Worn out by a long day’s march in the sun, Jim had wrapped himself in his blanket at an early hour, and had fallen into a heavy sleep. It was with a start, therefore, and with an involuntary clutch at the rifle which lay beside him, that he suddenly raised himself into a sitting position, to find Ali Kumar beside him.

“Treachery!” he whispered as if dazed. “What news have you to give to me?”


The leader of the native followers repeated his words in low tones, and again warned him to keep silent.

“I have watched the man of whom I speak for these two days past,” he said. “And I have learnt that he is a traitor. Three times I have seen him conversing with natives when supposed to be watching the camels which were out grazing. Creeping towards him like a snake, I hid in a thorn-bush and listened with all my ears, but they whispered to one another so that I could not make out their words. This evening, after our zareba was formed, I followed him again, and saw him meet two men, who, by their dress, were the chiefs of a neighboring tribe. He pointed to the camels and counted their number upon his fingers. Then I saw them turn towards the entrance of this pass-through which we are to go on the morrow.”

“‘We will meet you there,’ cried one of the chiefs, ‘and perhaps even attack before you enter. But my men do not like the darkness to fight in, and besides, in the confusion and alarm, the beasts might be slain or scattered. But we shall see; Allah will help us in this enterprise, for are not the followers in the zareba servants of the infidel?’

“That, master, is what I overheard,” continued Ali, “and returning to the camp, I made plans to give you the warning; but there were many eyes watching me, and so I waited until now.”

“You did wisely,” said Jim quietly, now sitting bolt upright, and fully awake. “We’ll get my comrade to join us, and then will decide what is to be done, for this is a serious matter, and, unless we take instant steps to protect ourselves, may lead to disaster.”

Accordingly, he stretched out his hand and shook Tom gently, explaining to him as soon as he was awake the reason for his doing so.

“And now we have to decide what is to be done,” he said. “If we sit here, and take no measures to protect ourselves, it is probable that this scoundrel who has betrayed us will induce the tribesmen to attack tonight. The moon is full so that they would have every advantage, for our zareba lies bathed in the light, while they would be hidden in the crevices of the rocks.”

“I don’t see that we can do much else than awake our followers and warn the sentries to be alert,” Tom whispered in reply. “If these fellows do attack us, we must lie down and answer their fire; but I fear that our camels will suffer heavily.”

“Where are these men likely to come from?” asked Jim, suddenly, turning to Ali Kumar. “If they live in the highlands, and march upon us by way of the pass, I think we ought to arrange a trap for them. If it were carefully laid and proved successful, the lesson might be a warning to them, and teach them to leave us alone.”

“They will descend from the hills, master, of that I am sure; for the chiefs whom I observed in conversation with our follower were men from the highlands, without doubt.”

“Then I propose that we divide our forces,” said Jim, after a thoughtful pause. “Will you, Tom, stay here, and defend the zareba with one half, while I take the other? Then, with Ali Kumar to help me, I shall creep up the pass, and select a spot where the road is narrow and difficult. There we shall lie down and wait for the tribesmen. If they come down in force, and do not turn back when we call to them, we will empty our rifles into their midst; and I think that if we are careful in choosing the site, we ought to be able to do a large amount of execution. That, I take it, is the only way to persuade those people to leave us alone.”

“I’ll willingly do as you say, Jim, old boy,” Tom answered readily, wondering as he did so at the coolness and foresight shown by his young companion. “Your plan sounds an excellent one, and the only suggestion I have to make is that you should shout loudly as you return, or you may be drawing our fire upon you. You see, these native followers of ours are excitable fellows, and hearing the sound of people approaching, and being in fear of an attack, they would blaze recklessly into the darkness.”

“Then I’ll be careful to call out your name, Tom, and you will be able to explain to the men that all is well. Now I’ll be off, as these tribesmen may appear at any moment, though I fancy it is too early for them yet. They will probably wait till the early morning, when we ought to be in our deepest sleep, and should therefore fall easy victims. But, thanks to Ali Kumar, we have been warned, and if we do not take advantage of that fact, we shall have only ourselves to blame. Good-bye, and don’t get fidgety if I do not return for some hours, for, as I have just said, we shall probably have to wait a considerable time before they put in an appearance.”

Nodding coolly to his companion, Jim rose to his feet, and silently crossed the zareba to the spot where the followers lay sleeping. One by one, those who were armed with rifles, and could be trusted to stand by their master in a position of danger, were aroused and cautioned to keep silent. At length fifteen were collected, and with these and a sufficient quantity of ammunition, Jim stole out from the zareba, and took the narrow and rough road which led to the pass. He left Tom busily engaged in instructing the remainder. These were also armed with rifles now, though they were less expert than their comrades. Still, at close range they could be trusted to give a good account of themselves, and to aid in keeping the enemy at a distance. Then the sentries were brought in closer to the wall of thorns, and ordered to lie down, so that they should be invisible to the enemy, for while they were standing the rays of the moon falling upon their tall figures threw long shadows, which would soon have drawn the fire of the tribesmen.

Thanks to the brightness of the night, Jim and his little party had no difficulty in picking their way, for every boulder, and each nullah, or ravine, stood clearly outlined. They were soon at the bottom of a gentle ascent, which marked the beginning of the pass. But here the road was broad, and would have been difficult to defend.

“They would manage to slip round us,” said Jim in Ali Kumar’s ear, taking note of the surroundings. “I want to get to a part where the pass narrows to a few yards only. If we can find such a position, we shall pile boulders across the road, and post our men behind them. Then every shot we fire will tell, for these Somalis who are about to attack us will certainly come in force, and as they will not be expecting danger until they reach the bottom of the gorge, they are likely to be marching in close order. That will be our chance, and if it occurs, we will make the most of it.”

“I know of a position which will suit your wishes, master,” answered Ali. “Often have I made my way by this road, so often indeed that I could find the path during a darker night than this is. We must keep on for another quarter of a mile, as you English people speak of distance, and then we shall find that the hill to the right and left of us closes in suddenly, as if about to obstruct our further progress. I think that, at some time, years ago perhaps, a river must have forced its way from the highlands through these hills on its way to the plains below and to the sea. Whatever the cause, the crags are cleft in twain a little way above us, so that a road is possible. Half a mile farther on the land recedes as suddenly as it runs together here, and by marching for an hour one finds one’s self again in the midst of a sweeping plain, but this time far higher than before.”

“It sounds as if it would prove a likely place,” said Jim, eagerly, “so let us push on, I am in a fever to get our men into their positions, for if these tribesmen happened to advance now instead of later on, our plans would be ruined, and we ourselves should be in a very dangerous fix.”

Striding ahead through the darkness, Jim encouraged his followers to greater exertions by the example which he set them. So rapidly did they walk, that barely ten minutes had elapsed before he became aware that the gorge in which they were was narrowing. Soon he could see black walls of rock on either hand, and a moment or two later it seemed as though the road itself had suddenly come to an end. Nothing but pitch black darkness could be seen before them, while the path at their feet was buried in obscurity, the rays of the moon having been cut off by the steep cliffs. But a careful search revealed the interesting fact that there was a broad cleft in the wall in front of them, through which the road passed on its way to the highlands.

“The very place for us,” whispered Jim, almost giving vent to a cry of exultation, so great was his delight. “This gorge cannot be more than five yards in width, and will suit capitally. You say that it continues for another half-mile at the same width?”

“No, master, I said not at the same,” answered Ali Kumar hastily. “From this spot for twenty paces perhaps, it is as narrow, while the road is littered with big rocks and boulders, which are difficult to cross. Farther on, however, it widens gradually, and then, at the distance you mentioned, suddenly, till one finds one’s self in the open again.”

“If that is the case, these men who are coming to steal our beasts will crowd together without meaning to do so,” said Jim thoughtfully.

“That will be the case, master. They will descend the pass without great caution, for the traitor who was of our number will have told them that our sentries are never posted more than a few yards from the zareba. Therefore they will have no need to observe much stealth till they emerge lower down. They will walk together or separately, knowing that the difficulty of the path at this end of the gorge will impede the progress of those who are in front, and allow all the stragglers to come up with them. After that, no doubt, they will send scouts ahead, and follow like ghosts, hoping to take us unawares.”

“We shall have something to say to that, I think,” Jim answered, indulging in a chuckle at the thought. “I’ve been busily making plans, Ali, and I have decided to act in this way. We have fifteen men with us, and our two selves. If more than a third of that number attempted to hold the bottom of the pass, it would lead to certain confusion, for the space is very small. Now, it has occurred to me that the surprise would be far greater if we were to separate a little. For instance, we will give five of the natives orders to remain here, and let them set to work at once to pile a ridge of rocks across the path. Then we will climb the cliff on either side, and if we can find ledges big enough for the purpose, we will send the remainder to them.”

“It is a great plan, master,” said Ali, salaaming to Jim in his enthusiasm. “A truly clever one with which to entrap these people, and it shows that our leader is not only brave—as we clearly saw when he first mounted his horse—but wise and far-seeing also. We are fortunate indeed, for it sometimes happens that the lives of all in such an expedition as this are sacrificed because of the want of discretion in the one who commands it. Yes, it is a good plan, and it should prove successful. There are surely ledges above us to which active men such as we have could climb, and from which they could pour a scathing fire into the enemy. Perhaps, even, they might be posted farther up the gorge, with a pile of boulders at their feet. There is nothing that strikes fear into the hearts of those who are unaware of danger as the sudden descent of rocks upon their heads. They fly in terror to right and left, but cannot escape, and if they turn with the hope of retreat, it sometimes happens that the road is blocked by their comrades. Then, indeed, is the time when men become wild with fright, and suffer defeat at the hands of a few.”

“Perhaps it may turn out in that way tonight,” Jim said thoughtfully. “I do not wish to harm a single one of these tribesmen, but if they really mean to attack us for the sake of the loot which they would get, then they must take the consequences. Of course, we might retreat, but if we shirk this danger and difficulty now, we shall never succeed in reaching the Mullah’s country. We should be laughed at by everyone, and should have cause to be ashamed of ourselves. No, I have decided to go on with my undertaking, whatever happens, and if these fellows interfere with us, they must look to themselves. I shall get you to warn them, and if after that they still come on, hoping to overpower us by numbers, then I shall blaze into the middle of them, and the severer the lesson they are taught, the better it will be for us in the future, for the other tribes will hear of the conflict, and will take the warning to heart. And now let us place the men.”

Anxious as he was to get all in readiness for the expected attack, Jim would not allow his fears to hurry him unduly, for it was important to obtain the most advantageous position. To allot five of the followers to the mouth of the ravine was an easy task, and very soon those who had been selected were busily engaged in preparing a low breastwork which would give them shelter should the tribesmen possess firearms, as was very likely, and discharge them in that direction. Jim waited patiently beside them, directing their operations, and was not satisfied till a wall some four feet high was erected, with niches cunningly left near the base through which the muzzles of the rifles could be thrust. Then, accompanied by Ali Kumar alone, he scaled the steep cliff on the right, and set to work to look for a ledge which would do for his purpose.

“Here is one,” he exclaimed at last, when after a very difficult piece of climbing they had ascended some twenty yards or more. “This piece of rock juts out from the face of the ravine, and will allow the men to fire down into it, while the edge will protect them.”

“It is well chosen,” agreed the native headman, creeping to the edge and looking over. “Standing here, we are in deep shadow, but in an hour, when the moon has risen higher into the sky, the light will fall full into the gorge, and every object will be visible. Yes, master, it is wisely chosen, for how can the enemy return our fire when it comes from the darkness of the rocks?”

Bidding Ali call gently to five more of the men, Jim waited to see them take up their appointed posts, and left them there with strict orders that they were not to make a sound, and were not to attempt to open fire until the word was given. Then he and his companion descended, and made their way up the face of the opposite cliff. It was even a harder climb than the other had been, but after winning their way up for a distance of a few yards only, they had the good fortune to strike upon a narrow ledge which seemed to wind up the face of the rock. At the best of times it offered but a precarious footing, but now, when it was attempted in darkness, it was a hazardous undertaking. But Jim made light of the danger. Indeed, he gave no thought to it, for all his attention was occupied in the search for a favorable and commanding site. Thanks to the soft sandals which he wore, he was able to obtain a firmer footing than would have been possible had he been shod with boots, and taking advantage of the feeling of security which this gave him, he clambered steadily upwards, Ali following closely behind him, and giving notice of his presence by his hard breathing. Suddenly the tiny ledge broadened out, and on halting for a few seconds to rest, Jim became aware of the fact that the cliff had receded, leaving a small shelf, capable of accommodating thirty or more men.

“We are in luck!” he cried joyfully. “This part of the cliff overhangs the gorge below, and is some yards from the entrance. I can feel boulders everywhere, so that our fellows will not have to search far for missiles. Then, too, there is no danger of their dropping them on their comrades, for they will be well out of range. Yes, it will suit very well; let us call up the men.”

Once more the process of giving directions to the natives was gone through, this time orders being issued that they were to rely upon rocks instead of upon rifles. Then, satisfied that everything was in readiness, Jim sat down upon a boulder at the entrance of the gorge, and waited there with what patience he could command. It was exciting work sitting there in the darkness surrounded by precipitous walls, and without a sound to break the silence save the occasional jar of a rifle as it was struck against a piece of stone. All sorts of thoughts and fancies passed through his mind during the hours of waiting. He wondered whether his school-friends were thinking of him, what time it was in old England at that moment, and whether the boys were even then engaged in battling with the same tasks which he had so lately forsaken. Yes, it was strange to reflect that barely a month ago he was a mere boy, acting a boy’s part, and with scarcely a thought for the future. And now he was the recognized leader of a real expedition, about to invade the country of the Mullah, as fierce a fanatic as had ever sprung to power to be a scourge to his neighbors. It was strange indeed. It was almost beyond belief that it was he, Jim Hubbard, sitting there upon that rock, listening to the beating of his own heart, and straining his ears for the sounds which seemed as though they would never come. Supposing this tribe did not attack after all. Supposing Ali had made a huge blunder, and was the victim of too vivid imagination. Supposing——Hark! What was that? A stone falling from the cliff away above his head, or a footfall upon the road which led through the gorge?

At this sound, faint though it was, each man who lay there in ambush became alert, while Jim sprang to his feet and peered into the blackness.

“The enemy!” whispered a voice in his ear. “Did I not tell you rightly, master? After all, the sheiks have decided to attack during the hours of darkness.”

It was Ali Kumar who had slipped up to Jim’s side without making so much as a sound. Then, together, they stood listening, bending their heads towards the gorge, as though that would help them.

Ah! There it was again. Was it a man walking, or was it the sound of a voice?

For some minutes there was silence, and then the mystery was cleared up to everyone’s satisfaction, for down the rocky sides of the ravine came the noise of men talking. Almost at the same moment a thin streak of the moon climbed up above the highest edge of the cliff, and shot rays of brilliant whiteness down upon the road.

One, two—why, the gorge was packed with figures clad in white and bearing every sort of arm. They might have been bound upon a friendly visit so far as precautions went, for they talked without restraint, but in low tones; while their leader, happening to strike his foot against a boulder of unusual size, gave vent to a loud cry of pain, and stood there, with one hand upon the mass of rock, and the other chafing his injured limb.

But however friendly their appearance, the object of their midnight wandering was quickly apparent, for, as he rubbed his damaged foot, the sheik called to his followers to gather about him, and proceeded to harangue them, Ali Kumar interpreting his words to Jim as he did so.

“Stand as near to me as the gorge will allow,” said the leader of the tribesmen, “and I will tell you what course to take when we have descended to the plain. There, as you well know, lies the zareba of these unbelieving dogs, and with them are many camels, and loot sufficient for us all. I command you to keep together until you are almost upon them. Then you will divide, and while one half march so as to gain the farther side, the other will rest where they are, taking pains to preserve the greatest silence. When all are ready, I will fire my gun, and then let every man fall upon the dogs. Allah will strengthen our arms, and will give us the victory.”

“Allah is great, and we are his chosen,” murmured his audience. “Lead us, and we will slay these unbelievers.”

“Let them come a few paces nearer, and then shout to them to return home,” said Jim sternly, whispering the words in his companion’s ear. “Tell them that we had news of their intended attack, and that we will fire upon them if they come any nearer.”

Striding to the barrier of stones, Ali called loudly to the sheik, who was in the act of moving forward again.

“Halt where you are!” he cried. “My master bids me tell you that he is aware of your treacherous plans, and that he is prepared to punish you for them. But he does not desire to shed blood, and therefore gives you the choice of returning in peace to your homes. If you refuse, he will open fire.”

At the words the sheik and his following came to an abrupt stop, and stood there silently, dumfounded by the news. It seemed impossible that their intention should have been discovered by the leader of the expedition, and still more unlikely that he had the power to do them any but the smallest harm.

“Why, they are but thirty all told,” cried the sheik, with a scoffing laugh. “And yet they come here to meet us and to threaten us with death should we persist in our plan. It is ridiculous! It is a child’s plot, made to frighten us. Do not listen, but press on, my men.”

With a shout the tribesmen at once started forward, and, drawing their weapons, rushed at the entrance of the gorge. But they had not counted on the fact that it was plunged in darkness, and obstructed with numerous boulders. Running forward upon a pathway which was, just there, lit by the rays of the moon, they stumbled blindly against the rocks, and, one of them happening to fall, a dozen or more of his comrades had tripped over him, and were groveling on their faces before a minute had passed. But the remainder pushed on without a pause, and, closely packed together, and shrieking threats at the top of their voices, endeavored to reach the spot where their unseen opponents were.

“Fire!” shouted Jim, seeing that the moment for action had at length arrived. “Empty your rifles into them.”

In The Grip Of The Mullah A Tale Of Adventure In Somaliland

Leaning upon the breastwork of stones, he took steady aim with his own weapon, directing it at the sheik, who was to be seen wedged in the middle of his men, and frantically struggling to push them back so as to allow him to bring to his shoulder the gun which he bore in his hand.

Bang! The report set the rocks ringing on either hand, and was at once followed by a volley from the breastwork and from the ledge to the right. Shooting out the empty cartridge, Jim looked eagerly to see what success he had had, and was astonished to find that the sheik still occupied the same position. But he was hit, and mortally, too, for a moment later he suddenly threw his hands into the air and fell backwards. Another moment, and he was beneath the feet of the tribesmen, who trampled upon him without hesitation.

But now another feature was added to the scene. Struck by the volley aimed at them, the attackers had drawn back in consternation, but, quickly recovering, they answered the shout of another leader, who at once came forward to replace the sheik, and again dashed headlong for the entrance of the gorge. As they did so, a series of loud and sickening thuds told that the men who had been posted above were carrying out their orders. Indeed, a glance at the cliff overhead showed clearly what was happening; for the rays of the moon had now penetrated to the shelf, and each follower, as he rose to lift a boulder and cast it over the ravine, stood clearly outlined against the dark rock behind.

Shouts and screams soon told that their efforts were not in vain, and just as Jim was about to order another volley to be poured into the gorge, the enemy turned, and now fighting fiercely with one another to get away, fled from the scene as rapidly as the circumstances and their crowded condition would admit.

“Let us hope that that will be enough for them,” said Jim, leaning over the barrier and staring along the ravine. “I can count twelve bodies lying amongst the boulders, and there are others beneath the rocks farther on. I am glad now, Ali Kumar, that you advised that these boulders should be thrown down upon their heads, for it was that that caused them to fly. What do you think will happen now?”

“They will retire into the plain beyond, and perhaps even farther, before they recover their courage,” answered Ali thoughtfully. “Then they will look amongst themselves to discover who is dead. When they find that we have killed their sheik, and that they have suffered heavy losses, they will be mad with anger, for all will know of their disgrace. Before setting out this night, you may be sure that they held a feast, and called all their women folk to it, boasting that to capture the camp was but a simple matter, for it contained few men, and would certainly be taken by surprise; and now they will reflect that they have been beaten by a mere handful, and that their prey is about to escape them, and even to laugh at them. I know these people well, master, for I am one of them by birth; and I am sure that the succeeding sheik will harangue his followers, speaking as I have just told you. Little by little he will rouse their anger, and when he reminds them of the booty to be obtained, I feel sure that they will again advance to the attack.”

“Then we had better prepare for them,” said Jim sharply, “We have given them one surprise, and I propose that we arrange another, for that is the only way in which we can attempt to make up for the great difference in numbers.”

“But what can you do, master? You have made all the plans and selected every position that it is possible to think of, and now all that you can do is to remain as you are.”

“I fancy that we can manage more if we try,” answered Jim with decision. “You see, if the fellows attack again, they will know exactly where our men are posted, and will certainly open a hot fire upon them, telling off so many of the tribesmen to keep it up and make it impossible for them to show themselves, or hurl rocks down into the ravine. At least, that is what I should do if I were their leader. In that case, the remainder would have an excellent chance of getting to close quarters, which is what we want specially to avoid, for if that were to happen, numbers would certainly tell upon us.”

“But you cannot think of retiring, master!” exclaimed Ali hastily. “To do so would be to sacrifice all your following. Stay here, then, for to reach the zareba the tribesmen must pass through this gorge, there being no other way round.”

The native headman grasped Jim by the arm in his anxiety, and looked into his face, fearful lest he should decide to take a step which would end in their ruin.

“You may banish that from your mind,” said Jim sharply. “I am not going to retire for any man, but what I propose to do is to push on till near the other end of the ravine. There, we will make the same plans as we carried out here, and when the enemy advances, will have another surprise in store for them. But, tell me, supposing we creep along, and build a barrier farther on, can the tribesmen climb the cliffs and treat us in turn to a shower of rocks?”

“You are safe from that, master. It is true that there are ledges at the farther end, but they are narrow and short, and do not come far this way. Were it otherwise, the sheik would already have sent his followers to occupy them, and by now we should have a storm of slugs and bullets pattering upon us. No, we have nothing in that way to fear, while as for your ruse, it seems to your servant that it is as wise as that which you planned before. To find us at the other end, and come upon us long before they expected to do so, will, indeed, be a surprise, and, as you say, that is the only way in which we can make up for our small numbers.”

“Then we’ll move ahead at once,” exclaimed Jim. “Call to the men to come down, and warn them that they are to keep perfectly silent. Tell them what we propose to do, and say that after the enemy have attacked us, they are to remain in their new positions till I shout. Then they are to retire to this post again at their fastest pace, and lie down as before. In that way we shall have an excellent chance of withdrawing, should the contest prove too uneven for us.”

Acting upon his orders, Ali soon had all the native followers gathered at the bottom of the ravine, and a glance at their faces as they were outlined in the rays of the moon was sufficient to show that they were to be relied upon, and that the success which had already attended them had filled them with elation and determination to fight to the end.

“Good!” exclaimed Jim, surveying them critically; “they will do. Now let us get ahead, and, Ali, come with me in advance. It will be as well to make sure that none are watching us.”

Creeping along the rugged road which threaded the gorge, Jim and his men soon reached the opposite end. Not a soul was met, and though they lay down for some minutes, not a sound could be heard. Then a scout was sent away into the plain, and while he was gone, the remainder took up their positions much as before, for numerous rocky ledges were to be found. Half an hour later a barrier was erected across the ravine, and behind it lay Jim and five of his men.

“Hush!” exclaimed Jim suddenly. “I hear someone coming. Perhaps it is our scout.”

A second later the bleat of a sheep was heard, and before long a dusky figure rose up before the barrier.

“They are coming,” said the man. “I went far out into the plain, and came upon them talking and shouting. They were drinking the wine of the country, which is made by melting the fat which comes from the tails of young sheep, and were crying upon their sheik to lead them forward. As I left them they were setting their faces this way, with the determination to slay us all, for they are angry, and their bitterness is great at their defeat.”

“Then let them come,” said Jim doggedly, when the words had been interpreted to him. “They have had their warning, and this time I will not spare them as I did before.”

Standing behind the wall of loose stones, he waited in silence for the enemy, and within a few minutes saw a large force of men streaming across the moonlit plain on their way to the ravine. Very soon they were close at hand, and, gathering together, came walking forward without a thought of guarding against surprise.

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