“And so you have been behaving like a young hero?” said Tom Dixon, on the following morning, surveying Jim as he rose from his blanket. “You were tired out, so I allowed you to sleep on undisturbed while Ali and I had a long chat. Seriously, though, old chap, you have done nobly, and have again risen high in the estimation of our following. After this they will do anything for you and will be just as keen as you are to bring the expedition to a successful issue. But tell me about the fight. I can only get a garbled account from Ali, who tells me that you defeated the whole tribe, and caused them enormous loss. But that cannot be the case. He must have been romancing, though I am bound to confess that we heard very heavy firing, which might easily have accounted for large numbers of killed and wounded.”

“Ali Kumar was quite right,” replied Jim quietly. “We did defeat the whole lot of the tribesmen, and I believe they will only be too glad to leave us alone in the future. You see, it was like this——”


Then Jim set to work to give his companion the details, leaving out his own share in the matter, for he was not a boastful lad.

“And now tell me how things went with you,” he continued. “I was so done up when we got back to the zareba last night that I felt I could not listen. It was sufficient for me to find that you were safe, and that you had lost none of the beasts or baggage.”

“We did not even see an enemy,” said Tom with disgust. “Though we kept a very bright look-out, and even on one occasion blazed into the darkness, thinking that the sheik and his men were upon us, not a soul really came near the place. But we heard the firing from the gorge, and it made me feel so anxious that I very nearly came up to join you. If it hadn’t been that our safety depends to such an extent upon our camels and food-supply, I should certainly have done so, and you would not have blamed me, for it is clear that you had a desperate time of it. However, all’s well that ends well. And now for our next move. Will you go ahead, or will you retire for a time, till this fight has blown over?”

“I shall push on without a pause,” answered Jim. “You see, news of this row is certain to fly to the Mullah’s ears, and if we were to retire he would prevent any attempt in the future, by setting a watch at the ravine, and forbidding us to pass through. Then we should have to wait till the troops come this way, and by then anything may have happened to father. No, I mean to go right on, and my first act will be to ride to the camp from which these tribesmen came, and order them to give me any news they may have. Then I shall tell them that they are to keep quiet about their fight with us, or we will punish them on our return. Of course it will be a piece of bounce on my part, but now is the time to practise that sort of thing.”

“You are right not to allow this quarrel to frighten you,” answered Tom heartily, “and I think it quite likely that you may get important information from our enemies. Then, too, now is the time to take advantage of your victory. While the tribesmen are humbled, you will get more from them than at any other time, for they will hope to allay your anger by helping you. But we shall never be able to trust them, and from this moment our precautions against surprise at night must be doubled.”

Long did Jim and his friend talk the matter over, and then Tom went to one of the bales which was carried upon the back of a camel, and, opening it, produced a bundle of surgical dressings and a few instruments. With these and a tin pannikin of cool water he proceeded to dress Jim’s wound, and ended by placing the arm in a sling.

“There,” he said, when he had finished, “you bore it like a Briton, and will soon be well. Luckily it is only a flesh-wound. Had the slug struck the bone on its way through, it might have been a case of amputation, and then where would have been your expedition? And now, if you feel capable of the exertion, we shall break up the camp and get through the pass. Best do it now, before the sheik and his following pluck up their courage again.”

Accordingly, the zareba was soon astir, and the men bustling about their animals. Then, with a dozen of the best shots riding well in advance, and the remainder hovering in rear and on the flanks, the column set out for the pass, and went trailing up the steep slope of the hill. In due time they entered the ravine. Here they found but few traces of the conflict, for the tribesmen had taken advantage of the permission extended to them, and had removed their dead.

An hour later they were in the plain, and that night they halted at some wells distant about ten miles. Here Ali Kumar came to Jim to announce that a messenger wished to have speech with him.

“He comes from the tribe who suffered defeat at our hands,” he said, “and has news of importance.”

“Bring him along, then,” said Jim, “and tell off a man to keep an eye upon him. He might become unpleasant.”

A few moments later Ali ushered forward a native, whose head-gear proclaimed him to be one of the tribe who had received such a defeat on the previous evening. Coming up to Jim, he salaamed deeply and most humbly, and even trembled, so great was his fear.

“What do you want?” asked Jim sharply, Tom interpreting his words. “Have you been told to ask for mercy from us?”

“That is the case,” answered the man. “The sheik bade me come hither and say that he regrets deeply that his men attacked you, and that they would never have done so had it not been for the words of one who was in your service, and who has now fled. He asks for forgiveness, and will promise never to molest you again.”

“That is not enough,” replied Jim sternly. “Why should we not march on his camp and loot it?”

“We are in your hands,” the man said trembling; “but if you will overlook our fault, we shall give you news which will help you.”

“What is it, then?”

“The man who betrayed you told us that you were in search of a white prisoner of the Mullah’s. I am charged to tell you that he is now some thirty miles to the south of the Hoad, and that if you press through, you may rescue him, for many of the fighting men are away.”

“Can we trust the fellow?” asked Jim doubtfully, turning to Tom. “Perhaps it is a trap, into which they hope we shall walk blindly.”

“I hardly think so, old chap. You have given these beggars such a licking that they are in terror of their lives, and I believe they are telling you the truth. I should instruct him to say to the sheik that you will harm him no further at present, but that if you find he has been playing with you, you will punish him on your return.”

“That is good advice, Tom, and I’ll leave it to you to speak to him. Then let us talk over the preparations to be made before entering upon this desert march.”

Accordingly, Tom repeated his words to the tribesman, warning him in stern tones that the slightest treachery would be severely punished.

“Now return to your sheik,” he continued, “and be careful that in future you remain peaceful, for the British troops will be this way before very long, and will treat you far more severely than we have done, unless you can prove that you are friendly.”

With many salaams and repeated thanks, the man withdrew; and then Tom and Jim called Ali Kumar to join them in consultation.

“The question of water seems to me to be the most important,” said Jim, opening the conversation. “How are we to contrive to carry sufficient to last for one hundred and fifty miles?”

“We’ll ask Ali,” replied Tom. “You see, I’ve never been in this part before, and, though I have done a deal of spying in Aden, I’ve never joined in one of these expeditions. This is, in fact, all strange to me.”

“I have crossed the Hoad on several occasions, master,” interposed Ali, “and can give you my help. Once beyond the desert, I can do nothing, for I shall then be in strange country. Indeed, no caravan has ever penetrated so far, for the land beyond belongs to the Mullah. As to water, you have tanks with you, which should prove sufficient. But a guard must be set upon their contents, and the allowance for man and beast strictly dealt out. Again, five days is said to be the shortest time in which the march can be accomplished, but I think that we shall do well to press on more hastily. The camels are all in the best of condition, and can well stand the fatigue. Then again, the following and baggage are comparatively small, so that our movements should be correspondingly rapid. When we reach the other side, we can rest for a time, while we send out scouts to gather news.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed Jim. “And now, when should we start?”

“I vote that we march on at once to the very edge of the desert,” said Tom. “If we find wells there, we can fill our tanks, and get a good start.”

“Bohotle is an advance post held by troops in the pay of the Sirkal,” remarked Ali Kumar, “and it is situated on the fringe of the sandy waste which stretches into the interior up to the pasture country ruled over by the Mullah. There is water in plenty there, and also at a spot directly before us. I, therefore, counsel you to keep straight on. Seven hours’ marching will bring you to the place of which I speak, and then all preparations can be made for the crossing.”

Following the advice given by the native headman, Jim at once gave orders for the camp to be broken up, and by nightfall had the satisfaction of finding himself amidst a clump of palms and mimosa, which marked the position of the wells, and from which one looked out directly upon a wide-spreading sea of sand, a dreary waste, which went on and on to the horizon without a break, and without so much as a patch of green to relieve it. And here, as the caravan halted, and the men began to make a zareba, Jim had the pleasure of watching the most gorgeous sunset he had ever seen.

“It is a wonderful sight,” said Tom, as he stood by his side. “It seems as if these parts, where nature appears to come to a sudden end, were given something out of the way to make up for their loss; for the sun rises and falls over the desert with such beautiful effect, that people who have travelled the world over declare it is the finest sight of all. Then, too, mirages are not infrequent, though what is their cause is more than I can say. But come along. Watching that beautiful sky does not relieve one’s hunger, and I can tell you I am sharp set.”

Returning to their camp, Jim and his friend were soon seated in front of a fire of thorn-wood, which blazed and crackled brightly, sending out a heat which was grateful, for the nights at this season of the year were decidedly cold. A native follower then appeared with a pan and some fat, and ten minutes later Jim was busily frying some juicy slices of meat cut from a deer which Tom had shot during the day. When they were finished to his satisfaction, Jim removed them to a plate by means of a fork, which, with a spoon and a knife, he carried in the form of an ordinary pocket-knife, as every sensible campaigner does. Meanwhile, Tom had had the tea in hand, and before many minutes had passed both were seated at an excellent repast, which they enjoyed all the more for the fact that it was partaken of while squatting upon the bare earth, and from dishes and mugs of common enameled tin.

“And now for bed,” said Jim, two hours later, when Tom had finished his smoke and they had had a chat. “Let us hope for a fine day, and a good start.”

“And luck on the other side, old chap. Good-night. It’s my first watch. Turn in now, and I’ll wake you in good time.”

Soon the camp was hushed in sleep, save for the crisp, low sound of a sandalled foot plodding up and down upon the sand. A few hours later the sentries were relieved, and Jim took his turn, it having been arranged that he and Tom, together with Ali Kumar, should help one another to keep an eye upon their following during the hours of darkness.

Early on the following day the camp was astir, and an hour later they set out upon their long and hazardous march. Four days of hot and tiring work took them in safety to the farther side, where, worn out with their exertions, they formed a zareba, and called a long halt, to rest both animals and men. And now began the most difficult and dangerous part of Jim’s undertaking.

“Thirty miles from here the Mullah and his men are said to be encamped,” he remarked thoughtfully to Tom, as the two stood looking towards the interior of the fertile country which they had just reached. “I keep wondering whether we should push straight on, or remain where we are. I mean, whether we should post our men at this spot and go forward alone.”

“But surely you will want every follower,” cried Tom. “Careful as we have been to keep our movements a secret, it is almost impossible to expect that the Mullah will remain for long in ignorance. Then, as soon as he hears of us, out will come his cut-throats to visit us and eat up the whole convoy, if they are able.”

“Exactly so, Tom, and it is because his men will come, and in large numbers, too, that I suggest that we should find a spot for our followers, and make a raid into the country alone. If we were discovered, we should make a bolt for it, and trust to rejoin our camp before we were caught. On the other hand, suppose we push on in a body. Unless we have the fortune to come upon another spot like the ravine, certain defeat will stare us in the face, for the Mullah has thousands of men.”

“What a long-headed beggar you are to be sure!” exclaimed Tom, smacking him heartily upon the back. “You seem to get to the bottom of all these difficulties at once, and what you have said is, I feel sure, as wise a course as we could carry out. But what about a spot in which to make the camp? It must be a strong one, or it will be useless. Again, it must be within reasonable distance, for otherwise we should never reach it.”

“The difficulty is great, but it is not beyond our powers,” said a voice at his elbow, as Ali Kumar joined them. “I have already told you that I have once before crossed the Hoad, but that I have never penetrated the country beyond. I will now explain for what reason. It happened that I, with my father and my father’s tribe, had suffered much at the hands of some neighbors of ours, who were far stronger than we were. For years they had harried our flocks, slain our men, and carried off the women and children. So that at last we decided to migrate and to place the desert between ourselves and our enemies. Carefully did we make our preparations, and then we set out upon the journey. Alas, master, it proved disastrous, for our beasts were in poor condition, and few in numbers. Then fortune was against us, for we stumbled into a storm of sand, which lasted for a day, and left us well-nigh dead. But we struggled on, hoping for the best. One by one our camels fell by the way, and soon men, too, joined them. At last, to make our troubles more than we could bear, the beasts, in their mad desire for water, tore open the sacks of goat-skin in which we carried our precious supply, and let the contents rush out upon the sand, where it disappeared at once, licked up by the parched land. From that moment all order was lost, and within a very few hours we had scattered, some in their madness returning, and all wandering from their path, their tongues lolling from their blackened lips, and their limbs staggering beneath them.

“With three of my comrades I struggled forward till I saw a patch of green before me. At first I thought that it was a mirage, risen to cheat me into hope. But it was real—a glorious sight!—and, together with those who were with me, I ran towards it. There was water there, master, and food, and when, after resting, we searched the place, we found that it bore no traces of a camp, and that in all probability none but wild beasts had ever visited it. Three days later we pushed on to the fertile land of the Mullah, but there my comrades were killed, I alone escaping. In fear and terror I returned to the oasis, and from there Allah helped me to trudge across the desert and reach that portion of the land which skirts the sea. My journeying may be of use to you now, master, for the green spot of which I speak lies some ten miles only within the Hoad, and it is wide enough to give grazing to all your beasts. Of food you have enough in store of the kind that is sealed in tins, and therefore cannot fear starvation, while of water there is abundance. Moreover, it occurs to me that a strong zareba might be made in the heart of the trees, for there is wood to be had, and do we not carry ample wire with hooks upon it to surround the whole place?”

“It sounds the very thing,” cried Jim excitedly, having listened with great interest to all that Ali had to say. “If it is so close to the edge of the Mullah’s country, it should prove an excellent base from which to set out on small spying expeditions. Then, if we do as you suggest, we ought to make it so strong that we could safely retreat to it when things become warm, and even defy the Mullah and his men. Yes, it is a good thing, I am sure, and I vote that we make for it at once.”

Having discussed the matter with Tom—for, though nominally in charge of the expedition, he never neglected to call upon his friend for help—Jim decided to wait till the following morning, and then to raise the camp and search for the oasis of which Ali had spoken. Accordingly, at the first sign of dawn, all were afoot and marching to the west, in which direction the wells were situated. At length they sighted a grove of shady trees, and hailed it with a shout of joy. An hour later their zareba was formed, and Jim and his friend were closely inspecting the surroundings.

“It will be even more suitable than I had hoped,” said Jim in delight. “Look at those trees, and see how they will help us.”

“Yes—er—well, I confess that I cannot follow you,” was the puzzled response. “We might hide in the trees—perhaps that’s what you mean?”

“Partly, Tom; but I thought that they were placed in just the position to be of service to us. Look at the outside row. By cutting down a few we could have a square formed by the trunks, and giving a large clearing in the center where the water is. Then we have only to connect the trees by means of barbed wire, and we have a fort into which the Mullah’s men would find it a job to rush. Once our entanglement was completed, we could rig up some kind of a blockhouse inside, so that we should have plenty of cover, while as for the camels and horses, they, of course, must take their chance, though the long-range of our rifles should make it possible to keep the enemy at a respectful distance, from which their old muzzle-loaders could not reach us.”

“You’re a wonder!” gasped Tom. “It seems to me that you are a born soldier.”

“Not a bit of it,” was the modest reply. “But, you see, my father was always telling me about the fights in which he had taken part. They were usually against natives, in some part of this continent, and there was always a ruse of this sort, some dodge by which he and his men held the larger numbers of the enemy at bay. That’s how it is that I have an eye which seems to take in the possibilities of a place, and I put it down to my father and his yarns that I was able to make defence practicable away back at the ravine. But, seriously, what do you think of the dodge?”

“It is the best thing you have yet thought out, Jim, and should prove of enormous advantage to us; for, knowing that we have a haven to retreat to, we shall go about our work of tracking the Mullah far more fearlessly, though I tell you that, in any case, it is going to be a risky game.”

Pacing backwards and forwards amongst the trees, Jim and his companion soon marked out the site of their fort. Then they called for an axe, and cut a wide slit at the base of each trunk which they had decided was to be removed, giving orders that the men were to set to at the work on the following morning. That done, they went well beyond the trees, but finding nothing but a weary sandy waste, and no cover that could be of the slightest use to an enemy, they returned to the zareba, and selected a site close beside the well, and almost in the center of the square which they had marked off for the fort. On this a rough circle was drawn, and calling Ali to his side, Jim gave directions that the trees, when felled on the morrow, were to be dragged there, and arranged to as to form a blockhouse.

“We want a raised platform,” he said, as he walked over the spot once more, and deepened the line in the earth by means of his toe. “If we set our fellows to throw up a mound round the edge of this circle, and then pile the logs there, morticing them roughly together, we shall have a fine blockhouse, from which we shall be able to command the surrounding desert for many yards. I reckon that our rifles carry a good mile, and very likely even more than that; so that in the daytime we can make it impossible for the enemy to approach, unless in overwhelming numbers. If they come in a huge army, we shall lie behind our cover and blaze at them from a position of safety, and as we have been careful to bring a large store of ammunition, we need have no fears that it will become suddenly expended. I should think, too, that a watch-tower of some sort would be useful.”

“Then why not make one of these trees serve the purpose?” asked Tom, staring aloft at the green top of a palm which overhung the party. “It happens to occupy the very center of your circle, and can easily be pegged so as to make ascent possible.”

“A grand idea!” exclaimed Jim, “and that, too, shall be carried out. But now about the camels and ponies. We want a zareba into which we can drive them at night, and in case of attack.”

“Then do the same for them as for ourselves,” said Tom. “Look here, old boy, you ought to take particular pains to keep them well away from the water, or our supply may be fouled and rendered unfit for our consumption. Why not dig out a place for them, throwing the earth removed into a wall, which will protect them? Then, if you place the zareba over there, a trench from the wells will carry the water to them, so that their wants can be supplied.”

Tom pointed to a spot within thirty yards, where the ground fell slightly, and where numerous big palms grew, offering shade for the animals.

“It would be an easy matter to do as suggested,” interposed Ali Kumar, interrupting his masters. “I have seen such an arrangement before, and will see that the trench is dug, and a small wooden gate put at the head, so that a certain quantity can be allowed to run through at any time. Otherwise, you would have the zareba filled with water, and the animals would quickly die. As to our being able to do all this, I can promise that the end of the week shall see the work completed, for the men will have little to do now that we are in camp, and when the beasts are driven out to graze, and sentries posted, the others will have their hours free, and will devote them to getting the camp into a state of defence.”

“And while they are at work we shall make excursions into the Mullah’s country,” remarked Jim. “We’ll just wait until the wire is stretched and the blockhouse begun, for it would not do to have the enemy coming down upon us before we were ready. Then we’ll take the best camels and set out. Who knows but that we may have the luck to rescue my father without much trouble, and in a week we may even be marching for the coast once more?”

He spoke in the most hopeful manner, for the good fortune with which they had hitherto met had raised his spirits to the highest, so much so that complete success seemed even now in sight. But Jim had not yet encountered the terrible Mullah, he whose name was a byword in Northern Africa, and whose cruelties and whose cunning were talked about in every part of the civilized world. Had he had personal experience of him, his ideas would have undergone a change, for this leader of the Somali fanatics was not likely to sit down tamely and submit to the theft of a slave. Why should he indeed, when he openly boasted that he was ready to meet all the troops which the British Government could bring against him? It was out of the question to imagine for a moment that he who had so recently defeated a British column would dream of allowing this small expedition to escape his clutches, if he obtained news of its coming. Why, the guns and ammunition Jim and his following possessed would alone have been a prize, while the death of all who took part in this audacious enterprise would elevate the Mullah still higher in the estimation of the savage tribesmen who lived in these parts. Yes, had Jim been able to see into this matter as clearly as he was able to observe the strongest position for defence, he might have been less sanguine, indeed he might have trembled at the thought of all the danger before him. But he was blissfully ignorant, and went on with his plans of rescue, without allowing his mind to dwell unduly upon the prospect of difficulties which might yet have to be encountered. Would his determination have been altered had he known that at that very moment the Mullah was listening to the tale of a scout who had witnessed the march of the column on the previous day? We doubt it, for Jim was not the lad to give in till convinced that he was beaten. But, as it was, he knew nothing, and went on with his preparations with a mind which was free from uneasiness.

“We have all had a hard day,” he said, “so I propose we turn in early tonight. Then we can be up with the lark, and set to at the work we have before us.”

Scarcely had day dawned when all were awake, and guards having been posted to watch the grazing beasts, the remainder took spades and axes, which had been included in the baggage of the column, and, stripping to the waist, began to cut down the trees which Jim and Tom had marked on the previous day. Then, while some dragged the logs to the center, others unrolled the barbed wire, and began to form an entanglement. A tiny doorway was left, so that the garrison could enter at will, but it was protected inside by a semicircle of the wire, so that should one of the enemy happen to rush in, he would still have an impenetrable barrier before him.

When the entanglement was completed to his satisfaction, Jim set the men to work to throw up the platform for the blockhouse, and, before darkness fell, saw it completed.

“And now for a zareba for the animals,” he cried gaily, on the following morning. “Not till that is done can I leave the camp.”

With Tom beside him to aid him with his advice, he directed the men how to proceed with the work, and, by way of encouraging them, seized a spade himself, and began to delve with all his might. For hours together all labored, but, thanks to the fact that the soil was light and easily turned, the task proved easier than it might have been. Indeed, by nightfall the animals were safely enclosed, and an entanglement of wire surrounded them, so that even if the enemy managed to rush up to them, they could not cause them to stampede. A trench had been cut from the wells to this zareba, within which a long trough had been constructed of mud, so arranged that it could be filled to the brim at the will of those who lived in the blockhouse, while the contents would drain slowly away and soak into the soil outside. Standing in the center of the miniature fort which he had caused to be erected, Jim looked about him on that evening with feelings of pride and satisfaction.

“I never could have thought it possible,” he murmured to himself. “When we started from the farther side of the Hoad, it often troubled me to think what we should do to protect ourselves once we reached the Mullah’s country, but I never dreamt that we should have the luck to fall in with this oasis. Why we could live here for a month, or longer, and stand a siege without much fear; for, with these logs to protect us, we ought to be able to keep the plain outside clear of the enemy during the daytime, while our animals could graze in the large square of barbed wire which we have made. Then, as soon as they had eaten the grass there, we could send our fellows out to cut more during the night. Yes, we are in clover here, and can now take measures to rescue father. Tom, I want to ask you a question,” he continued to his friend.

“Well, what is it, old boy?”

“How about leaving the camp? Will it be sufficient if Ali remains in charge?”

“I think not,” Tom answered with decision. “Now that we are so close to the Mullah, we must take it for granted that an attack, sooner or later, is inevitable. That being the case, it would be fatal to leave our natives to themselves, for, if deprived of a leader, they would be like sheep, and would quickly be overcome. I know what you are worrying about. You want to know who is to stay behind?”

“That is it,” responded Jim. “You see, I have had the best of it up to this, and it seems unfair to ask you to sit down here while I have all the excitement and adventure.”

“Not a bit of it!” exclaimed Tom eagerly. “You must remember that this is your expedition, and that the rescue of your father is of the utmost importance. If we are successful in that, we shall have obtained plenty of information concerning the Mullah, so that we shall both be satisfied. There! Don’t consider me anymore, but just act as you think best.”

“I’m glad to know that you think in that way, Tom,” answered Jim. “And now, as you are agreeable to the arrangement, I will ask you to take charge of the camp while I go off on a scouting expedition. I propose to take Ali Kumar alone, and to strike at once for the enemy’s country.”

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