. Jow, you soors! D'ye think the lady likes to
He cleared a space, and rolled away towards the town. Hence, he did not
notice a gaunt Arab, whose flowing burnous and distinguished air
singled him out from the mixed gathering of nondescripts at the
landing-place, who bided his time until Mrs. Haxton looked in his
direction. Then he salaamed, with a courtly blend of deference and
hauteur, and she beckoned him instantly.
"You are Sheikh Abdullah?" she asked in French.
"Yes, madam," he replied, in the same language.
"You know the town well?"
"I have been waiting here two months."
"Then two more hours will not weary you. Von Kerber Effendi, or I, or
both of us, will meet you outside the Elephant Mosque at five o'clock.
Nevertheless, should there be others with us, do not speak unless we
"Who is he, the red ox?" demanded the Arab, gazing after the broad
figure of Captain Stump.
"He is the captain of our ship, a man of no importance. The Hakim
Effendi is in the approaching boat. With, him is Fenshawe Effendi, the
old, gray-haired man. There is a tall young ship's officer there, too.
His name is Royson—you will not forget?—Royson. He is dangerous.
Regard him well. He might prove troublesome, or useful—I hardly know
which at present. Fenshawe Effendi speaks French and Arabic, Royson
Effendi French only. That is all, for the present. Leave me now."
"Adieu, madame. A cinq heures!"
Drawing back into the mob of natives, who were pressing nearer in their
eagerness to offer themselves for hire to the Europeans in the boat,
Abdullah shaded his swarthy face under, a fold of his burnous. Royson
leaped ashore in order to assist Irene to land. She, with school-girl
glee at emancipation from the narrow decks of the Aphrodite, sprang
on to the low pier at the same instant, and laughed at his surprise at
finding her standing by his side. They both extended a hand to Mr.
Fenshawe, who refused their aid, saying that the first breath of dry
air had made him feel as young as ever.
"There is no tonic like it," he said. "Look at Mrs. Haxton if you want
a proof. She was a lily in London—now she is a rose."
Excitement, or the prospect of success, had certainly given the lady's
complexion a fine tint. Her dainty profile offered a striking contrast
to the motley crew of negroid Arabs who surrounded her. And she came to
meet them in a buoyant spirit, though the fierce sun was scorching her
delicate skin through the thin fabric of her dress.
"I ought to have made a wager with you, Mr. Royson," she cried,
pronouncing his name very distinctly. "Our English-built craft cannot
hold its own against the Somali, you see."
Knowing nothing of the difference of opinion on board the yacht, Dick
could not fathom this sudden graciousness on her part. Before he could
answer, von Kerber's highly-pitched voice broke in.
"Why did Captain Stump come ashore with you?" he asked.
"To send Mrs. Stump a cablegram, I believe," replied Mrs. Haxton
"He ought to have asked my permission first."
The petulant words drew a protest from Mr. Fenshawe.
"My dear Baron," he said, "why should not the poor man make known his
safe arrival to his wife? You are not yourself to-day. What is
it—liver? or anxiety?"
"I have no special reason for anxiety," cried von Kerber, almost
hysterically. Royson came to his relief by asking for orders about the
boat, but the Austrian was so unnerved, for no visible reason, that he
hesitated, and Irene answered for him.
"We have arranged to dine on shore, at the Hôtel Grande del Universo,"
she said. "Mr. Fenshawe wishes Captain Stump and you to join us, so the
boat may go back to the yacht and come for us at eight o'clock. When
you meet Captain Stump, please tell him."
"Excellent!" agreed her grandfather, who now heard of the "arrangement"
for the first time. "Really, Irene, you put things so admirably that I
hardly recognize my own crude thoughts. Well, as that is settled, let
us go straight to the Governor's house. One of these black gentlemen
will pilot us."
While Fenshawe was airing his Arabic in selecting a guide from fifty
volunteers, Dick gave instructions to the boat's crew. Mrs. Haxton,
seeing that Irene was all eyes for her new and strange surroundings,
read von Kerber a much-needed lecture.
"For goodness' sake gather your wits," she murmured. "You will arouse
general suspicion by your foolish precautions. Now listen. Before five
o'clock let us all gather at the hotel for tea. Slip away on some
pretext, and go instantly to the Elephant Mosque. It is in the main
street, three hundred yards to the left of the hotel. I shall join you
there if possible, but, in any event, you'll meet Abdullah. And,
whatever you do, stop this nonsense about proceeding in secret. Ah,
yes, Irene, your grandfather has his hands full. But he knows how to
manage natives. You will see him in his element when we come to collect
So, smiling and soft-tongued, Mrs. Haxton turned in response to some
delighted exclamation from the girl. They made their way inland in the
wake of a swaggering negro, and, as Royson passed with the others,
Abdullah, the Arab, appraised him with critical eye.
"By the Holy Kaaba," said he, "there goes a man! I have seen few like
him, even at Khartoum, where the giaours swarmed in thousands. But he
is young, and his flesh is soft. The desert will thin his blood. And
that little bull, who went before—he, too, should feel the sap dry in
his bones. Tomb of my father! if the Hakim Effendi has brought such men
as these in his train, there will be deeds done at the foot of the Five
Hills, and I, Abdullah the Spear-thrower, shall be there to witness
MRS. HAXTON RECEIVES A SHOCK
Mr. Fenshawe, renewing his acquaintance with Arabic gutturals, and von
Kerber, walking apart with Mrs. Haxton, in order to learn how and when
she had received tidings of Abdullah, had eyes or ears for naught else.
Irene and Dick were thus given a few moments free from listeners, and
the girl was quick enough to grasp the chance.
"You know why we have come here?" she asked in a low tone, halting to
look back at the belt of tiny islets which secludes Massowah's larger
island from the open sea.
"Baron von Kerber told us at Marseilles," said Dick, wondering what new
development had chased from the girl's face the smiling interest of a
"'Us'?" she demanded, almost sharply.
"I should have said Captain Stump, Mr. Tagg, and myself."
"What did he tell you?"
"The remarkable history of a Roman expedition against the Sabaeans, of
a storm, a shipwreck, the burial of a vast treasure, and the ultimate
discovery of its hiding-place by means of a Greek papyrus found in a
"That is what irritates me," said she, in a sudden gust of anger. "His
behavior is faultless, yet I am certain that he is acting in an
underhanded way. I have ventured to say as much to my grandfather, but
I cannot obtain a shred of actual fact to justify my suspicions. Indeed
Baron von Kerber is candor itself where the genuineness of the papyrus
is concerned. Did he endeavor to explain Mrs. Haxton's presence, or
"When Captain Stump protested—before he had seen you,
remember—against ladies accompanying us, the Baron said that without
you the expedition could not proceed."
"Exactly. That is another bit of unconvincing accuracy. Mrs. Haxton has
always been an essential part of the scheme. I am here solely because I
did not think Mr. Fenshawe should be allowed to go alone—alone in the
sense that these people were strangers to him, while he was spending
many thousands of pounds for their very great benefit. There, again, I
find myself in a sort of verbal cul de sac. Under other circumstances
I should be delighted to take part in an adventure of this kind.
Grandad promised me two years ago that we should pass the present
winter in Upper Egypt. Unhappily, Mrs. Haxton introduced von Kerber to
him at a place in the Highlands where we were invited for the shooting.
The instant he heard of the legend on that wretched scrap of paper all
his old enthusiasm for exploration work revived, and he has followed
their plans blindly ever since."
"I hope you will forgive me if I express a somewhat contrary opinion,
Miss Fenshawe," said Royson. "Your grandfather did not hesitate to run
counter to the Baron's wishes to-day, for instance."
"Oh, that is nothing. Of course, with his experience of Egypt, he takes
the lead in such matters. What I want you to believe is this: Mrs.
Haxton, and not von Kerber, found that papyrus, or it came into her
hands by some means. She is the originator of the scheme. She sought to
be included in our friend's party at Glengarloch with the set object of
meeting grandad, whose interest in archeology is known to all the
world. She did not come across von Kerber by accident, but produced him
at the right moment. He is not a casual friend, met in Cairo, as she
pretends, but a man whom she has known for years. And, last in a list
of guessings which I know to be true, they both fear some discovery, or
interruption, or danger not revealed to us, which may prevent them from
obtaining the wealth they hope to gain. They are desperately poor, Mr.
Royson. They have mortgaged their credit to its utmost extent to enable
them to keep up appearances, and they dread some catastrophe which will
interfere with our search, though the only authority we have for the
existence of the Roman legion's loot is a scrap of scarcely
decipherable writing, which, though genuine enough, may be nothing
better than a madman's dream."
"Have you told Mr. Fenshawe these things?" asked Dick. His pledged word
to von Kerber interposed an awkward barrier against that complete
confidence which he would gladly have given to one who had so curiously
amplified his own doubts.
"Yes, everything, but he only laughs, and bids me remember that I am
not yet twenty. He says that there are stranger things buried beneath
the dust of Egypt than all the learned societies have succeeded in
revealing. He is quite content that the cruise of the Aphrodite
should be a wild-goose chase so long as the evidence of the papyrus is
proved to be false. And that is my chief stumbling-block. Perhaps you
do not realize that, to an antiquarian, the search yields as keen
pleasure as the find. The cost of this expedition is a matter of no
consequence to my grandfather, and I repeat that, under other
conditions, I should regard it as a most enjoyable and memorable
excursion. But these two people have made me nervous, and that is why I
was determined they should not get rid of you at Suez, because I felt
that I could trust you with my doubts and fears, and look to you for
help should an emergency arise. Otherwise, Mr. Fenshawe and I would be
at their mercy."
"You can count on me to the end," said Royson earnestly, "but I would
ask you not to forget that the officers and crew are all Englishmen,
and, from what I have seen of them, they would never lend themselves to
any undertaking which meant actual treachery to their employers."
"That, of course, is excellent so far as it goes," was the tart
response, "but I am also aware that our enterprising Baron has very
adroitly bound all of you to secrecy, and exacted a promise of
faithfulness to his interests. The result is that not even you, Mr.
Royson, told me anything about the attack made on him at Marseilles—"
This counter-stroke was unexpected, and Royson glanced at her with some
degree of embarrassment.
"He persuaded us that if the incident came to your knowledge it might
alarm you needlessly," he broke in, "and that sounded quite reasonable."
"Exactly. You are beginning to appreciate the pitfalls which awaited me
when I tried to convince my grandfather that he should not credit every
statement made to him. Baron von Kerber is the most plausible of men.
He never tells a downright untruth. Indeed, he speaks the absolute
truth, but only a part of it. Fortunately, my maid heard of your
prowess in routing the Baron's assailants. You at once became a hero
among the sailors, which, by the way, was only fit and proper if you
are destined to fill the rôle played by your distinguished ancestor."
A quiet little smile chased the shadows from her face, and Dick flushed
as he recalled the wild words of that wonderful night in the canal.
"Tagg must have been talking," he managed to say. "Please tell me what
you have heard, Miss Fenshawe."
"Nothing beyond the fact that our Austrian friend was set upon by some
highway robbers while driving from the station to the ship at a late
hour, and that you and Mr. Tagg happened to be near, with disastrous
results to the Marseillais. Does your bond permit you to carry the
story further? What did really happen?"
"There was a rather one-sided fight, because Tagg and I took them by
surprise, but the Baron escaped uninjured, or nearly so."
"Did they rob him, then?"
"I meant that he sustained a couple of slight cuts, and therein you
have another valid reason for his anxiety that the affair should not
reach your ears."
Though her own manner was imperious enough, Irene was manifestly
surprised at the annoyance apparent in Dick's voice. She did not
realize that he was wroth because of the check imposed by the promise
exacted in London. If he told her of the theft of the papyrus, and
explained the few details he possessed with regard to von Kerber's
declared enemy, he would only add fuel to the distrust already planted
in her heart. That would achieve no tangible good, while no casuistry
would wipe away the stain on his own honor. So here was he, burning
with desire to assure her of his devotion, forced into silent pact with
the very conspiracy she was denouncing.
She attributed his sudden gruffness to a distaste for hearing his
"At any rate, you now understand my motive for speaking so plainly, Mr.
Royson," she went on. "You may feel bound by your arrangement with the
Baron, and I have no fault to find on that score, but I am quite,
certain, since I have learnt who you are, that you will not lend
yourself to any discreditable plan which may be in the minds of the
remarkable pair who are now looking at us, and wondering, no doubt,
what we are discussing so earnestly."
Royson saw that von Kerber and Mrs. Haxton were awaiting them at the
door of the post-office, but the personal allusion to himself, which
Miss Fenshawe had dropped, in parenthesis as it were, into her
concluding sentence, demanded a question.
"Will you enlighten me on the interesting point of my identity, then?"
he asked rapidly.
"Oh yes. I take it that your Port Said letter was opened and read. Mrs.
Haxton is skilled at jumping to conclusions, I fancy. She said she
recognized your name at Marseilles—when the telegram arrived, you
know—but, if that were so, it is strange that she should keep the
knowledge to herself until all of us were at dinner after leaving Port
Said. I also can add two and two occasionally, and I have not the
slightest doubt that something in your letter gave her the necessary
clue. Was she mistaken?"
"In the belief that you are the nephew of a baronet, and his heir?"
He laughed pleasantly. After years of indifference, his birthright was
pursuing him with a certain zest.
"You could not have chosen a better example of those half-truths you
complain of," said he. "I admit that my uncle is Sir Henry Royson, but
his heir he vowed I should not be when last we met. Yet the letter you
speak of was from his solicitor, and it held out a vague suggestion of
possibilities which, to put it mildly, would make Mrs. Haxton a
remarkably good guesser."
A silence fell upon them as they neared the others. Irene disdained to
use any subterfuge, and Royson was far too perplexed to branch off into
a new conversation meant for the general ear. Mrs. Haxton and the
Austrian also broke off their talk. They were about to enter the
post-office when Mr. Fenshawe came out.
"Here you are," he cried. "Lots of letters and newspapers. Take them,
Irene, and sort them out. The Baron and I must hurry to the Governor's
house. We can read our correspondence at the hotel."
Von Kerber had evidently profited by his stroll with Mrs. Haxton. He
raised no objection, but went off at once with the older man. Irene
managed to open the bulky, string-tied package entrusted to her. She
gave Mrs. Haxton several letters, and added to Royson's already
bewildered state by handing him three, two being directed to him in his
right name and the third bearing the superscription "Richard King, Esq."
He knew that Miss Fenshawe had noticed the alias, and took it as a
kindly act that she passed no remark on it. He was equally well aware
that Mrs. Haxton was alive to the fact that there were letters for him.
Stump, who made his appearance at the moment, added a whiff of
awkwardness when he saw the envelopes in Dick's hands.
"Hello!" he growled, "you've bin pretty spry. Letters, eh? How did you
"I am not able to tell you," was the frank answer. "Evidently some one
in London discovered the yacht's route long before I knew it myself."
"That's funny," said Stump, with a hint of doubt in the exclamation.
"It is probably a simple enough matter if it were cleared up," said
Irene off-handedly. "The Aphrodite's ports of call are quite open to
the knowledge of any person who takes the trouble to inquire at Mr.
Fenshawe's residence. Mr. Royson will find, no doubt, that his friends
followed that course when he failed to let them know whither the vessel
was bound. But it is too hot to stand here in the sun. Let us go to the
hotel and look through our budget in comfort."
When opportunity served, Dick glanced at his unexpected mail. The two
letters for "Royson" were from Forbes. They bore different dates. The
first stated that Sir Henry Royson was seriously ill, and had given
urgent instructions that his nephew was to be brought to his bedside.
"I have reason to believe," wrote the lawyer, "that your uncle has
sustained some shock, perhaps arising from the sudden receipt of
intelligence hitherto withheld from him, and I would fail in my duty if
I did not urge you to cast aside all other considerations and return to
England at once."
The second letter was even more explicit. "The person from whom I have
received information of your whereabouts," said Mr. Forbes, "has called
on me to-day, and the facts he has laid before me demand your earnest
consideration. He is assured that the treasure-hunting expedition you
have joined is a compound of piracy and rascality, in which Mr.
Fenshawe is a dupe, having been misled by a man who has incurred the
gravest suspicion of felony. The Italian Government is taking steps to
procure this person's arrest, and, whether or not the charges brought
against him be substantiated, it is an assured thing that the movements
of the Aphrodite will be watched, with a view towards the armed
prevention of any landing from her in Italian territory. You must know
that I have the strongest grounds for this statement, or I would not
dare place my opinion in writing. If you think it will serve any useful
purpose, I authorize you to show this letter to Mr. Fenshawe, only
stipulating that I am giving him a friendly warning (which will soon be
verified by events) and that my name must not be used in any
investigation he may choose to make. It may help you to arrive at a
right decision if I tell you that I have traced you with the help of
Lieutenant the Hon. John S. Paton, of the Coldstream Guards, who saw an
advertisement I inserted in the Times, and gave me the date of a
carriage accident in Buckingham Palace Road, in which you seem to have
displayed the courage and resource that might be looked for in one of
your family. Inquiry showed that the carriage was Mr. Fenshawe's, and
one of my clerks, after visiting Mr. Fenshawe's house, was accosted by
a man who was able to prove that he had accurate knowledge of your
movements. I am told that he is writing Mr. Fenshawe fully by this
mail, so, in any event, I feel confident of your early departure from
Massowah, believing, as I do, that Mr. Fenshawe will not continue to
lend his name to an undertaking of bad repute."
The third letter, that addressed to "King," was from a Mr. William
Fielding, "Confidential Inquiry Agent," who revealed himself as Mr.
Forbes's informant. He wrote in similar strain to the solicitor, and
added: "I have directed the envelope to you in the name under which you
shipped on board the Aphrodite, though I am aware that a telegram
sent to you at Marseilles in your proper name reached you. If you will
kindly seek a private interview with Mr. Fenshawe, and tell him how a
man named Alfieri, with others, attacked Baron von Kerber at
Marseilles, and robbed and wounded him without any subsequent protest
on his part, you will help in undoing a great wrong."
Royson was sitting in the balcony veranda on the first floor of the
Hôtel Grande del Universo when his astonished eyes skimmed rapidly
through these letters. Scarce crediting his senses, he read them again,
word by word, striving to extract from their cryptic sentences that
hidden meaning which lay beneath. Outspoken as the solicitor was, he
had evidently left unsaid the major portion of the strange story within
his ken. The new correspondent, too, might or might not be the man whom
Dick had seen in Hyde Park and at Charing Cross Station. But the same
curious guardedness was apparent in each missive. The lawyer dealt in
generalities; the private detective merely asked for the corroboration
of a single detail in the statement which, doubtless, awaited Mr.
Fenshawe's perusal among the letters now piled on a table by the side
of Miss Fenshawe's chair.
At the thought, Dick turned and looked at Irene. She was smiling at
some quip or bit of lively news in a closely-written sheet. Near her,
Mrs. Haxton was engaged more deeply. The letter clasped in her long
slender fingers was as obviously a business document as Irene's was the
crossed and interlined product of a feminine pen overflowing with
gossip. Stump was leaning on the railing of the veranda, contemptuously
heedless of the efforts of half a dozen vendors of carpets, ostrich
feathers, fruit, sweets, and Abyssinian curios, who had gathered in the
street beneath and were endeavoring vociferously to secure his
patronage for their wares. So Dick had leisure to think out a line of
action, and he saw no reason to dispute the soundness of the advice
given him by Mr. Forbes. If the owner of the Aphrodite were
unknowingly lending himself to an illegal quest, it was the duty of an
honest man to warn him. The agreement with von Kerber stood in the way
perhaps. In that case, it must be terminated. Such a resolve was rather
bitter to the taste, but it was unavoidable. To travel home by the next
mail steamer from Aden would be a tame ending to an adventure that
promised so well in its initial stages. And what of his vow not to
desert the girl who had placed her faith in him? Well, he would best
serve her by opening Mr. Fenshawe's eyes to the character of his
associates, for Dick had no manner of doubt that Mrs. Haxton was the
leading spirit in the plot of which the millionaire was the "dupe,"
according to the lawyer.
But Royson had found adversity a hard task-master. He had learnt early
the lesson that a man who takes a leap in the dark should at least jump
from firm ground, and when he asked himself what was the definite
charge he would prefer against von Kerber his logic was brought to an
abrupt halt. In plain English, he depended on a few words in the
solicitor's letter, and these, in their turn, were probably inspired by
the one-sided statements of the Austrian's avowed enemy, Alfieri. This
consideration brought him back to the starting-point in his review of a
puzzling situation. Fielding, whoever he might be, had done the right
thing in placing his case before Mr. Fenshawe by letter. It would serve
to clear the ground, and give scope for the interference of one who
really had no cause of complaint against von Kerber.
"Anyhow," reflected Royson, smiling at the queer manner in which many
opposing interests helped to entangle him in a mesh of difficulties, "I
need not rush my fences. Let Fenshawe read his letter, and, above all
else, let me seek counsel from his granddaughter. Then, by happy
chance, I may hit on the right line." When a young man does not want to
deprive himself of the company of a nice young woman, he may be
depended on to argue himself into a state of mind which does not demand
such a sacrifice.
At that instant Irene rose and told Captain Stump that she agreed with
him—a scrutiny of the chattering mob in the street was more to her
taste than a description of the frocks worn at the last court ball.
Dick pocketed his letters, and would have joined them had he not
noticed that Mrs. Haxton was bending forward in her chair and examining
the mixed pile of correspondence on the table. There was no grave
significance in the action, because a number of magazines and
newspapers were mixed with the heap, and these were more or less common
property. But Royson, knowing of the existence of one document of
exceeding importance, acted on the principle that if opportunity makes
the thief Mrs. Haxton's reputation should remain unsullied that day if
it lay in his power. He lit a cigar, wheeled his chair slightly, and
sat facing her, at a distance of ten or twelve feet. The open railing
of the veranda was half as far away on his right and on Mrs. Haxton's
left. Through the narrow rails they both could see the opposite
pavement, with its dun-colored throng of natives and the gloomy
interiors of several small shops, while the white walls and
close-latticed windows of the upper stories seemed to be bleaching
visibly in the slanting rays of a fierce afternoon sun.
Mrs. Haxton, apparently giving no heed to Royson, glanced listlessly at
the wrappers and postmark. The task seemed to prove uninteresting. Soon
she selected a periodical, and was about to open It when a remark from
Irene caught her ear.
"That Italian standing in front of the grain-dealer's place seems to be
rooted to the ground with astonishment at seeing strangers in the
hotel," said the girl, turning her smiling face towards her companion.
"Them Dagos is impident pups at times, miss," replied Stump, his red
eyes no doubt meeting the man's stare with a fixity that might have
disconcerted most gapers.
"Does he know you, do you think? I happened to see him coming along the
street, and as soon as he saw us he stood stock-still. He has been
gazing up here now for the past two or three minutes."
"I've booted a rare lot of I-talians in my time," said Stump. "I
wouldn't be a bit surprised if he was some loafer I'd helped across a
ship's gangway at Genoa or Naples."
"But, captain," laughed Irene, "that man appears to be a superior
"Bless yer heart, miss, that's nothin'. By the cut of his jib I'd rate
him as a fiddler, an' I remember once, at Brindisi, I was pointed out
two counts an' a markee among the coal-heavers."
Naturally enough, Mrs. Haxton and Dick looked for the person whose
singular behavior was under discussion. Though they had no difficulty
in finding him, it was impossible that they themselves could be seen
with any degree of clearness. The railing and the deep shade of the
veranda shielded them effectually. The Italian, a man of middle height,
with a finely-molded face and soldierly aspect, a man whose bearing
went far to prove that Stump's general estimate of a great nation was
apt to be wrong, was certainly very much taken up with the appearance
of the two figures leaning over the balcony. But Royson had scarce time
to note his main characteristics when he heard Mrs. Haxton utter a
queer gasping sob. It seemed to him that she had only just succeeded in
smothering a scream. Her cheeks suddenly became ashen gray, and her
tightly compressed lips were bloodless. All her beauty fled, as the
tints of a rose die under certain varieties of chemical light. Her eyes
dilated in an alarming way, and lines not visible previously now
puckered the corners of her mouth.
Owing to the Babel of tongues in the street, neither Irene nor Captain
Stump knew how terribly the mere sight of the staring Italian had
affected Mrs. Haxton. It came to Royson with a flash of inspiration
that this man must be Alfieri, that the woman had recognized him, and
that she feared him with a mortal dread.
He sprang upright and went to her.
"What is it?" he asked, neither raising nor lowering his voice
sufficiently to attract attention. "Are you ill? Shall I call Miss
She lifted an appealing hand, and tremblingly essayed to drop her veil.
Her languid insolence had vanished with her good looks. For the moment,
she was a broken and despairing woman.
"No, no," she murmured, and the anguish in her voice would have aroused
sympathy in a nature far less impressionable than Royson's. "If you
could help me, and all of us, try and find Baron von Kerber, and tell
him—tell him—I sent you with the message that there is one here whom
he must not meet. Oh, what shall I say to make him understand?"
"May I tell him that Alfieri is in Massowah?"
Dick almost regretted the words when he witnessed their tremendous
effect. She was on the very brink of hysteria, and the suddenness of
her collapse was painful.
"You—you, too, know Alfieri?" she gasped, looking at him in a very
agony of terror.
"I am sorry if I have added to your alarm. I did not mean to do that,
Alfieri is unknown to me, but I heard his name at Marseilles, when he
attacked the Baron."
The pity he could not withhold seemed to give her new strength.
"An attack!" She whispered. "At Marseilles! Oh, why was I not told? But
you will find him, at the Governor's house! It is not far—on the
seaward point…. The hotel people will supply a guide…. Baron von
Kerber and Alfieri must not meet here. If they do meet, we shall lose
everything…. Tell the Baron to go on board the yacht, no matter what
Mr. Fenshawe says. Do you understand? It is a matter of life and death.
Slip out into a back street, so that Alfieri may not see you…. I will
watch from here. Go, for Heaven's sake. Let nothing delay you."
She was incapable of further explanation. Dick feared she would faint
if he waited another second.
Hence, when Irene turned to say that Mr. Fenshawe and the Baron
appeared to be paying a prolonged visit to the Governor, she found that
Mrs. Haxton was sitting alone, with her veiled face propped on her
hands, while, so malicious was fate's decree once more to Royson, that
he was then hastening through malodorous lanes and crowded slums in
order to save from threatened peril the very man whose downfall offered
the only visible means by which he could bend his own frail fortunes in
the direction that looked best to him.
MASSOWAH ASSERTS ITSELF
Royson knew not one word of Arabic. His Italian was of a rudimentary
type, based on some acquaintance with Latin, eked out by a few phrases
gleaned from books of travel. The polite hotel manager's French was
only a shade more fluent. Consequently, the latter told Mulai Hamed,
deputy assistant hall-porter, that the Effendi wished to be conducted
to Government House with the utmost secrecy, thus twisting Dick's
simple request, that the guide should avoid the main streets into a
mysterious demand which an Eastern mind could not fail to embroider
For Mulai Hamed was a negroid Arab, whose ruffianly aspect was rather
enhanced by the swaggering way he carried a broad shoulder-belt and
brass badge of office. He interpreted his orders literally, being eager
to display a certain skill in conducting to an artistic finish any
enterprise that savored of guile. As soon as the two quitted the hotel,
Royson saw that he was traversing by-paths seldom visited by Europeans.
He passed through evil-smelling alleys so shut in by lofty houses that
the sun hardly ever penetrated their depths. He caught glimpses of dun
interiors when forced aside by a panier-laden mule or lumbering camel,
and the knowledge was thrust upon him in many ways that his presence in
this minor artery of the bazaar was resented by its inhabitants.
The few females he met were swathed from head to foot in cotton
garments that had once been white. Dark eyes glanced curiously at him
over the yashmak, or veil, which covered nose, cheeks, and mouth from
the gaze of strangers. Orange-tinted nails and fingertips, visible
occasionally when the loose fold of a robe was snatched from the
contamination of touching him, suggested the talons of a bird of prey
rather than the slender well-shaped hand for which the Arab woman is
noteworthy. Every man, almost without exception, scowled at him. Naked
children, playing in the gutter, ran off, half frightened, yet stopped
to shriek words which he was quite sure were not kindly greetings.
Prowling dogs, the scavengers of the native quarter, shared the general
hostility, and scurried out of his path, but sullenly, and with bared
teeth. Through occasional sunlit vistas he peeped into main streets in
which loitered numbers of Italian soldiers and civilians. Even a few
carriages appeared, conveying ladies to the shops or public gardens,
now that the intense heat of the sun had subsided. Therefore he found
it scarcely credible that in the fetid slums there should be such
covert hatred of the white race which held undisputed sway in
thoroughfares distant not a stone's throw. And, in puzzling contrast to
the evidences of eye and ear, he was conscious of an uncanny sense of
familiarity with his surroundings. Before the Aphrodite brought him
south by east he had never been nearer Egypt than Paris. Yet the
sights, the sounds, the nauseating smell of this dank bazaar appealed
to him with the breathless realism that the jingle of hansoms, the
steady crunch of omnibuses, the yelling of newsboys and the tar-laden
scent of the wood-paved road might convey when next he entered the
This entirely novel and disquieting conceit recalled his strange
obsession when, first he looked out over the desert at night from the
bows of the yacht, and the memory brought with it the legend of his
house—that the Roysons were descendants of Coeur-de-Lion. He saw now
that which he had never realized from the glowing pages of written
romance, that the Crusaders must have mixed with people nearly
identical in manner and speech with the strange human miscellany of
Massowah. During those medieval campaigns in an arid and
poverty-stricken land, feudal pomp and regal glitter would yield
perforce to the demands of existence. Richard of England and Philip of
France, with many another noble warrior of high repute, had doubtless
been glad enough, times without number, to seek the shelter and meager
fare of just such a jumble of darkened tenements as that through which
his guide was leading him.
But why should he, Richard Royson, acknowledge an occult acquaintance
with this unknown scene? And what was the fascination which the squalid
life of the bazaar had exercised occasionally on men of exalted rank at
different periods of the world's history? The mere notion that he might
succumb to it—that he should even feel its glamour by the operation of
some subtle trait of heredity—was so grotesque that he laughed aloud.
He happened to be crossing a tiny square at the moment, and a bearded
moullah was entering a mosque which filled one whole side of it. The
unbeliever's mirth doubtless disturbed a pious meditation, and the
moullah turned and muttered something. The words might be a verse of
the Koran, but they had the ring of a malediction.
Mulai Hamed was abashed and angry. He spoke apologetically to the holy
man, alluded to the "giaour" more than once, and proceeded to give Dick
a voluble lecture, enlightening him, most probably, as to the exceeding
importance of politeness where a Mahomedan priest was concerned.
Royson was unable to explain that his hilarity was not intended as a
slight on the follower of the Prophet. Yet dignity demanded he should
not remain dumb, so he pointed ahead, and vociferated, with a fairly
accurate assumption of his skipper's voice and manner:
"Lead on, you swab, and keep silent, or I'll alter the shape of your
It sufficed, nor was he wholly mistaken in his rough-and-ready
philosophy, for it is thus that the West dominates the East. The
incident had the further effect of arousing Royson to actualities. He
dismissed his day-dream, and bent his wits to consideration of the
queer message which Mrs. Haxton had asked him to deliver. Would the
Austrian obey her, he wondered? A man's point of view and a woman's
differ materially when the graver crises of life have to be faced. If
it were merely a question of physical courage, Dick imagined that the
Baron would refuse to play the coward's part by skulking on board the
yacht. In that event, von Kerber and Alfieri could hardly fail to meet
within the hour, for Massowah was a small place. Nor was it altogether
probable that bloodshed would be the outcome. The affray at Marseilles
had given the Italian an excellent opportunity for settling old scores
in that fashion if he were so minded. At any rate, the position was
rife with dramatic possibilities, and each that presented itself to
Dick's judgment seemed to favor his own projects, which now demanded a
speedy return to England. Yet he hoped to arrange his departure in such
wise that Irene Fenshawe might not have it in her heart that he had
Dick did not admit, even to himself, that he had any well-defined
motive, other than the fulfilment of a promise, for wishing to stand
well in the girl's esteem.
"I may be a potential baronet," he communed, "but I am not such a fool
as to fall in love with the heiress of a man like Fenshawe. A baronet,
indeed! Hardly a month ago I was tramping the streets of London looking
for work. One does not, under those conditions, include in the list of
prospective occupations marriage with a young lady worth a million or
It was surprising how bitter this very sensible reflection could be. It
disturbed his placid temper. He felt like railing at fate for
ill-usage. Fortunately, Mulai Hamed had no further cause to chide the
Effendi on account of his seeming irreverence, or Dick's copying of
Stump's methods might not have been confined to speech.
But it was a remarkable fact, worthy of high relief in the fresco of
weird and startling events then vaguely grouping themselves, that
Royson first dreamed of love, even as a fantastic idyll where Irene
Fenshawe was concerned, while he was hurrying through the native
quarter of Massowah on a mission destined to change the whole course of
For the hour was at hand when he would be tried by tests that few men
might endure. Treading close on the heels of his guide, he emerged from
a cramped arch into a spacious parade-ground. A regiment of
bersaglieri was assembling for drill during the comparatively cool
interval before sunset, and, on the seaward side of the plain, a squat
fort pointed its guns at town and harbor.
Mulai Hamed hastened towards the nearest gate. He did not enter, but
his gestures showed that the Governor's residence stood inside the
fortifications. Royson went on alone, and was stopped by a sentry, who
called a corporal; the latter conducted him to a lieutenant, and
thenceforth Dick's progress was simplified, because the officer not
only spoke English but was ready to display his erudition, though, not
exactly in the manner desired by his questioner.
When Royson said he wanted to communicate with two gentlemen who had
called on the Governor some two hours earlier, the Italian smiled
"They landed from the English yacht out there?" he asked, with a
hand-flourish that indicated the Red Sea generally and the Aphrodite
"And you are one of the ship's officers?"
"Yes," said Dick again.
"Well, I have no orders. I advise you to go on board, and await his
"It will be most gratifying to learn his Excellency's decision," said
Royson, "but just at this moment I must ascertain the whereabouts of
Mr. Fenshawe and Baron von Kerber."
The lieutenant spread both hands deprecatingly.
"What is one to say?" he shrugged, arching his eyebrows and pursing his
lips, "I repeat, I have no orders."
"But you have seen them?"
"Oh, yes. They are here."
"Then will you oblige me by sending in my name to Baron von Kerber, and
"It is impossible. Go to your ship. I speak as a friend."
"I am sure you wish to help me," persisted Dick, "but I am carrying a
message of some importance—"
"Ah, from whom?"
"From a lady."
"Who is she?"
"One of the ladies of our party."
"Ahi, crudo Amor! You have ladies on board, then?"
"Yes, Mr. Fenshawe's granddaughter, and—a friend of hers."
Something in the Italian's manner warned Royson that he was treading on
unsafe ground. It occurred to him that if Mrs. Haxton had good reason
for her display of fear at the sight of Alfieri it was advisable not to
spread the tidings of her presence in Massowah by revealing it to an
inquisitive official. And the warning given in one of the letters in
his pocket suddenly assumed a sinister significance. He strove against
any outward exhibition of concern, and the lieutenant was manifestly
anxious to help him.
"I am sorry," was the unsatisfying statement. "I can do nothing without
his Excellency's instructions, and he has gone out for a drive."
"Gone out for a drive!" repeated Royson, quite taken aback by this
rather bewildering explanation. "Am I to understand that my friends are
"You are to understand nothing but what I have told you, and you will
remember that I have contented myself with advising you to return to
It was evident that no good end could be achieved by striving to saddle
the courteous officer with any responsibility for his admissions. Dick
took the cue thus offered, and tried another line.
"Will you kindly tell me at what hour the Governor returns?" he asked.
"Certainly. He will be here in twenty minutes."
"May I wait until he arrives?"
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure."
The lieutenant clapped his hands, and an orderly appeared.
"Some wine, ice, and cigarettes," he commanded. He engaged Dick
instantly in conversation as to the prospects of war in South Africa,
and was obviously desirous not to discuss personal matters. He was a
decent fellow, and an enthusiastic admirer of the British soldier, of
whom he had seen a good deal during a visit to Aden, so the talk did
not flag till the clatter of hoofs through the vaulted gateway
announced the advent of a carriage.
The Governor, a fat, unhealthy-looking man, whose seamed brow and puffy
eyelids suggested that negotiations with King Menelek did not
constitute the highest form of diplomatic happiness, was pleased to be
explicit when Dick was introduced to him, and he found that the
Englishman spoke French.
"After consultation with the Government advocate," he said, "I have
decided to release Mr. Fenshawe, whose arrest was due to his persistent
defense of Baron Franz von Kerber's undertaking. The latter must remain
in custody, and I warn you, and intend to give the same warning to all
persons on board your vessel, that a gunboat is patrolling the coast
with the most positive instructions to sink the Aphrodite if any
attempt be made to land on Italian territory, elsewhere than at a
His Excellency had cultivated the habit of plain speaking, which is an
essential part of all dealings with Abyssinians. Royson did not attempt
to answer him. He asked if Mr. Fenshawe would be set at liberty
forthwith, and was assured that the Governor's own carriage would
convey both Mr. Fenshawe and himself to the hotel within a few minutes.
The big little man then vanished, and Dick soon had the satisfaction of
seeing Irene's grandfather escorted to the inner courtyard by a file of
It was a singular meeting between the two. Though the yacht-owner was
white with anger, he was manifestly pleased at finding Royson there.
"Ah," he said, extending his hand, "I am glad to see you. Does Miss
Fenshawe know of this outrage?"
"No, sir. I think not. Indeed, I am almost positive she has not heard
"Then why are you here?"
"Mrs. Haxton sent me with a message to Baron von Kerber."
"Mrs. Haxton probably guessed what would happen. Some scoundrel named
Alfieri, who has tried more than once to steal my poor friend's secret,
has gained the ear of the Italian foreign minister. Trumped-up
allegations have led to cabled orders for von Kerber's arrest, and
these wretched organ-grinders in uniform would have lodged every one of
us in prison if they dared. Unhappily, the Baron is an Austrian
subject, and there will be considerable delay before I can secure his
freedom. We must make for Aden at once. I will not trust the cable from
Massowah. By Jove, I have been a supporter of peace all my life, Mr.
Royson, but it is a lucky thing for this thieves' den that I have not
an armed ship now at my disposal, or I would blow their fort out of its
The older man little knew how this outburst affected Royson. The
reference to Alfieri was absolutely staggering. No up-to-date
battleship could have demolished the Massowah fortress so effectually
as Mr. Fenshawe's outspoken wrath crumbled the edifice of doubt built
by circumstances in Royson's mind.
"Things have taken an extraordinary turn, sir," said he, feeling it
incumbent on him to say something.
"They will turn an Italian Governor out of his position before I have
done with them," was the determined answer. "Come, Mr. Royson, let us
leave this man-trap. I came here In good faith, and I quit the place
with the resolution that never again shall I entrust myself to the
vagaries of any Jack-in-office who thinks he can browbeat a man of my
repute like one of the wretched natives whom he misrules."
Royson had some difficulty in persuading his irate employer to enter
the Governor's carriage. Mr. Fenshawe only yielded to the plea that it
was a stiff walk to the hotel, and his granddaughter would be consumed
with anxiety if any alarming news had reached her meanwhile.
The coachman took them by an open road facing the harbor. The sight of
the Aphrodite lying at anchor, trimly elegant in white paint and
neatly-furled sails, and sporting the ensign of a famous yacht club,
led Dick to ask if his companion knew that an Italian gunboat was on
the lookout for her.
"Oh, yes. His Excellency spared me no details," said Mr. Fenshawe,
smiling sarcastically. "If I were a few years younger, and we had no
women on board, I would not allow any threats of that sort to hinder
me, and I am much mistaken in my officers and men if they refused to
back me up. But, as it is, we can do nothing. That is what galls me, my
"We have no heavy guns, I admit," said Dick, casting to the winds all
thought of leaving the ship under present conditions, "but we have arms
and ammunition in plenty to make it hot work for any one in Massowah to
stop us once we are ashore."
The other sighed, whether on account of his vanished youth or the
impracticable nature of the scheme, it is hard to say.
"Our weapons are meant only for defense," he said. "Von Kerber wished
to guard against Arab hostility—that is all. But I do not despair of
obtaining redress from Rome. Surely it cannot be known there that I am
the leader of this expedition. It is so wildly absurd to treat me as
a filibuster. Why, Mr. Royson, the Italian Archeological Society
elected me an honorary vice-president ten years ago."
Dick had his own views as to the extent of the Aphrodite's armament,
but the present was no time to air them. Moreover, he was beginning to
see features of the affair that were hard to reconcile with Mr.
Fenshawe's statements. In the first instance, the Governor had acted on
specific Instructions, and the Roman authorities must have been well
aware of the identity of the yacht's owner. Again, the person really
aimed at in these high-handed proceedings was von Kerber. The Governor
made no secret of the fact that the millionaire was detained solely
because he declared himself a principal in the Austrian's enterprise,
and it was no small token of official regret at an unpleasant incident
that they were now driving to the hotel in His Excellency's private
carriage. Finally, none but a man angry and humiliated would deny the
right of Italy to forbid the passage through her colonial territory of
a foreign force such as von Kerber had provided, a force equipped to an
extent and in a manner that Mr. Fenshawe, in all likelihood, had slight
So Dick listened in silence to his companion's vows of diplomatic
vengeance. He was resolved to talk matters over with Miss Fenshawe
before he said a word about Alfieri or the news he had received from
London. In fact, he had little doubt that a night's reflection would
render her grandfather amenable to reason. If there were charges
against von Kerber, let them be brought to light. If they were true,
the Italian Foreign Office was justified in its action: if false, there
would be such a hubbub that the resultant apologies would certainly be
accompanied by the offer of every assistance to the objects of the
When they drew near the hotel, Royson saw Irene watching the main
street anxiously from the balcony. It was rather remarkable that she
should be alone, but all other thoughts were swept aside by the sight
of the joy which lit her face when the carriage stopped at the portico
and she learned that her grandfather had arrived from an opposite
They heard her glad cry of surprise, and she hastened to meet them.
"Good gracious, grandad," she said, "where have you been? I have waited
here for you ever so long, wondering what had become of you."
"The Governor was such an affable person that he refused to let me go,"
said Mr. Fenshawe grimly. "He has detained the Baron altogether. But
let us go up-stairs. I am pining for that long-deferred tea. Where is
"She is ill, I am afraid. She found the heat and noise too much for
her. Half an hour ago she asked Captain Stump to take her to the yacht.
Of course I told her I didn't mind being left here until some one came.
But the funny part of it is that, although I was looking from the
veranda, I failed to see either her or the captain leave the hotel."
By this time they were free from inquisitive eyes or ears, and Mr.
Fenshawe proceeded to amaze the girl with a full recital of his
disagreeable adventure. Royson noticed that she gave no heed whatever
to his share in it. Her attitude was tinged with a slight disdain, and
he began to feel miserably depressed until it occurred to him that she
probably resented his departure on Mrs. Haxton's errand without letting
her know. That was consoling, to an extent. He was sure she would
forgive him when he had an opportunity of telling her exactly what had
They were so engrossed in their conclave that a servant entered with
lamps before they realized that daylight had waned and night was
falling with the rapidity of the tropics. Mr. Fenshawe leaped up from
his chair with an alertness that belied his years.
"I must break my resolution and send at least one cablegram from
Massowah," he cried. "It will be harmless enough to escape mutilation,
as it is to my London office directing that all correspondence must be
addressed to Aden in future. You will take it for me, Royson, and pay
Dick went off as soon as the message was ready. Irene avoided him
ostentatiously while her grandfather was writing, and thereby laid
herself open to the unjust suspicion that she was flirting with him. In
very truth, she was torn with misgiving, and Royson's share in her
thoughts was even less than he imagined. Her quick brain divined that
the arrest of von Kerber had only strengthened the Austrian's claim on
Mr. Fenshawe's sympathies. Like all generous-souled men, her
grandfather ran to extremes, and she felt that it was hopeless now to
try and shake his faith in one whom he regarded as the victim of
"Will Captain Stump come back for dinner?" inquired Mr. Fenshawe, after
he had glanced through the letters which Irene brought to him.
"I hope so. Mrs. Haxton went off in such a hurry that I forgot to
"Was it illness, or anxiety, that sent her to the yacht?"
"A little of both, I fancy. But why should she be anxious? She did not
know that matters had gone wrong at the fort."
"I think she made a shrewd guess, but was unwilling to alarm you. That
is why she sent Mr. Royson after us. By the way, what, did she tell him
"I have no idea," said Irene coldly.
"That is odd, distinctly odd. I meant to ask him, but forgot it in my
"He will be here in a few minutes," said she, with a livelier interest.
There was a knock at the door. A negro waiter had something to say, and
she gathered from a jumble of Italian and Arabic that a native wished
to see the Signora Haxton. The man pronounced the name plainly, so
there could be no mistake as to his meaning, and Irene answered:
"The Signora is not here."
Mr. Fenshawe was immersed in his letters again, but he looked up.
"What is it?" he demanded.
"Some man is asking for Mrs. Haxton," she told him.
"Better go and interview him. If he can tell us anything, bring him
She went down-stairs with the attendant. He pointed to a muffled Arab
near the door, who salaamed deeply the instant she appeared.
"What do you want?" she said, in Italian, and the Arab silently
indicated a closed vehicle drawn up close to the curb in front of the
hotel. Thinking there was some visitor inside who did not wish to
alight, she went forward without hesitation. The dim, smoke-laden
street was unusually crowded, she thought, but she gave no attention to
the passers-by, as the Arab had opened the door of the dingy-looking
vehicle, and she expected to find an occupant peering out at her.
The conveyance was empty!
"There is some mistake," she said, glancing from the dark interior to a
Somali driver, and then back to the silent messenger. Suddenly she had
an unnerving consciousness that several other white-sheeted figures had
crept stealthily between her and the doorway. With a little cry of
alarm, she turned and strove to re-enter the hotel. Instantly she was
swept off her feet, a coarse hand closed on her mouth, and she was
dragged with brutal force into the carriage. She saw spring into
existence what seemed to be a murderous fracas among a dozen men. The
street was filled with clamor, and the pavement was blocked with
struggling forms. Knives flashed, brawny-armed Arabs closed in deadly
combat, and cursed each other with all the rich repertory of Islam. Of
course, people tried to rush from the vestibule of the hotel to
ascertain what was causing the tumult. But the fighters filled the
doorway so that none could enter or leave the building, and, in the
midst of the alarm and confusion, the pair of Somali ponies attached to
the ramshackle vehicle were whipped into a fast gallop. Then the riot
subsided as quickly as it arose, and, were it not that Irene was gone,
no one appeared to be much the worse.
A GALLOP IN THE DARK
Several minor rills of events combined to produce this tempestuous
torrent at the door of the Hôtel Grande del Universe, and any
level-headed man acquainted with their meanderings might come to the
just conclusion that Irene had been kidnapped in mistake for Mrs.
Haxton. He might have deplored the blunder, but, leaving out of count
any humane consideration for the girl's feelings, he must have admired
the stage-craft displayed by her abductors. If cool skill were worthy
of success they had earned it in full measure. In fact, the achievement
would have ranked high in the villainous annals of Massowah were it not
for the blind chance that separated Mulai Hamed from Royson two hours
The sun sank behind the highlands of Abyssinia while the Effendi
awaited the Governor's return in the guard-room of the fort. Thereupon
his guide, being an orthodox Mahomedan, faced towards Mecca, knelt by
the roadside, and bowed his forehead in the dust. Another devout
follower of the Prophet joined him, and the two chanted their prayers
in unison. It is said that hymns are seldom sung with such gusto as in
convict settlements, and, appraised by this standard, Mulai Hamed and
his casual companion were accomplished rascals, for they rattled off
the Salât and the Sunnah unctuously, and performed the genuflections
and prostrations of the Rêka with military precision.
Then they exchanged news. Mulai Hamed, telling of the Giaours in the
hotel, was vastly surprised to hear from his brother Mussulman, a cook
in the fort, that two of the Effendis were prisoners. But the cook soon
hastened away to decapitate certain skinny fowls which would form the
basis of a Risotto al pollastro for dinner at the officer's mess,
leaving Mulai Hamed to wonder if, perhaps, the tall Effendi had also
been kept in durance vile, until he saw Mr. Fenshawe and Royson being
whirled off in the Governor's carriage along the sea front.
He cursed both of them in suitable terms, and started on the long walk
to the hotel. Being a born gossip, he chose the livelier route of the
main street, which might yield a meeting with another acquaintance.
This divergence led him near the Elephant Mosque. Abdullah, wearied of
the rendezvous arranged by Mrs. Haxton for von Kerber, detected Mulai
Hamed's badge, and sought information.
"Brother," said he, "I would have speech of thee."
"Say on," was the courteous reply, for Mulai Hamed was flattered at
being addressed thus by a man of distinction.
"There be certain Giaours at thy caravanserai, an old man, a fat man
like a bull, a young man who stands more than a cubit high, and a thin
man, the Hakim Effendi, whom I await here. Hast thou any knowledge of
Mulai Hamed checked the list carefully.
"It must be," said he at last, "that the Hakim Effendi is in jail, for
the others I have seen, but not him."
Abdullah was annoyed. He, a pure-blooded Bedouin of the desert, had
already made a great concession In using the word "brother" to one of
"I asked not for folly," he muttered. "That is the answer of a drunken
"Nay, friend, I speak truly. May I never drink at the White Pond of the
Prophet if I have not told thee even that which I have heard."
Abdullah swallowed his wrath, listened to Mulai Hamed's story, and was
convinced. Notwithstanding Mrs. Haxton's prohibition, it was now
essential that he should see her without delay, so he accompanied the
deputy assistant hall-porter in the direction of the hotel. As they
went, they met a rickety closed carriage being driven at a furious rate
down a side street, and both men thought it was making for the
mile-long causeway which connects the island of Massowah with the
"Who travels in such a hurry?" asked Abdullah, looking after the
"Perchance a kafila starts for the interior to-night," said Mulai
Hamed. But the turmoil in the vicinity of the hotel now drew their
attention, and they ran with others, for public blood-letting is ever
an attractive pastime to those who form the audience.
Dick was then leaving the telegraph-office, whence he had despatched a
cablegram on his own account. Bare civility demanded that he should
acknowledge Mr. Forbes's various communications, so he sent the brief
message: "Writing, Royson," which, he thought, covered the ground
sufficiently. Before rejoining Mr. Fenshawe and Irene, he walked a
little way towards the harbor, and, as he half expected, met Stump
returning from the yacht.
He proceeded to astonish that stout mariner with the evening's budget,
but Stump had been thinking things out in his own fashion, and he set
forth a theory which apparently accounted for von Kerber's discomfiture.
"You see, it's this way," said he. "These bloomin' I-talians have got
the griffin about that treasure. And who gev' it to 'em? Why, that chap
who arranged the hold-up at Marseilles. You said nothin' much about it,
which was right an' proper, but Tagg is sharper'n he looks, an' he tole
me that a paper was nicked out of von Kerber's pocket. That paper put
the sharks on the scent. They got ahead of the Aphrodite by catchin'
the Indian mail at Brindisi, an' had everything cut an' dried for us
when we dropped anchor here. Miss Irene an' me spotted one of 'em
watchin' the hotel this afternoon."
"I believe that man was Alfieri," said Dick, "Indeed, Mrs. Haxton
admitted it to me, and it was his unexpected appearance that caused her
to beat a retreat."
"An' who's Mr. Alfie Wot's-his-name?" broke in Stump.
"I'm sorry. I forgot that you had not heard of him. He is the man who
secured the papyrus, or paper, at Marseilles. Both Mrs. Haxton and the
Baron are afraid of him."
"You seem to know a dooce of a lot about this business," exclaimed the
"I cannot help that—I have been dragged into it in many ways, each
peculiar, and hardly credible when considered collectively. I promise
you, captain, that I shall tell you the whole story one of these days.
Meanwhile, I think that the sooner we are at Aden the better it will be
for Mr. Fenshawe and the ladies, and I offer you the respectful advice
that you should back up Miss Fenshawe if she tries to persuade her
grandfather to go there at once."
"Funny thing," growled Stump, "but them's Mrs. Haxton's very words as I
helped her up the ship's ladder. Hello! Where's the fire? Unless I'm
much mistaken, young feller, there's a first-class row goin' on outside
our bloomin' café. No, no, don't you butt in among Arabs as though you
was strollin' down Edgware Road on a Saturday night, an' get mixed up
in a coster rough-an'-tumble. These long-legged swine would knife you
just for the fun of it. Keep full an' by, an' let any son of a gun who
comes too near have it where it'll stop him."
Stump's sound precautions were unnecessary. None of the combatants
approached them. Indeed, the struggle ceased as quickly as it began,
and they were in the hotel before the frightened servants dared make
known the thrilling fact that the young lady was missing. The negro who
accompanied her down-stairs was positive that she had gone off of her
own accord in the carriage that was standing outside, but Mr.
Fenshawe's frantic protestations when the scared manager told him what
had happened convinced Royson that the servant's statement was wildly
absurd. Moreover, it became clearer each second that Mrs. Haxton, and
not Irene, was the prize sought by the marauders. Royson, though in a
white heat of helpless rage, soon became alive to this element in an
otherwise inexplicable outrage, and endeavored to soothe Mr. Fenshawe's
wild-eyed alarm by telling him the girl would surely be sent back as
soon as the error was discovered.
There was no time for explanations. All was panic and useless running
to and fro. A messenger was sent to summon the police, and matters were
in a state of chaos when Royson was approached by an Arab whose
clearly-chiseled features, arched eyebrows and high cheek-bones showed
that he was of different lineage to the hybrids of the coast. His
carriage, too, was that of a man of consequence, and he wore his
burnous rather in the Algerian style. This was Abdullah, who had
gathered from the negro's now almost incoherent words that Mrs. Haxton
had been spirited away In the carriage. He had his own reasons for
believing that the lady would encounter difficulties in Massowah, and
the man spoke her name readily, whereas Miss Fenshawe's was unknown to
either of them.
"Monsieur," said he, addressing Dick quietly in excellent French, "can
"Yes," said Dick, hoping against hope that this calm-eyed stranger
might be able to give him some sorely needed clue as to the manner, at
least, of Irene's capture.
"Come with me, then," continued Abdullah, in the same guarded tone. "I
think I may be able to find out where Madame has been taken."
"You can demand your own reward if you speak truly," said Dick. "Let me
bring you to Mr. Fenshawe. He will tell you—"
"I seek the aid of none but you," whispered Abdullah, "I come to you
only because you are a European, and I must have some one to justify me
lest trouble should arise. I am unknown here, and my words would fall
on deaf ears. You look like a man who can handle affairs. Come
monsieur, we are losing time."
"But I must tell my friends."
"No, that is not to be thought of, monsieur. If I am right, you and I
alone must deal with this affair. These others are excited. They will
shout their news to the whole bazaar. And, if we fail, we shall return
in half an hour. Not a word to any one, but follow me."
Abdullah had the air of a man who knew his own mind. He strode away at
once without looking to right or left, and Royson yielded to the
impulse which bade him not hesitate but accept the proffered assistance
in the search for Irene. Action of any sort was preferable to a
maddening wait for tardy officialdom, so he hastened after the Arab.
The latter turned into the first side street. The absence of lamps, and
a thin stratum of smoke clinging to the surface of the ground, made the
gloom almost impenetrable, but Abdullah kept on with unhesitating
steps, and Royson walked behind him rather than risk the chance of
colliding with the strange shapes of men and animals which often loomed
up abruptly out of the void.
In a few minutes the smoke-cloud cleared, and he found that they had
reached the outskirts of the native quarter. The houses were no longer
huddled together; small hovels took the place of cramped and lofty
tenements. Soon he could see dark masses of hills silhouetted against
the sky, where its dense blue merged into the amber and green of the
last flicker of daylight. Not far distant, a sheet of water, still as a
mirror, reflected sky and hills in even more pronounced chiaroscuro,
and he had just distinguished the straight black ridge of the landward
causeway when Abdullah dived into a wattle-built hut.
The Arab had not uttered a syllable during their rapid walk, and Royson
determined not to question him, since his offer of help was made
voluntarily, and he seemed to prefer silence to speech. The Englishman
was undecided whether or not to enter the hut, which was apparently
untenanted, but the eager whinny of a horse quickly explained
Abdullah's disappearance. There was some stamping of unshod hoofs on
the hard earth, some straining of girths and clink of steel, and the
Arab led forth a slenderly built animal which, at first sight, seemed
to be far too light for a rider of Dick's proportions.
The horse's owner, however, showed no misgivings on this point. He
handed the bridle to Dick.
"Attendez ici un moment, s'il vous plait, monsieur" he said, and ran
off towards another hut. The horse tried to follow its master, and
Royson found distraction for a jumble of incoherent thoughts in the
need there was to restrain its fretfulness. The animal was afraid of
him; in all probability it had never before been handled by a European,
but Dick spoke to it in the lingua franca of the stable, and he was
soon allowed to stroke the arched neck and twine his fingers in the
thick yellow mane.
Abdullah did not return so speedily as was his intent. He had gone to
borrow another mount, and met with delay, because the owner was in the
bazaar. But fortune helped him by sending the man back earlier than
usual for the evening meal, and when he cantered up after an absence of
ten minutes, he lost no more time.
"You are sure you can ride well, monsieur?" he demanded.
"Into the saddle, then, and let the reins hang loose. Moti will carry
you safely, and it is but a broken road over the bridge."
Away they went, crossing some rough ground at an easy gallop, and Dick
had his first experience of the remarkable sure-footedness of the Arab
horse in his proper environment. Moti moved with the long lope of a
greyhound, and used eyes and intelligence as well as feet. The pace set
by Abdullah on the uneven causeway seemed to be dangerous, and would
have brought down any animals but those accustomed to stone-strewn
valleys or deserts in which patches of soft sand alternate with bare
rock. When the mainland was reached, Royson rode alongside his
"Where are we going?" he inquired.
"To a village. It is not far distant. There we may obtain news."
They pressed on. Were it not for the nature of his errand, Dick would
have enjoyed the ride greatly, for the current of cool air was pleasing
after the heat of Massowah, and Moti carried him as though he were a
feather-weight. But his heart was too care-laden to enter into the
spirit of the adventure. Of all the queer incidents of an eventful day
this gallop into an unknown land was the queerest. He could not help
asking himself if he had done right. Yet the reassuring answer came
instantly. He had left indecision behind when he agreed to the Arab's
conditions, and it was surely better to try whatever fixed plan the
other had in mind than remain in Massowah, a prey to hopeless,
purposeless agony. For he knew now what it would mean to him if Irene
Fenshawe were reft from his life, and the knowledge made his eyes
blaze, and sent the passionate blood coursing through his veins.
"Easily, monsieur. This is the place."
The Arab's strong, somewhat harsh voice, though pitched in a key not
meant to reach too far, brought Royson back to his senses. Imitating
his guide, he tightened the reins and pulled Moti to a walk. Then he
made another discovery. They were on a Government road, which happened,
at that point, to have a smooth surface, and Moti stumbled
disgracefully, for your true desert Arab will fall over himself when he
no longer needs to exercise his wits in order to keep his feet.
Behind a tumble-down hut a fire was blazing. Some men were squatted
around a tripod which supported a large iron pot. One was speaking, and
even Royson's untrained ear recognized the measured cadence of the
story-teller. A rumble of laughter showed that the protest of some
discomfited rogue or some wise moullah's saw had just tickled the
audience when Abdullah leaped from the saddle and approached the circle.
"Peace be with you, brethren," said he, bowing gravely.
The story-teller broke off abruptly. One of the men rose and replied:
"With you be peace, brother, and the mercy of God, and His blessings."
This formula made it certain that the group near the fire were
Mahomedans. "Es-salámu aleikum!" is at once the test of the believer
and the "Open, Sesame!" of the desert. Abdullah was sure now of a
hearing, sure even of counsel and assistance, provided that his
interests did not run counter to theirs.
Royson, dismounting for the sake of Moti, watched Abdullah's face in
the flickering light of the fire to learn whether or not he was
receiving the expected news. He might as well have sought inspiration
from the starry vault overhead. But he was not long kept in suspense.
After the exchange of a few sentences with the man who had returned his
salutation, Abdullah vouchsafed a brief translation.
"Not many minutes ago a carriage passed this way. It took the road to
the left, where it forks, not a hundred meters distant. We must ride
hard, monsieur, for the driver was flogging his beasts. Perhaps we may
have good fortune."
They were up, and away, thrusting into the darkness in a fast gallop.
At the parting of the roads they took the southern track, and the land
almost immediately became hilly. They eased the horses somewhat during
a long upward climb, but a plateau, followed by a gentle descent
towards the shore, gave them a chance of mending the pace, and the wiry
Arabs beneath them seemed to know that the more quickly the miles were
covered the less distance would they be called on to travel.
On the level again, where the occulting beam of the Massowah lighthouse
was hidden by the buildings on the island, they unexpectedly came upon
a disabled vehicle. It was tilted on the side of the road in a way that
suggested a broken wheel, and a man was holding two ponies which had
been taken out of the traces.
Abdullah pulled his steed almost on to its haunches, so suddenly did he
draw rein. He pushed close to the horse-tender, a Somali, and a fierce
dialogue broke out, which ended in the wrathful statement to Royson:
"This son of a slave says that this is not the carriage which passed me
in the bazaar. I believe he is lying, but what can I do?"
Dick, meanwhile, had ascertained that the conveyance was empty. His
gorge rose at the thought that Irene might be near him at that moment,
yet prevented by some ruffian from making known her presence. The
belief was torturing; it impelled him to a deed which, in calmer mood,
he would have declared foreign to his nature.
Handing Moti to Abdullah's care, he went so near to the driver, a man
of powerful build, that he could look into his sullen face. With a
quickness born of many a bout with the gloves, he seized the Somali by
the wrists, causing him to let go the ponies' bridles. Then, heedless
of straggles and oaths, he backed him a little space, threw him off his
feet, and three times whirled him through the air around his head. It
was an exhibition of strength that forced a cry of amazement even from
"Now tell him," said Dick, when the panting and terrified native was
allowed to stand upright again, "tell him that if he does not speak the
truth, I shall take him by the ankles and beat out his brains against
the rocks in that same way."
"By the Holy Kaaba!" chuckled Abdullah, "that would be worth seeing."
He conquered his desire sufficiently to put the threat into
blood-curdling Arabic, and the Somali whined that he was a poor man,
who only obeyed orders, but, if the god-like Nazarene would spare his
life, he was ready to tell all he knew.
"Speak, then, and quickly," growled Abdullah, "for the Effendi
understands thee not, and he may lose patience."
The driver stammered something which almost roused the Arab to
"Throw that dog aside, monsieur," he cried. "They are taking the lady
to a boat. The place agreed for the meeting is yet nearly a thousand
meters in front. Let us see what our horses can do."
They were off before he had finished speaking, but Abdullah smiled as
"Bismillah!" he muttered, "that is a fine trick. I must learn it."
On through the night they went, and happily the broken land receded
here a little from the shore, leaving the road straight and fairly
They had gone half a mile or more, and Royson was beginning to fear
that either the Somali had been daring enough to mislead them or that
Irene's guards had been warned by the noise of their advance and were
crouching behind a clump of reeds until they passed, when Abdullah
lifted a restraining hand, and slackened pace.
Though the night was clear, and neighboring objects were quite
discernible, Royson failed to pierce the further darkness. He strained
his eyes, but could see nothing, while the Arab seemed to have a sixth
sense which warned him that there were others near. They pulled up, and
listened. Dick could hear only the labored breathing of their horses,
yet Abdullah was evidently satisfied that their long chase was drawing
to an end.
"Bear to the left, monsieur," he whispered. "They are there, by the
water's edge. When I give the word, ride apart lest they fire at us,
though they will hardly dare do that, lest we might prove to be
soldiers from the garrison. Are you armed?"
"Sufficiently," said Dick grimly.
He felt able to tear any one limb from limb who resisted him. Once sure
of his quarry, he would give short shrift. So they crept on, until the
Arab shouted "Now!" and started off at a canter. Dick realized that the
circling movement was best, as it suggested an attack in force, so he
took a slight detour. He was closing in again before he perceived some
irregular shadows, showing black against the translucent film of smooth
water. That sufficed. He thundered on ahead of Abdullah, who, perhaps,
thought it advisable to leave this final development in the hands of a
European. There was a scurry among a small knot of men on the beach. A
sharp hail was answered at a considerable distance from the sea. Royson
rode with such furious speed that he now made out a white-robed female
figure struggling in the grasp of a man attired in the burnous and hood
of a coast Arab.
"Is that you, Miss Fenshawe?" he roared.
At the sound of an English voice three men scattered and fled like
rabbits, but the fourth, he who clutched the woman, set her at liberty
and drew a long knife. He bellowed forth some order, and another shout
came from the sea. Then he poised himself ready to strike. Royson was
within a horse's length, leaning forward in the saddle, when he caught
the gleam of the uplifted weapon. At the same instant he recognized
Irene, and saw that she was gagged, and her hands were tied behind her
back. But her feet were free, and she deliberately kicked the Arab's
ankle, thereby disconcerting his murderous thrust and nearly bringing
him to the ground.
Then Royson's clenched fist fell like a sledge-hammer on his
adversary's skull, and the man collapsed with a broken neck. Moti, well
named "the Pearl," seemed to play this sort of game with the skill that
a trained polo-pony shows in following the ball. He stopped almost of
his own accord, wheeled, and allowed Dick to lift the girl in his arms.
Abdullah, who did not attempt to pursue the others, had not failed to
note the rapid approach of a boat.
"Quick, now, monsieur," he said. "Make for the road!"
As they cantered off they heard some shouting in Arabic, and a few
words of Italian, but Dick was looking into Irene's eyes. He was
conscious only that he held her in a close embrace. His heart was
thumping against his ribs. For one who had proved himself cool in an
emergency he betrayed all the symptoms of unusual excitement.
"Are you uninjured?" he asked, with a marvelous tenderness in his
voice, while his lips were very near to her swathed cheek.
She nodded. He fancied he caught a smile in her eyes. He did not know
how lover-like was his clasp.
"We shall stop soon and release your bonds," he whispered. "Thank God I
was able to find you."
Again he believed she smiled, but those beautiful brown eyes of hers
seemed to fill with tears. He set his teeth, and breathed hard, but he
was too wary to jeopardize success by halting until all danger of
pursuit had disappeared. Then he pulled up, dismounted, and lifted
Irene to the ground. She was gagged so tightly that he had to exercise
some care in cutting the knotted strips of linen which bound her face
and head. A piece of coarse sacking had been thrust into her mouth, and
she scarce had the power to utter a word when the brutal contrivance
"Oh, Mr. Royson," she managed to gasp, "how can I thank you!"
"By not trying to talk until you feel better," said Dick. "There is a
village not far away, and we should at least obtain some water there."
He was bending over her wrists in his anxiety not to hurt her unduly
while he severed a stout rope, and he could not see the expression of
sheer bewilderment which again mastered the usually impassive features
of Abdullah. The Arab had yielded to unwonted surprise when he saw
Royson use a man as flail, but the removal of the gag, and the
consequent revelation of Irene's identity, nearly stupefied him.
"May jackals defile my grave," he muttered, "but this is the wrong
woman! Here have I, Abdullah the Spear-thrower, been, befooled by a
black slave in the caravanserai. What have I done? By the beard of the
Prophet, what shall I say if her capture was part of the Hakim
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
When Irene was freed from her bonds she sighed deeply, uttered a little
sob as though her soul had fluttered to her lips, and sank into
Royson's arms. In the ever-growing darkness he had not realized earlier
how acute was the torture she was enduring. She must have experienced
some difficulty in breathing, owing to the outrageous manner in which
her mouth and nostrils were covered. Yet, to render her quite helpless,
her wrists were tied with such cruel force that they became swollen and
stiff, and her delicate skin was chafed until it galled beneath the
While Royson was carrying her on the high-peaked Arab saddle, the
strain grew almost intolerable, but her brave heart did not flinch
under that exquisite pain. Though she could not speak, she strove to
reward him with a valiant smile, and even conquered the gush of tears
that gave momentary tribute to her agony. And now she lay in a dead
faint, pallid and inert, while Royson said bitter things about Alfieri.
He blamed the Italian for all this mad business, and vowed harsh
vengeance on him if ever they met again. He was quite unable to help
Irene. He had less than the average man's vague knowledge of the right
treatment to adopt under such conditions. He imagined that the hands
and face of a fainting woman should be bathed in water, and was about
to take her back to the shore when Abdullah intervened.
"It is nothing, monsieur," said he, with true Eastern nonchalance where
the opposite sex was concerned. "Her head and arms ache now that her
bonds are removed. If Allah wills it, she should revive presently. And
we cannot remain here. Whether she live or die let us go on, in God's
Despite the flurry of his new predicament, the Englishman caught a hint
of petulance in the Arab's tone. It denoted a change of attitude that
was all the more surprising when contrasted with the man's previous
eagerness to serve him. But there was sound sense in the advice thus
gruffly tendered. He managed to remount by tucking the girl's swaying
form under his left arm. Then he pillowed her head on his shoulder,
and, letting the horse walk, strove to rub her hands. Fortunately, Moti
did not stumble. Perhaps the weight of a double burthen suggested the
need of care, but, whatever the explanation of the animal's excellent
behavior, they reached the broken-down carriage without accident. The
driver had gone off with his pair of ponies, but Abdullah, ruefully
making the best of a perplexing situation, searched under the box seat
for the porous earthenware jar of water which is often carried there in
the East. By good hap, he found one, nearly half full.
"Here," he mattered Impatiently, "let her drink some of this, and pour
the rest over her head and hands. Then the cold air will freshen her.
And be quick, monsieur! Those who follow will not wait on ceremony."
Royson substituted a soaked handkerchief for Abdullah's drastic remedy,
but he soon had the satisfaction of seeing Irene's lips move. Then,
after testing the water to make sure it was drinkable, he gave her a
mouthful, and, within a few seconds, she was in partial possession of
her senses. Nevertheless, for an appreciable time, her gallant, spirit
flagged. She tried feebly to brush the wet strands of hair out of her
"Why are we stopping here?" she moaned. "Please take me home. I am so
tired—and thirsty—and my mouth hurts me. Where is the yacht? What are
we doing here?"
"I thought, she would recover soon," broke in Abdullah. "Now, monsieur,
at all costs we must reach the town. The hour grows late. Ride on!"
It was remarkable, to say the least, that one who was willing to face
unknown odds in order to effect the girl's rescue should be so
desperately anxious now to get away from a rather improbable pursuit.
Yet again, the Arab's suggestion offered the only practicable course,
and Moti had to bear a double load while they slowly climbed the hill
down which they dashed so precipitately before they came upon the
disabled vehicle. This time, Dick managed to seat his fair partner more
comfortably. He placed himself well back against the cantle, lifted
Irene across his knees, and drew her right arm around his neck.
Once more she sighed. Dick feared it was the preliminary to another
collapse, until she whispered in delightful confidence:
"I remember now, Mr. Royson. I suppose I fainted. How good you are to
"Now, may Heaven be praised that you are all right again," breathed
Dick fervently. "You gave me the biggest sort of fright when you nearly
dropped on the road."
"Have we far to go before we reach the hotel?"
"Several miles. It took us about three-quarters of an hour to overtake
you, and we came at a rare pace."
"I am sure I must be making your arm ache."
She tried to straighten herself, and Royson missed the warm fragrance
of her hair against his cheek.
"I really think you ought not to move," said he, with an affectation of
brotherly solicitude that did him credit.
"Well, if I am not wearying you," she murmured, and the pretty head
nestled contentedly on his shoulder. Then, it may be, she thought that
if necessity demanded this lover-like pose, she ought to redeem its
literalness by conversation.
"Who is your Arab friend who speaks French so well?" she asked. "It
was French I heard, was it not? And how in the world did you manage
to find out where I was taken to?"
"You must thank our companion for that. I happened to meet Stump near
the telegraph-office, and we saw a disturbance in the main street near
the hotel. We hurried up, little imagining that it affected you, and
several precious minutes elapsed before we discovered that you were
missing. Mr. Fenshawe—"
"Ah, poor, darling grandad! I hardly dare ask you how he bore it. I
grieved more for him than for myself. You see, I knew it was all a
wretched mistake. Those horrid men meant to carry off Mrs. Haxton."
"I gathered as much from what Mr. Fenshawe said. Of course, he was very
greatly distressed, but, if matters go well with us now, you will be
restored to him in another hour."
"I have no fear of anything when you are near, Mr. Royson. Something
told me that long ago. And that is why I was vexed with you for leaving
me this afternoon."
Dick's heart gave a great throb of joy, and his voice was somewhat
husky as he answered:
"I could not help myself. The Italian whom you and Captain Stump
noticed in the street was Alfieri. Mrs. Haxton saw him, too, and I
would never have believed that terror could alter a woman's face as it
altered hers. She begged of me to find von Kerber, and warn him, and I
thought, perhaps foolishly, that if I obeyed her wishes it might bring
about the very thing you and I most desire."
Irene did not reply immediately. She felt unaccountably timid.
"It is stupid of me, but I do not quite follow your meaning," she
volunteered at last.
"Well, you are anxious that this expedition should be abandoned, and I
ought to return to England, where I am in great demand, it seems, after
some years of scandalous neglect."
"Oh!" she said. "Is that it?"
There was another pause.
"But the fact that Mrs. Haxton, and not I, should be sitting here
so—so confidentially—does not explain how it comes about, does it?"
she went on.
"I was so interested in what you were saying that I lost the thread of
my story. We were listening to an excited jabber of nonsense in the
hotel—for instance, one of the negro servants said you went away of
your own free will—and wondering what on earth we could do, when this
genii of an Arab came to me in a mysterious way, and led me straight on
your track. Shall we bid him discourse?"
"Oh, please do. It is all so wonderful. I could see through the open
windows of that hateful carriage when we crossed the causeway and went
off to the left into a wild country. I gave up hope then. Your
appearance on the beach was an actual miracle, to my thinking."
"Just one word before we tackle our guide," whispered Dick, bringing
his lips as near hers as he dared. "Though it was dark enough down
there by the water, I saw you lash out at that fellow with the knife at
precisely the right moment."
"Don't, don't." she cried, shuddering, and lifting her eyes to his in a
fleeting upward glance. "I hope I shall soon forget those few awful
seconds. I knew he meant to stab you, and I wanted to scream, but could
not. He seemed to be the leader of the party, and he flew into such a
rage when the wheel gave way that I really believe he was ready to kill
me out of spite. You knocked him down, didn't you? It maybe wicked, but
I hope you hit him hard."
"Yes," said Dick, "I think your score is paid in that instance."
Her head was bent, and she could not see the grim smile on his lips. It
was an odd thing to remember at that moment, but he recalled the fact
that his famous ancestor could fell a bullock with his clenched fist.
Abdullah, when given the opportunity, was readier to ply them with
questions than to answer theirs. He said his name was "El Jaridiah,"
which was true enough, this being the title he bore among his
fellow-tribesmen. He also explained that he met Mulai Hamed, and
happened to see the direction taken by the vehicle when it dashed clear
of the scrimmage in the street. But he modestly disclaimed any special
credit for his share in subsequent events, stating that he had many
friends among the European colony at Cairo, and was naturally willing
to help a lady against the thievish dogs who inhabited Massowah.
Yet Dick added a third to these two earlier subtle enigmas in "El
Jaridiah's" characteristics when he heard the Arab's unfeigned pleasure
at the statement that it was not the lady actually rescued, but a
friend of hers, whom the thievish dogs aforesaid meant to carry off.
Abdullah then saw a path out of the thorny labyrinth which beset him.
It was evident that in serving Miss Fenshawe he had displayed his
fidelity to Mrs. Haxton! The notion was so gratifying that he made a
suggestion which assuredly would not otherwise have occurred to him.
When they reached the camp-fire where they were supplied with such
valuable information on their outward journey, he would obtain some
goat's milk for Madame, he said, and that would not only restore her
strength but go far towards alleviating the soreness caused by the gag.
He kept his promise. The milk was brought in a dubious vessel, but the
girl vowed she never tasted a more delicious beverage. They resumed
their march, Irene's head dropped cozily to the region of Dick's heart,
and that wayward organ thumped again in the most alarming way.
Once the causeway was crossed, Abdullah called a halt.
"This road leads into the main street, monsieur," said he to Royson.
"It is quite near. If the lady is able to walk to the hotel, it will
attract less attention than riding. Meanwhile, I can take the horses to
their stables, and hasten in advance to tell your friends that you are
They agreed instantly. Royson did not forget to pat the plucky little
Arab that had carried him to the Gates of Eden, and Irene said that if
it were feasible she would buy Moti and have him sent to England. And
thus they parted from Abdullah, thinking to meet him again five minutes
But their next encounter with the Spear-thrower was destined to take
place under strange conditions. His present intent was to slip away and
seek an interview with Mrs. Haxton, as he had managed to worm out the
information that she was on board the yacht. The last thing he desired
was to be dragged into prominence. Though he had not been taught that a
man might "do good by stealth and blush to find it fame," he was
specially anxious that his action of that night should not be trumpeted
forth in every ear.
Long before they gained the main thoroughfare, both Royson and Irene
were conscious of many prying eyes. Not a few passers-by yielded
frankly to curiosity and followed them. The girl, of course, was
hatless. Her dress of fine muslin was of a style and texture seldom
seen in Massowah, and if the rare beauty of her face could excite
comment in Hyde Park it would surely not pass unnoticed in a small and
semi-barbarous Red Sea port.
Royson, too, though his white drill uniform was familiar enough to the
public, was out of keeping with his surroundings. He towered among the
puny Italians; not a stalwart negro nor gaunt Arab in the throng could
equal him in stature and physique.
So they both agreed in thinking that they were much more at ease when
Moti was carrying them along the dark road of the mainland than now
while hurrying through the packed and dimly-lighted streets. But the
sensation they created in the bazaar was as naught compared with the
overwhelming effect of their arrival in the Grand Hotel of the
Universe. Two officers of gendarmerie and a round dozen of
soldier-policemen became incoherent at sight of them. The hotel manager
nearly wept with joy. He tumbled up-stairs, tripping not once but
several times, in his eagerness to make known to the English milord
that the Signorina Fenshawe had returned. The vestibule filled in the
most amazing way with a crowd that seemed to speak all languages under
the sun. Mr. Fenshawe rushed to the head of the stairs as soon as he
grasped the meaning of the manager's dramatic announcement, and a
combined "Ah!" of gratification gushed from a hundred throats when
Irene flung herself into his arms. Clearly, this affair had stirred
Massowah to its depths. It would supply food for gossip during many a
day. That long drawn-out "Ah!" was, in some sense, a testimony to
While Irene was sobbing her joy on her grandfather's breast, Stump
crushed a broad track through the ever-increasing mob until he reached
"I was bettin' on you from the minnit I missed you," he roared
genially. "You're a fair wonder, an' no mistake. By Gad, how did you
manage it? The Governor has raised the whole crimson town, I will say
that for him. I don't know his lingo, but I rather fancy he swore to
have a scalp for every hair on Miss Irene's head if she didn't turn up
afore daylight. Where was she? Who took her off? The police are huntin'
for your friend Alfie this hour an' more."
Stump's concluding item was at once gratifying and puzzling.
"How did they come to suspect him?" asked Dick, ignoring the rest of
his commander's outburst.
"Mrs. Haxton put 'em on his track. You see, it was this way. I sent the
jolly-boat's crew back to the yacht with, orders that Tagg was to arm
every mother's son on board, an' be ready for action when Mr. Fenshawe
gev the word. The old man wasn't half mad, I can tell you. I take my
solemn davy he'd have stormed that bloomin' fort to-morrow mornin'.
Mrs. Haxton heard about the trouble, an' wrote a note sayin' as how
that Dago we saw to-day was at the bottom of the whole dam business.
She tole Mr. Fenshawe to demand von Kerber's release. He was the on'y
man who could handle Alfie, she said, an', wot between our commodore's
threat to land an armed force, an' the red-hot cables he's bin sendin'
to London an' Rome, sink me if the Governor isn't scared to death."
"Is the Baron at liberty, then?"
"Not yet. There's no knowin' wot might have happened if you'd kep away
another hour or two. The ole man has raised Cain, I can tell you. But,
look here, I'm doin' all the talkin', an' it ain't fair."
"Did no one tell you a few minutes ago that Miss Fenshawe had escaped
and was hurrying here with me?"
"Ax me another," growled Stump. Then he eyed Royson critically. "I know
wot's wrong with you," he went on. "You're light-headed for want of a
drink. Come out of it. Damme, you need lubricatin'!"
They went to the upper floor, and Mr. Fenshawe hurried to grasp Dick's
"I will not endeavor to thank you now," he said brokenly. "My gratitude
is too deep for words, but—believe me, Mr. Royson—if I had lost my
little girl—it would have killed me."
The hotel manager came to Dick's relief. With a face all wrinkled in a
satisfied grin, he informed them that "dinner was now served." The poor
man had been waiting two hours to make that announcement, and Irene's
gleeful appreciation of this low comedy close to the night's adventures
showed that she was little the worse either in health or spirits. She
would not hear of a doctor's being summoned. She assured her
grandfather that soreness of lips and wrists would not impair her
appetite, but she hoped that the dinner would not be utterly spoiled if
it were delayed two minutes longer—she had actually forgotten to bring
forward the Arab who had helped Mr. Royson to rescue her!
Yet, search as they might, El Jaridiah was not to be found. None knew
him, nor had any news of the girl's safety been received until she was
seen in the vestibule. Though mystified, they were far too excited to
pay special heed to the circumstance at the time. Both Irene and Royson
believed that the man was detained by some slight difficulty with
regard to the horses, one of which, they knew, was borrowed. They said
that surely he would come to the hotel ere dinner was ended. But he
came not. The only interruption to a lively meal was supplied by the
Governor, who showed very proper official horror when he heard the
story of Irene's abduction, and saw the evidences of the rough usage to
which she had been subjected.
He was so urbane and apologetic, and promised such impartial punishment
both for the persons who inspired the outrage and for those who
actually carried it out, that Mr. Fenshawe deferred to the morrow the
stern protest he meant to register against von Kerber's detention. It
was quite true, as Stump told Royson, that strongly-worded cablegrams
were despatched to London and Rome earlier in the evening. Diplomatic
representations would certainly be made in both capitals, and the
yacht-owner felt that the local authorities would now leave matters
entirely to the Italian Colonial Minister.
So a truce was proclaimed. Before he left them, the Governor drank to
Miss Fenshawe's health in the best champagne that the Grand Hotel of
the Universe could produce.
The four people rose from their belated meal at half past ten. A sailor
came from the Aphrodite in response to a message sent by Stump
announcing Miss Fenshawe's return. The jolly-boat was waiting to take
them on board, he said, and they walked to the jêtée, escorted by the
whole body of gens d'armes who had mounted guard at the hotel.
The long pull across the starlit waters of the harbor was peculiarly
refreshing and restful after the thrilling events of the day. Irene
said with a laugh that it was almost worth while being kidnapped for
the sake of becoming a heroine, and Mr. Fenshawe yielded to the
soothing influence of the hour in expressing the opinion that he
expected to hear of the Baron's unconditional release early next day.
"By the way," said the girl, speaking to the boatswain, "how was Mrs.
Haxton when you left the yacht?"
"She was all right, miss, when I saw her about nine o'clock. She was
just goin' ashore—"
"Going ashore!" For the life of her, Irene could not help the blank
wonderment of that repetition.
"Yes, miss. An Arab kem for her."
"Are you sure?"
"Sartin, miss. It was about two bells when that craft hailed us—wasn't
The sailor thus unexpectedly appealed to was taken by surprise. He
nearly swallowed a quid of tobacco before he answered:
"That's correct. It struck two bells just arter they shoved off."
"Do you know where Mrs. Haxton meant to go? I mean, was she making for
"I didn't happen to hear, miss. But Mr. Tagg was talkin' to the lady.
P'raps he can tell you." From the silence prevailing among her
companions Irene was aware that they were as much astounded by the
man's statement as she herself. It was impossible to discuss the matter
further in front of the boat's crew, but the girl whispered, to Royson,
who was sitting near her:
"Did you ever hear anything more amazing? She could not have missed us.
What can be her object in going off alone?"
"We may be able to answer those questions, and others, when we find out
who it was that came for her."
"Some Arab, the man says. How strange that Mrs. Haxton should be
acquainted with an Arab in Massowah!"
Mr. Fenshawe bent towards them.
"Do not forget," he said in a low voice, "that Mrs. Haxton may not have
heard earlier of von Kerber's arrest. I am inclined to think that he
has managed to communicate with her in some manner. A curious letter I
received to-day may throw light on the problem. I was reading it when
that hotel man burst in on me with the news of your escapade, Irene. To
tell the truth, I have not given much thought to it since."
Royson was convinced that Mrs. Haxton, finding the game was up, had
flown. But Tagg's version of the lady's sudden departure did not lend
color to this view. He stated that a shore boat came alongside a few
minutes before nine o'clock, and an Arab, who was its sole passenger,
stood up and said clearly:
"Me Abdullah. See Madame Haxton."
That, seemingly, was the full extent of the man's English. He repeated
the sentence until Tagg sent Miss Fenshawe's maid to tell Mrs. Haxton
that an Arab named Abdullah was asking for her.
"She kem at once," said Tagg, "an' they began to parleyvoo as quick as
"They spoke French?" broke in Irene, with a sidelong glance at Dick.
The far-fetched notion which gripped him instantly had also occurred to
"Yes, miss. You can allus tell French by the mongin' an' bongin' an'
tongin' that goes on."
At another time Irene would have hailed Tagg's subtle humor with glee,
but there was an element of deadly earnest in the history of the past
few hours that kept her strictly to the issue.
"This Arab—" she said, "was he a tall, good-looking man with a striped
hood to his burnous, his outer cloak, you know?"
"That's him," agreed Tagg. "More like a fellow you'd see at Tangier
than in these parts. You know the sort of chap I mean, cap'n?"
"I do," said Stump. "Reg'lar stage Arabs, they are. Sort of
Frenchified, with clipped whiskers."
"But please tell me what happened," cried Irene breathlessly.
"Well, miss, there ain't much to tell. They had a serious confab for
five minutes, an' then she tells me she's goin' ashore. 'Wot time will
ye be back, m'am, an' I'll send a boat,' sez I. 'I dunno,' sez she, 'I
may be late, so I shall return in a native boat.' She axed your maid,
miss, to bring a wrap from her cabin, and she was gone without another
"Then that settles it," interposed Mr. Fenshawe dryly. "Mrs. Haxton is
a lady who knows her own mind. She is fully qualified to take care of
herself. Off you go to bed, Irene. Sufficient for the day is the
excitement thereof. And, according to present Indications, we shall be
kept busy to-morrow. Goodnight, Mr. Royson. I shall be better able to
thank you in the morning."
Irene, too, held out a hand to Dick.
"I'm making up all sorts of nice compliments to offer you," she said,
pleasantly. "You need, not protest. I was gagged for the best part of
an hour when I very specially wanted to talk, so I have a whole lot of
things to say after breakfast."
Dick read the meaning of the glance she flashed at him. Oddly enough,
it expressed his own thought. They must endeavor to find out how Mrs.
Haxton came to be such a close acquaintance of El Jaridiah's. Not only
had he risked his life when he fancied she was in danger, but she, on
her part, was willing to return with him to Massowah under cover of the
night—to Massowah, whence she had fled in terror not many hours
A WOMAN INTERVENES
When Mrs. Haxton descended the yacht's gangway, and seated herself in
the boat which had brought Abdullah from the shore, she threw a main
with fate. But she was acting with her eyes open, whereas poor
mortality is oft called on to take that dangerous hazard blindfold.
During several haggard hours she had weighed her prospects in the scale
of judgment, and the balance was wofully unfavorable. Wealth she had
none; and now she saw position slipping away also. As sure as the sun
would rise next day, so sure was it, as matters stood then, that
exposure and humiliation must arrive. To this hard, level-headed,
shrewd woman there was no blinking the outcome of an official inquiry.
Alfieri was in Massowah, Alfieri, the man she had wronged as Delilah
wronged Samson. If he were arrested, owing to Irene's abduction, he
would demand to be confronted with von Kerber, would ask that she, too,
should be arraigned with the Austrian, and put forward such an
indisputable plea that, whatever the outcome for the Italian, her
English friends must recoil from her with indignation. And there was
worse in store. Mr. Fenshawe's generosity might provide the means of
returning to Europe, but she would go back discredited, a mere
adventuress, while the publicity attached to the yacht's errand could
hardly fail to bring her name into fatal notoriety. In a word, social
ruin stared her in the face, and the prospect was so unpleasing that
her despairing glance turned more than once towards a dressing-case
containing drugs whose labels spelt oblivion.
Then came the Arab, with news of Irene's return, and, like any
desperate gamester who ventures the last shreds of a wasted capital on
some almost impossible chance, she determined to fight Alfieri to the
It was not a thing to be done in cold blood. Unarmed men have saved
their lives by boldly attacking lions, but that is no argument in favor
of an unarmed man going out of his way to search for the king of
beasts. And the measure of Alfieri's hate was supplied by his daring
attempt to capture her. She shuddered to think of the result had he
been successful, yet she nerved herself now to out-maneuver him. Of
course, there were some slight elements in her favor. The blunder which
had placed her enemy at loggerheads with the authorities gave her a
momentary advantage. The man's lust for vengeance might, indeed, sweep
aside her attack, but she must risk that. Had fate been kinder, Mrs.
Haxton was cast in the mold that produces notable women. She knew when
to unite boldness with calculation; she would always elect to die
fighting rather than cower without a blow; and she would never believe
a cause lost while there was a man to be wheedled.
The Somali crew ferried her swiftly towards the landing-stage, and she
bade Abdullah render a full account of the rescue.
"You speak of a boat," she commented, with a puzzled air. "Did you see
"No, madame. We heard some shouting by Italians. That is all."
"A boat!" she said, deep in thought. "That seems to suggest that I was
to be brought back to the town. The hired carriage and the long drive
into the country were intended to throw dust in the eyes of those who
might endeavor to find me."
"Or to a ship," suggested Abdullah. "Had they a dhow in readiness?
Perhaps, by this time, they may have slipped away to sea under cover of
Mrs. Haxton laughed, but her mirth had not its wonted musical cadence.
"No," she said, "that is not likely. Grand Dieu, if only it were!
Now, listen, and do exactly as I bid you. Somewhere in Massowah,
probably in one of the small restaurants, you will find a man named
Giuseppe Alfieri. You must inquire at every café and boarding house in
the main street—there are not many. You cannot mistake him. You met
him once at Assouan, and you may recall his appearance—he is tall and
thin, with a lean, sallow face, clean shaven. He has long, black hair
and his eyes are large and deeply set. When you find him, you will say
that I wish to see him. He will be surprised, and talk big, but he will
surely question you. Make no secret of the fact that you are in my
confidence. Tell him I offer a truce, that I am in a position to make
terms. He may bluster, and boast, perhaps, that I am on my knees. Well,
admit it, and remind him that where I fail, he, at least, has no chance
of success. Do you understand?' It is a question as between money and
revenge. Alfieri is something of a fool. If the bait be tempting enough
he will swallow it, and not for the first time."
Abdullah nodded with complete comprehension of her under-thought. The
Italian had been tricked once. It might be possible to trick him again.
"If he agrees, Madame, when is he to meet you?"
"To-morrow morning, at eleven o'clock, at the hotel."
"But this other affair has set the bazaar in an uproar. One cannot
carry off young English ladies so easily. Monsieur Alfieri may be a
"No such luck," said Mrs. Haxton bitterly. "You are not acquainted with
the twists and turns of events, Abdullah. That which was simple at
Assouan has become complex here. Alfieri has inflamed the mind of some
high official at Rome, or he never could have persuaded the Governor to
go to such lengths as to arrest Fenshawe Effendi, not to speak of
Monsieur le Baron. No, this pig of a Governor has a Minister behind
him. He may threaten, but Alfieri is safe."
"Nevertheless, he may be hidden."
"That will suit me equally well. Zut! Abdullah, you are not so quick as
"Pardon, Madame, you have told me what I am to do, but you have said no
words as to yourself, yet behold, we shall be on shore in a few
"I? I am going to the fort. I have one card to play with his
Excellency. Pray to your Prophet, Abdullah, that it may succeed."
The Arab bowed silently. It might be that he stood to win, no matter
who lost, in this war of intrigue.
"Do I see you again to-night, Madame?" he asked, as the boat drew
alongside the jetty.
"I think not. Come with me until I obtain an alabeeyah. Then, to your
search, and report to me early to-morrow."
They soon found an alabeeyah, one of the small open carriages made
popular in Egypt by the French, and Mrs. Haxton was driven towards the
fort. The Arab began his quest for Giuseppe Alfieri, but found him not,
for the most convincing reason that Alfieri was then seated in the
Governor's library, smoking the Governor's cigarettes, and drinking the
Governor's best Capri.
His Excellency had just returned from the hotel. He, too, had deferred
to the morning a tactful explanation that pressure of business had
prevented the despatch of Mr. Fenshawe's cablegrams that night. But
tact was not his most obvious gift. Though he hoped to mollify the
irate yacht-owner with soft words, he did not spare Alfieri now.
"The madness of it!" he cried. "You say it was a mistake. That is the
plea of a stupid child. The affair would have been just as awkward if
you had carried off the Signora Haxton. She is a British subject. In
two days the newspapers of Europe would magnify the incident into an
international dispute, and, with Abyssinia always ready to fan the
"Believe me, Excellency, the Signora herself would have written that
she had gone away of her own free will," broke in the other.
"I doubt it very much. Her friends could not fail to think that she was
writing under compulsion. I tell you, idiot that you are, you have
prejudiced your own case, made difficulties where they did not exist.
If your sworn statements are true—"
"They are true, true as death," vociferated Alfieri.
"Ebbene! Why, then, strengthen your enemies by giving them just cause
"If only you knew what I have suffered through that woman, Excellency!"
came the angry cry.
"Oh, blame the woman, of course," said the Governor, with the fine
scorn of a man who has married a meek wife. "I lose patience with these
transports. If a woman preferred another to me I would dance at her
"You would not dance if she had used all the arts of treachery to rob
you of your fortune."
"I flatter myself I would resist the tricks of any siren who was merely
anxious to delude me. But this is beside the question. These English
suspect you of planning the outrage. Frankly, I cannot see my way to
meet the inquiry which must be made, sooner or later. Perhaps the old
man, Fenshawe, may consent to tone down his messages to-morrow. If he
refuses, and sails to Aden, the very cables will fuse under the storm
of remonstrance from Rome. I may be recalled. That pig, Festiano, will
be appointed in my place. The more I consider your imbecility the less
am I inclined to put faith in anything you have said. How do I know
that your Greek was not an addle-headed ass like yourself? Corpo di
Dio! His treasure of Saba may be a piece of moon-madness akin to this
tragi-comic plot of yours."
"I would have bent her to my will. I could make her go to this Austrian
dog and tell him begone. I could force her to confess to the Englishman
that she had deceived him."
"Saetta! I am out of temper with you," growled the Governor, lighting
a cigarette and smoking furiously.
He was fond of plain speaking, this temporary ruler of Erythrea. The
sudden death of a Governor appointed from Rome had given him his
chance. He might be superseded at any moment by some carpetbagger with
political influence, and it went against the grain that the private
feuds of people whose quarrels did not interest him in the least should
be able to wreck his career. Alfieri came to him with good credentials.
If the man's story was borne out by facts, not only would Italy receive
a handsome sum from a colony which had hitherto been a drain on her
resources, but he, Marchetti, would reap some share of the credit, not
to mention the bonus promised for his assistance. His instructions from
headquarters were clear. He had acted within his rights in arresting
von Kerber and detaining Mr. Fenshawe until the latter gave up an
undertaking to land on Italian territory without permission. That he
had decided to release the Englishman unconditionally was a further
tribute to his good judgment. Having caged the hawk there was no harm
in freeing the pigeon. But Alfieri's passionate and ill-advised,
attempt to abduct Mrs. Haxton had changed the whole aspect of affairs.
No wonder the stout and pompous little man fumed and fretted in vain,
endeavor to climb out of this unexpected pit.
Alfieri looked at his restless companion in moody silence. In aspect,
he was the exact opposite to the podgy Governor. Slender, and loosely
built, he had the large, sunken eyes of a dreamer, the narrow forehead
of the self-opinionated, the delicate nostrils and mobile mouth of the
neurotic temperament. It was easy to see that such a man would brood
over an injury, real or imagined, till he had lashed himself into a
tempest of wrath. His emotions could know no mean. From sullen despair
he could rebound to the most extravagant optimism. That very day he had
rushed away from the painstaking details of a semi-scientific
expedition in order to—gratify a Sicilian impulse which called for the
ruthless settlement of an old score.
Even now, the sense of failure rankled deeper than the contemptuous
anger of his fellow-countryman; but the practical-minded Governor had
no intent to leave matters where they stood.
"It seems to me," he said, turning suddenly on Alfieri, after gazing
out across the harbor and watching the twinkling lights on the
Aphrodite, "it seems to me that the best thing we can do now is to
arrange a compromise. It is not too late. We must board the
Englishman's yacht early in the morning—"
He was interrupted by a knock at the door. A servant entered. There was
a lady to see his Excellency. By Bacchus, a lady, at that hour, nearly
ten o'clock! Who was she, and what did she want? He could not be
Then he read the name on the card brought by the man, and whistled
softly, lest perchance this latest phase of an electrical situation
should demand words not in the repertory of excellencies.
"Wait outside for one moment," he said. Alfieri, alive to Signor
Marchetti's suppressed excitement, wondered who the visitor could be.
The governor examined the card again. He gave his companion a rather
"You are but a tinfoil conspirator, after all, my friend," said he.
"Here is a woman who despises you."
Alfieri sprang to his feet with an oath.
"She has not dared!" he cried.
"Calm yourself, I pray you. The Signora Haxton has come to pay a
visit—that is all. The hour is late, but, from what you have told me,
she is not likely to be troubled by a consideration of that kind. Now,
Signor Alfieri, I am going to receive her. Do not forget that I am the
Chief magistrate of Massowah. It is probable that, through her
instrumentality, I may be able to extricate both myself and you from
the predicament into which your folly has plunged us. And I warn you
that any display of temper will be fatal. Let us go slowly and we may
Alfieri, all a-quiver with uncontrollable emotion, fixed his glowing
eyes on the door when the servant returned with Mrs. Haxton. She
entered, with the graceful ease of one accustomed to meet greater
dignitaries than the head of a small Italian colony. Signor Marchetti
advanced a few paces. Where a lady was concerned he could be courteous
enough, his abruptness being a specially cultivated mannerism intended
to impress natives with a sense of his importance. But, beneath the
skin of office, he was Italian to the core, and he promised himself a
fine scenic effect when the Englishwoman's glance fell on the other
occupant of the room.
But Mrs. Haxton had nerved herself to play for a high stake. Though she
shrank back a little and caught her breath when she saw Alfieri, there
was a restraint in her attitude which might have surprised a more
astute person than Governor Marchetti. Her eyes contracted somewhat,
her lips tightened, a hand clutched at the folds of a cloak thrown
loosely over her shoulders. Marchetti paid heed to these things, and
interpreted them as evidences of timidity. A man accustomed to wield a
rapier rather than a cudgel would not have made that initial error.
Alfieri's presence changed the whole situation, and Mrs. Haxton, in
whom the stage had lost a great actress, instantly bent her wits to
deal with the new set of circumstances thus created.
"You speak Italian, signora? Ah, capital! Pray be seated," said the
Governor affably. "As you have honored me with a call at this unusual
hour I take it that your business is urgent. Do you wish to confer with
me in private? If so, Signor Alfieri, who is not unknown to you, I
believe, will leave us for a few minutes. Otherwise, you can talk quite
frankly in his presence."
That was the Governor's method of putting his two visitors at their
ease. The lady would assume he knew everything. The man would take his
cue from a friendly opening. What could be better?
"I am glad that Signor Alfieri is here, your Excellency, though I must
admit that I did not expect to see him," said Mrs. Haxton, taking the
proffered chair. "My business concerns him, to a certain extent. By all
means, let him remain."
Her voice was under control. She spoke Italian fluently, and her
smooth, clear accents seemed to stir strange memories in Alfieri's
soul. But, thinking to annoy her, he forced a spiteful grin to his thin
"Allowing for the lapse of years, Rita," he said, "and bearing in mind
your natural distress at to-day's occurrences, you are looking
She flashed one quick glance at him, then smiled sweetly at Marchetti.
"My distress ended when the Signorina Fenshawe was brought back to her
friends. Of course, it was a dreadful thing that she should be carried
off in such a way. Were it not for the skill and resource displayed by
one of the Aphrodite's officers, there is no knowing what the
consequences might have been."
"You have seen the signorina at the hotel?" put in the Governor.
"No, I came straight from the yacht. I thought it advisable."
"But the affair has been misrepresented. It is a mere bagatelle. There
exists, shall we say, a certain disagreement between you and Signor
Alfieri. There was an unhappy mistake, which I would have rectified
without any help from the yacht. You see, rumor is apt to exaggerate."
"I think you are taking a very reasonable and proper view, your
Excellency. It will be best for all parties if we try to regard the
incident in that light."
Marchetti was vaguely conscious of a too complete agreement in the
lady's tone. But he seized the apparent advantage.
"Then that is settled," he said cheerfully. "I have already apologized
to Signor Fenshawe. To-morrow a more ample explanation and expression
of regret should remove any cause of friction."
"I have reason to think there will be no difficulty in arriving at an
amicable settlement, provided you fall in with the suggestion I am here
"And that is?"
"That you release the Baron von Kerber to-night."
"Ha!" snarled Alfieri, but the Governor angrily motioned him to be
"No one is better aware than yourself, signora, how utterly impossible
is your request," he said.
"The proposal is not even worthy of debate, then?"
"That is a pity. My small experience of life has taught me that when
two reasonable people, or even three, hold different views on any given
subject, there is always something to be said in favor of each
contention. Indeed, wisdom leans towards a compromise in such a case."
"You presuppose a mere divergence of opinion. Here we have no room for
it. Your confederate, signora, if you will pardon a harsh term, is
believed to have stolen valuable documents from my friend, Signor
Alfieri. My Government has instructed me to arrest him, and to use
every means, not stopping short of armed force, to prevent the
Aphrodite from undertaking what is little else than a piratical
expedition. You see, therefore, that it is not in my power, if I were
so minded, to set Baron von Kerber at liberty. Compromise in any other
direction would appeal to me. Where Baron von Kerber is concerned, I am
His Excellency was firmly planted on the gubernatorial dais once more.
Mrs. Haxton evidently demanded plain speaking. Being a blunt man, he
gave it to her. But she smiled again, quite pleasantly.
"That is what I may describe as the correct official attitude," she
said. "If it were founded on fact, it would be unassailable. But Signor
Alfieri can tell you that the Baron most certainly did not steal
anything from him. If a culprit must be found, it was I, not Franz von
Kerber, who should be charged with theft."
"Ah, Dio mio, you hear? She admits!"
Alfieri almost screeched the words. He was in a frenzy of passion. This
woman had ever the power to drive him beyond bounds. He hated her now
with an intensity born of derided love. The Governor would have stormed
at him, but Mrs. Haxton accepted the challenge too promptly.
"I admit nothing," she cried with a sudden shrillness. "If admissions
are necessary I shall wait until Abdullah confronts you. Then, when I
have told my story, he shall tell his."
"Who cares for Abdullah!" came the retort. "Not I. It is well, indeed,
to appeal to the testimony of an unknown Arab."
"You shall have the opportunity of refuting him," said. Mrs. Haxton.
"He is in Massowah. But that is a question for such tribunal as may
exist in this lawless town. Your Excellency's decision is final?" she
added, turning to the Governor.
"Absolutely irrevocable, signora. You see how it stands—my orders are
"Their explicitness is as nothing compared to the clearness of the next
mandate you will receive from Rome," she blazed out. "Was it according
to your orders that an English lady was carried off by brigands, simply
to glut the vengeance of my discarded Beppo? You spoke of confederates,
Signor Marchetti. What of the confederacy that permits this man to be
your guest while your officers are making mock search for him in the
bazaar? Your judges, even such as they are, will laugh him out of court
when he tries to substantiate the charge he has brought against Baron
von Kerber. Poor, love-sick fool!—to gratify his spite he attacks his
rival with false evidence rather than let it be known that a woman
twisted him round her little finger. Look at him now; he would strike
me dead, if he dared; but he cannot answer me."
Alfieri leaped to his feet. His voice rose to a cracked falsetto.
"You hear, you hear!" was his cry. "She robbed me of the papyrus, yet
boasts of it. She is a thief, self-confessed."
Mrs. Haxton also sprang up. Her physical dread of the man had yielded
to the triumph of having cornered him.
"Truly I hope his Excellency hears," she said. "If I am to blame for
the loss of your papers, why is Baron von Kerber in prison on your
"You are both in league," he almost screamed. "I was blind, infatuated,
at Assouan. It was the Austrian who planned my undoing, and you, his
paramour, who cajoled me out of my senses."
"I refuse to stay here and be insulted by such a coward," she said,
gathering her skirts as though she intended to take her departure
instantly. "But it will be a fine story that Signor Fenshawe cables
from Aden when he tells how the Governor of Massowah aided and abetted
this half-crazy poltroon in onslaughts on defenseless women. It was not
enough that Italian law should be misused to further his ends, but the
scum of the bazaar is enlisted under his banner, and he is supported by
the authorities in an act that would be reprobated by any half-savage
state in existence."
"I pray you calm yourself, signora," exclaimed Marchetti, now fully
alive to the dangers confronting him. "You must see that I have only
acted in an official capacity. I, at least, have no feeling in the
matter. I received certain information—"
"Which was entirely misleading and one-sided," she broke in imperiously.
"Which certainly did not refer to you in any particular," was the sharp
rejoinder, while he glanced at Alfieri, "If this gentleman is now
prepared to say that he was mistaken—"
"Who dares to hint at any admission on my part?" shouted Alfieri.
The stout Governor did not like to be bawled at. He was sufficiently
embarrassed already by the quagmire into which Alfieri had plunged him.
"You ought to be careful in your choice of words," he said pompously.
"There is no question of 'dare' or 'dare not' where I am concerned.
Signora, do me the favor of sitting here while I discuss matters
briefly with Signor Alfieri. Signor, be good enough to precede me."
He pointed to the door. With a queer catching at her breath, Mrs.
Haxton sank into a chair. Alfieri folded his arms and gazed at the
Governor with eyes that blazed under his heavy brows.
"You are the representative of Italy," he said, making a great effort
to speak quietly. "I call on you to lodge that woman in a cell so that
she may be tried with her accomplice."
"If you do not go instantly, and in silence, into the corridor, I shall
call on my guards to take you there by force," exclaimed Marchetti with
a more successful assumption of ease.
Alfieri turned his lambent glance on Mrs. Haxton, but the Governor
stopped the imminent outburst.
"I said 'in silence,'" he roared, stretching a hand to grasp a
bell-rope. Alfieri, with a fierce gesture of disdain, went out. His
Excellency bowed to the lady.
"Two minutes," he murmured. "The wine on the table is Capri. You will
find it grateful after this somewhat heated interview."
But Mrs. Haxton drank no wine when the Governor followed Alfieri. She
bit her lips and clenched her hands in an agony of restraint. This lull
in the storm was more trying than the full fury of the blast. The
Governor's two minutes lengthened into ten. Then he hurried back,
alone. He was manifestly ill at ease, though he spoke glibly enough.
"I am taking a grave step, signora," he said, "but I feel that the
peculiar circumstances warrant it. I have released the Baron von
Kerber. He is now awaiting you, and it will give me much pleasure to
conduct you to your carriage. Yet I pray you give earnest heed to me. I
have told him what I now tell you—this undertaking of yours must be
abandoned. Not only is it my duty to prevent it at all costs, but an
expedition starts for the Five Hills this very night. So, you see, you
are sure to fail in any case. The exact locality is known, and Signor
Alfieri has an armed escort. I repeat, you have failed. May I hope,
without being rude, that your love affairs may be more prosperous.
Charming woman that you are, I cannot compliment you on either of your
present suitors. My advice Is, go back to England, and help me tomorrow
in persuading Signor Fenshawe to let matters rest where they are."
As one walking in a dream, Mrs. Haxton accompanied Marchetti to the
courtyard. There she found von Kerber, who ran to meet her.
"So it is you," he cried in English. "I guessed it, though they would
tell me nothing."
The Governor was most polite. He would not lecture them, before natives.
"I have spoken as a friend, to-night," he murmured. "To-morrow I shall
be an official once more."
The alabeeyah rattled across the paved square towards the gateway.
Alfieri, on whom an officer kept an eye, watched it with malevolence
from an upper window.
"There go two people whom I hate," he said to his guardian. "They have
escaped me this time. When I am rich, rich as any king in Europe, I
shall have a king's power. Then I shall find them and crush them
The driver swung his horses towards the sea front.
"No, no," cried Mrs. Haxton. "Go through the bazaar. Drive slowly."
And, in the next breath, she explained to von Kerber: "We must find
Abdullah. He is somewhere in the main street. Above all things, we must
find Abdullah. Alfieri leaves Massowah tonight, and he is making for
the Five Hills. Our only hope lies with Abdullah."
STUMP DEPENDS ON OBSERVATION
After eight hours of dreamless sleep, Irene awoke to a torpid but
blissful conviction that bed is a most comfortable place when bones
ache and the slightest movement is made irksome by patches of chafed
skin. In fact, having buried her hands gingerly in the wealth of brown
hair that streamed over the pillow, she lay and watched the white
planks of the deck overhead, wondering idly what time it was. The
effort to guess the hour brought her a stage nearer complete
consciousness. Her first precise recollection was also pleasant. She
thought of the way in which Royson had carried her in his arms not so
many hours earlier, and the memory banished all others for many minutes.
If she smiled and blushed a little, it may be pleaded that she was
twenty years of age, and had passed her girlhood amidst surroundings
from which young men eligible to carry young ladies in their arms, or
even hold them there, were rigorously excluded. Not that her
grandfather was a misanthrope, but his interests were bound up so
thoroughly in Egyptian research that his friends were, for the most
part, elderly savants with kindred tastes. The wreck, of the Bokhara,
too, with Irene's father and mother among its passengers, had helped to
cut him off from the social world. When the grief of that tragedy had
yielded to the passing years he hardly realized that the little child
who had crept into his affections was growing up into a beautiful and
light-hearted girl. Quite insensibly she assimilated herself to his
hobbies and studies, became mistress of his London house and fine
estate in Berkshire, and, by operation of forces more effective in
their way than any Puritanical safeguards, lived apart from the gay
throng in which she was eminently fitted to take a leading place.
Irene offered, then, a somewhat unusual type. While other girls might
recount the number of male hearts they had subdued during the past
season, Irene could state, with equal accuracy, the names of the gods
of the Memphite order. Though her grandfather's wealth and the
eagerness of a skilled maid compelled her to take a passing interest in
fashions, she was far more devoted to variations in scarabs. Such
attainments, if sedulously pursued during the succeeding decade, might
have converted her into an alarmingly precise Bas Bleu! As it was, the
Memphite gods smiled on her, and the scarabs might buzz off to their
museums contentedly at any moment, for Irene was only waiting the
advent of an undreamed-of influence into her life to develop into a
tender, sympathetic, delightful womanhood.
Indeed, if Ka and Ra and beetle-headed Khepra were so important in the
scheme of existence that this dainty scientist cared naught for the
moth-life of society, why, then, did she blush when she remembered how
closely Dick Royson had clasped her to his breast over-night? Perhaps
she might have asked herself that question, only to blush more deeply
in trying to answer it, had not her thoughts been distracted by the
extraordinary behavior of a silk underskirt hanging on a peg at the
foot of the bed. It was swinging to and fro with the regularity of a
pendulum, and that which is regular in a pendulum is fantastically
irregular in an underskirt. She sat up quickly, and listened. There was
a swish of water outside. Now and again she heard a slight movement of
the rudder chains in their boxes. Then, all aglow with wonder and
excitement, she jumped out of bed and drew the curtain of one of the
two tiny portholes that gave light to her cabin.
Yes, another marvel had happened. The yacht was speeding along under
canvas,—was already far out at sea. Where Massowah's yellow sandspit
shone yesterday were now blue wavelets dancing in the sun, and Irene
was sailor enough to know that the Aphrodite was bound south.
She rang an electric bell, and her maid came.
"Yes, miss," said the girl, "we've been going since midnight. As soon
as Mrs. Haxton and Baron von Kerber came on board—"
"Baron von Kerber, did you say?" broke in Irene breathlessly.
"Yes, miss. He came with Mrs. Haxton. Mind you, miss, I haven't seen
him, but one of the stewards told me that the Baron went straight to
Mr. Fenshawe's cabin, and the order was given to raise the anchor
immediately. I'm sure they made plenty of noise. They woke me up, miss,
and I'm a sound sleeper."
The maid was ready to say more, but Irene had learnt to discourage
"I think the Aphrodite might have fired cannons last night without
disturbing me," she declared lightly. "What time is it?"
"Nearly nine o'clock, miss. No one seemed to be stirring, so Mr. Gibson
put off breakfast for half an hour. He said that everybody must be worn
out after yesterday's worries."
Irene laughed. Gibson, the head steward, a fatherly sort of man, was a
martinet in the matter of punctuality at meals. This adjourning of the
breakfast hour was a great concession on his part. It showed how
strenuous life had been at Massowah.
Despite her aches and pains, she dressed rapidly. She was all agog to
learn how von Kerber had regained his liberty, and what new development
was marked by the yacht's unexpected sailing. When she hurried to the
bridge for news, the first person she met was Royson, and perhaps one
of those old deities of Memphis would have smiled darkly were he
privileged to see the tell-tale color that leaped to both faces.
Naturally, the girl was the speedier to find her tongue.
"Good gracious, Mr. Royson," she said, "what is the meaning of this?"
and a generous hand-sweep included sea and sky and distant coastline in
the eager question.
"I don't know," he said. "Captain Stump and Mr. Tagg entered into a
conspiracy to keep me in bed. I have not been on deck five minutes."
"But didn't you ask? Aren't you consumed with curiosity? Who is in
charge of the bridge?"
"Mr. Tagg. His stock of information is limited. 'Cleared the islands at
four bells; course South-40-East' is practically all he has to say."
"It may be, then, that you are good at guessing? Have you not heard
that the Baron is with us?"
"Yes, Miss Fenshawe, I knew that last night. Indeed, I heard his boat
hail the watch. I was lying awake, and the Baron's voice is easily
"Mrs. Haxton seems to have succeeded where all else failed. Did you see
any of their companions? Was El Jaridiah with them?"
"No. I plead guilty to opening a port and looking out. The tide carried
the boat close beneath me when she was cast loose from the gangway. El
Jaridiah, or Abdullah, if that is his name, was not there."
"It is all very mysterious and puzzling," said Irene, gazing at the
purple mountains which fringed the southwest horizon. "I am sorry we
have not been able to reward the man, and I had set my heart on buying
Moti. Don't you think it was rather wonderful that such a weedy-looking
animal should have carried us so safely?"
"It was all very wonderful," Dick replied, but he did not dare to meet
the glance suddenly turned on him. For some reason, Miss Fenshawe
decided to guide their talk into a less personal channel.
"If the breakfast gong does not ring immediately, I shall go and hammer
on grandad's door," she vowed. "He hates being disturbed when he is
dressing, but I am simply aching to find out what has happened and
where we are going. And, talking of aches, Mr. Royson, look at my poor
She held out both her hands, close together, with the palms downwards.
Royson noticed instantly she was wearing a beautiful marquise ring on
the middle finger of her left hand. The rules which govern the use of
these baubles were beyond his ken. A plain gold ring on a lady's
so-called fourth finger is a marriage token known to all men, but he
had not the ghost of an idea where an engagement ring should be
carried, and he jumped to the conclusion that the girl was wearing one.
Why had he never seen it before, he wondered? Was it a hint, a reminder
of the conventions? It is probable that Irene herself would have been
surprised if she were told that it was once the custom for engaged
young ladies to reveal their happiness by displaying a ring on the
middle finger, while those who were free but prepared to wed might
coyly announce the fact by a ring on the index finger. Be that as it
may, Royson was dumfounded by the sight of the glistening diamonds.
They winked at him evilly, and his tongue tripped:
"I cannot tell you how sorry I am," he murmured thickly, Irene dropped
"Unless you are able to squint, you didn't look at my wrists at all,"
she exclaimed. A gong pealed loudly from the cabin, and she ran off.
Dick made for the chart-room, in front of which Tagg was leaning on the
rail and gazing ahead.
"You've bin quick," said the chief. "'Keep her steady as she goes,
South-40-East, until the ole raw comes on deck. If the wind drops, call
Then Dick remembered that Tagg had bidden him have his breakfast before
he came on duty. Royson said nothing, but took his station on the
bridge. Tagg, being lame, preferred to swing himself to the main deck,
whence he hopped into the small cabin where the officers ate their
meals. He came back instantly.
"Wot's the game?" he inquired sympathetically.
"You've eaten nothin'. Feelin' bad?"
"No. Oh, no," Royson laughed and reddened.
"Then wot's wrong? Didn't you fancy the corfee an' bacon, after the
high livin' ashore?"
"The fact is, I met Miss Fenshawe, and she detained me a few minutes."
"Is that any reason why you shouldn't eat?"
"None whatever. I—er—really—forgot."
"Forgot your breakfast! Come orf of it."
Tagg climbed up, monkey-like.
"Take my tip," he said earnestly, "This is a bad climate to go hungry
in. You'd 'ave a touch of the sun in less'n no time. Just go below, an'
force yerself to nibble a bit. It'll do you good, an' I don't mind
keepin' watch another spell."
Royson obeyed in silence. His friend's kindliness supplied an
unconscious but necessary tonic to his system. Obviously, the second
mate of the Aphrodite had no business to trouble his head about the
symbolism of rings worn by Miss Irene Fenshawe. Yet he wished he knew
which was the engagement finger.
Shortly before noon Captain Stump came on deck to take the sun. This
was a semi-religious rite with Stump. Though the contours of the coast
drawn along two sides of the Admiralty chart rendered a solar
observation quite needless within sight of land, he proceeded to
ascertain the yacht's position according to the formula, or, at any
rate, according to such portion of it as applied to his rule-of-thumb
calculations. Having pricked the chart and written the log, Stump bit
the end off a cigar. He was ready for a gossip with Royson.
"You won't find life quite so lively at Aden as at Massowah," he said.
"We are bound for Aden, then?"
"Where did you think we was headin' for? Melbourne?"
"Well, sir, if I gave any thought to it I inclined more to the belief
that we were making for our original destination."
"An' where was that?"
"A bay somewhere south of us, not far from Perin."
"Have you heard anything fresh?" asked Stamp quickly.
"Not a word. But, if we reach Aden, I suppose the expedition will be
"They're chewin' about it now in the saloon," said the skipper,
glancing over his shoulder to make sure there was no one within
earshot. His sailor's eye swept the horizon at the same instant, and he
saw a smoke-blur some miles astern. Breaking off the conversation
abruptly, he Weal into the chart-house, and returned with a telescope,
which, he balanced against a stay.
"There's a steamer comin' after us in a desprit hurry," he announced,
when a prolonged examination had enabled him to form an opinion.
"After us?" repeated Dick.
"That's the way I read it. She's from Massowah. The reg'lar channel is
fifty miles east. Tell you wot, it's that I-talian gunboat the guv'nor
"But she was not in port when we left."
"No. We passed her comin' in."
"Ah, she recognized us?"
"Not much. We were under sail, an carried no masthead light. When I
twigged hers I tied a couple of sou'westers over our side lights. It's
a good thing at sea to mind your own business sometimes, an', more'n
that, to take care that other people mind theirs when they want to be
"Shall we keep on under canvas, sir?"
"As long as the wind lasts," said Stump, closing the telescope and
rolling off towards the saloon. Within a minute all hands were on deck.
The corporate life of a small ship is closely knit. The word had gone
round that a gunboat was in pursuit, and every one wanted to see her.
Mr. Fenshawe and Baron von Kerber stood apart. The older man was
visibly annoyed by this new instance of Italian interference. Royson,
pacing the tiny bridge, caught an occasional glimpse of the
millionaire's emphatic gestures. The Austrian was more sallow than
usual, but that might be the result of his unpleasant experiences on
the previous day. Irene came to the bridge. Though she knew that none
except the captain might converse with the officer on duty, she
"They won't fire at us, Mr. Royson, will they?"
He smiled reassuringly. The tremor in her voice was delightful. It made
him forget that wretched ring for a moment.
"No, that is not to be feared, Miss Fenshawe. My experience of the sea
is no greater than your own, but you may be sure the Italians will
follow the rules. If they really wish to overhaul us they will fly a
The warship was traveling sixteen knots an hour, the Aphrodite seven,
so the chase did not last long. About one o'clock the green, white, and
red ensign of Italy fluttered to the end of the pursuing vessel's
foreyard, where it could be seen most easily; under it were shown the
red and white striped code signal, and the "J" flag, which latter, in
the language of the seas means, "Stop; I 'have something important to
The British ensign was run up, followed by the answering pennant, the
mainsail was lowered, the foresail backed, and the yacht was brought
to, while the Italian ship, which was made out to be the Cigno, came
Mrs. Haxton approached. Stump and whispered in his ear.
"Quite right, ma'am," he nodded. He walked forward and looked at the
crew, mustered in full strength in the fore part.
"Every man, 'cept those on watch, go below,", he growled, "an' mind you
keep there, with al ports closed, until I ax you to show your ugly mugs
They obeyed in sulky silence, though they appreciated the reason of the
order. Hence, when, the Cigno stopped her panting engines abreast of
the Aphrodite, there were many more pairs of eyes watching from the
yacht than the Italian captain reckoned on.
The warship lowered a boat. Something went wrong with the gear, the
after block jammed, the boat fell and dangled from her davits bows
first, and an officer and half a dozen men were thrown into the sea.
They were soon rescued, but the mishap did not tend to sweeten the
temper of the Cigno's commander. A dry officer and crew were
requisitioned, and the boat was pulled alongside the yacht.
Stump, with a malicious grin on his face, leaned over the starboard
"Wot is it?" he demanded. "Have you lost yer bearin's?"
The officer replied in Italian, greatly to Stump's disgust.
"I s'pose the chap they chucked overboard was the on'y Dago among 'em
who could speak English," he grunted, but Mrs. Haxton explained that
the officer was asking for the gangway to be lowered. Stump nodded to a
couple of sailors, and the ladder dropped so smartly that the boat
nearly came to grief a second time.
The officer bowed very politely when he reached the deck. Probably he
was surprised to find himself in the presence of two such beautiful
women. Though Irene spoke Italian, Mrs. Haxton took on herself the role
of interpreter. The Cigno carried two letters from the Governor of
Massowah, she said. One was addressed to Signor Fenshawe, the other to
the signor captain of the British yacht Aphrodite. Would the two
gentlemen kindly read and acknowledge receipt of the Governor's
Both were purely formal documents. They set forth the official demand
that the Aphrodite should not attempt to land any of her occupants on
Italian territory at other than a recognized port, and warned her owner
and commander that the Cigno would enforce observance of the request.
At first, Mr. Fenshawe refused angrily to give a written reply, but von
Kerber prevailed on him, and he wrote:
"Mr. Hiram Fenshawe begs to inform the Governor of Erythrea that his
prohibition of the landing of a British scientific expedition in the
colony he rules is arbitrary and unwarranted. Mr. Hiram Fenshawe is
further of opinion that the said prohibition is part of the lawless
treatment to which he and other members of the yacht's company were
subjected during their visit to the 'recognized port' of Massowah.
Finally, Mr. Hiram Fenshawe intends to lay the whole matter before the
British Foreign Office."
This stiff-necked answer showed clearly that the writer was still on
von Kerber's side, no matter what revelations were contained in the
letter from London which Royson knew of. Irene copied the note for her
grandfather. She made no comment. Perhaps her own island blood was
a-boil at the cavalier tone of the Governor's threat.
Stump's letter was characteristic. It ran:
S. Y. Aphrodite,
Lat. 15° 10' N., Long. 41° 15' E,
SIR—Yours at hand. Will act as think fit.
JOHN STUMP, Master
The disagreeable part of this business ended, the Italian officer
conveyed the compliments of the Cigno's commander, and, on his behalf,
invited Signor Fenshawe and the two ladies to luncheon. Mr. Fenshawe
stiffly declined, on the plea that he did not wish to interrupt the
voyage, and the envoy went back to his ship.
The Aphrodite swung round into the wind, dipped her ensign, and was
soon bowling along at her usual rate. The Cigno stood away for the
coast, but, as the day wore, it was palpable that she did not mean to
part company with the yacht until the Straits of Bab-el-mandeb were
About four o'clock the wind dropped and the engines were called on.
With the night the wind rose again but veered to the south. The
Cigno's lights were clearly visible at about three miles' distance.
Her white masthead light watched the Aphrodite without blinking, while
her red and green eyes suggested to Irene's fancy some fabled monster
of the deep waiting to pounce on the yacht if she deviated an inch from
her seaward course.
The girl snatched a few minutes' talk with Royson. Von Kerber, it
seemed, had persuaded her grandfather that Alfieri was the paid agent
of rival archeologists who had got wind of the Sabaean hoard, and were
able to secure the help of the Italian Government. She was convinced
that the ill treatment meted out to them at Massowah had only confirmed
the old gentleman's determination to best his opponents at all costs.
The burking of his cablegrams, made known by the Baron, was the last
straw in an aggravated load. The yacht was going to Aden to enable him
to lodge a complaint with the proper authorities, but she would leave
almost at once for French—Somaliland, where a kafila would be
collected and a dash made across the Italian frontier. And Dick
gathered that Irene herself was inclined to let affairs run their
natural course. He agreed with her, which was to be expected, seeing
that he was four-and twenty, and in love. He cudgeled his brains for
some pretext to discuss rings and the manner of wearing them, but his
wit failed him there. Irene on the deck of her grandfather's yacht
differed in several important particulars from the tremulous girl who
clung to him during that blissful journey of the previous night.
He tried to clear up this vital point with Tagg.
"Did you ever give a young lady an engagement ring?" he asked, after
judiciously leading his chief to discourse on the frailties of the sex.
"Well," said Tagg reflectively, "it all depen's on the way you take'
it. I once gev' a girl a Mizpah ring, which fancied, when she saw'r it
in a pawnshop window. Next time I met her she tole me she'd swopped it
for a dress improver. The feller she was goin' to marry didn't like the
motter as comin' from me, you see, but the funny thing was she never
said a word about him when she saw'r me buyin' the ring. Since then,
I've kep' me money in me pocket."
Royson took the morning watch, from 4 A.M. till 8. Stump joined him
soon after dawn, and appeared to be anxious about the yacht's exact
position. So far as Dick could judge from the chart, they were in safe
waters; nevertheless, the stout skipper did not rest content until the
tall peak of Jebel Aduali opened up clear of Jebel Ash Ali, with
Sanahbor Island bearing west.
A lighthouse on the mainland flashed a bright ray at them before the
rising sun rendered its warning unnecessary. Still dogging them, the
Cigno followed in their wake at half speed, but Stump gave no eye to
the warship. He continued to scan the coast intently. A low,
double-peaked hill intervened between the lofty Jebel Aduali and the
ship. When its saddle cut the summit of the more distant mountain,
Stump changed the course sharply.
To Royson's surprise, the yacht turned due west, and headed for the
point whence the lighthouse had gleamed half an hour earlier.
And now, instead of looking ahead, Stump kept his telescope glued on
the Cigno. A cloud of smoke from the gunboat's funnels showed that
she had noted the Aphrodite's new direction, and meant to take a
close interest in it. She had a few miles to make up, but that was a
simple matter, and her nose swung to the southwest as she raced for the
bay towards which the yacht was steaming.
Both vessels held on, following converging lines, for nearly an hour.
By that time they were hardly a mile apart. Suddenly Stump sent the
Aphrodite round until she lay on her previous course. In a word,
after standing in for the land in the most decided manner, he was now
making for the Straits again.
This behavior apparently puzzled the Italian vessel, as, indeed, it
succeeded in puzzling Royson and the man at the wheel, while the looks
cast towards the bridge by the watch, who were mainly employed In
swabbing the deck, told that the men were commenting on the yacht's
All at once the blare of a siren came faintly over the shimmering sea,
and Stump chuckled triumphantly.
"He's found it," he roared, his voice almost rivaling the hoarseness of
the far-off foghorn. "Sink me If that Dago wasn't so taken up with
pipin' my antics that he's gone an' done it!"
"Done what, sir?" asked Dick, seeing that his respected skipper was in
"Run his bloomin' Cigno onto the Scilla Shoal. Damme, I thought he'd
do it. Listen to him," for another wail reached them from the
disconsolate warship. "He's fixed there as though, he was glued to it.
He'll have to jettison all his bunker an' a gun or two afore he gets
off. They tell me Cigno means 'swan.' I wonder wot's the I-talian for
'goose.' Go an' tell Tagg. Tell him to tumble up quick, if on'y for the
sake of ole times."
Royson aroused the chief, and gave him the skipper's message. Tagg,
rubbing his eyes, came on deck. He looked at the Cigno, heard her
dismal trumpeting, and slowly took, in the surroundings.
"Well, s'elp me!" he grinned. "Sorry to rake cold ashes, cap'n, but
isn't that where you piled up the Ocean Queen?"
"Don't I know it!" growled' Stump, "One solid month, we stuck there,
didn't we, Tagg? Threw over-board two thousand tons o' best Cardiff,
an' then had to be hauled off by another tramp. Well, good-by, Swan!
I'll report you at Perim. An' mind you take care o' them letters. It
'ud be a pity if the Governor didn't 'ave 'em in time. By gad, I never
thought I'd owe the Ocean Queen a good turn. She lost me my berth,
an' nearly cost me my ticket, but she's made it up to-day. Come on,
Tagg, we'll have a tot o' rum an' drink to the rotten ole hulk which
gev' us best ag'in that swaggerin' I-talian. My godfather, won't Becky
be pleased when she hears of it!"
And the two dived below to partake of the generous spirit which pays
homage to the rising sun, while the Cigno bleated her distress to
THE SIGN IN THE SKY
"There is a spice of the nomad in all of us," said Irene, pulling up
her hardy Somali pony and allowing him to graze on some prickly plant
from which a grass-fed animal would have turned in hungry disgust.
"Here am I, quite new to desert life, enjoying it to the full. Perhaps
my remote ancestors were gipsies. Do I look like a gipsy, Mr. Royson?"
"My acquaintance with gipsies is limited," said Dick. "Once, being free
from office troubles on Derby Day, I walked over Epsom Downs, and was
beseeched many times to have my fortune told. Most of the
prophetesses—they were all of your sex, Miss Fenshawe—were blessed
with exceedingly fine complexions and beautiful eyes. If these are
marked features of the gipsy tribe—"
"Don't you dare bring me out here in order to pay compliments."
"Indeed, I am but stating the bare truth to your face."
"If you persist, then, I shall be compelled to act the part of a gipsy
and tell your fortune, and I warn you that it will not be very cheerful
Royson gazed beyond her towards a white mist which shrouded the eastern
horizon. Overhead, the delicious blue of early morning was yielding to
the noonday tint of molten copper.
"Even if we turn back to-day there are thirty marches between us and
the sea," he said with seeming irrelevance.
But those two were beginning to understand one another, and the girl
colored under the deep tan of sun and air.
"Whenever we are alone now you insist on talking nonsense," she said.
"I really believe the desert has made you light-headed. Please be
serious for a moment. I brought you here to—"
"I am glad you have corrected yourself. A moment ago you charged me
with bringing you here."
"Well, then, we came here, if one must be so accurate, to be away from
the others. At least, I mean—Well, that is a stupid way of putting it,
but it will serve—"
"It has served most admirably," said Royson, glancing back at the long
drawn-out caravan crossing the shallow valley they had just quitted.
"There you go again," she cried, with just a touch of petulance in her
tone. "You know very well that I did not mean what I said."
"Not even when you promised to tell my fortune."
"I can explain myself that way if you like. Your fortune is singularly
like my own at the present moment. You are accompanying a crowd of
people who don't know where they are going, or what they mean to do
when they get there. I am quite sure the Baron is befogged, or, if that
is not a happy expression in this wonderful atmosphere, shall I say
lost? I don't speak Arabic, but I can read that man's face, and I
watched him this morning when he was consulting our so-called guide. In
plain English, Mr. Royson, we are drifting, in the vain hope that
somewhere out there we shall find five hills in a clump. I don't
object, in a sense. It is a very delightful picnic from one point of
view. But I hate uncertainty, and I loathe deceit, and here we are at
the mercy of both, while my grandfather is so taken up with the joy of
arranging everything, which von Kerber very cleverly leaves to him,
that he simply won't listen to me when I suggest the need of more
definite information. And just think of it! Five Hills! With a rocky
desert in front and five thousand hills to the left. What is to be the
end of it all? Are we to go wandering on till we march into Suez, or
"Our sheikh is a marvel at finding oases," said Dick. "I wonder if
there is a string of them all the way between here and—"
"Mr. Royson," broke in Irene, "you are the only person' to whom I can
confide my doubts and fears. They may be silly, but please don't adopt
that tone. It—hurts."
Royson, who had dismounted, slipped his Arab's bridle under an arm and
strode a pace nearer.
"Don't you see that we can do nothing at present?" he said earnestly.
"I am alive to the difficulties which may beset us in the near future;
but what would you have me do, Miss Fenshawe? If your grandfather were
not of the party, I know exactly what I would propose—at least, I
think I know."
"And that is?"
"That Stump and some of our men should escort you and Mrs. Haxton back
to Pajura, and let our Austrian friend ride his hobby to death. And
believe me, I am not consulting my own wishes in saying that."
"Don't you wish to return?"
"No. I love this arid land. I never see the supercilious curl of a
camel's lip or meet the bland contempt of his eye but I imagine him
saying, 'Ah, Feringhi, were it not for your white skin I might whisper
strange secrets into your ear, but you are an unbelieving dog, so
perforce I remain dumb.' Hence, Miss Fenshawe, inclination pulls one
way and common sense the other. As matters stand, I plead guilty to a
profound gladness that common sense has not swayed us to-day, and may
escape us to-morrow. Candidly, I am enjoying myself immensely."
"Then there is nothing more to be said," cried Irene, yielding somewhat
to his buoyancy. "Shall we go on, or wait here for the kafila to
"Unless I am greatly mistaken," said Dick, looking at his watch, "we
shall find the usual oasis hidden in a depression about two miles
ahead. Our excellent sheikh, Abdur Kad'r, times the morning march to
end precisely at ten o'clock. It is now a quarter to nine. Our camels
march two and a half miles per hour, and we are three quarters of a
mile ahead. Therein, Miss Fenshawe, yea have a first-rate example of
deductive reasoning, so I propose that we advance steadily, and look
for a cluster of palms. If, happily, their shade is not taken up by
other wanderers, you will be out of the sun long before the caravan
arrives. What say you?"
"Some day I shall stamp my foot and say 'No'—shriek it at you, in
fact. I hate any one who is always right, and you seem to be utterly
different since we left the Aphrodite. I have never seen such a
change in a man. One would think you were born in the desert. And you
are learning Arabic ten times more quickly than I."
"I do not find favor in your eyes this morning, though it is good to
know that I have reformed, since, by your own showing, I must have been
always wrong aboard ship," said Dick, remounting.
"Oh, it is a perfect luxury to have some one to pitch into," cried the
girl, stirring the Somali with her heel.
"But won't you tell me what I have done that vexes you, Miss Fenshawe?"
"You are absurd. You pretend that you see nothing, whereas I am sure
you see more than I, but you refuse to speak."
Royson seemed to be singularly unaffected by this outburst. He caught
the angry flush on the girl's forehead, and, as was his way when the
stubborn fit seized him, threw his head back, with lips set. Irene
stole a look at him, and laughed constrainedly.
"Very well. If you won't talk I must," she said with a great air of
determination. "It is about Mrs. Haxton."
"A most interesting topic," said Royson.
"That is what my grandfather seems to think."
"He told me last night that he considers her a singularly well-informed
"For well-informed read artful," exclaimed the girl bitterly. "Have you
forgotten what I said to you in the canal? When we began our voyage
Mrs. Haxton and the Baron were as good as engaged. Now they have
reached some agreement which permits Mrs. Haxton to fly for higher
matrimonial game than a penniless adventurer."
"Do you really think that?"
Royson had grown suddenly serious. He half turned in the saddle so as
to seek the added inspiration of Irene's expression, but she kept her
eyes studiously averted, and the broad-brimmed pith hat she wore helped
to conceal her face. But she answered readily.
"I am quite certain of it. How else could I discuss it with you?"
"The view I take is that she merely wishes to give von Kerber every
chance. So long as Mr. Fenshawe remains interested—beguiled, if you
like—she switches his thoughts away from the object of our journey.
Your grandfather is a masterful man, Miss Fenshawe. If he suspected
that we were following a wild-goose chase he would turn south again
this very hour."
"Yet I am sure of my ground," she persisted.
Royson's horse started and shied. A small brown snake, coiled up in the
sunlight, and almost invisible amidst the stones, squirmed rapidly into
a crevice beneath a rock. Such incidents in the desert were too
frequent to demand comment. Dick patted the Arab's neck and soon
"Failing our discovery of this fabled treasure, I can appreciate Mrs.
Haxton's willingness to many a millionaire," he went on. "Yet there are
difficulties in the way. That viper reminds me of one. Would not von
"No," said Irene.
They jogged along in silence for some distance. The girl added nothing,
to her emphatic monosyllable. Dick felt a tugging at his heart-strings
which was becoming a dangerously frequent symptom.
"As you have favored me with your confidence thus far, won't you take
the next step, and tell me why you credit Baron von Kerber with such
complaisance?" he demanded.
"A woman should not always be asked for reasons, Mr. Royson," said she
"In the graver events of life one wishes for them, nevertheless."
"Perhaps we are deviating from the chief issue," she countered. "If
only I could persuade grandad that he is being wilfully misled, things
might go as I wish. Can't you help, Mr. Royson?"
Then she turned her face to his, and the temptation that had gripped
him many a time of late came back with an intensity that was almost
unendurable. He did not flinch from her steadfast eyes. Though the path
of honor was steep and straight he must tread it to the end.
"If I tell your grandfather what little I know of these people I break
my word," he said harshly. "That is the only reply I can make, Miss
Fenshawe. May I add the ignoble argument that any such breach of faith
on my part would probably be useless? You ought to sympathize with me."
"Why?" she said coldly.
"Because it is not often that a man is tortured as I am by a conflict
between duty and—and desire."
"There is our palm grove," she cried, pointing to a few stunted trees
whose fronds showed above the rock-strewn bank of a small wady, or
ravine, which cut through the center of the shelving plateau they were
crossing. "The ground is fairly clear here. Shall we try a canter?"
Without waiting for a reply she pressed her pony into a steady gallop.
Royson responded to her wayward mood, and followed her lead. Though the
sun was so hot that their hands would have blistered if unprotected by
gloves, the clean, dry air-current created by the rapid motion was
exhilarating in the extreme. They were riding through a lost continent,
yet its savage ruin was sublimely beautiful. The comparatively level
spot that allowed the luxury of a gallop was made up of sand and
stones, with here and there a black rock thrusting its bold contour
above the shingle. A curiously habitable aspect was given to the desert
by numbers of irregular alluvial mounds which, on examination, were
found to consist of caked soil held together by the roots of trees. So,
at one time, this arid plain had borne a forest. To the mind's eye,
here lay the dead earth's burial-place.
Ages ago a torrent had fertilized the surrounding tract, and its
dried-up bed was marked by water-smoothed boulders. Here and there,
small groups of dwarf bushes, covered with dagger-like thorns, drew
sustenance from secret rills of moisture. The camel path they followed
had the distinctness of daily use, though no recognized kafila had
passed that way during the previous year, new trade routes to the
interior having drawn the caravans in other directions. Soon it turned
up the side of the ravine. The sayall bushes began to grow more
densely, and the wady spread to a great width. Beyond a patch of
pebbles lay a brown carpet of tough grass. In the center stood seven
date-trees and a considerable number of stunted bushes, these latter
differing from the sayall only in the size of their thorns, which
were fully two inches long and seemingly untouchable. Yet, next to
water, the thorn-crop constituted the chief wealth of the oasis,
because camels would munch the tough spines with great relish.
The camping-place appeared to be untenanted. Royson found the
footprints of gazelles wherever the sand had collected in a hollow, but
the animals must have scampered away unseen towards the barren hills
near at hand. Through an occasional gap there were glimpses of the
mighty ramparts of Abyssinia. It was hard to realize that the dainty
gazelle could find food in this desolate land. Yet, with the inborn
instinct of the hunter and scout, Royson unslung his carbine and held
it across the saddle-bow as he urged his horse slightly in front of the
short-striding Somali. When he drew rein he rose in the stirrups to
peer through the barrier of thorns.
"First come, first served," he cried joyously. "We have the forage to
ourselves, Miss Fenshawe. I shall be sorry for any others who come this
way after our host has passed. Look at it now. It is an absolute army.
We shall strip this poor little garden of the desert as locusts are
said to eat up a cornfield."
Irene slipped from the saddle, loosened the girths, and then glanced at
the distant caravan, which had just become visible again on the
sky-line of the plateau. It was more than likely that no such mixed
gathering of men and animals had taken that road since the destruction
of forests converted the country into a wilderness. The party from the
yacht numbered eighteen; there were fifty Bedawi Arabs in attendance on
a hundred camels; eight horses, Arabs or Somali ponies, each required a
syce, while the sheikh who had brought the caravan from Pajura was
overlord of a score of hangers-on who figured in his list as servants.
A thin haze of dust rose as this regiment advanced. In that wonderful
light its progress might be marked twenty miles away by keen eyes. The
girl watched it silently for a time, while Royson, knowing the manner
in which the camp would be formed, picketed the two horses so as not to
interfere with the general arrangements.
Then he lit a cigarette and rejoined Irene.
"How far distant is the head of the caravan now?" she asked.
"Nearly two miles. It looks more like two furlongs," said he, divining
her thought, for it was easy to discern Mrs. Haxton, wrapped in a gray
dust-cloak, on a splendid riding camel in advance of the main body;
beside her, on Arab horses, were Mr. Fenshawe and von Kerber, the
latter having just ridden up from the rear.
"Does one's sight become better, then, by residence in this strange
land?" murmured the girl.
Royson deliberately ignored the less obvious significance of the words.
"I think so," he said. "When all is said and done, desert and sea are
akin, and most certainly a sea voyage benefits the eyes. Yet, now that
you mention it, the atmosphere is remarkably clear to-day."
"Are you weather-wise, Mr. Royson? Is not that a sign of storm?"
"I sought instruction from Sheikh Abdur Kad'r on that very point only
this morning. He says that the Kamsin does not blow at this season, and
there is every reason to believe that it has not rained in this
locality during the past three hundred years."
"Dear me! Three—hun-dred—years!"
"Yes. Sorry, but I can't make it any less."
"Then you may give Sheikh Abdur Kad'r my compliments and tell him I
predict either a thunderstorm or some unusual disturbance before night.
Mrs. Haxton has a very effective smile, I admit, but it requires
exceptional charm to make a smile distinctly visible at—how far did
you say?—two miles?"
The lady in question was certainly bending towards Mr. Fenshawe, and
the smile was a reasonable conjecture. But they had tacitly agreed to
forget their earlier conversation. They chatted freely now with the
friendly ease that was their wont ever since the exigencies of camp
life had thrown them together far more than was possible on board ship.
Five weeks ago the Aphrodite dropped anchor off Pajura after crossing
from Aden, where Mr. Fenshawe had despatched his cablegrams and
obtained a portion of the equipment needed for the desert tour. The
arrival of such a large party occasioned no little excitement at the
French port. That tiny station had not seen so many white faces at one
time since its establishment, and, when its polite Commandant recovered
from his voluble surprise, he warned Mr. Fenshawe that the interior was
somewhat unsafe. But stories of Arab unrest were familiar to the
veteran. He had heard them regularly during the preceding thirty years,
and he was more than ever bent on outwitting the jealous rivals who had
placed such obstacles in his path.
The French officers at Pajura thought he was rather cracked to take
ladies with him, yet they were obliged to admit that desert travel was
healthy and enjoyable, provided supplies were ample, and, on this
score, the skilled explorer of Soudan by-ways showed that he had lost
none of his cunning. Before the caravan started news came from Aden
that the Cigno had been dragged off her sandspit. This gave an added
value to the land route, as the coast of Erythrea was assuredly closed
to them; the French authorities, on the other hand, rendered every
assistance in their power.
And now, after a month of steady marching, the caravan was well within
Italian territory. The route lay parallel with the sea, but nearly a
hundred miles distant from it. It traversed the interminable wadys and
shelving table-lands leading down to the coast from the granite and
pink Nubian stone foothills of the inner range of giants which guarded
the fertile valleys of Abyssinia. Thus far, no unexpected difficulties
had cropped up. The few nomads encountered were only too anxious to be
friendly. The weather, scorching by day and intensely cold by night,
was quite bearable. Indeed, to any one in good health, it supplied a
marvelous tonic. Travelers less admirably equipped might have suffered
annoyance from the snakes and scorpions which seem to thrive in the
midst of sunburnt desolation, but these voyageurs de luxe slept in
hammocks slung in roomy tents, and assiduous servants dislodged every
stone before they spread the felt carpets on which the heaven-born
deigned to sit at meals.
Yet—as Irene had guessed correctly—this magnificent progress through
the desert contained a canker that threatened its destruction. Either
von Kerber's calculations were at fault, or the papyrus was a madman's
screed. The caravan was already two marches beyond the point agreed on
by every authority consulted as that fixed by the Greek who survived
the massacre of the Roman legion. The unhappy Austrian could no more
identify the Five Hills mentioned in the papyrus as the essential clue
to the whereabouts of the treasure than a man in an unknown forest can
distinguish a special group of five trees. That is to say, he may
blunder on them by chance, but he cannot find them by using his
judgment. As Irene put it, here were not five, but five thousand hills.
The mortal puzzle before von Kerber was to pick his five.
When the caravan arrived at the halting-place the tense solitude gave
way to pandemonium. Camels grunted and squealed in eager plaint to be
relieved of their loads, horses neighed and fought for the best tufts
of grass, men raged at each other as though the work of preparing the
camp were something new and wholly unexpected.
Through the turmoil strode Abdur Kad'r, a lean, saturnine Arab, who
anathematized all his assistants indiscriminately, only varying his
epithets according to the nationality of the man under the lash of his
tongue at the moment.
"Bestir yourself, illegitimate one. Are we to await the setting sun ere
the tents are fixed?" he shouted at a negro who was bothered by a
knotted rope. A crash behind him told that a too-zealous Arab had
tumbled a box to the ground.
"Oh, you owl, what evil have you done?" roared the Sheikh, transfixing
the culprit with a glittering eye.
"Lo, I loosened a strap, honored one, and the accursed thing fell," was
"It fell, eh? So shall my whip fall, Sidi Hassan, if thou art not more
painstaking." He rushed towards a group of Somali syces.
"Pigs, and children of pigs," he cried, "for what does the Effendi pay
ye? Is there not occupation, ye black dogs? May your fathers' graves be
defiled by curs!"
Stump, whose rubicund visage was burnt brick-red by the desert, took a
keen interest in Abdur Kad'r's daily outpourings. He had no Arabic, but
he appreciated the speaker's fluency.
"He'd make a bully good bo's'n," was his favorite comment, and he would
add sorrowfully, "I wish I knew wot he was sayin'. It 'ud do me a
In an astonishingly short space of time the camp would be in form,
fires lit with parched shrubs gathered during the last stage of the
journey, a meal cooked, and every one settled down to rest until
sunset, when, if there was no evening march, the Arabs and negroes
would sing, and perhaps indulge in amazingly realistic sword-play,
while the dozen sailors brought from the yacht would watch the
combatants or engage in a sing-song on their own account.
The present encampment offered no exception to the general rule. Abdur
Kad'r, it is true, may have raged a little more extensively than usual
when it was discovered that the well had caved in from sheer disuse,
and several hours' labor would be necessary before some brackish water
could be obtained. He did not trouble the Effendi with this detail,
however. There was another more pressing matter to be dealt with, but,
Allah be praised, that might wait till a less occupied hour, for the
Frank was in no hurry, and he paid like a Kaliph.
About four o'clock Irene was sitting in her tent making some belated
jottings in a diary. Being thirsty, she called a servant, and told him
to bring a bottle of soda-water. A few minutes later she heard a
stumble, a crash, and a loud exclamation in Arabic. The man had fallen
over one of the heavy stones to which the guy-ropes were fastened.
She looked up smilingly, and wondered whether he would understand her
if she said in French that she hoped he had not injured himself. The
glass was broken, but the bottle was intact, for the native had caught
it as he fell.
"Ça ne fait rien," she cried encouragingly. Then she found that the
Somali had risen to his knees, and was gazing skyward with every token
of abject terror. At the same instant a strange commotion broke out in
the camp. Through the open side of the tent she saw Europeans and
natives all looking in the one direction—northwards. The Britons and
Arabs had an air of profound astonishment. They pointed and
gesticulated, but otherwise showed self-control. But the negroes were
in a panic. For the most part they were kneeling. A few prostrated
themselves at full length, and howled dolorously.
The girl was alone, and she naturally felt alarmed. Royson was not far
away, and he, like the rest, was held spellbound by some spectacle the
nature of which she could not guess. Perhaps his thoughts were not far
removed from Irene, because he turned and looked at her.
"Come quickly, Miss Fenshawe," he shouted. "Here is the most wonderful
Was that it—a mirage? Why, then, this hubbub? She had grown so
accustomed to the grim humor of the desert in depicting clear streams
of running water, smooth, tree-bordered lakes, and other delightful
objects of which the arid land dreamed in its sleep of death, that the
excitement caused in the camp was wholly inexplicable.
"What are you doing there?" she cried sharply to the frightened
servant. "Go and get another glass, and take care you do not fall next
If he heard he paid no heed. He continued to stare at the sky with
Conscious of a fresh thrill of fear, she ran towards Royson.
"What in the world—"
Then she saw, and was stricken dumb with the sight, for she was looking
at a spectacle which the desert seldom provides even to those who pass
their lives within its bounds. A thin haze had taken the place of the
remarkable clearness of the morning hours. Away to the north it had
deepened almost into a fog, a low-lying and luminous mist like the
white pall which often shrouds the sea on a calm bright day in summer.
The sky was losing its burnished copper hue and becoming blue again,
and, on the false horizon supplied by the crest of the fog-bank, stood
a brilliantly vivid panorama.
There were military tents, lines of picketed camels and horses, a great
number of Arabs and blacks, and some fifty Italian soldiers, all
magnified to gigantic proportions, but so clearly defined that the
trappings of the animals, the military uniforms, and the gay-colored
burnous of the Arabs were readily distinguishable.
It could be seen, too, that they were working. Mounds of rock and earth
showed that considerable excavations had been made. While those
gathered round the well were yet gazing at this bewildering and
lifelike picture, the moving ghosts in the sky underwent a change which
enhanced their realism. One squad of soldiers and natives marched off
towards the tents while another took their places. Were it not for the
grotesque size of men and animals and the eerie silence of their
movements it was hard to believe that the eyes were not witnessing
actualities. The thing was fantastic, awe-inspiring, stupendous in
design, but faultlessly true in color and treatment. No artist could
ever hope for such a canvas. Its texture was vapor, its background the
empyrean, and nature's own palette supplied the colors.
And this cloud scene was pitiless in its moral. Two of the onlookers,
Mrs. Haxton and von Kerber, knew exactly what it meant, while others
read its message correctly enough. The expedition was forestalled. The
long voyage and longer march, the vast expenditure, the hardships
inseparable from the journey through the desert, the hopes, the fears,
all the planning and contriving, went for nothing, since Alfieri the
dreamer, Alfieri the fool, had apparently succeeded in locating the
treasure of Sheba.
WHEREIN A BISHARIN CAMEL BECOMES USEFUL
To the Arab every white man is a Frank. The European invader was given
that name during the First Crusade, and the Paynim does not change
appreciably with the centuries. But he has learnt to differentiate
between certain varieties of Frank, and Abdur Kad'r murmured
maledictions on the Italian species as he watched the mirage slowly
fading into nothingness. Though no one had told him the ultimate
objective of the caravan, he felt that the presence of Italian soldiers
at the nearest stopping-place put a bar to further progress. The mere
fact that the kafila came from French territory was unanswerable.
There were difficulties enough already, difficulties which must be
discussed that evening, but this obstacle was wholly unforeseen.
Under his bent brows the gaunt sheikh had noted Mr. Fenshawe's manner
when he turned excitedly to demand an explanation from von Kerber. The
Effendi's change of tone told its own tale. Abdur Kad'r, true believer
and desert-born, remarked to a brother Arab that Allah was Allah and
Mahomet was undoubtedly the Prophet, but that of all the misbegotten
produce of swine now cumbering the earth the Italians ranked easily
first—or words to that effect. Then he relieved his feelings by
objurgating the panic-stricken Somalis, whose superstitious minds
interpreted the appearance of the air-borne host as a sure indication
of war. He was in the midst of an eloquent outburst when his employer
"How far is it to the next oasis?" came the dreaded query.
Abdur Kad'r, shrewd judge of men, knew that he must be explicit.
"Sixty kilometers, honored one," he replied.
"What! Nearly forty English miles?"
"It may be so, Effendi. In our reckoning it is twenty kos and one kos
is three kilometers."
"But these Italians—in the mirage—they must be camped near water?"
"There is none nearer than the Well of Suleiman, Effendi."
"Is it possible that a mirage would reveal so clearly a scene taking
place at such a distance?"
"Strange things happen in the desert, Effendi. I have seen a village in
the sky which my camels were four hours in reaching, and I have been
told of sights even more wonderful."
"You are sure about the sixty kilometers?"
"Quite sure, O worthy of honor."
Mr. Fenshawe was skeptical. Mirage-phenomena were familiar to him, but
never had they dealt with natural objects beyond a range of a few
miles. For the most part, the mirage of the desert is a baseless
illusion, depending on the bending of light-rays by air strata of
differing densities. The rarer "looming," witnessed occasionally in
more northerly latitudes, shows scenes actually in existence, and the
best authenticated instance of a long-range view is that testified to
by the inhabitants of Hastings, who during three hours on July 26,
1798, saw the whole coastline of France, from Calais to Dieppe, with a
distinctness that was then regarded as miraculous.
But, whether Abdur Kad'r's figures were correct or not, there was no
gainsaying the evidence of the mirage itself. The collapse of the
undertaking was imminent, and the millionaire's tone was exceedingly
curt when he called von Kerber to conference.
"There are certain matters which must be cleared up, now that nature
has assumed the role of guide," he said dryly. "I have been well aware
during the past few days that you were not able to fix on the exact
place described in the papyrus. I could pardon that. We are in a
country where landmarks are bewilderingly alike, and therefore apt to
cause confusion. But how comes it that our rivals can go straight to
the place we are in search of, while we wander blindly in the desert?
You assured me that yours was the only copy of the papyrus extant with
the sole exception of the photographic reproductions supplied to me. Is
that true? And, if it is true, who gave these others the information
that has brought about our failure?"
Mr. Fenshawe's pride was wounded. All the wrath of the disappointed
connoisseur welled forth in his contemptuous words. Their very calmness
and precision showed the depth of his anger, and von Kerber, like Abdur
Kad'r, felt that the time for specious pretext had gone. So he
answered, with equal exactness of phrase:
"I gave you that assurance months ago in Scotland, and repeated it in
London, but I have not said it since we met on board the yacht, for the
very good reason that the papyrus was stolen from me at Marseilles."
"Yes, I was waylaid and robbed while driving from the station to the
"Purposely, do you mean? Was the papyrus the object of the attack?"
"Then this man, Alfieri, knew of it?"
"I have never concealed that from you."
"It is hard to say what you have or have not concealed, Baron von
Kerber. My confidence in you is shaken. How am I to know that this
latest version of Alfieri's amazing interference in your affairs is the
No man is so sensitive of his honor as he who is conscious of by-gone
lapses. Von Kerber started as though the other had stabbed him.
"That is an unworthy imputation," he cried. "Mr. Royson can tell you
that the papyrus was stolen. He rescued me from my assailants, yes?
Mrs. Haxton is aware of it, and, unless I am mistaken, Miss Fenshawe
also is no stranger to the news, seeing that our second mate is so
greatly in her confidence."
The older man, still watching the last wraiths of the mirage, seemed to
be deaf to the Austrian's biting allusion to Irene.
"I did not look for such a web of deceit," he murmured. "The papyrus
was genuine, and I sought no other proof of honesty. You say Mrs.
Haxton and my granddaughter are in this pact of silence. Let us have
Irene, as might be expected, indignantly disclaimed any sympathy with
von Kerber's methods.
"I heard, by chance, of the part Mr. Royson took in the affair at
Marseilles," she said. "My maid told me. It was the gossip of the ship.
Yet, when I questioned Mr. Royson himself, he refused to discuss the
matter, owing to some pledge of secrecy drawn from him by Baron von
Kerber. You forget, grandad, how often you have told me that I did not
understand this undertaking sufficiently to justify my hostility to it.
I have never believed in it, not for one moment. If you wish to know
what happened at Marseilles, why not ask Mr. Royson himself?"
"Yes," said Mr. Fenshawe quietly, "that will be well. Send for him,
It was noteworthy that he addressed no question to Mrs. Haxton. That
lady, nervous and ill-at-ease, could not guess how far the rupture
between von Kerber and his patron had gone. She felt intuitively that
the Austrian was puzzled, perhaps alarmed, by the presence of an
official expedition in the very territory he had hoped to explore
without hindrance—yet his manner hinted at something in reserve.
Though he quivered under Irene's outspoken incredulity, his aspect was
that of a man whose schemes have been foiled by sheer ill-luck. A rogue
unmasked will grovel: von Kerber was defiant. For the moment, Mrs.
Haxton was struck dumb with foreboding. Mr. Fenshawe's dejected air
showed that a deadly blow had been dealt to the project to which she
had devoted all her resources since the beginning of the march. She,
too, had begun to doubt. Here, in the desert, the buried treasure was
an intangible thing. In England, the promises of the Greek's dying
message were satisfying by their very vagueness. In Africa, face to
face with the tremendous solitude, they became unbelievable, a dim
fable akin to the legends of vanished islands and those mysterious
races to be found only in unknown lands, which have tickled the
imaginations of mankind, ever since the dawn of human intelligence. So,
a live millionaire being a more definite asset than the hoard of a
forgotten city, she had coolly informed von Kerber that if he wished to
improve his fortunes, he would do well to pay attention to Miss
Fenshawe, and leave her free to win a wealthy husband. It was a
villainous pact, but it might have succeeded, at any rate in Mrs.
Haxton's case, for no woman could be more gracious and deferentially
flattering than she when she chose to exert herself. And now, reality
seemed to yield to unreality. The substantial fabric of close
friendship between Fenshawe and herself had crumbled before the fiery
breath of the wilderness. What a turn of fortune's wheel! Here were all
her plans shattered in an instant, and the man on whom depended the
future changed into a hostile judge.
Royson found a queer conclave awaiting him. Irene, distressed by the
injustice of her grandfather's suspicion that she was sharing in a
conspiracy of silence, had retired to a corner of the tent, and wore an
air of indifference which she certainly did not feel. Mrs. Haxton,
pallid, striving desperately to regain her self-possession, draped
herself artistically in a comfortable camp chair. Von Kerber, scowling
and depressed, stood near the entrance, and Mr. Fenshawe was seated in
the center of the tent. The red light of the declining sun was full on
his face, and Dick fancied that he had aged suddenly. Nor was this to
be wondered at. No enthusiast, not even a wealthy one, likes to have
his hopes of realizing a great achievement dashed to the ground, nor is
it altogether gratifying that a woman who has won one's high esteem
should be associated with a piece of contemptible trickery.
Mr. Fenshawe's first question told Dick that a serious dispute was
"It has been stated," said Mr. Fenshawe, looking at him in a curiously
critical way, "that a valuable document was stolen from Baron von
Kerber at Marseilles—what do you know about it?"
Dick, hourly expecting a strenuous turn to the placid marching and
camping of the past few weeks, was not taken unaware. He had mapped out
a clear line, and meant to follow it.
"I regret to say that I cannot answer you, Mr. Fenshawe," said he,
meeting the older man's searching glance unflinchingly.
"Because I gave an undertaking to that effect to Baron von Kerber."
"But I am your employer, not he."
"No, sir. That is not my view of the contract I signed."
"Have you a copy of that contract'?"
"Will you show it to me?"
"That is unnecessary," broke in von Kerber, with a savage impatience of
the quasi-judicial inquiry which Mr. Fenshawe was evidently bent on
conducting. "I give Mr. Royson full permission to answer any question
you may put to him."
"You do, eh? You give permission? Do you pay his salary?" demanded the
"Yes, on your behalf. Surely the arrangement between us cannot be
disputed. I was to make all arrangements, yes?"
"As my paid agent, you should add."
Mrs. Haxton suddenly sat forward in her chair.
"We had a tacit agreement for an equal division of the spoil," she
interposed, with an acidity that Mr. Fenshawe probably found in marked
contrast with her usual honeyed speech.
"That agreement would have been kept by me," said Fenshawe. "You may
not be aware that Baron von Kerber pleaded poverty, and I promised to
remunerate him for his services, whether we won or lost. I have no
doubt he has my letter, duly stamped at Somerset House, carefully
packed away with Mr. Royson's agreement."
The retort was in the nature of the tac-au-tac riposte beloved of the
skilled swordsman. It was succeeded by a tense silence. Mrs. Haxton
glared at the Baron. The ghost of a smile flickered on Irene's lips as
she glanced at Dick. Von Kerber swished one of his boots viciously with
a riding-whip. He found he must say something.
"Why are we creating difficulties where none exist?" he snarled. "If
the agreement stands in the way, I absolve Mr. Royson from any promise
he has made. I wanted to guard against treachery, not to tie him down
to serve me exclusively."
"You asked for obedience and a still tongue, Baron. I have given you
both," said Dick.
"There is your employer, and mine—speak."
Von Kerber could not be other than dramatic. He pointed to Mr. Fenshawe
with a fine gesture.
"I have not much to say, unless in the form of opinions. You certainly
were attacked at Marseilles, and you yourself charged one of your
assailants with stealing the papyrus. Beyond that, I know little of
your business, though, from letters and cablegrams which reached me at
various places, it seems to have been quite extensively known in
"Who was your informant?" asked Fenshawe.
"A solicitor named Forbes. He is not personally acquainted with Baron
von Kerber, but this man Alfieri, of whom we have heard so much,
employed private detectives. They, in the course of events, discovered
my identity, and met Mr. Forbes. It is only fair to Baron von Kerber to
say that I have never heard his version of the charge brought against
him by Alfieri."
"I have," said the millionaire, grimly.
There was no mistaking the inference to be drawn from his words. Von
Kerber was wholly discredited. It was exceedingly probable that the
first march of the return journey to Pajura would be ordered forthwith.
Indeed, Fenshawe rose to his feet, meaning to bid Abdur Kad'r prepare
to strike camp after the evening meal, when Mrs. Haxton, divining his
intent, cried shrilly:
"May I ask what new circumstance has brought about this remarkable
change in your plans, Mr. Fenshawe? It is true that we have been
favored by an extraordinary vision of an Italian expedition at no great
distance from our own, but what proof have we that it is successful, or
even engaged on an errand similar to ours?"
"The mere fact that extensive research is being carried on is
sufficiently convincing. Italian soldiers and Arabs do not form huge
earthworks in the desert for amusement," said Fenshawe.
"They may be trying a last desperate chance," she retorted.
"You forget that they have the same information as ourselves. There is
no trouble in deciphering demotic Greek and the hieroglyph minerals are
quite simple. Once the papyrus left Baron von Kerber's possession, our
exclusive right to it vanished, and you can hardly expect me to engage
in an armed attack on the military forces of a friendly nation."
"So far as the papyrus goes, it is utterly useless to any one," broke
in von Kerber suddenly.
Mr. Fenshawe was stirred out of his studied calm by the seeming
absurdity of the interruption.
"Useless!" he exclaimed, and his brow seamed with anger, "that is a
strange word to apply to the only evidence of your story that you have
"I always feared Alfieri," said the other, throwing his hands out as if
he were pushing away a threatening phantom. "He was spiteful, and
jealous, and he knew enough to drive him mad with desire. But I would
allow no one to interfere with me, yes? When I was sure of my ground,
when I had secured translations of each piece of the papyrus, I altered
Incredulity and hope were oddly mixed in the cry which came
simultaneously from the lips of two of his hearers. Even Irene and
Dick, less wrapped up in the dream of finding the Sabaean hoard,
awaited von Kerber's next utterance with bated breath. The man was too
unnerved to feel any triumph at the sensation he had created.
"Yes," he said, sinking wearily into a chair, though his voice almost
cracked with excitement. "I changed the distances in every instance
permitted by the text. As it stands now, the papyrus is utterly
worthless. I acted for the best, yes? A secret known to more than one
ceases to be a secret. But I am tired of pretense, and you shall have
the truth, though it carries with it a confession of ghastly failure. I
do not know what good fortune Alfieri has blundered into at Suleiman's
Well, and I admit that the place offered my own last chance. Yet, if he
has found the treasure, it was not because of the papyrus, but despite
it. Here are photographs of every section in their present form," and
he produced some prints from a pocket-book.
"You were taught some Greek at school, Mr. Royson? Very well. Look at
the passages which are faintly underlined, and you will, see where I
have altered whole phrases, converted tens of miles into hundreds, and
hundreds of paces into thousands. And that is the document which
Alfieri obtained at Marseilles. He would recognize it as the original,
though it is now quite misleading. If he is digging at the right place
by reason of the directions given there, it is something beyond belief,
"You speak of Alfieri recognizing the papyrus. Evidently, then, he had
seen it earlier. In what manner was he connected with its discovery?"
Mr. Fenshawe's coldly direct question came in sharp contrast with the
Austrian's impassioned outburst. Von Kerber did not reply. With his
elbows resting on his knees, and supporting his chin between clenched
fists, he looked through the open door of the tent with eyes that
stared into vacancy. The man was in a frenzy of despair. He saw the
chance of his life slipping away from him, but he could urge no plea in
his own behalf. It was Mrs. Haxton who answered, and her composure was
oddly at variance with von Kerber's distress.
"Alfieri was assistant curator of a museum at Naples when the Italian
occupation of Erythrea led to his appointment as government
archeologist in this territory," she said. "My husband was in charge of
the Red Sea cable at that time, and Signor Giuseppe Alfieri was a
friend of ours. An Arab named Abdullah El Jaridiah, grubbing among old
tombs for curios, came across a roll of papyri. He sold it to Alfieri
for a few francs, and Alfieri gave it to my husband."
She paused; she was not a woman who said too much.
"I take it that Alfieri knew no Greek?" said Mr. Fenshawe, with a touch
of irony that was not lost on the lady.
"He certainly failed to appreciate its importance," was the quiet
response. "My husband deciphered most of the narrative, but he, in his
turn, had no knowledge of hieroglyphics, and, as you are aware, many of
the words and figures are contained in ovals, or cartouches, and
written in Egyptian characters. He would have learnt their meaning from
some other source, but he—died—very suddenly. An accident caused
Alfieri to suspect the value of the papyrus, and he asked me to return
it. Unfortunately, I led him to believe that I would meet his wish, but
Baron von Kerber, who, as you know, was medical officer to a German
mission to King Menelek, came to my assistance at the time, and I told
him of my husband's views with regard to the portion he had translated.
Baron von Kerber read the hieroglyphics, though he had to wait nearly a
year before he could obtain expert advice as to the accuracy of his
rendering. Meanwhile, Signor Alfieri and I had quarreled. I may as well
tell you that he was pestering me to marry him, and I grew to hate the
man. Then I returned to England, and a friend suggested that I should
endeavor to interest you. Now you have the whole story, so far as I am
concerned in it."
"If that is so, it would have been better had you taken me into your
confidence at the outset," said Fenshawe.
"Alfieri was using threats. I feared the loss of your co-operation if a
melodramatic element were introduced."
"But are not you and Baron von Kerber, and, as it would seem, your
Italian admirer also, attributing an absurdly fictitious value to the
find? People do not pay high prices for old coins merely because they
are historic. I have always regarded this treasure-trove as purely
antiquarian in its interest. It may contain some vessels or statuettes
worth money; but to what extent? Certainly not such fabulous sums as
you appear to imagine."
Mrs. Haxton smiled sourly.
"We are dealing in candor," she cried. "Pray complete your confession,
Baron von Kerber."
The Austrian did not abandon his dejected pose, but he took up the
"There is one slip of papyrus you have never seen, Mr. Fenshawe," he
said. "Perhaps you have been surprised that such a careful scribe as
Demetriades gave no details of the loot? I kept them back. There were
fifty camel-loads of precious vessels and rare stuffs brought from the
East. There were one hundred and twenty camel-loads of gold coins, and
two camels carried leather wallets filled with pearls and rubies and
Irene could not restrain a little gasp of wonderment at von Kerber's
amazing catalogue. Her grandfather looked at her.
"You were wiser than I, little girl," he murmured. "You warned me that
these people were deceiving me, yet I refused to listen."
"Oh, one has to follow the path that promises success," interrupted von
Kerber savagely. "Had I told you these things you would have been the
first to inform the Italian government. Why do you prate of deceit? Had
we found the treasure, you must have seen everything. I only meant to
hold you to your bond and demand my third share. Lieber Gott! if you
were not a stiff-necked Englishman you would now, even at the twelfth
hour, force these Italian hirelings to disgorge."
"Meaning that you advise a surprise march on Suleiman's Well, and the
massacre of every person who resists as?" inquired Mr. Fenshawe, acidly
"Better that than turn back at the very threshold."
"Excellent! The voyage of the Aphrodite would then achieve an
international fame which would survive the ages."
The blank despair in von Kerber's face won Royson's pity. He could not
help sympathizing with him. And there was something to be said for his
point of view. If Mrs. Haxton had given the true version of the finding
of the papyrus, the Austrian's methods were comprehensible. Seldom has
poverty been tempted by a vision of such enormous wealth.
"May I make a suggestion, sir?" he asked, seeing that no one was
willing to resume a somewhat acrid conversation.
"As to the form of attack?"
Mr. Fenshawe was still amused by the idea of treating the Italians to a
coup de main.
"No. We have made a long journey, and it might at least be determined
whether or not it was justified. Will you allow me and Abdur Kad'r,
and, perhaps, one other Arab less widely known than the sheikh, to try
a small experiment. Let us endeavor to enter the Italian camp and find
out what is going on? I can pass easily as a member of a shooting party
who has lost his way. They will not slay me at sight on that account.
At any rate, I am quite prepared to risk it."
"The very thing!" exclaimed Mrs. Haxton, springing out of her chair.
"Abdullah is there, and you know him. You must not appear. Let Abdur
Kad'r send one of his men into the camp by night. He will bring
Abdullah to you at a preconcerted rendezvous, and Abdullah will tell
you what Alfieri is doing. Better still, let Abdullah come here. If he
knows I sent you he will accompany you without a moment's delay."
"The proper person to go and summon Abdullah is Baron von Kerber," put
in Irene tremulously.
"Before I sanction any proceeding of the sort, I wish to ask why
Abdullah is apparently in league with your sworn enemy?" demanded Mr.
"The Governor of Massowah told me he was despatching an expedition to
the Five Hills," said Mrs. Haxton eagerly. "I was sure it would fail,
for reasons which the Baron has explained, but I bade Abdullah join the
kafila, seeing that we could not carry out our first plan of landing
lower down the coast. Then, if the Italian party received news of our
whereabouts, Abdullah would steal away and warn us. The mere fact that
he is not here now shows that our presence in this locality is
altogether unsuspected." Fenshawe seemed to weigh his words before he
"I prefer that Mr. Royson should go, and not Baron von Kerber," said
he. "On the understanding that he interferes with our rivals in no way
whatever, I shall be glad of his report. If we have failed, there is no
harm in knowing the facts. May I ask, Baron, have you any other
surprises to give us in the shape of history, ancient or modern?"
"I have nothing else to say," muttered the other.
"Then, as it is nearly dinner-time, I trust we may forget Saba and its
legends until we learn what progress Signor Alfieri has made. You start
to-night, Mr. Royson?"
"At the first possible moment, sir."
"No, no. Eat, rest, and travel under the stars. That is the golden rule
of a forced march in the desert. We will give you two nights and a day.
Then, if you do not return, I shall send an open embassy to inquire for
Thus it came about that, soon after night fell, three sulky Bisharin
camels were led away from their fellows and compelled to kneel
unwillingly to receive their riders. The operation was attended with
much squealing and groaning.
"They love not to leave their brethren," said Abdur Kad'r, pausing to
take breath for a fresh torrent of abuse. The camels were forcibly
persuaded, and Royson climbed into the high-peaked saddle. His last
thought, as he quitted the red glare of the camp-fires, was that Irene
might have snatched a few minutes from her rest to bid him farewell.
But she was nowhere to be seen, so after a final hand-shake with Stump,
he rode away into the night.
THE DESERT AWAKES
The march Royson had undertaken was a trying one. The desert runs to
extremes, and, at that season, the thermometer varied a hundred degrees
between noon and midnight. When the sun dipped behind the hills, a
tense darkness fell on the land. This impenetrable pall is peculiar to
Egypt; probably it suggested to Moses that ninth plague wherewith he
afflicted the subjects of a stubborn Pharaoh. Though this "darkness
that may be felt" yields, as a rule, to the brilliancy of the stars
after half an hour's duration, while it lasts a lighted match cannot be
seen beyond a distance of ten or twelve feet. It is due, in all
likelihood, to the rapid radiation of surface heat. When the cold air
has robbed sand and rock of the temperature acquired from the broiling
sun, the atmosphere clears, and the desert reveals itself again in the
gloomy monotone of night.
It may reasonably be supposed, that the excess of humidity which caused
the remarkable mirage of the afternoon helped to continue the "black
hour," as the Arabs term it, far beyond its ordinary limits. Hence it
was nearly ten o'clock when Royson quitted the camp on his self-imposed
task. To all outward semblance, he differed not a jot from the two
Arabs who accompanied him. A burnous and hood covered his khaki riding
costume. He bestrode a powerful camel nearly eight feet high. Like his
companions, he carried a slung rifle; a haversack and water-bottle
completed his equipment. His size alone distinguished him from Abdur
Kad'r and Sheikh Hussain of Kenneh, the latter being a man whom Abdur
Kad'r had selected as best fitted to win his way unquestioned into the
Italian camp. Royson's Arab dress was intended to secure the party from
espionage while they traveled towards Suleiman's Well. When they neared
it he would throw aside the burnous. His pith helmet was on his saddle,
but the Arab hood enabled him to dispense with it by night.
The older Arab led: behind him rode Royson; Hussain brought up the
rear. In this fashion they climbed the slight rise of the wide valley
which sheltered the expedition. They had gone some three hundred yards,
and the leader was scanning the horizon for a gap through which the
track passed, when they were all amazed to hear Miss Fenshawe's clear
"I thought you were never coming, Mr. Royson," she said. "I was on the
point of going back to my tent, but I caught the grumbling of your
camels. Then I knew that you had really made a start."
After the first gasp of wonder and delight, Dick slipped to the ground.
He narrowly avoided a spiteful bite from his unwilling conveyance, but
he handed the single rein to Abdur Kad'r, and hastened towards a rock
in whose shadow stood Irene, garbed and cloaked so that she was
"I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you, Miss Fenshawe," he cried,
"yet, in the same breath, I must protest against your wandering so far
from the camp. Are you alone?"
"You may be sure of that. Otherwise I should not be here." She laughed
cheerfully, for the escapade had in it a spice of adventure, and she
wished to give it a lighter turn.
"Then you have news for me?"
"No. You heard all that passed to-day. Since then, my grandfather has
refused to discuss the affair. As a result, Mrs. Haxton and the Baron
were snappy during dinner. In fact, they were unendurable, and I was
delighted when they left us."
"It is a hateful thing to have to lecture you," he said, coming nearer,
and trying to peer into her face, "but you know you ought not to take
this risk. It is too venturesome. I think that this section of the
desert is fairly clear of any real danger, so far as prowling Bedouins
are concerned, but there are other unpleasant neighbors—in the shape
of snakes and scorpions—"
"I am wearing riding boots," she interrupted. "And I shall soon relieve
your anxiety by returning to my hammock. Pray don't trouble about me,
Mr. Royson. I have waylaid you with a purpose. It is too late now, I
suppose, to dissuade you from carrying out a useless and absurd
journey, but I do ask you not to commit the further folly of
sacrificing your own life, and, perhaps, the lives of others, in the
mistaken belief that you are serving Mr. Fenshawe's interests."
Though she strove to speak in a tone of conventional friendliness, her
voice shook a little. Dick was profoundly moved. It seemed to him
suddenly that the burnous he wore exercised a stifling effect on him.
He threw it off, and it fell unheeded to the loose stones at his feet.
The girl laughed again, somewhat tremulously.
"What of those nasty creatures against which you warned me a moment
ago?" she exclaimed. "Or is it that your disguise has become
unbearable? You make an astonishingly tall Arab, Mr. Royson. I should
have picked you out anywhere."
That wayward heart of Dick's drove a hot flood of color to his face,
but he still held mastery over his tongue.
"Why do you think I am likely to run into danger?" he asked. For an
instant his calmness misled her. She had grown accustomed to his habit
of self-restraint, and looked for nothing else.
"Because you would dare anything rather than fail," she said. "You
would ride alone into the midst of a thousand enemies if you thought
that thereby you could attain your ends. And I want to assure you that
I—that Mr. Fenshawe—would object most strenuously to your incurring
any real peril for the sake of the worthless people who have brought us
to Africa on a wild-goose chase. By all means secure for us any
possible information that can be obtained through the Arabs, but I came
here because—because I shall feel happier if you promise me—that—you
will avoid this man, Alfieri, and his friends. Did you see the look on
Baron von Kerber's face to-day? I never before realized what the hunger
for gold meant. He would kill any one who barred his path. I could read
his very soul. And—and—it frightened me. So you must come back
safely, Mr. Royson, for I have confidence in you and Captain Stump, but
I am terrified of what may happen if von Kerber tells the others the
story of the treasure, and promises them a large share in it, should it
"I had not thought of that," said Dick simply. Indeed, his mind was not
at all occupied just then with von Kerber's scheming.
"So I imagined. And that is why I stole out of my tent and waited here.
I was sure you would agree with me that the really important thing is
our speedy return to the yacht. It is the only possible course. My
grandfather never intended to gain his ends by armed force, and von
Kerber is assuredly dreaming of that at this moment."
"I begin to see your point of view," said he, forcing himself to answer
her words, though his brain was weaving other phrases. "Even if I
discover that Alfieri is digging up those precious camel-loads, it will
be best for all parties that his success should be minimized."
"Yes, yes," she cried eagerly. "That is my meaning. I do not care what
happens so long as we all reach Pajura. Then let the Baron and Mrs.
Haxton do as they choose. Even if they want to borrow our money and our
goods and chattels for the purpose of a second expedition I shall be
the first to support the idea."
"You are not longing, then, for a sight of the Sheban wealth?"
"No. I hate the very thought of it. It is—bloodstained. Oh, Mr.
Royson, everything now depends on you. Please contrive matters so that
we shall travel to the coast without delay. That is all. You understand
me, I think. It only remains for me to wish you good-by and God-speed."
She moved a little apart, but Dick's left hand caught her by the
"No, Irene, it is not all," he whispered. "I am going now, and I shall
return to you, God willing, within thirty-six hours, and, before I go,
I want to kiss you."
He could feel the quiver that shook her slender form at the
unexpectedness of it. She uttered a startled cry, and wondered if she
had heard aright, but she yielded to the clasp of an encircling arm.
Perhaps she lifted her face in sheer amazement; be that as it may, Dick
kissed her, not once, but many times.
"May Heaven guard and keep you, sweetheart," he said brokenly. "You
know that I love you. You have known it many a day, but I forced myself
to be silent because I was proud. Now my pride has given way to the joy
of whispering that I love you. To-morrow, that stubborn pride of mine
may rebuke me, and say that I had no right to take you to my heart
to-night, but to-night my love laughs at all that idle pretense of
money erecting a barrier between you and me. You are dearer to me than
life, and why should I not tell you so? I wanted to meet you to-night,
Irene. I made plaint to the stars when I did not see you at parting.
Now that you are here, I find myself at the gates of Paradise. Yet you
must leave me now, dear one. Let me carry the fragrance of your kiss on
my lips until the dawn. Then, in the chill of morning, when cold reason
chides me, I shall refuse to listen to her, for I shall remember that
Irene kissed me."
The girl clung to him during a blissful instant.
"Oh!" she sighed, and "Oh!" again as though her heart was throbbing its
life out. Then she murmured:
"You have not even asked me if I loved you, King Dick!"
With that she glanced up at him, and placed both hands on his shoulders.
"No," he said. "I only asked you to kiss me. I shall ask for your love
when I may come without reproach and ask you to be my wife."
"Dick," she said, with adorable shyness, "it is not yet to-morrow."
He strained her to his breast. Their lips met again rapturously.
"Oh, my sweet," he said, "has ever man received more angelic answer to
a question that filled his heart with longing throughout many days?"
"Yet you are leaving me, and of your own accord."
"Irene—you, too, are proud. Would you have me return now?"
"No. I know now that fate has chosen you to decide our fortunes. Go,
Dick, but come back to me in safety, or my poor little heart will
Then, as though afraid of her own weakness, she drew herself from his
arms and hurried away towards the camp. He stood motionless, listening
to her footsteps, and his soul sang blithe canticles the while. At
last, when assured that she was within her tent, he picked up the
discarded burnous, strode to the waiting camels, and quickly the desert
enfolded him and his dreams in its great silence.
And Dick thanked the desert for its kindliness, which had made possible
that which was beyond credence. In London, how could a poverty-stricken
outcast dare to raise his eyes to the patrician heiress? He remembered
that first glance of hers, and the tactful way in which she had
discriminated between the man who might be glad of a sovereign for the
service he had rendered, and him who would value a woman's thanks far
beyond gold. And then, with what quiet dignity she had ignored his
fierce repudiation of von Kerber's offer of recompense. In that bitter
hour how might he foresee the turn of fortune's wheel which in two
short months would bring that dainty girl to his lover's embrace! How
delightful it was to hear his nickname from her lips! King Dick! Well,
such bold wooing ran in the blood, and it would go hard with any man,
whether Frank or Saracen, who barred the way between him and his chosen
lady. What if her grandfather were fifty times a millionaire! What had
millions to do with love? Precious little, quoth Richard, if all he had
read of rich men's lives were even partly true. He had a twinge or two
when he reflected that, at present, he occupied the position of second
mate on Fenshawe's yacht. He pictured himself asking the old gentleman
for Irene's hand in marriage, and being told that he was several sorts
of a lunatic. But the memory of Irene's kisses rendered her
grandfather's anticipated wrath quite bearable, and Dick laughed aloud
at the joy and folly of it all, until Sheikh Abdur Kad'r was moved to
"At night, in the desert, Effendi, the ears carry farther than the
eyes, so it behooves us to make no more noise with our tongues than our
camels make with their feet."
They journeyed slowly until a wondrous amber light first flooded the
eastern horizon and then tinted the opposite hills with pink coral.
Soon, rainbow shades of blue and green began to blend with the pink,
and the undulating plateau they were traversing revealed with startling
suddenness its scattered rocks and patches of loose stones. The camels
were urged into a lurching trot, and thirty miles were covered in less
time than it had taken to travel eight during the dark hours.
Beyond a few gazelles, a pair of marabout storks, and a troup of
jackals, they saw no living creature. But they took every precaution
against surprise. If others were on the march they meant to discover
the fact before they were themselves seen. So, when the ground was
practicable, they crossed the sky-line at top speed, hastened through
the intervening valley, and crept in Indian file to the next crest.
The Bisharin camels had long ceased to utter their unavailing growls.
Such reasoning powers as they possessed told them that they must make
the best of a bad business, as the lords of creation on their backs
meant to reach the allotted destination without reference to the
outraged feelings of three ill-used animals who had been deprived of a
night's rest. Now, a camel has been taught, by long experience, that
the legitimate end of a march is supplied only by something in the
shape of an oasis, no matter how slight may be its store of prickly
bushes and wiry grass. Therefore, these Bisharin brethren must have
felt something akin to surprise when they were tethered and fed in a
rock-strewn wady which offered neither food nor water. Animals and men
had to depend on the supplies they had carried thither. Shelter, of
course, there was none, and at nine o'clock the sun was already high in
One unhappy beast made a tremendous row when Hussain mounted him again
after a brief respite, and bade him be moving. Nevertheless, protest
was useless, and only led to torture. Finally, squealing and weeping,
the camel moved off, while his erstwhile sympathizers regarded him
blandly and unmoved, seeing that they were not disturbed, but permitted
to munch in peace the remains of a meal. Hussain was soon out of sight.
According to Abdur Kad'r's calculations, the Italian camp was in the
center of the next important valley. At the utmost, it was three miles
distant, and Hussain's presence early in the forenoon would be more
readily accounted for if he put in an appearance on a camel that was
Royson had given the man explicit instructions. If questioned, he was
to state the actual facts—that an Englishman and himself, with one
other Arab, had made a forced march from the nearest oasis, that his
exhausted companions were resting at no great distance, and that he
purposed returning to them with a replenished water-bag and some food
for their camels. But, amid the bustle of a large encampment, it was
more than likely that his arrival would pass unnoticed save by his
brother Arabs. In that event, he could satisfy their curiosity without
going into details, ascertain whether or not Abdullah the Spear-thrower
was among them, and, by keeping his eyes and ears open, learn a good
deal as to the progress effected by Alfieri in the work of exploration.
By hook or by crook, he must endeavor to return before sundown—if
accompanied by Abdullah, so much the better. Then, having learnt his
news, they could decide on the next step to be taken. Perhaps, if
Abdullah came, they would be able to rejoin the expedition without
After Hussain's departure, Royson and Abdur Kad'r disposed themselves
to rest. Utilizing camel cloths as tentes d'abri, they snatched a
couple of hours of uneasy sleep; but the heat and insects drove even
the seasoned sheikh to rebellion, and by midday both men preferred the
hot air and sunshine to the sweltering shade of the stuffy cloths.
Irene was right when she said that Dick had made a great advance with
his Arabic. He was master of many words of every-day use, and had also
learnt a number of connected phrases. Abdur Kad'r knew some French.
These joint attainments enabled them to carry on a conversation.
The Arab, with the curiosity of all men who do not read books, sought
information as to life in big cities, and Royson amused himself by
depicting the marvels of London. A limited vocabulary, no less than the
dense ignorance of his guide on such topics as railways, electricity,
paved streets, cabs, and other elements of existence in towns, rendered
the descriptions vague. Suddenly, the sheikh broke in on Dick's labored
recital with a query that gave the conversation an extraordinary turn.
"If you have so many remarkable things in your own land, Effendi, what
do you seek here?" he asked, waving a lean hand in comprehensive sweep.
"This is no place for town-bred men like the Hakim Effendi, nor for two
such women as those who travel with us. You have ridden three hundred
kilometers across the desert, and for what? To find five hills, says
the Hakim. May Allah be praised that rich men should wish to spend so
much money for so foolish a reason!"
"But the Hakim Effendi believes that there is an oasis marked by five
hills somewhere in this district, and, were he to find it, we would
dig, and perhaps discover some ancient articles buried there, articles
of small value to the world generally, but highly prized by those who
understand their history."
"I know this desert as you know those streets you have been telling me
of," said Abdur Kad'r, "and there is no oasis marked by five hills. You
have seen every camping-ground between here and Pajura. There is but
one other track, an old caravan road from the sea, which crosses our
present line a few kilometers to the south. We passed it last night in
the dark. It has only four wells. The nearest one is called the Well of
Moses, the next, the Well of the Elephant—"
"Why should you Arabs have a well of Moses?" asked Dick, smiling. "It
is not thought that Moses ever wandered in this locality, is it?"
"We respect Moses and all the prophets," said Abdur Kad'r seriously. He
smoked in silence for a minute, seemingly searching his memory for
something that had escaped it.
"Is it true," he demanded doubtingly, "that once upon a time many of
the hills gave forth fire and smoke as from a furnace?"
"Quite true. Volcanoes we call them. All these mountains are volcanic
in their origin."
"Then a moulvie whom I met once did not lie to me. He said that seven
little mounds which stand near that well had been known to vomit ashes
and flame: thus, they came to be called the Seven-branched Candlestick
of Moses. I suppose the well took the prophet's name in that way. Who
Royson had learnt of late how to school his face. Long practise under
the witchery of Irene's eyes and Mrs. Haxton's ceaseless scrutiny
enabled him now to conceal the lightning flash of inspiration that
fired his intelligence. An old caravan road from the sea, a road that
led to the Nile, with its fourth stopping-place made notable by seven
tiny cones of an extinct volcano—surely that had the ring of actuality
about it! Von Kerber had confessed to altering figures and distances in
the papyrus—was this an instance?—were the "hills" they sought not
five but seven in number? What an amazing thing it would be if this
gaunt old sheikh held the clue to the burial-place of the treasure! It
must have been on the tip of his tongue ever since they met him, yet
the knowledge was withheld, solely on account of von Kerber's secretive
methods. Had he told Abdur Kad'r that he was searching for an oasis
sheltered by seven hills it was almost quite certain that the Well of
Moses would at least have been mentioned as the only locality offering
a remote resemblance to that which he sought. Somehow, Dick felt that
he had stumbled on to the truth. Though tingling with excitement, he
managed to control his voice.
"You say it is four marches from here to the sea?" he asked.
"Five, Effendi. There are four wells, but each is thirty or thirty-five
kilometers from the other. At one time, I have been told, many
kafilas came that way, but the trade was killed by goods being
carried in ships to other points, while it is recorded among my people
that the curse of Allah fell on the land, and blighted it, and the
trees died, and the streams dried up, until it became as you now see
Dick lit a fresh, cigarette, and blew a great cloud of smoke before his
eyes, lest the observant Arab should read the thoughts that made them
"Let us suppose," he said slowly, "that Fenshawe Effendi decided to
make for the sea by that shorter road, there would be no difficulty in
"Difficulty!" re-echoed the sheikh, "it might cost us many lives. A few
men, leading spare camels with water-bags, might get through in safety,
but it would be madness to attempt it with a big caravan. By the
Prophet's beard, I did not like the prospect of this present march,
though I knew there was water and food in plenty at Suleiman's Well.
What, then, would happen if we found every well on the eastern road dry
as a lime-kiln?"
"Yet you have been that way, you say?"
"Once, when I was young. But we were only a few Arabs, with a long
string of camels."
"Did you find water?"
"Malish—I have forgotten. It is so long ago."
Royson rose to his feet and stretched himself. He wondered what Alfieri
was disinterring at Suleiman's Well if the legion of Aelius Gallus had
followed the old-world route described by the Arab. Perhaps it was all
a mad dream, and this latest development but an added trick of fantasy.
Abdur Kad'r, looking up at him, chuckled softly.
"Effendi," he cried, "if you are as strong as you look, you must be of
the breed of that Frankish king whom our great Soldan, Yussuf Ibn Ayub,
fought in Syria eight hundred years ago. Bismillah! I have seen many
a proper man, but none with height and bone like you."
Now, Dick knew that Abdur Kad'r was speaking of Richard the First and
Saladin, and it did seem a strange thing that the founder of his race
should be named at that moment. He laughed constrainedly.
"You have guessed truly, my friend," he said. "I am indeed a descendant
of that famous fighter. Alas, the days have long passed since men met
in fair contest with lance and sword. If I were fool enough to seek
distinction today in the battle-field I might be slain by any monkey of
a man who could aim a rifle."
"We die as God wills," was the Arab's pious rejoinder, "yet I have been
in more than one fight in which a Frank of your size could have won a
name for himself. But I am growing old. My hot days are ended, and you
giaours are erecting boundary pillars on the desert. The free people
are dying. We are scattered and divided. Soon there will not be a
genuine Arab left. May the wrath of Allah fall on all unbelievers!"
Then did Royson laugh again, with a heartiness that drove that passion
of retrospect from Abdur Kad'r's dark features.
"Whatever happens, let not you and me quarrel," he cried. "We have
enough on hand that we should keep our heads cool. And who can tell
what this very day may bring forth? Things may happen ere we rejoin our
caravan, Abdur Kad'r."
The sheikh, bowed his head in confusion. It must have been the heat, he
muttered, that caused his tongue to utter such folly. And, indeed, the
excuse might serve, for the hot hours dragged most wearily, and the sun
circled ever towards the hills, yet there came no sign of Hussain.
Royson, was divided between his promise to Irene not to incur any
avoidable risk and his natural wish to obtain the information so
eagerly awaited in the camp. Though he meant to begin the return
journey at sunset, here was five o'clock, and he no wiser than
yesterday at the same hour. At last, inaction grew irksome. He helped
Abdur Kad'r to saddle the camels, and they mounted, with intent to
climb the northerly ridge, and thus survey the road which Hussain must
pursue if he managed to get away from Italian surveillance before
They proceeded warily. On gaining the opposing height they found that a
broad plateau, flanked by a steep hill on the seaward side, barred any
distant view, but Abdur Kad'r felt assured that the crest of this next
hill would give them command of the whole range of broken country for
many miles ahead. With this objective, they urged the camels into a
trot. When the shoulder of the rising ground became almost impassable
for four-footed animals, and awkward beasts at that, they dismounted,
tied the camels to heavy stones, and climbed the remainder of the way
They looked across a narrow valley into a wide and shallow depression,
where a clump of palm trees and dense patches of sayall bushes
instantly revealed the whereabouts of the oasis. It was easy to see the
regular lines of newly-turned rubble and sand where trenches had been
cut by the explorers. But the place was deserted. Not a man or horse,
camel or tent, stood on the spot where the mirage had revealed a
multitude some twenty-six hours earlier.
Royson was so perplexed by the discovery that his gaze did not wander
from the abandoned camp. Abdur Kad'r, quicker than he to read the
tokens of the desert, pointed to a haze of dust that hung in the still
air far to the north.
"The Italians have gone, Effendi," he said. "Perhaps they, too, were
looking for an oasis with five hills. Behold, they have found one by a
fool's counting, for this is the fifth hill within two kilometers of
Suleiman's Well. The ways of Allah are wonderful. Can it be that they
have discovered that which you seek?"
A sharp pang of disappointment shot through Royson's breast. He was
about to tell Abdur Kad'r that they must now regain their camels and
hasten to the oasis while there was sufficient light to examine the
excavations, when the sheikh suddenly pulled him down, for Dick had
stood upright on a boulder to obtain an uninterrupted field of vision.
"Look!" he growled. "Four of them! And, by the Holy Kaaba, they mean
Royson's eyes were good, clearer, in all probability, than the Arab's,
but they were not trained to detect moving objects with such minute
precision. Nevertheless, in a few seconds he made out the hoods of four
men who were peering over the crest which separated the small valley
from the larger one. They disappeared, and, while Royson and Abdur
Kad'r were speculating on the motive that inspired this espionage, the
hoods came in sight again, but this time they had the regular swing
that betokened camel-riders. The four halted on the sky-line, and
seemingly exchanged signals with others in the fear. Then they resumed
their advance. They were fully armed; they carried their guns across
the saddle-bow, and Dick saw that their cloaks were rather differently
fashioned to those which he had taken note of hitherto.
"Hadendowas!" murmured Abdur Kad'r. "They are good fighters, Effendi,
but born thieves. And how many ride behind? Not for twenty years have I
met Hadendowas on this track."
The Arab's keen eyes did not cease to glare fixedly beyond the ridge.
Soon he whispered again:
"They may not have seen us, Effendi, but we must be ready for them. Go
you, and lead our camels into the hollow there," and he thrust his chin
towards the seaward base of the hill. "I shall soon know if they are
playing fox with us. Our camels are of the Bisharin breed, while theirs
are Persian, so we can always outstrip them if it comes to a race. You
understand, Effendi; they come from Suleiman's Well. Perchance evil
hath befallen Hussain."
Abhur Kad'r's advice was so obviously reasonable that Dick obeyed it,
though unwillingly. He took the camels to the place indicated by his
companion, and had no difficulty in finding a cleft in which they were
quite hidden from the ken of any who followed the main track.
Soon he heard the sheikh hurrying after him.
"Had we awaited Hussain another half hour we should have been dead or
captured by this time, Effendi," was his bewildering news. "A white man
and nearly seventy Hadendowas, all armed, and leading pack camels,
follow close behind the scouts. With them are Hussain and another, but
their arms are bound, and they are roped to their beasts. The
Giaour—may he be withered—rides my Bisharin camel."
Then Royson knew by intuition what had happened. Alfieri had failed in
his quest. The Italian commander of the troops, refusing to sanction
useless labor any longer, had marched north with his men. Alfieri,
still clinging desperately to a chimera, had decided to remain and
scour the desert until his stores gave out. And, at this crucial moment
in his enterprise, came Hussain, the unconscious emissary of his
rivals. The fact that the Arab was a prisoner spoke volumes. He had
tried to communicate with Abdullah, and the watchful Italian had
guessed his true mission. The man might have been tortured until he
confessed the whereabouts not only of Royson himself and Abdur Kad'r
but of the whole expedition. There was but one thing to do, and that
"Up!" he shouted, dragging the camels forth to an open space. "You ride
in front and set the pace."
"What would you do, Effendi?" cried the sheikh in alarm. "They will see
us ere we have gone five hundred meters. Let us wait for the night."
"Up, I tell you," roared Royson, catching the Arab's shoulder in a
steel grip. "In another ten minutes they will know we have fled, and
they will hurry south at top speed. What chance have we of passing them
in this country at night? Our sole hope is to head them. No more words,
but ride. Believe me, Abdur Kad'r, it is life or death for you, and it
matters little to me whether you die here, or in the next valley, or
not at all."
Then the Arab knew that he had met his master. He climbed to the
saddle, said words not in the Koran, and urged his camel into a
frenzied run. Royson, who could never have persuaded his own
long-legged steed to adopt such a pace, found it easy enough to induce
the beast to follow his brother.
In this fashion, riding like madmen, they traversed the plateau and had
almost begun the descent into the wady where they had spent the day,
when a distant yell reached them. There was no need to look back, even
if such a hazardous proceeding were warranted by their break-neck gait.
They were discovered, but they were in front, and that counts for a
good deal in a race. They tore down the hill, lumbered across the
dried-up bed of a long-vanished torrent, and pressed up the further
side. As they neared the ridge, four rifle shots rang out, and Dick saw
three little spurts of dust and stones kick up in front on the right,
while a white spatter suddenly shone on a dark rock to the left.
"Faster!" he roared to Abdur Kad'r. "They cannot both ride and fire. In
the next wady we shall be safe. Bend to it, my friend. Your reward will
be great, and measured only by your haste in bringing me back to our
A FLIGHT—AND A FIGHT
Mrs. Haxton was no laggard in her hammock on the day after Royson's
departure from the camp, but, early riser though she was, Irene was up
and dressed when the older woman came to her tent and asked if she
might have a word with her. In fact, Irene had not undressed at all the
previous night. When she tore herself from Dick's arms, she hurried
back to the oasis, it is true, but only to draw a chair out into the
open, and sit there under the stars, dreaming the dreams of a girl to
whom the heaven of love has just thrown wide its portals.
Even the midnight chill did not drive her to bed. She closed the flap
of her tent, lit a lamp, and tried to read, but the letters danced
before her eyes. Instead of the scenes portrayed by the book, she saw
three ghostly camels shuffling through stones and sand in the darkness,
and, on one of them, the tall figure of the man whose parting words had
filled her soul with honey sweetness. At last, weary with anxiety on
his behalf, she threw herself, fully dressed, on her low-hung hammock,
this being Mr. Fenshawe's clever device to protect European skins from
the attacks of the insects that swarm in the desert wherever there is
any sign of dampness. She slept a few fitful hours, and her first
waking thought was a prayer for Dick's well-being.
Then came Mrs. Haxton, and the girl received her with unaffected
friendliness, being in the mood that demanded the sympathy she was
prepared to offer to all who suffered. Her visitor was observant. Her
woman's eyes noted that Irene was still attired in a muslin dinner
dress, whereas she invariably wore a riding costume of brown holland or
Assam silk in the morning.
"My dear Irene," she said, "I hope you will not allow that stupid
dispute of yesterday to worry you into sleepless nights."
"But I have slept—quite a long time," was the girl's smiling
"Well, now—let us consider. Mr. Royson left the camp about ten
o'clock. A young lady who shall be nameless said good-bye to him half
an hour later—"
"You saw me?" Irene flushed scarlet.
"No, indeed. I was too busy with my own sad affairs to act the part of
a female Paul Pry, even involuntarily. But I did see you go to your
tent, and I caught a glimpse of you at midnight when you were lighting
your lamp. It is not yet six, so I am guessing things."
"If I were to return the compliment—"
"You would say that I, too, was not a heavy sleeper. Well, I make no
secret of a perturbed night. That is why I am here now. I want your
help, Irene. Strange as it may seem, I appeal to you because I know you
have always been opposed to my aims. Perhaps I am to blame for that.
Had I forced Baron von Kerber to take you and Mr. Fenshawe fully into
his confidence, events might have shaped themselves quite differently.
But it is too late to talk of what might have been. You are more
concerned with the future than with the past. Last night, while you
were looking into the wonderland of the years to come, I was reviewing
lost opportunities. Therefore, I come to you this morning somewhat
chastened in spirit. May I talk without reserve?"
"Please, do," cried Irene, drawing her chair closer. In the sharp
clarity of sunrise she saw that Mrs. Haxton's beautiful face was drawn
and haggard. She was beginning to probe unsuspected depths in this
woman's temperament. She understood something of the intense
disappointment which the failure of the expedition must evoke in one to
whom wealth and all that it yields constituted the breath of life. And
then, she was in love, which predisposes its votaries towards charity.
Mrs. Haxton sighed. A consummate actress, for once her art was
supplemented by real feeling.
"Ah," she murmured, her eyes filling with tears, "I find your pity hard
"Surely you are not going to cry just because I am sorry for you,"
cried the girl. "There now. Don't give way. Let me call one of the men.
He will bring us some tea, and we can have a nice long chat before
"Yes, do that. We both need it. My grief is rather selfish, Irene. I
know your secret, dear girl, and I wish you every happiness, though the
phrase carries with it the bitter self-communion that, for my own part,
I have forfeited most things that make life happy. Well, that is not
what I want to say. The storm has passed. Summon your slave, and bid
the kettle boil."
Surprised and touched by the emotion displayed by her companion, Irene
hastened to procure the beverage which Providence evidently intended
for the consolation of afflicted womankind. The camp was already astir,
and the crew of the Aphrodite were preparing their morning meal, so
two cups of hot tea were quickly available.
When Mrs. Haxton spoke again, the tears had gone, and her voice resumed
its pleasantly modulated tone.
"May I begin by assuming that you intend to marry Mr. Royson?" she
Irene laughed softly, and her glance wandered beyond the busy camp to
the distant hills.
"I have known more unlikely events to happen," she said.
"I thought so. I recognized the symptoms. Well, I want to make a sort
of bargain with you. If you help me, I can help you, and, to show that
I can give effect to my words, I shall tell you exactly what form my
help will take before I state the nature of the assistance I ask from
you, so that you may be at perfect liberty to give or withhold it as
"This is a rather one-sided contract, is it not?"
"No. I fancy it will be equitable. I have not lived in close intimacy
with you during so many weeks without arriving at a fair estimate of
your character. You are one of the fortunate people, Irene, who find it
more blessed to give than to receive. At any rate I am satisfied to
settle matters that way. And to come to the point, while you may
experience grave difficulty in obtaining your grandfather's consent to
your marriage with a penniless young gentleman of striking physique but
no profession—Mr. Royson being even a second mate on sufferance, so to
speak—the aspect of your affairs changes materially when your suitor
becomes Sir Richard Royson, Baronet, with a fine estate and a rent-roll
of five thousand pounds a year."
"How can you possibly know that?" gasped Irene, spilling half her tea
in sheer excitement.
"It is more than possible—It is true. I happen to be aware of the
facts. That thrice fortunate young man came into our lives at a moment
when, by the merest chance, I was able to acquire some knowledge of his
family history. His uncle, the twenty-sixth baronet, I believe,
sustained an accident in childhood which unhappily made him a cripple
and a hunchback. He grew up a misanthrope. He hated his only brother
because he was tall and strong as befitted one of the race, and his
hatred became a mania when Captain Henry Royson married a young lady on
whom the dwarf baronet had set his mind. There never was the least
reason to believe that she would have wed Sir Richard, but that did not
prevent him from pursuing her with a spite and vindictiveness that
earned him very bad repute in Westmoreland. His brother and nephew
were, however, his heirs, though the estate was a poor one, but, when
minerals were discovered on the property, he persuaded Captain Royson
to agree that the entail should be broken, as certain business
developments could then be carried out more effectively. This was a
reasonable thing in itself, but, unhappily, the younger brother was
killed in the hunting-field, and some legal kink in the affair enabled
the baronet to reduce the widow and her son to actual poverty. Young
Royson made a gallant attempt to support his mother, but she died
nearly five years ago. Naturally, there was a mortal feud between him
and his uncle. Sir Richard's constant aim has been to crush his nephew.
He arranged matters so that the bare title alone would pass to the heir
at his death. Yet, on the very day that young Royson stopped your
frightened horses in Buckingham Palace Road, the baronet slipped on the
oak floor of the picture gallery in Orme Castle—that is the name of
their place in the North—and injured his spine. The nearness of death
seems to have frightened him into an act of retribution. He made a new
will, constituting your Richard his heir, and he died the day before
our caravan left Pajura."
A certain cold disdain had crept into Irene's face as she listened.
Mrs. Haxton was well aware of the change in the girl's manner, but she
did not interrupt the thread of her story, nor seek to alter its
"Mr. Royson knows nothing of these later events that are so vitally
important to him?" she asked, when the other woman's quiet narration
ceased its even flow.
"Then how is it—"
"That I am better informed? It is quite simple. Baron von Kerber
intercepted and read all letters and telegrams that came for him by
Irene rose. Anger flamed in her face, and her brown eyes darkened.
"You dare to tell this to me?" she said.
"Exactly. You gave me permission to speak unreservedly. Please sit
down. I have not finished yet."
Somehow, despite her indignation, the girl was swayed into compliance.
"You forget that the twenty-sixth Sir Richard was dead, and that it
really did not matter one jot to the twenty-seventh whether he learnt
the news a few weeks earlier or later. But it mattered everything to
us, to Baron von Kerber and myself, I mean. We were determined that
this expedition should succeed, and we boggled at no means which
promised to achieve our end. We have been beaten, but not through any
fault of ours. We felt, not without good reason, that if Mr. Royson
were compelled to return home you would be converted from a passive
into an active enemy. So we adopted the leave-well-enough-alone policy,
and, as one woman speaking to another, I really don't see what you have
to grumble about. Blame us as much as you like, you still have the
delightful knowledge that the progress of your love affair was
unaffected by titles or wealth, and I have left to you the pleasant
duty of telling your fiancé of his good fortune."
"I am afraid your reasoning is too plausible for my poor wits, Mrs.
Haxton," said the girl slowly. "Indeed, I am not sure that I care to
listen to you any further."
"But you must, you shall," came the fierce outburst. "Do you think I am
lowering myself in your eyes without cause? I have told you the plain
truth, careless of the worst interpretation you may choose to place on
my motives. Now, in return, I want you to make these things known to
Mr. Fenshawe. He will be even more disgusted with Baron von Kerber and
my wretched self than he is at present, if that be possible. Hence, he
will agree, in all probability, to do what we ask—we wish him to give
us sufficient equipment and escort to travel direct to the coast from
here—at once—within the hour. When we reach the sea we can cross to
Aden in an Arab dhow, and neither Mr. Fenshawe nor you will ever see or
hear from us again, save in a business sense. It is not a wildly
extravagant demand. None of us can look forward with pleasure to a
month's journey in company back to Pajura. If I go to Mr. Fenshawe with
the proposal I have made to you, he will suspect some hidden intent. He
will believe you, and you can convince him that it is the only
satisfactory way out of a disagreeable position."
A full minute elapsed before Irene answered.
"I take it that you are here with Baron von Kerber's consent," she said.
"Yes. We discussed matters from every aspect last night. That is why I
am so well posted in your movements. We prefer not to await Mr.
Royson's return. Alfieri has defeated us. We have lost caste with you
and your grandfather. For Heaven's sake, let us go!"
Again there was a pause. For some reason, Irene's sympathies conquered
her again. She had risen, and she approached a little nearer.
"I wish to say," she murmured, "that—I am—sorry for you."
Mrs. Haxton looked up at her. Her face was frozen with misery. She
seemed to be incapable of tears just then. She stood up, held herself
erect for an instant, and walked out of the tent.
"Thank you," she said, without turning her head, as though she wished
to avoid the girl's eyes, "Now go, please. Tell Mr. Fenshawe that we
shall be glad to get away while it is possible to march. If your
grandfather sanctions our plan, we have all details ready for his
approval. There need be no delay. We do not want a great deal in the
way of stores, and we give our promise to repay the small sum of money
which will be necessary for the voyage to Aden and thence to London."
Irene, conscious of some unknown element in this wholly unexpected
outcome of the previous evening's discord, hurried off to arouse her
grandfather. At that hour the kafila was usually beginning the day's
march, but Mr. Fenshawe, like the others, had remained up late, and he
was unwilling to be disturbed until his servant told him that his
granddaughter was exceedingly anxious to see him.
As soon as she began to relate Mrs. Haxton's story, she realized that
it implied a confession of the attachment existing between Royson and
herself. She stammered and flushed when it came to explaining the
interest she took in all appertaining to Dick, but the old gentleman
listened gravely and without comment.
"What do you think, Irene?" he asked when she had finished.
"I think we should all be happier and freer from restraint if Mrs.
Haxton and the Baron left us," she said.
"I agree with you. Mrs. Haxton, as a chaperone, can easily be dispensed
with. You say they have a scheme drawn up for my signature—setting
forth the number of camels, etc., they need? Bring it to me. We can go
through it together, and you and Stump can check the actual splitting
up of the caravan. Of course, they know that we have a thirty days'
march before us, as compared with their five or six, and we may also be
compelled to remain here another day or two. In the matter of funds I
shall be generous, at any rate where the woman is concerned. I believe
that von Kerber is a scoundrel, that he has led her blindfolded along a
path of villainy, and she thinks now that she cannot recede. However,
let us see what they want."
He was somewhat surprised to find that their demands were studiously
moderate. Their tent equipage, seven days' supplies, a dozen camels,
two horses, and the necessary number of men, made up the list. Mr.
Fenshawe gave them sufficient silver for current expenses, and a draft
payable in Aden for the steamer and hotel charges, while he sent Mrs.
Haxton a note offering her five hundred pounds when she arrived in
London, and promising further assistance in the future if she shook
herself free of von Kerber.
Irene, who was acquainted with her grandfather's liberal intent,
watched Mrs. Haxton closely while she read that kindly message. Her
pallid face was unmoved. Its statuesque rigor gave no hint of the
thoughts that raged behind the mask.
"Tell Mr. Fenshawe that he has acted exactly as I expected," was her
listless reply, and, within five minutes, the small cavalcade started.
Mrs. Haxton elected to ride a Somali pony. She mounted unaided, forced
the rather unruly animal to canter to the head of the caravan, and thus
deliberately hid herself from further scrutiny.
"Poor thing!" murmured Irene with a sigh of relief, and hardly
conscious that she was addressing Stump. "I cannot help pitying her,
though I am glad she has gone."
"She an' the Baron make a good pair, Miss," said Stump. "I've had my
eye on 'em, an' they're up to some mischief now, or my name ain't wot
The girl glanced at him wonderingly, for the sturdy sailor's outspoken
opinion fitted in curiously with her own half-formed thought.
"You would not say that if you knew why they have left us," she said.
"Mebbe not, Miss Fenshawe, an' mebbe you've on'y heard half a yarn, if
you'll pardon my way of puttin' it. Anyway, the Baron is in a mighty
hurry to be off; an' isn't it plain enough that he doesn't want to be
here when Mr. Royson comes back? You mark my words, Miss. You'll hear
something that'll surprise you when our second mate heaves in sight."
Never did man prophesy more truly, yet never was prophet more amazed at
his own success….
Royson and Abdur Kad'r, flying for their lives, spurred on by the
further knowledge that even if they escaped capture or death they yet
had to undertake a difficult journey on tired beasts if they would save
the expedition from the attack evidently meditated by Alfieri and his
cohort of plunderers, the two, then—Englishman and Arab—rode like men
who valued their necks but lightly.
Bullets sang close to their ears, and one actually chipped the stock of
Dick's rifle, almost unseating him by the force of the blow. But the
Bisharins were excited, and forgot their fatigue for a mile or so, by
which time night fell, and the uncanny darkness soon rendered it quite
impossible to ride at all. They dismounted, and led the camels. Abdur
Kad'r, true son of the desert, pressed forward nimbly, since every yard
gained was a yard stolen from the pursuers. After a while they were
able to mount again, but now the jaded camels lagged, and not all the
sheik's prayers or imprecations could force them even into the
regulation pace of two and a half miles an hour.
To make matters worse, a hot breeze sprang up from the south, and
stirred the desert into curling sand-wraiths, which blinded them and
made it hard to detect sounds even close at hand. They were fully
thirty miles distant from the camp, with eight hours of darkness before
them, during which time they could hope to cover only half the march.
The thought rose unbidden that the remaining half must be undertaken in
daylight, with wornout camels, while the Hadendowa kafila was
presumably in fresh condition.
Something of the sort must have been in Abdur Kad'r's mind when, he
"The misbegotten thieves who follow, Effendi, will count on overtaking
us soon after daybreak. We must keep the water-bags fastened until the
dawn. Then let the camels empty them."
Royson silently debated the chances for and against an endeavor to rush
the journey on foot. If practicable, he would have attempted it,
leaving the Arab to save himself and the camels by adopting a longer
route. He decided that the project must fail. He could not find the
road at night, and his thin boots would be cut to pieces by the rocks
before he had gone many miles.
Yet, if they were overtaken, what would happen to Irene and the others?
A sharp pain gripped his breast, and his eyes clouded. He threw back
his head, and passed a hand over his clammy brow. The action seemed to
clear his brain, and he saw instantly that there was only one course
open to him. "Abdur Kad'r," he said, when a level space enabled them to
walk side by side, "which of our camels is the stronger?"
"They are both weary, Effendi, but mine has carried less weight than
yours. Ere he fell for the last time, he would lead."
"Listen, then, and do as I say. If we are attacked to-night I shall
stand and face our assailants. You ride on alone. I shall try to gain a
fair start for you. You know what depends on your efforts. Should you
fail, you not only lose life and fortune, but you also endanger the
lives of many. You must reach the camp by some means. And, when you see
Miss Fenshawe, tell her that my last thought was of her. Do you
"Have you understood my words? Will you deliver that message?"
"Yes, Effendi, but we men of the desert do not fly while our friends
"I well believe it, Abdur Kad'r. Yet that is my order. Will you obey?"
"I like it not, Effendi."
"There is no other way. What can you suggest that will be better? I
remain—that is a settled thing. You gain nothing by not trying to
escape. And remember, these Arabs will think twice before they slay a
"They will shoot first and think afterwards, Effendi."
"Well, we shall see. Perhaps they have given up the chase. In case they
come upon us, lash your camel into a trot, and wait not for me, because
I shall ride back, not forward."
The sheikh muttered a comprehensive curse on things in general and the
Hadendowa tribe in particular. They stumbled on in silence for nearly
two hours. At the end of that time they descended a difficult slope
into a deep wady. Fortunately, they had crossed it by daylight early
that morning, so its hazards were vivid in memory. In the rock-strewn
bed of the vanished river, Abdur Kad'r halted a moment. The light of
the stars was strong enough to reveal the horizon, which was visible
through the fall of the valley, and the nearer crests of the
neighboring watershed were quite distinct—showing black against
"That seaward track I spoke of, Effendi, passes this way to the hills.
The Well of Moses lies down there," and the Arab, more by force of
habit than because Royson could see him in that gloomy defile, threw
out his chin towards the east.
Suddenly, it struck Royson that provided he had guessed aright, the
Roman Legion which sacked Saba must have marched over this identical
spot, in their effort to reach the Nile. After twenty marches, von
Kerber said, they were waylaid by a Nubian clan and slain—every
man—from the proud tribune down to the humblest hastatus. Perhaps they
were surrounded in some such trap as this valley would provide. And
what a fight that was! What deeds of valor, what hewing and stabbing,
ere the last centurion fell at the head of the last remnant of a
cohort, and the despairing Greek commissary, gazing wild-eyed from some
nook of safety, saw the Roman eagle sink for ever!
Abdur Kad'r, little dreaming of the train of thought he had aroused,
moved on again. Dick had drawn taut the head-rope of his unwilling
camel when the brute uttered a squeal of recognition, and both men saw
several mounted Arabs silhouetted against the northern sky-line. An
answering grunt came from one of their camels, and a hubbub of voices
sank faintly into the somber depths, as the wind was not felt in that
The sheikh swore fluently, but Royson spoke no word until they were
free of the boulders, and had gained a passable incline which led to
the steeper path up the opposing cliff.
"Now, Abdur Kad'r—" he said.
"Name of Allah, Effendi, this thing must not be!"
"It must. Go, my good comrade. It is for the best."
Abdur Kad'r smote his camel on the cheek.
"I never imagined, Bisharin, that thou would carry me away from a
friend in danger," he growled, "but this is God's doing, and thou art a
rogue at all times. I shall either ride thee to death or kill thee for
a feast," He would not bid Royson farewell. Dick heard him tugging the
"Forget not my words to the Effendina," he said quietly.
"I shall not forget," came a voice from the darkness, and he was alone.
Though he knew he was face to face with death, he felt no tremor of
fear. He surveyed his position coolly, and took his stand in the shadow
of a mass of granite close to whose base the track wound up the
hillside. In case the unexpected happened, he fastened his camel to a
loose stone behind the rock, and the poor animal knelt instantly,
thinking that a night's rest was vouchsafed at last. Dick threw off the
Arab robes he had worn since Abdur Kad'r and he climbed the hill
overlooking Suleiman's Well. He opened and closed the breech of his
heavy double-barreled Express rifle to make sure that the sand clouds
had not clogged its mechanism, and fingered the cartridges in his
Then he waited. It would take the Hadendowas fully five minutes to come
up with him, and he experienced a feeling akin to astonishment that he
could bide his time so patiently, without any pang of anxiety, or hope,
or agonizing misgiving. He thought of Irene, but only of her welfare.
If he were not brought down by a chance bullet early in the fray, he
felt quite certain of being able to stave off the final rush long
enough to give Abdur Kad'r a breathing spell, he had sufficient
confidence in that wily old Arab's resources to believe that he would
outwit his pursuers, provided they lost a good deal of time in passing
Plan he had none, save to hail the enemy in Arabic and English, and
then put up a strenuous fight for the benefit of those who approached
Round the shoulder of the rock he could look eastward, and a glimmering
mist in that direction reminded him of the sea, and of the Aphrodite.
What a difference a hundred miles made! The luxuriously appointed yacht
sailed out there in the midst of the ghostly cloud not so long ago. And
here was he, clutching a rifle and preparing to sell his life in order
to save most of her passengers and crew from a sudden attack by a gang
of bloodthirsty ruffians led by a frenzied Italian. As a study in
contrasts that was rather striking, he fancied.
At last he heard the shuffling of camels' feet and the mutterings of
men. The Hadendowas were crossing the river bed.
"Stop!" he shouted, in Arabic. "You die otherwise!"
There was an instant silence. They were evidently not prepared for this
"I am an Englishman," he added, still in Arabic, and, in the belief
that some of them might at least recognize the sound of English, he
"You have no right to molest me and my servants. I call on you to
return to your master, and set at liberty the Arab Hussain—"
He was answered by a perfect blaze of rifles. Every man fired at
random. At least a dozen bullets crashed against the rock. A violent
tug at his left sleeve and some spatters of hot lead on his cheek
showed that one missile had come too near to be pleasant. After passing
through his coat it had splashed on the granite just behind him.
He did not speak again, nor would he fire until sure of a mark. Another
volley lit the darkness. This time he made out the forms of his
attackers. They were standing some twenty yards away, and he marveled
that they seemed not to see him; though he reflected at once, with the
utmost nonchalance, that the blinding flash of the guns screened him
quite effectually from their eyes.
Then he saw two dim figures moving swiftly forward. He brought both
down, and their yells rent the air.
He sprang sideways, as far as the narrow road permitted, and reloaded.
The Arabs aimed wildly at the place where he had just been standing.
One of their number screamed a command, and they made a combined rush.
He fired both barrels into their midst, clubbed his rifle and jumped
forward. That was good generalship, of the sort dear to the heart of
his great ancestor. At the first tremendous sweep of his weapon he
broke off its stock against an Arab's body. That did not matter. The
heavy barrels were staunch, and iron deals harder blows than wood. He
was active as a cat, and had the strength of any four of his
adversaries. With lightning-like whirls he smote them so resolutely
that when five were laid low the rest broke, and ran. He actually
pursued them, and brought down two more, before he stumbled over the
body of one whom he had shot.
And that ended the fight. He heard men scrambling over the rocks in
panic, and he knew by the grunting and groaning of distant camels that
all the kafila had stampeded. Searching the fallen man at his feet,
he found a full cartridge-belt and rifle. He took them, lest there
should be further need, but did not relinquish the trusty weapon which
had more than equalized an unequal combat.
Then he went to his camel. The terrified brute had risen, and was
tugging madly at its rope. It seemed to recognize him, and be grateful
for his presence, if ever a camel can display gratitude. He gave it the
contents of the water-bag, led it to the top of the cliff, and stood
there a brief space to listen. Some wounded men were calling loudly for
help, and he was sorry for the poor wretches; but there was no response
from their flying comrades. He fixed on a star to guide his course by,
mounted, and rode away to the south, trusting more to his camel's sense
of direction than to his own efforts to keep on the track.
When dawn appeared, a dawn that was glorious to him beyond measure, he
caught sight of a precipitous hill which he remembered passing on the
outward march. Looking back at the first favorable point, he could see
nothing that betokened the presence of Hadendowas, or any other human
beings, in all that far-flung solitude. Were it not for the presence of
the Italian rifle and cartridge-belt, and the blood-stained gun-barrels
resting across his knees, the fierce struggle in that forbidding valley
might have been the delirium of a fever-dream.
He rode on, munching contentedly at a biscuit from his haversack, until
his glance was drawn to a cloud of dust hanging in the air, for the
unpleasant wind of the previous night had given way to a softer and
cooler breeze. He read its token correctly, and smiled at the picture
which his fancy drew of Stump, when that choleric skipper heard what
had happened to his second mate. Surely he would be among those now
hurrying to the rescue!
And he was not mistaken. With Stump came Abdur Kad'r, six of the
Aphrodite's crew, and a score of well-armed Arabs and negroes. Even
before they met, Royson saw two Arabs race back towards the camp, and
Stump, after the first hearty congratulations, explained the hurry of
"It's mainly on account of Miss Irene," he said. "She took on something
awful when the sheikh blew in an' tole us you had gone under. He heard
the shootin', you see, an', accordin' to his account, you were as full
of lead as Tagg'll be full of beer when he listens to the yarn I'll
spin nex' time we meet."
Abdur Kad'r's black eyes sparkled when Royson spoke to him.
"Salaam aleikum, Effendi!" he cried. "You have redeemed my honor.
Never again could I have held up my head had you been slain while I
ran. And that shaitan of a camel—he stirred himself. By the Prophet, I
must kill an older one to make a feast for my men."
HOW THREE ROADS LED IN ONE DIRECTION
The news that her lover was safe restored the sparkle to Irene's eyes
and the color to her wan cheeks. Fenshawe, indeed, had not given her
the full measure of Abdur Kad'r's breathless recital. Recent events had
led the old curio-hunter to view life in less ultra-scientific spirit
than was his habit. Perhaps he had re-awakened to the knowledge that
the hearts of men and women are apt to be swayed by other impulses than
his dry-as-dust interest in dead cities and half-forgotten races. Most
certainly he was shocked by the agony in the girl's face when she heard
that the sheikh had returned alone, and, if he wondered at the low wail
of despair which broke from her lips, he said nothing of it at the
moment, but mercifully suppressed Abdur Kad'r's story of the Effendi's
resolve to make a stand against his pursuers, and thus enable his
companion to reach and warn the camp.
The version Irene heard was that Royson's camel had fallen lame, and it
was deemed safer he should hide until help came, than mount behind
Abdur Kad'r and risk the slower journey. Fenshawe reasoned that Royson
might be captured, not killed. His long experience of Arab life told
him that the tribesmen would be chary of murdering a European, for fear
of the vengeance to be exacted later. Nevertheless, this comforting
theory was more than balanced by the disquieting facts revealed by the
sheikh, who, as he rode wildly to the south, heard a sharp outburst of
firing in the valley behind him.
Yet it was well that Irene had not been told the whole truth, else that
anxious little heart of hers might have stormed itself into a fever of
despair. As it was, her pent emotions found relief in tears of joy when
the messengers brought the news of Royson's approach with the rescue
party, and her eyelids were still suspiciously red, her lips somewhat
tremulous, when, standing by her grandfather's side, she welcomed his
Though a hundred eyes were fixed on the two—though some of those eyes
watched them with a keenness inspired by the belief that this reunion
had in it a romantic element quite apart from the drama of the
hour—their meeting apparently partook only of that friendly character
warranted by the unusual circumstances. And, in the general excitement,
none who looked at Royson paid heed to the hardships he had undergone.
He had hardly closed his eyes during two nights and three days, for the
rest obtained while he and Abdur Kad'r awaited the outcome of Hussain's
embassy was calculated rather to add to his physical exhaustion than
relieve it. He had covered eighty miles of desert on scanty fare, and
had fought a short but terrific fight against a dozen adversaries. Yet,
his cool demeanor and unwearied carriage conveyer! no hint of
fatigue—to all outward seeming he might have been entering the
encampment after an ordinary march, when a basin of water and a change
of clothing were the chief essentials of existence. It was not so, of
course. Were he made of steel he must have felt the strain of those
sixty hours, and he almost yielded to it when he dismounted, and
Fenshawe led him inside the mess tent.
The older man invited him to be seated, and tell his adventures while
eating the meal which had been prepared for him and Stump as soon as
their camels were seen in the distance. But Dick, half unconsciously,
still clutched the broken rifle. There were blood stains on his
clothing, which was ripped in the most obvious way by bullets that had
either wounded him or actually grazed his skin. Fenshawe's keen old
eyes made a rapid inventory of these signs of strife, and he forgot, in
his anxiety, that Irene was present.
"Good heavens, man," he cried, "you have been in the wars. Did those
scoundrels attack you, then? Are you hurt?"
"No," said Dick, sinking into a chair, and trying to speak with his
customary nonchalance, "I am not injured—just a wee bit tired—that is
Irene flew to his side. She took the soiled gun-barrels, from his
relaxing grip, and began to unfasten the collar hooks of his uniform.
"Don't you see he is almost fainting?" she demanded, reproachfully.
"Bring some brandy and cold water, quick! Oh, Dick, dear, speak to me!
Are you sure you are not wounded? If it is only want of food and sleep,
we can soon put that right, but do tell me if you have a wound."
Dick smiled, though he knew his face was white beneath the dust and
tan, and he could not lift his arms for the life of him.
"I'm all right," he whispered. "I suppose I'm suffering from heart
trouble, Irene. Haven't seen you for two nights and a day, you know."
He must have been a trifle light-headed, or he would not have spoken to
her in that way before her grandfather. Mr. Fenshawe, remembering the
girl's shyness of the previous day, may have thought a good deal, but
said nothing, seeing that Irene was supremely indifferent to either his
thoughts or his words at that instant, while Royson seemed to be
heedless of any other fact than the exceedingly pleasant one that his
beloved was holding a glass to his lips and asking him to gratify her
by swallowing the contents.
As for Stump, who was not aware of his second mate's rise in the world,
the manner of their speech affected him so powerfully that he was in
imminent danger of an apoplectic seizure. His condition was rendered
all the more dangerous because he dared utter no word. But he silently
used the sailor-like formula which applies to such unexpected
situations, and added certain other variations of the rubric from the
extensive resources of his own private vocabulary. He recovered his
breath by the time Dick's attack, of weakness had passed, and the color
of his face slowly subsided from, a deep purple to its abiding tint of
"Rather a sudden indisposition," said Fenshawe to Stump, smiling
quizzically as he watched Irene supporting Royson's head while she
urged him tenderly to drink a little more of the stimulant.
"Is that wot you call it?" asked the captain of the Aphrodite,
mopping his glowing cheeks with a handkerchief of brilliant hue. "I
thought it was a stroke of some kind, 'but I've fair lost my bearin's
since I gev' over plashin' at sea."
The amazement of the elders at the manner in which those young people
addressed each other was slight in comparison with the thrill Royson
caused when he had taken some soup, and was prepared to do justice to
more solid food.
"I had a rather lively set-to with a number of Hadendowas," he
explained in response to a question from Mr. Fenshawe. "It was brief
but strenuous, and I assure you it is a marvel that I came out of it
practically without a scratch. At any rate, it does not call for a
detailed description now, seeing that I have something of vastly
greater importance to tell you. May I ask, sir, if you have photographs
of the papyrus in your possession?"
"Yes. They are in my tent. Shall I bring them?"
"If you please. I think I have news that will interest you."
"One word before I go. Abdur Kad'r said that the Italians had abandoned
Suleiman's Well. Have they found the treasure, do you think?"
"No, sir. Just the reverse. I believe that I have found it myself, and,
if I am not mistaken, Mrs. Haxton and the Baron, from what Captain
Stump tells me, are now far on their way to the right place, if they
have not already reached it."
"Wot did I say, Miss Irene?" broke in Stump fiercely. "Oh, he's deep is
that there Baron. I sized him up when he med off yesterday. An' Mrs.
Haxton, too! A nice pair of beauties."
"Whatever wrong Mrs. Haxton may have done in the past, I refuse to
believe that she was swayed by some merely selfish consideration in
leaving us as she did," said Irene softly, and her grandfather thanked
her with a look as he quitted the tent.
Stump shook his head.
"She's as artful as a pet fox," he growled; but he had no listeners.
Dick and Irene were far too much occupied in gazing at each other.
Mr. Fenshawe returned speedily. He spread out ten photographs on the
table in front of Royson. With them was a typewritten document divided
into ten sections.
"That is the English translation," he explained. "Each numbered
division corresponds with a similar number on a photograph. It
Dick examined the translation eagerly. The first slip of papyrus read:
"In the seventh year of the reign of the renowned Emperor, C. Julius
Caesar Octavianus, I, Demetriades, son of Pelopidos, merchant of
Syracuse, being at that time a trader in ivory and skins at Alexandria,
did foolishly abandon my wares in that city, and join the legion sent
from Egypt to subdue the people of Shaba."
He saw that the letters in the word "seventh," though writ in archaic
Greek, bore the same space relation to the neighboring characters as
did all others in the script. Reading on carefully until he came to the
first leaf of the papyri in which the "Five Hills" were named, he
observed Instantly that the word "pente," five, had its letters crowded
together. Now the Greek for seven, hepta, has only four characters,
the aspirate being marked over the initial vowel. This same crowding of
"pente" was discernible each time it occurred in the text. It was a
coincidence that was too intrusive. The obvious explanation was that
"hepta" had been deleted and "pente" substituted in every instance, and
the fraud had not been detected because the rest of the Greek writing
was absolutely genuine. The hieroglyphs In cartouches, which von Kerber
had admittedly tampered with, were beyond Royson's ken.
He was so taken up with this confirmation of his views, and so eager to
make clear the queer chance that led Abdur Kad'r to explain the name of
the Well of Moses, that he was blind to the growing wrath in Mr.
Fenshawe's face until he happened to catch the indignant note in the
older man's voice as he bade a servant summon the sheikh. Then a single
glance told him what he had done. The wounded vanity of the famous
Egyptologist had risen in its might, and swept aside all other
considerations. The man of wealth could permit his charitable instincts
to govern the scorn evoked by the Austrian's petty tactics, but the
outraged enthusiasm of the collector was a torrent that engulfed
charity and expediency alike in its flood. Nothing short of the most
painstaking personal examination of the oasis at the Well of Moses
would now convince the millionaire that von Kerber had not tricked him
at the eleventh hour.
Though the expedition was in Italian territory, though he was aware
that a tribe of hostile Arabs was already hovering on the outskirts of
the camp, though the presence of Irene rendered it imperative that he
should not risk the attack which would probably be made that night,
these urgent conditions of the moment did not prevail in the least
degree against the maddening suspicion that the self-confessed forger
who had duped him had put the seal on a piece of clever rascality by
exploiting the real treasure-ground for his own benefit.
Royson was far from expecting this development. Yet, now that it had
occurred, he saw that it was inevitable. Before Abdur Kad'r appeared he
guessed why Mr. Fenshawe wanted him in such a hurry. Irene, who had
never known her grandfather to be so greatly disturbed, whispered
earnestly to her lover:
"If grandad wishes you to follow von Kerber, you must be too ill to do
anything of the sort."
"Then I shall remain here alone," said he, smiling at her dismay.
"Unless I am much mistaken we shall all be hot on his track before we
are many hours older."
He was right. When the sheikh came he received orders to prepare for an
instant march towards the coast by way of the caravan route. Then the
burning zeal of archeology received a check.
"It is impossible that the kafila should move in that direction
before to-morrow's dawn, O worthy of honor," said Abdur Kad'r
emphatically. "We can march south to-day, if Allah wills it, knowing
that we shall find food and water within fifteen kilometers without
fail. To reach the Well of Moses is a different thing. I have not seen
the place during thirty years. We must travel early and late, and carry
with us a water supply that will not only suffice for the journey but
safeguard us against any failure of the well when we arrive there. What
proof have we, Effendi, that it is not choked with sand?"
Fenshawe was too skilled in the varying contingencies of desert life
not to admit the truth of the sheikh's reasoning, but he held to the
belief that von Kerber had secret information as to the practicability
of the route.
"Be it so," he said curtly. "Let every preparation be made. We have no
cause to fear these dogs of Hadendowas. I charge myself with the care
of the camp where they are concerned. See to it, Abdur Kad'r, that we
start ere sunrise."
The conversation was in Arabic, so Stump could not gather its drift.
When he learnt his employer's intentions he roared gleefully:
"By gad, sir, I'm pleased to 'ear you're makin' for blue water once
more. Just for a minute I fancied you was tellin' our brown pilot to
shove after von Kerber, an' string 'im up."
Mr. Fenshawe laughed grimly.
"The rogue deserves it, but I cannot take the law into my own hands,
captain," he said.
"Oh, that wasn't botherin' me," was the offhand answer. "I was on'y
wonderin' where you would find a suitable tree."
Fenshawe bent over the table, and asked Royson to go through the papyri
with him, comparing the Greek, word for word, with the translation. He
himself was able to decipher the hieroglyphs, but the details and
measurements they gave might be dismissed as unreliable. Depending,
however, on the context, and having ascertained from Abdur Kad'r that
the seven small lava hills at Moses's Well stood in an irregular circle
near the oasis, it was a reasonable deduction that the Romans had
selected a low-lying patch of sand or gravel somewhere in the center of
the group as a suitable hiding-place for their loot. It might be
assumed that Aelius Gallus meant to sail down the Red Sea again, within
a year at the utmost, and recover the spoil when his galleys were there
to receive it. Therefore, he would not dig too deeply, nor, in the
straits to which he was reduced, would he waste many hours on the task.
Fenshawe infected Dick with his own ardor. The two were puzzling over
each turn and twist of the Greek adventurer's awkward phrases when
Irene, who had gone out with Stump, interrupted them.
"Dick," she said, blushing poppy red because she used his familiar
name, "you must go and rest at once. I am sure, grandad, you don't want
Mr. Royson to break down a second time, do you? And I would like both
of you to know that Baron von Kerber took with him no pickaxes. Captain
Stump and I have just checked our stock. That seems to be in his favor,
"If I have done von Kerber an injustice I shall be the first to ask his
pardon," said Fenshawe. "At present, I have every cause to doubt the
man's motives in leaving us, and I want more than negative proof to
acquit him of dishonesty. By the way, Irene, have you told Royson of
his good fortune?"
"I have hardly spoken two words to him since he arrived," said she
"Dear me! That sounds like a strong hint," and Fenshawe very
considerately left the two alone. Tired as Dick was, the best part of
an hour elapsed before Irene could explain fully that he was now a
baronet, with a reasonably large income, or he could make her
understand exactly why he was a somewhat frayed out-of-work when they
met in London.
Perhaps there were interludes and interruptions. Perhaps he thought
that the limpid depths of her brown eyes offered more attractions than
the sordid records of a foolish man's spite and a boy's sufferings. At
any rate, it was Irene who finally insisted that this must positively
be the last, and who threatened that she would not speak to him again
that day if he stirred out of his tent before dinner.
And, indeed, Dick required no rocking when, after a refreshing wash, he
stretched his long limbs in his hammock. His sleep was dreamless. He
awoke at sundown strong in the conviction that he had hardly closed his
He and Stump shared the tent, and Dick's uncertain gaze first dwelt on
his skipper, who was seated at the door, smoking. Stump removed his
pipe from between his teeth:
"Good evenin', Sir Richard," he said solemnly. Then the huge joke he
had been cogitating ever since Irene informed him at luncheon that
Royson was now a man of title mastered him completely.
"Sink me," he burst forth, "I've had some daisies of second mates under
me in me time, but I've never bossed a bloomin' barrow-knight afore. My
godfather! Won't Becky be pleased! An' wot'll Tagg say? Pore old Tagg!
He'll 'ave a fit!"
"Look here, captain—" began Dick, swinging his feet to the ground. But
Stump's slow-moving wits, given full time to get under weigh, were
working freely; punctuating each pause with a flourish of his pipe, he
"Lord love a duck, I can see Tagg blowin' in to a snug in the West
Injia Dock Road, an' startin' ev'ry yarn with, 'W'en I sailed down the
Red Sea with Sir Richard—' or, 'We was goin' through the Gut on a
dirty night, an' Sir Richard sez to me—' Well, there, I on'y hope 'e
survives the fust shock. W'en 'e gets 'is wind we'll 'ave a fair treat.
Mind ye, I 'ad a sort of funny feelin' when you tole me in the train
you was my second mate, an' you sat there a-wearin' knickers. It gev me
a turn, that did. An' then, you took another twist at me by sayin'
you'd never bin to sea. I knew things was goin' to happen after that.
It must ha' bin, wot d'ye call it—second sight—for I knew then an'
there I'd got a prize in the lottery—"
"Oh, shut up!" shouted Royson, diving frantically for his boots.
"That's no way for a barrow-knight to talk to 'is admirin' skipper,"
said Stump. "But I s'pose, now, it sounds queer to 'ave me a-callin'
you Sir Richard, w'en, as like as not, I might be dammin' your eyes as
Royson tried to escape, in his hurry he did not notice a bulky letter
which lay on the top of one of his leather trunks. Stump called him
"You're missin' your mail, Sir Richard," he said, and Dick, perforce,
returned. Oddly enough, the letter covered the initials "R. K." painted
on the portmanteau. Turning a deaf ear to Stump's further pleasantries,
he opened the envelope. A scrawl on a sheet of thin continental
note-paper contained the brief statement that, "by inadvertence," von
Kerber had "detained the enclosed letters and cablegrams." The
enclosures, which were from Mr. Forbes, bore out the accuracy of Mrs.
Haxton's revelations. He was, in very truth, the twenty-seventh baronet
of his line, sole owner of Orme Castle and its dependencies, and
befitted, by rank, descent, and estate, to take a social position of no
For an instant he forgot his surroundings. He recalled the stately old
house and its beautiful park as he had last seen it, with all its
glories rejuvenated by the money that was pouring in to the coffers of
his detested relative. And now that malign old man was at rest, after a
tardy admission of the grievous evil he had wrought to his brother's
wife and son. Well, peace be to his crooked bones! Dick could have
wished him safely in Paradise if the wish would restore to life his
beloved mother. And she, dear soul—though he had forgotten her last
night—perhaps her gentle spirit was shielding him as he stood with his
back to the rock and faced the vicious swarm of Arabs in the darkness.
Then Stump's gruff accents broke in on his dreaming.
"Is it O.K., Sir Richard?" he asked. "Them's the papers von Kerber held
up, I reckon? Have ye got a clean bill?"
Royson stooped and grasped Stump's shoulder.
"When we reach England, skipper," he said, "you and Tagg, and Mrs.
Stump, too, for that matter, must come and see my place in the North.
An' I'll tell ye wot," he went on, with fair mimicry of Stump's voice
and manner, "you'll all 'ave the time of your lives, sink me, if you
Stump glared up at him. No man had ever before dared to reproduce that
hoarse growl for his edification, and the effect was electrical. It
might be likened to the influence exercised on a bull by the bellow of
a rival. He took breath for a mighty effort—and Royson fled.
Be sure that Irene, though vastly occupied with work which von Kerber
had performed hitherto—those small but troublesome items appertaining
to the daily life of a large encampment—had an eye to watch for Dick's
reappearance. She hailed him joyfully:
"Such news! The enemy proclaims a truce. Alfieri has sent in Hussain
and Abdullah, not to mention the purloined camel. And one of his own
men has brought a note for grandfather, asking an early conference."
At first, Royson was unfeignedly glad of this unlooked for turn in
events. He did not share Mr. Fenshawe's optimism in the matter of a
night attack by the Hadendowas, because Irene was there—and who could
hope to shield her beyond risk of accident when long-range rifles were
sniping the camp?
Alfieri's letter was civil and apologetic. He explained that he had no
quarrel with the English leader of the expedition—his feud lay with
the Austrian and the woman who had helped to despoil him (Alfieri) of
his rights. He felt assured, he said, that Signor Fenshawe—whose fame
as an Egyptologist was well known to him—would not be a consenting
party to fraud, and he wished, therefore, to arrange a meeting for the
following day, when he would state his case fully, face those who had
robbed him, and leave the final decision with confidence in the hands
of one whose repute made it certain that justice would be done.
The appeal was written in hardly intelligible English, but an Italian
version accompanied it, and Irene was able to translate every word of
"Of course, grandad agreed," said Irene. "He has fixed on seven o'clock
to-morrow for the conference. I am looking forward with curiosity to
seeing Alfieri again. I remember him perfectly. Captain Stump and I had
a good look at him in Massowah, you know."
"Has the messenger gone back already?"
"Oh, yes. He left the camp two hours ago."
"Did he speak to any of our men?"
"He may have done so. I'm not sure. We were so taken up with Alfieri's
communication that we gave no heed to the Arab. But grandad said, by
the way, that it was just as well he should see our strength, and that
we had a dozen armed sailors here, in addition to so many natives. You
are worrying about me, I suppose? Allow me to observe that I, as staff
officer, have assisted the commander-in-chief to divide our forces into
two strong guards for the night. Grandfather commands one, Captain
Stump the other, while you, O King, have to sleep soundly until the
"But I have just slept eight hours!"
"Oh, well, being on the staff, I also arranged that we should mount
guard together until eleven o'clock."
It went against the grain to dash her high spirits with the doubt that
had seized him as soon as he heard of the Hadendowa Arab's departure.
In all probability, the man had found out that von Kerber and Mrs.
Haxton were no longer in the camp. The negro syces and other attendants
were inveterate gossips, and it would be strange if they had not told
him that some of their number were marching towards the sea with the
Hakim-Effendi and one of the Giaour women. What would happen were this
knowledge to come to Alfieri's ears? The man who had not scrupled to
order the pursuit and capture—the death, if need be—of Royson himself
and Abdur Kad'r, was not a stickler at trifles. It was reasonable to
suppose that he was making overtures of peace solely because his scouts
had revealed the size of the expedition. How would he act under these
fresh circumstances? Judging by the pact, there could be only one
"Now what is it?" pouted Irene, trying to assume an injured air when
she saw the grave look in her lover's face. "Perhaps you don't care for
the eleven o'clock idea? I thought you would like to sit and smoke, and
tell me everything that happened since—since I said good-by to you the
other evening, but, of course—"
"If you gaze at me so reproachfully, Irene, I shall kiss you now, this
instant, under the eyes of every man, horse, and camel."
"Well, then, what is the matter? I know something is worrying you. I
can read your face like a book."
"I distrust Alfieri, dearest,—that is all."
"But he simply dare not fight us. Grandad knows these Arabs for many
years. He says that they depend wholly on a surprise. And how can we be
surprised, when Alfieri himself admits that he is near, and has
actually sent Abdullah, who can tell us the exact number of his men?"
"I think I shall call you Portia, not Irene, if you reason things out
in that fashion."
She stamped a foot in mock anger.
"That is your old trick," she said. "You try to hide your thoughts by
an adroit twist in the conversation. Out with it! What do you really
"Let us find Abdullah. Then I shall tell you."
The Spear-thrower, though polite, was not disposed to be communicative.
The absence of the two people who were his allies had puzzled him, and
none of the Arabs could meet his inquiries as to the motives which led
to their sudden journey. In this man's attitude Royson found ample
corroboration of his own estimate of Alfieri's views under similar
conditions. Abdullah obviously did not believe that von Kerber had
abandoned the quest. He fancied he was betrayed. If the chance offered,
he might be expected to throw in his lot with Alfieri.
Though Irene was listening, and Dick was sure she had hit on the true
cause of his anxiety, he determined to win Abdullah's loyalty. So he
told him of Mr. Fenshawe's resolve to follow the seaward route.
"Your interests, whatever they may be, are absolutely safe if you trust
us," he said. "The Baron, is only two marches ahead of us. He does not
know we are going the same way. He thinks we are making for Pajura, so
we will most certainly overtake him at the coast, if not earlier. Thus,
you can convince yourself of his good faith, and you can see for
yourself that the ultimate decision of affairs must rest with us."
The Arab bowed, but he kept a still tongue. Yet he admitted afterwards
that Royson's words had diverted him from his fixed Intent to steal off
when night fell, and urge Alfieri to pursue the runaways.
The Italian needed no urging. Dick advised Mr. Fenshawe to send out two
men on horseback in order to locate the Hadendowas. Hussain, who was
acquainted with the country, volunteered for this duty, and he and his
companion came in at midnight with the depressing report that Alfieri
and his free-booters were not to be found on the main track to
By this time, not only Fenshawe and Irene, but Stump and Abdur Kad'r,
when called into counsel, shared Dick's foreboding. It was impossible
to do anything before dawn, and the sole difficulty that remained was
to decide whether they should march, when the first streaks of light
showed in the sky, or await the hour fixed for the interview with
Alfieri. They resolved to leave Hussain and a few trustworthy men at
the oasis, with instructions to remain there until eight o'clock. If
Alfieri kept his tryst, they were to give him a letter, written by
Irene, which asked him to follow and join the expedition. Otherwise,
they were to ride after the caravan at top speed, and report his
So Dick and Irene missed that agreeable watch under the stars, and
their thoughts, instead of being given to each other, were centered on
the unlucky fortune-hunters whom accident or design had separated from
Yet, when the sun rose over the desert, it was exhilarating enough to
find themselves riding side by side once more. The order of march was
simple but well designed. Abdur Kad'r, in command of several Arabs on
Bisharin camels, provided a mounted screen half a mile in front.
Fenshawe, Royson and Irene, with some of the sailors, formed the
advance guard. Then came the kafila proper, with the remainder of the
Aphrodite's crew, under Stump's charge, as a rearguard. They had
halted for breakfast, and were preparing for another long march before
the heat of the sun enforced a rest, when Hussain overtook them. At
eight o'clock Alfieri had not visited the rendezvous, nor was he to
be seen an hour later from the summit of the last hill which gave a
view of the oasis.
Ill news is little the better because it is expected, and every one was
wishful to push on as quickly as possible. But the desert was
inexorable in its limitations. Great speed means great exhaustion, and
consequently greater demand for water. Nevertheless, they risked the
chance of a dry spell at the journey's end, and, finally, despite
Irene's protests against being left behind, Royson and Abdullah, with
six of the Aphrodite's men, and Abdur Kad'r, at the head of thirty
picked Arabs, went on at a spanking pace. They were now on the actual
caravan path, having reached it by a cross-country line. According to
the sheikh's calculations, they were ten miles from the Well of Moses
at four o'clock, and sunset would take place at half-past six. The road
was a bad one, and their camels were beginning to lag, but they counted
on reaching the ancient camping-ground about half past five. Abdullah
was the first to discover recent signs of a large kafila having
passed that way. He it was, too, who raised a warning hand when they
emerged from a wide valley and crossed a plateau, which, roughly
speaking, was three miles from the well.
They halted, and strained eyes and ears. They could see nothing, owing
to a few scattered hummocks in front, but they caught distinctly the
irregular thuds of distant rifle-firing. That was enough. Careless of
the rough going, or the condition of their camels at the close, they
raced ahead madly. There was no question now of the odds they might
have to face. Though the Hadendowas were well armed, and outnumbered
them by two to one, Royson felt that the presence of the Englishmen,
all of whom were ex-sailors of the Royal Navy, would nerve his Arab
helpers to attack and defeat Alfieri's band of cutthroats. Moreover,
von Kerber and his small escort were evidently making a fight of it,
and, while daylight lasted, the Hadendowas, once discovered, would
endeavor to shoot down their quarry at a safe range rather than undergo
the certain loss of an open assault.
How long could the unequal contest be maintained—that was the question
that tortured Dick. Many times during that wild ride he asked it, and
the only answer he received was given by despair. It came to him
through a spume of dust and flying sand, and the rattle of
accouterments, and the plaints of frenzied camels, and the yells and
curses of the strangely-assorted company of deliverers as they plunged
across the desert towards the Well of the Seven Hills. And its
discordant shriek was, "Too late! Too late! The gods have frowned on
the pillagers of Saba, and the wrath of the gods is everlasting!"
THE FINDING OF THE TREASURE
Royson, a soldier by instinct if not by training, realized the folly of
dashing blindly into a fray the nature of which was hidden from him.
Though the plight of his erstwhile companions must be desperate—though
the lengthening shadows warned him that the time ran short—it was
all-important that he should learn the manner and direction of the
attack, and the means adopted by von Kerber for repelling it, ere the
presence of the relieving force became known. He had heard much of the
fighting qualities of the Hadendowas. They were brave, but they were
not given to throwing their lives away uselessly. Judging by the steady
crackling of musketry, they were "eating up" the smaller contingent
with the least possible risk to themselves. They were quite capable of
delivering a fierce charge when they witnessed the approach of the
rescuers, or, on the other hand, they might allow the newcomers to
combine with von Kerber, and depend on their rifle fire to dispose of
the reinforced defense. He must decide quickly, once he knew the
conditions, and it was imperative, therefore, that something in the
nature of a reconnaissance should be conducted from the shoulder of the
rising ground which terminated the plateau. By shouting to Abdur Kad'r
and signaling to his own men, Dick managed to check the furious onward
rush of the detachment. It was no easy matter to stop the excited
camels. The stubborn brutes were equally unwilling either to travel at
such a rate or to abandon it. Before the sky-line was reached, however,
they were pulled up. Royson, Abdur Kad'r and Abdullah dismounted, and
ran rapidly to the crest, dodging behind rocks and broken ground until
they secured a clear view of the panorama in front. It was a singular
and, in one respect, a disconcerting scene that met their anxious gaze.
The only practicable road descended rapidly towards an immensely wide
and shallow depression. Conceivably, this basin might have been formed
by the subsidence of the land all round an extinct volcano, whose
one-time activity was revealed by a cluster of small cones in the
distance. Running due east, and passing north of the crater thus
curiously marked, was the arid river-bed which created the oasis, and
rendered possible the well which gave its name to the place.
Unfortunately, the group of lava hillocks was situated much beyond the
center of the hollow. They were commanded by small hills on three
sides, and, though capable of defense in some respects, they offered
the grave disadvantage of being in a circle. Consequently, the only
section secure from an enemy's fire was that on the western side, and
it was evident that the defenders had found this to be actually the
case. They were, of course, clearly visible from the ridge, where,
unknown to them, the leader of a strong relief was then lying in the
cleft of a rock split to its base by extremes of heat and cold.
Dick counted the cones. There were seven, of them. Though fully a mile
and a half distant, he could see Mrs. Haxton sitting between two huge
boulders. Von Kerber was near her, and the few Arabs with them were
scattered among the rocks in positions whence they could return the
incessant fusillade poured on them from the hills. Their camels were
huddled in a hollow between the two westerly mounds, and, so far as
Royson could judge, the little party had not yet sustained many
casualties. But the tactics of their assailants were quite obvious. The
Hadendowas, silently and unseen, had occupied the higher ground on the
north, east, and south. They had probably stampeded the unsuspecting
kafila from the open oasis, because a couple of tents and some camp
equipage still stood there, and it was their intent to creep nearer,
pushing the horns of an ever-closing crescent steadily westward, until
a junction effected just before sunset would permit of a successful
rush. Indeed, all doubt on this point was dispelled by the discovery of
two strong companies of Hadendowas gathering on the reverse slopes of
the nearest hills. They were mounted, mostly on camels. They did not
reveal their existence by taking part in the firing. They seemed to be
waiting some signal before they rode out into the plain, to complete
the merciless ring which would then surround the doomed occupants of
the Seven Hills.
There was not a moment to be lost, and Royson, having formed his plan,
put it into instant operation. He and the six sailors would be the
first to cross the sky-line, while a few Arabs would accompany them,
but hurry back as soon as they were visible, giving the impression that
they had gone to summon others. The men from the Aphrodite would ride
straight, at top speed, towards the beleaguered party. Two minutes
later, Abdur Kad'r was to lead half his Arabs over the ridge and make
for the enemy's right wing, while, after a similar interval, Abdullah,
at the head of the remaining detachment, would similarly dash into
sight and advance against the enemy's left. The opposing force would
thus see three successive waves of rescuers, each apparently stronger
than its predecessor, coming from the only direction whence succor was
possible. Alfieri and his followers were well aware already of the
strength of Mr. Fenshawe's expedition. If they imagined that it was
advancing in its full numbers, they might break and run without firing
another shot. If, however, they showed fight, Abdur Kad'r and Abdullah
had most stringent orders not to pursue the flanking parties, which
they would certainly drive in on the main body. They were to converge
towards the hillocks, where Royson would, by that time, have brought
hope and renewed courage to their hard-pressed friends. Then, granted
that the Hadendowas dared a general attack, the whole force, rescuers
and rescued, were to fall back, converting the struggle Into a
rear-guard action, and compelling the Hadendowas to relinquish the
advantage of the higher ground. Once they came into the open, Royson
counted on the superior shooting of his six sailors—all marksmen of
the Royal Navy—to turn the scale unmistakably in his favor, while his
Arabs had the confidence of knowing that each mile they gained in the
retreat brought them nearer the powerful caravan in the rear.
The scheme was excellent in every way. Under ordinary conditions it
would have achieved success, but the sane mind can never take into
reckoning the vagaries of the insane, and it is quite certain that
Alfieri, worn alike by hardship and long brooding over his wrongs,
either went stark staring mad at the spectacle of relief being
forthcoming for those whom he believed to be entrapped, or gave instant
rein to the frenzy already consuming him.
At a moment, then, when it was suicidal to attempt an attack which his
men had refused to carry out under the much less dangerous conditions
that prevailed all day—it was ascertained afterwards that the first
shower of bullets fell into the startled camp about ten o'clock that
morning—at that moment, Alfieri, screaming curses in Italian and
Arabic, called on those nearest to follow him, and rode out from the
shelter of one of the small hills. In sheer excitement, a few
Hadendowas obeyed his wild command. They had not far to go, but the
rocky water-course barred the track and they must cross it slowly. Now,
above all else, was the time for the sorely-tried little band under von
Kerber to stand fast. They could have shot at their leisure Alfieri and
each man of the half dozen who came with him. Already three groups of
yelling men were stirring the dust into life as they scampered to the
rescue across the comparatively level floor of the basin. In five
minutes, or less, the Hadendowa attack would be rolled back into the
hills, and neither friend nor foe had any other thought than that the
whole of Mr. Fenshawe's kafila was pouring its irresistible power
into the fray.
The situation was precisely one of the suddenly-arising and acute
crises in warfare which accentuate the difference between races. While
von Kerber, and Mrs. Haxton, too, for that matter, saw the urgent need
of prolonging the desperate strife for just those few minutes, their
Arabs, after fighting coolly and bravely throughout an exhausting day,
now quite lost their heads. Heedless of the Austrian's prayers and
imprecations, heedless of Mrs. Haxton's shrill appeal that they should
beat off the few assailants then perilously close at hand, they yielded
to the blind instinct of self-preservation, and rushed pell-mell for
the camels. At once these men of a martial tribe, men who had
cheerfully faced the far greater danger of the Hadendowa general
attack, became untrammeled savages, each striving like a maniac to
secure a mount for himself, and careless whether or not his employers
and comrades escaped also.
Many of the camels were wounded, some were dead, and valuable time was
wasted, even in this disgraceful sauve qui peut, in a deadly struggle
for possession of such animals as could move. Von Kerber, when it was
borne in on him that to obtain a camel meant life for Mrs. Haxton and
himself, shouted to her to keep close to him, and ran in front of a
mounted Arab who had emerged from the melee. He ordered the man to
halt, and, so near were Royson and his tiny squadron just then, that
the camel might have brought all three into safety. But the Arab bent
his head, and urged the swaying beast into a faster trot. Von Kerber
fired at him, and the unhappy tribesman tumbled from his perch like a
dummy figure. Snatching at the camel's head-rope, the Austrian lifted,
almost threw Mrs. Haxton up to the saddle. Owing to its height from the
ground, it was impossible to place her there securely, but she helped
him bravely, scrambled somehow to the awkward seat, and stooped to drag
him up behind. She had succeeded, by main force. The excited beast was
plunging forward again to get away from the affrighting turmoil close
to its heels, when a heavy thud shook the huge frame, the camel fell to
its knees, lurched over on its side, and threw both riders heavily.
Von Kerber alone rose. He was dazed for an instant, but he seemed to
have a dim consciousness of the quarter from which mortal peril
threatened, for he turned and faced Alfieri, who had reined in the
Somali pony he rode and was taking deliberate aim at his enemy. The
Italian carried a repeating, rifle. It was he who had brought down the
camel with a well-judged shot through the lungs, and, with the same
venomous accuracy, he now sent a bullet through von Kerber's breast.
The stricken man dropped on all fours, and glared up at his murderer.
Then, nerving himself for a supreme effort of hate, he raised his own
revolver and fired three times at Alfieri. Twice he missed, owing to
the restiveness of the horse, but the third shot hit the Italian in the
center of the forehead.
When Royson found them, they were lying within a few feet of each
other. Alfieri was dead. His pale student's features, softened by the
great change, wore a queer look of surprise. Von Kerber was alive, but
dying. He had fallen on his face, and Dick lifted him gently, resting
the drooping head against his knee.
"Are you badly wounded?" he asked, knowing well by the ashen pallor
beneath the bronze of the desert that the man's stormy life was fast
ebbing to its close. A dreadful froth bubbled from von Kerber's lips,
and the words came brokenly:
"That Italian beast—I hit him, yes?"
"I suppose so. I could not see what happened. But he is dead. Pay no
heed to him. Tell me what is best to be done for you."
"Dead! Ach, lieber Gott! That is good…. I—I am finished—I
know…. Go to Mrs. Haxton. Tell her … the treasure … Fenshawe will
And that was all. He did not die instantly, but consciousness failed,
and the soul soon fluttered out of the limp body with a sigh.
Dick laid the inanimate form on the desert. He went to look for Mrs.
Haxton. She was stretched, apparently lifeless, beneath the camel's
Shoulder. Royson seized the huge beast by the neck and flung it aside
bodily. So far as he could judge, she was uninjured, though he feared
the camel might have broken one of her limbs or fractured a rib,
because his first thought was that the animal had fallen on top of her.
But his anxiety was soon dispelled when he forced some of the contents
of his water-bottle between, her set teeth. She sobbed twice, and her
bosom rose and fell spasmodically. Then, with a sudden return to the
full use of her senses which, was almost uncanny, she wrested herself
free from his arms and shrank away, quivering, while her eyes gazed at
him with awful questioning. As she looked she seemed to understand that
this man who had held her so tenderly was not the man whom she feared
to see. The reaction was too great. Dick watched the glance of
recognition fading away into insensibility. With a little gasp, she
fainted again, but he knew, this time, that her collapse was the
natural sequel to the ordeal she had gone through. He roughly bundled a
camel cloth into a pillow, laid her head on it, and gave the attention
that was necessary to events elsewhere.
He had appreciated the fatal error of the friendly Arabs in deserting
their stronghold. Though he and his companions pressed on at a
dangerous speed, they could do nothing to stop the panic. Some of the
runaways almost charged into them, and seriously interfered with their
view of the advancing Hadendowas. That was only for a moment, but
seconds are precious when men are shooting at point-blank range, and
Royson was lashing an Arab out of his path at the instant Alfieri fired
the first shot at the double-laden camel. The Hadendowas scattered and
fled when they caught a glimpse of the white faces. But they did not
get away unscathed. Slipping out of their saddles, four of the
Aphrodite's crew opened fire, and brought five of the robber
tribesmen headlong to earth, while the sixth saved his skin by falling
with his wounded camel and skulking unnoticed to the hills along the
water-course. As for the remainder, the flanking parties bolted before
Abdur Kad'r or Abdullah could get within striking distance, and from
that hour no sensible Hadendowa came near the Well of Moses for many a
In fact, Royson found that his own men were already standing quietly in
a group, waiting for orders, and the two detachments of caravan Arabs
were coming in from the wings in accordance with his preconcerted plan.
Some of the bolting escort were returning. They looked shamefaced when
they passed von Kerber lying dead on the ground. One of them, a Hadji,
who wore the green turban and black cloak of a pilgrim to Mecca, began
to murmur an explanation to Royson, but the giant Effendi gave him such
a glance of scorn and anger that the man made off, lest the evil from
which he had fled might yet befall him. In the immediate foreground
were several prostrate forms, mostly Arabs injured in the fight for the
camels, and so gravely wounded that they could not move. A struggling
camel or two, screaming and kicking in agony, seemed to be strangely
out of place in the peaceful hush which instantly enfolded the desert.
The shouting and musketry that made pandemonium there a few minutes
earlier had vanished. The tops of the more distant mountains were
glowing in purple and gold, and the blue of the sky was deepening. In
that brief hour before the utter darkness that follows sunset the
desert has a rare beauty. It has lights and shades denied to softer
landscapes. Titania's bower can show no more brilliant color effects.
It is then a fit background for romance and mystery, but it breathes no
hint of war or death, and such things wear a sacrilegious aspect when
brought forcibly into those fairy-like surroundings.
Royson, though he had watched the transformation of rock and arid earth
many a time with kindling eyes, gave small heed to the dream-face of
nature as he scanned the splendid prospect for sign of further attack
by the Hadendowas. He found none, but he happened to note the furtive
manner of some among the Arab escort who were hastening toward the
small hollow enclosed by the Seven Hills.
Then he remembered why this solitary place had become a Golgotha. The
hapless von Kerber was disinterring the treasure when the Hadendowa
assault began. In all likelihood, had the free-booters ridden boldly up
in the first instance, the fight would have ended in less minutes than
it had occupied hours. And these other ghouls, before they were driven
off by a hail of lead, had learnt what store of wealth was buried there
beneath the sand.
"Chaytor," said Royson, addressing one of the crew who had acted as
quartermaster on board the yacht, "take three men and mount guard over
any trench or other excavation you may find in the valley between those
mounds. Let no Arab even approach the place. Use force if necessary,
but try and avoid any shooting. I shall join you there before sunset."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Chaytor. He named three men, and the four hurried
to their post. Bidding the other two sailors help him, Royson turned to
carry out a disagreeable task. Von Kerber, Alfieri, and the rest must
be buried while there was yet light. He meant to make a rough inventory
of documents and letters found in the pockets of the Europeans. The
Arabs would scoop shallow graves where the sand was deepest, and pile
heavy stones over the bodies to protect them from jackals. Such was the
simple ceremony of the desert. And it demanded haste.
But a distressing sight awaited him. Mrs. Haxton was kneeling by von
Kerber's side, and weeping in a heart-broken way. He went to her, and
said, almost in a whisper:
"You can do no good by remaining here. Won't you go to the tent that is
fixed in the oasis, and wait there until I join you? I shall not be
long. You understand—it is for the best."
She raised her streaming eyes, and he had never before seen such a
"Mr. Royson," she murmured dully, "let me pray yet a little while."
"Indeed I am sorry for you," he said. "Yet I must urge you to go. We
have not a moment to lose."
"To lose? What else can happen?"
"The night is coming. We cannot leave the bodies here. It would be too
"Ah," she sighed, "there is no horror to equal mine. I have the blood
of three men on my soul."
She suffered him to lead her away. He tried to console her by throwing
all the responsibility on to the Italian. But he felt that this palsied
woman scarce listened to his words. He was almost glad to leave her
alone with her mournful thoughts. In active work he could find
distraction from the sad influences of this fatal treasure-hunt. There
were still many things he did not comprehend, but he resolutely
dismissed all self-communing. Perhaps, when the first paroxysm of woe
had exhausted itself, Mrs. Haxton might explain; meanwhile, he must
endeavor to hide the chief features of the tragedy ere Irene arrived.
When he moved Alfieri's body is order to examine his clothing, he saw
that the man's coat was torn at the breast, the cloth having caught a
jagged rock as its wearer fell from the saddle. Through this rent a
pocketbook and some papers had slipped out. They were resting on a
little sand drift at the base of the rock that had caused the damage.
The pocketbook was open. Some of the sand had entered its compartments.
And, in one of them, were the papyrus leaves found in the tomb of
Demetriades, the Greek, whose mortal eyes were the last that had gazed
on the treasure of Sheba! In truth, here was one of the world's dramas,
with its scenes divided by two thousand years, yet the parched desert
was content to wait there placidly, in sure and certain knowledge that
the curtain would rise again on that grim play, whether the years were
few or many between the acts. How little changed was the stage. But
what of the actors? Did the modern troupe differ so greatly from the
two-thousand-year-old cast—the merchant in ivory and skins who quitted
his quiet business at Alexandria to seek adventure and gold, the Romans
who went to kill and plunder an inoffensive people, the Nubians who
waylaid them, and left their bones to bleach? Assuredly, looking at the
dozen or more dead bodies stretched in a row at his feet, Royson deemed
mankind as unchangeable as the desert.
* * * * *
At two o'clock, when the stars and a new moon were dimly lighting the
circle of hills, an Arab vedette reported the approach of a large
kafila from the west. Soon the jingle of accouterments and the cries
of camels who scented the oasis heralded the arrival of the main body.
When Dick lifted a weary Irene from the saddle he made no pretense of
shyness, but kissed her quite heartily.
Yet Dick's tidings caused grave faces in the small circle round the
camp-fire. Mr. Fenshawe, as responsible leader of the expedition, felt
the weight of this added burthen of death. There was no gainsaying the
fact that he had been dragged into an unlawful enterprise. He was in
Italian territory against the will of the authorities. Though he and
those under his control were guiltless of actual wrong-doing, it was
exceedingly unfortunate that Alfieri had not lived to make a
deposition. The treasure-seekers must now depend on the testimony of
the wounded Hadendowas, four of whom had surrendered voluntarily, for
the one great principle which the East has learnt from the West is that
Europeans usually show humanity to a disabled foe. Abdullah, too,
assured the millionaire that the Italian officer who accompanied
Alfieri from Massowah warned the latter against any act of violence,
and would have restrained him from undertaking an apparently useless
search if the instructions received from Rome had not directed that
"every assistance was to be given to Signor Giuseppe Alfieri."
There could be no manner of doubt that the Italian had begun an
unprovoked attack on the smaller kafila. His only messengers were
bullets, and the orders he issued to the Hadendowas were definite. The
whole party was to be exterminated, with the exception of Mrs. Haxton,
who was to be taken alive if possible. Again, there was direct evidence
of his duplicity with regard to the meeting arranged for that morning.
Fenshawe's friendly letter was found among his papers, so he had
hurried from his camp on the Suleiman's Well route with the deliberate
intention of wiping out of existence the man who was his sworn enemy.
Still, the affair wore an ugly look, and tired though he was, Fenshawe
had no thought of rest until the contradictory elements of a most
perplexing business were sifted.
He was seated near the fire with Royson and Stump. Irene had gone to
Mrs. Haxton the instant she heard Dick's tragic story.
"Has Mrs. Haxton thrown any light on events?" Fenshawe asked. "You say
she was completely broken down. Did you gather from her words that von
Kerber brought her here knowing that this oasis was the place described
by the Greek?"
"She did not even mention the treasure. Perhaps I could have induced
her to speak, but—"
"You forbore. I am glad of it. Has any of the loot been discovered?"
"It was dark when I visited the trench von Kerber was cutting. Alfieri
sent a volley at him, and stopped the work before much was done, but
the Arabs tell me that some leather wallets are visible. The men who
were here this morning know that the contents are valuable, so I have
stationed an armed guard there."
"I wish I could destroy every vestige of the wretched stuff. There is a
curse on it."
Fenshawe's tone revealed how deeply he was moved.
"Where is Abdullah?" he cried suddenly. "If he will tell us the truth,
we may reach firm ground in the midst of all this morass of lies and
treachery. Send for him. He is an Arab, and, if he thinks his interests
are bound up with ours, he will speak."
Abdullah, surveying the conclave from afar, had arrived at an opinion
that justified this estimate. His first words shed light on a dark
place in the records of the two men who were lying side by side in the
safe keeping of the desert. His command of French rendered conversation
easy, except to Stump, and he was quite explicit.
"Madam is beautiful, is it not?" he said, indicating Mrs. Haxton's tent
by a graceful gesture "Seven years ago, she was the most beautiful
woman in Egypt. Her husband should not have brought her here. By
Mahomet, Egypt is no place for the good-looking wife of a poor man.
That is the cause of all the trouble, messieurs. Elegant birds require
glided cages, and Monsieur Hasten had not money enough. I met them
first in Massowah, where she lived in the hotel, while her husband went
up and down the Red Sea in a ship. Alfieri was there, and he also was
poor, but he ruined himself in trying to win her away from Monsieur
Haxton. He failed, and, like many another man, that only made him
worse. When Monsieur Haxton was sent to Assouan, by a new company,
Alfieri went there, too. It was at that time I found the papers which
tell about the treasure—"
"How do you know they tell about the treasure?" broke in Fenshawe.
"Because I stole them from Monsieur Haxton," was the cool reply. "I had
sold them to Monsieur Alfieri, and he gave them to Madame's husband.
Monsieur le Baron was his doctor, and a friend, but, when he found out
how valuable those papers were, he hired me to secure them from
Monsieur Haxton's bureau while he slept. Unfortunately, there was an
accident. Monsieur Haxton was in a fever, and the doctor gave him a
sleeping draft. Monsieur Haxton took too much, and he never woke again."
Fenshawe's face grew dark with anger.
"You scoundrel!" he cried. "Between you, you poisoned the man. I
recollect the incident now. I saw it in the papers at the time."
"You are wrong, Monsieur," said Abdullah calmly. "There was an inquiry,
and it was proved that the draft was only a strong one—quite harmless
if the doctor's written orders were obeyed. True, none but I and the
Baron knew why the Englishman should sleep so soundly that night, but
it was not meant to kill him. Monsieur Alfieri charged the doctor with
having committed a crime, so Monsieur Haxton's friends had the affair
fully examined into. It was really an accident. Monsieur le Baron was
"But he kept the papers?" was Fenshawe's grim comment.
"By the Kaaba, and why not? Here was Monsieur Alfieri trying to hang
him, and all because Madame would not have anything to do with him. You
see, there was every reason why the Hakim Effendi should get the
papers. Monsieur Haxton was fool enough to tell Alfieri something about
"Probably Monsieur Haxton meant to play the part of an honest man."
"It may be. Who knows? Yet it is certain that Alfieri would never have
shared the treasure with Monsieur Haxton If he had known what the
writing was about. On the other hand, Monsieur le Baron told Madame
everything, and he promised me a good share for helping him. When he
went to England he left me to watch Alfieri. They were always enemies,
Dick remembered the letter in Arabic he had seen von Kerber reading on
the night they met in the Austrian's house. And he recalled, too, with
a shiver, Mrs. Haxton's agonized words when he tried to lead her away
from the dead man who had dared so much for her sake. She had "the
blood of three men on her soul," she said. One of those men was her
husband. In that dark hour, what terrible shadows had trooped from the
tomb to torture her! He said nothing to his companions. She knew. He
only guessed, and he left it at that.
* * * * *
Next day many hands completed the task von Kerber had begun. But
Fenshawe had made up his mind on a course of action, and he adhered to
it rigidly. The list given by Demetriades was almost correct. One
hundred and seventy wallets were brought to light, just two less than
the number stated by the Greek. They were left unopened. Exactly as
they were taken from the sand so were they sealed and set aside until
transportation details were arranged. Mr. Fenshawe pointed out to the
men from the Aphrodite how important it was that the treasure should
be made over to the Italian Government intact. By that means alone
could their story be justified, and he guaranteed that no one should
suffer financial loss by reason of his decision.
Mrs. Haxton was too ill to be either questioned or consulted. She was
carried to the sea almost at death's door, and her ultimate recovery
was doubtful even a fortnight later, when the Aphrodite brought them
all to Aden. And it may be said here that the monetary value of the
treasure was not great—its utmost figure being placed at £50,000. The
two missing wallets were those containing the gems. Probably that was
another story which the desert has in safe keeping. The Italian Foreign
Office behaved generously to the disappointed archeologist. He was
acquitted from any blame in regard to the affray at the Well of Moses,
and he was asked to select for his own collection twelve of the ancient
Persian and Indian gold vases which formed the chief prizes of the
But that was long afterward, when Sir Richard and Lady Royson were on
their honeymoon trip to Japan, when Captain and Mrs. Stump, attended by
the faithful Tagg, had enjoyed the "time of their lives" at Orme
Castle, and when Mrs. Haxton, elegant as ever, but very quiet and
reserved in manner, was living in a tiny villa at Bath, where Mr.
Fenshawe's munificence had established her for the remainder of her
days. She said, and there was no reason to disbelieve her, that von
Kerber had no knowledge of the identity of the oasis at the Well of
Moses. He went that way to the sea by sheer, accident and became half
crazy with excitement at the sight of the Seven Hills. It was his fixed
intention, she declared, to send word to Fenshawe as soon as he had
ascertained, beyond range of doubt, that the Sheban loot was really
Dick and his wife passed a fortnight at Cairo on their voyage home.
They chanced to admire some old praying carpets in a shop in the
bazaar, and asked the price. They offered half the sum named, and the
attendant, a slim youth, said he would consult his father.
A tall, stoutly-built Arab came from a dark inner apartment. His
regular, somewhat grave, features at once expanded into a delighted
"By the Prophet!" he exclaimed in excellent French, "I am overjoyed at
seeing you, Monsieur et Madame. You will drink coffee with me, is it
not? And, as for the rugs, take them. They are yours, I set up a shop
with the money Monsieur Fenshawe gave me, and I am prosperous! Que
diable! That was a lucky journey for me when we all went south
together. I have left the desert now. Behold! I am a good citizen, and
Irene laughed. She had never pictured Abdullah the Spear-thrower as a
shop-keeper, and waxing fat withal.
"You, at any rate, found treasure at the Well of Moses," she cried.
Abdullah glanced at her happy, smiling face. He turned to Royson, and
bowed, with something of his former grace.
"Let me congratulate you, Monsieur, on your far greater fortune," he