Scarcely had the sun risen above the sandy horizon when Jim and Ali Kumar rode from the oasis mounted upon two of the fleetest camels which the expedition possessed. They carried upon their saddles sufficient food and water to last them for a week, while each had a rifle and abundance of ammunition. Turning their faces toward the south, they urged their beasts into a long swinging trot, and sailed away over the desert with the cheers of their comrades ringing in their ears.

“Before we return I hope to have obtained full news of my father,” said Jim, as they swept along. “If I find that he is only slightly guarded, I shall take advantage of some dark night and try to reach him, and if we get him to the camp, the Mullah may do as he likes, but I defy him to capture us, for our position there is remarkably strong.”


“During the daytime the attempt will be hopeless,” answered Ali Kumar thoughtfully. “But, master, I tremble to think of the consequences during the night, for we are few, and they would be many. Creeping up to us, they would rush upon us before we were prepared, and then nothing could save the expedition.”

“We shall see about that,” exclaimed Jim doggedly. “It seems to me that if we were to light big fires round our square, we ought to be able to keep the enemy out. But I agree with you, it would be a hard matter, and could not be accomplished without fighting. And now for ourselves. Are we likely to strike the Mullah’s camp if we push on in this direction?”

“I cannot say for certain,” responded Ali. “But you will remember that the tribesmen informed us that the white prisoner was some thirty miles south of the Hoad. If that is the case, we should be nearer the Mullah by nightfall. By that time it will be advisable to find some spot in which we can safely hide. Then, on the following day, we can sally out, and, pretending to be peaceful peasants, try to ascertain news of your father.”

“It sounds a good plan, Ali, but you must recollect that I am ignorant of the language. That being the case, it may be necessary for me to remain hidden while you go out, though when the time for rescue comes, I insist upon taking a full share in the matter.”

An hour after they had set out from the oasis the two riders entered upon a stretch of country which differed vastly from that which they had just left, for it was thickly clad with a carpet of fresh green, and was dotted everywhere with bushes and trees, and in parts with huge masses of foliage which showed the position of a forest. But nowhere was there a habitation visible, and not a native was to be seen. Half a mile farther on, however, was a large pool of water, from which the rays of the sun were reflected with dazzling brilliancy; and to this they at once rode, following one of the many paths that had been worn through the bush in all directions by wild animals.

“Half an hour’s halt here, and then on we go,” said Jim. “How thankful I am that this is the cool season, and that the heat of the sun is not too great to prevent our marching during the day.”

“It is fortunate, master,” answered Ali, “for less than three months hence the journey which we have already accomplished would have had to satisfy us until nightfall. Then only could we have ventured to start forward again, for at the time of noon the glare and strength of the sun are so great that even a native prefers the shade, and loves to lie there and sleep. But now we need have no fears of sunstroke, and can ride on. Our beasts are in the finest condition, and we can rely upon them to carry us the remaining thirty miles with the utmost ease. Tomorrow, if necessary, they will bear us back again with the same certainty, for these are picked animals, and are worth some thirty of the common kind. But I shall prepare food, so that we may eat now and then pass on without halting.”

Taking the rough bits from the mouths of the camels, Ali led them to the water and allowed them to drink. Then he picketed them in the center of a patch of luxuriant grass, and left them there to graze to their hearts’ content, while he returned to help Jim with the meal. Already the latter had a cheery fire burning, and was toasting two large juicy steaks of deer-flesh over it. When they were ready, and the water boiling, both sat down beside the embers, there being no ceremony between master and man. Indeed, looking at them there, a stranger would have been troubled to tell the difference between these two Somali natives, for both had dusky features and dark hair, while their gestures were apparently the same.

A closer inspection, however, would have shown him that the younger of the two could find no comfort in the squatting attitude of which the natives are fond, and preferred to lie upon the ground reclining upon his elbow. Then, again, he ate more daintily, and drank from his tin mug as if he had been accustomed to better things. But what was remarkable about the two was the fact that each possessed a rifle of modern workmanship, while Jim had a pair of revolvers, the butt of one of which peeped from beneath his clothing.

Their meal finished, Ali took from a pouch which dangled about his neck a pinch of tobacco, and securing it in the hollow of his hand, proceeded to roll a cigarette. Surely this was a strange thing for a native in this wild part of the country to do! True, many followers of the Mullah indulged in the smoking habit, but none knew of the cigarette. Ali, however, had learnt the art at Berbera, and, indeed, behaved more like a civilized individual than any native that Jim had as yet seen.

“I am a Christian and can sit at meat with my master, when he wills,” he had said some days before. “Therefore, should it fall out that you and I ride away together, there will be no trouble on that score, though with any other of your followers difficulties would arise, for they could not eat with you, while to drink from the same vessel would be an insult to their religion.”

Having finished his cigarette, Ali sprang to his feet, and soon they were on their way again. Riding across an undulating country, they at length reached a part which was studded with hills, and upon ascending to the summit of one of these, both came suddenly to a halt, and uttered a cry of satisfaction.

“Back, master!” cried Ali in alarm, a second later. “Dismount from your camel, and cause him to kneel, then creep forward with me, and lie full length among the bushes, for, were we to ascend to the sky-line, our figures would be seen at once. There, look!” he continued a moment later, as they threw themselves upon the grass and stared into the valley beyond. “You can see the mud huts which the Mullah’s followers occupy, and there are his herds.”

Stretching his arm before him, Ali pointed down the farther slope of the hill into a long winding depression, down the center of which ran a broad stream of water. Following his finger, Jim saw some hundreds of low mud hovels, nestling close to the bank of the river, and so clear was the atmosphere that he was able to distinguish numerous figures moving about, while herds of camels, sheep, and horses were visible everywhere.

“What is that?” he suddenly asked, pointing in his turn to a dark mass in the center of the valley. “It looks to me as though there were horsemen there, but I shall soon tell you, for I have brought my glasses with me.”

Hastily withdrawing his field-glasses from the case, he raised them to his eyes and looked long and carefully towards the object which he had discovered.

“It is the Mullah’s army,” he said in an excited whisper, as if he feared that the ordinary tones of his voice would be overheard at that distance, and so alarm the enemy. “I can see a host of horsemen, and more than three times as many men on foot. And—yes, there is someone riding in front of them, who must be the Mullah.”

The sight at which he gazed filled Jim with a feeling of excitement, for now, at last, he was within touch of his goal. There, below him, was the man to whom his father was a slave, and there, careering up the valley, were a portion of the following who might even then be on their way to attack the foolhardy Englishman who had come in quest of the prisoner. Could Jim have read the thoughts of that tall man who so proudly rode his charger in front of the gathering of warriors below, he would have learned something that intimately concerned himself. As he sat his horse there before his following, his face was turned in the direction from which Jim and Ali had come, and his mind was engaged with the news which had come to his ears two or three days before.

“An insolent Englishman has dared to cross the Hoad,” he was murmuring to himself. “His purpose, as told me by the spy, is to rescue one of my beggarly prisoners. Let him beware. Before many hours have passed I will slay his whole following, and he, too, shall find himself a slave.”

Turning his horse with a touch of his heel, the Mullah held his hand above his head and arrested the progress of his following. Then spurring close up to them, he gave them their orders, and stood by as they marched away.

“I wonder where they are bound for?” said Jim, as he watched the movement through his glasses. “Their heads were turned towards the north, and it looks as though they were bent upon a journey which would take some time, for camels laden with baggage are accompanying them, while some followers are driving a small herd of sheep and cattle. I hope it does not mean that they have discovered our camp, and are marching to attack it.”

“I cannot say, master,” answered Ali thoughtfully. “But their movement looks suspicious. However, should they have gained news of our coming, it will be only as I have expected all along, for how could we hope to enter the country of this man without being discovered, when spies abound, and when news may even have been sent from Berbera? Besides, what of the traitor who induced the tribesmen to attack us? He had fled, so said their messenger, but where or how he did not mention. Perhaps he took advantage of the confusion to steal a camel, and with that to help him, crossed the Hoad, knowing that he would be welcome to the Mullah. If that is the case, we have trouble before us, and perhaps it would be better for us to retire at once, so as to rejoin our companions.”

“I think not,” answered Jim promptly. “If those fellows down there are bound for our camp, we can do no possible good by returning to our friends, for we should only make a small addition to their numbers. No, when we set out for this part, we did so with the full knowledge that the camp in the oasis might have to defend itself at any moment. We placed my comrade in charge, trusting to him to keep the enemy out, and we must not allow this to break our faith in him and our followers. Let us leave them to do their work while we complete ours. When you come to think of it, the movement of those men below is probably the best thing that could have happened, that is, supposing they are not successful in their attack, as I firmly believe will be the case; for, knowing that his followers have gone to intercept us, the Mullah will never suspect that two of our expedition have detached themselves from the main body, and are already in touch with his camp. He and those of his men who remain with him will have no fear of a surprise of any sort, and will therefore neglect all precautions. What could be more advantageous to our cause?”

“It is a fine argument,” replied Ali Kumar, after a long pause, “and I believe you have seen this matter in the right light. As you say, to lose faith now in our friends would be foolish. If they are attacked, as I think is more than probable, they must trust to themselves, and live or fall according to their ability. Meanwhile, we have a chance which may never occur again. Therefore, master, while you keep your glasses fixed upon the Mullah’s following, I shall leave you for a time and search for a hiding-place. When I have found it I shall return, and then we shall make our way down to the camels.”

Accordingly, Ali turned and descended the hill, leaving Jim stretched out upon the summit, with his eyes fixed upon the distant warriors. In half an hour the Mullah’s expedition had disappeared behind an elevation, and Jim at once turned his glasses upon the solitary horseman who had watched them depart. He saw him put his horse into a furious gallop, and head him towards the collection of mud hovels. Then he watched as the rider pulled in his animal, and threw himself from the saddle. At this moment a native ran out and took the reins from him, while the Mullah strode into the midst of the camp. Though he was often hidden for a considerable time by some clump of huts, Jim was able to follow him as he advanced by watching for him as he crossed the open spaces. At last he reached a house of considerable proportions, above the flat roof of which a tattered banner blew out in the tropical breeze, showing a groundwork of brilliant red, with figures worked upon it in darker colors. A spear seemed to form the supporting post.

“He’s gone in,” said Jim, watching the figure of the Mullah with the utmost eagerness. “I must make a careful note of the position of his house, for I might have to find my way there some day. Indeed, if father is there—and I see no other way of rescuing him—I shall choose a dark night, and creep into the mud hut into which the Mullah has disappeared. Then I’ll put a pistol to his head, and give him the choice of death or the loss of his slave. But I should have to be very careful of treachery, and in any case it would be a desperate game to play. However, we shall see. Having come so far, I do not mean to turn back before I have made every effort, and if I fail after all, why, I’ll return to Berbera, join the British troops, and march in this direction again in their company.”

For long Jim lay full-length among the grass with which this hill was thickly clad, and gazed down into the valley which formed the home and hiding-place of the Mullah and his adherents. Every now and again he would catch sight of some figure moving along the bank of the river, or passing down the only street of which the village boasted. Instantly, up would go his glasses to his eyes, and he would focus them upon the object, hoping that this might prove to be the white prisoner, his father.

But in every case the figure proved to be some dusky warrior, trudging along with his spear over one shoulder, and his hide-shield dangling on his other arm, or one of the many wives with which these Somali fighting men were blessed, walking down to the water to replenish her household stock. Full as Jim’s thoughts were of other things, he could not help remarking the graceful carriage of these people. With erect figures, and arms swinging easily at their sides, these women bore upon their heads a tall earthen jar, which they balanced there with as much ease as the average individual contrives to retain his hat.

Later, a movement about the central dwelling from which the flag flew attracted his attention, and looking closely in that direction, he saw four armed men suddenly emerge from the shadow of the walls into the road in front, where they formed up in line. Four others at once placed themselves in front of their comrades, and having saluted one another in ceremonious fashion, as people of the East are accustomed to do, they separated, the first party disappearing down the street, while the second filed into their positions about the Mullah’s residence. But of the latter there was never a sign; he remained in the seclusion of his mud hut, his thoughts, no doubt, fixed upon that tiny camp belonging to the insolent Englishman, which he hoped to hear, in the course of a few hours, had fallen a prey to his followers.

“I must be careful to remember about those guards,” murmured Jim thoughtfully, “for should it become necessary for me to visit the house, they might interrupt our interview and spoil my chances. But we shall see; perhaps Ali will have good news for me.”

For three hours he lay on the summit of the hill, keeping a careful watch on the Mullah’s camp, and wondering all the while what had happened to his native headman, and why his return was so long delayed.

“I hope nothing has happened to him,” he said at last, in anxious tones. “It would be a serious matter if he were captured, for it would let the Mullah know that there were spies close at hand. But I can’t think what has happened to him, for amongst the following below there must be a huge number of strange men collected together, and Ali’s clever enough to pass himself as one of these. Besides——Hallo! Who’s that?”

Happening to turn his head to look at the two camels which were grazing some two hundred yards in the rear, Jim suddenly caught sight of a figure running towards him, and waving an arm to attract his attention. Grasping his rifle, and shooting a cartridge into the breech, he at once retired from the summit of the hill, taking care to creep on all-fours through the grass until well away from the sky-line. Then he started to his feet, and running forward until close to a large mass of rock, he knelt behind it, and, raising his weapon to his shoulder, covered the man who was approaching.

“Very likely it is Ali,” he said to himself; “but should it happen to be anyone else, I shall be quite ready for him.”

A minute later any doubts which he might have had were dispelled, for, topping a rise which intervened between himself and Jim, the stranger showed clearly against the distant horizon.

“Ali!” cried Jim, in tones of relief; and at once rising from his seat, he hastened towards him with his rifle over his shoulder, and his mind filled with alarm at the evident excitement under which his follower labored.

“What is it? What has happened, Ali?” he demanded. “Have you been discovered? And if so, are you being followed? In that case we had better get the camels ready at once, so that we may ride for our lives, for to attempt to remain here would be madness.”

“No, do not touch our animals, but sit down and listen,” answered Ali breathlessly, throwing himself upon the ground, as if he were exhausted, and lying there panting so hard that he seemed unable to speak. At length, however, he took a sip of water from the gourd which dangled at his waist, and seeming to revive at once, sat up and gazed at his master.

“All is well,” he said, “and I have not been discovered. But I have seen things which have caused me to tremble with alarm, and which sent me back to you at my fastest pace to warn you.”

“What is it, then,” asked Jim anxiously, unable to guess what could have happened to his follower. “Come, tell me at once, Ali.”

Leaning forward, he placed his hand upon the native’s shoulder and shook him gently so as to hasten him, for the sight of Ali’s excitement had filled him with a vague feeling of alarm.

“Listen, then, master, and I shall tell you what happened to me after I left you upon the summit of the hill. But first let us climb to our position again, and take our posts there, for I warn you that if we are to escape from this place alive, we must be ever watchful, and keep our eyes constantly fixed upon the valley below.”

This wise precaution was immediately carried out. Then Ali turned towards Jim and continued his story.

“When I left you,” he said, “I placed my rifle beside a boulder, for I knew that it would at once arouse the cupidity and suspicion of any whom I might meet. Then I descended the hill, and taking advantage of a long stretch of thick undergrowth which ran towards the village, I reached its outskirts without having seen a single stranger. Then I watched for an hour as the people walked to and fro, and happening to see two women who were busily engaged in crushing corn for their bread, I crept into the house behind them, and sat in the doorway listening to their conversation.”

“From what they said I gathered that the Mullah can collect as many as sixty thousand men to march behind his banner, but that the greater portion are at present living peaceful lives in their own particular portion of the country. However, as soon as the British troops advance, the call to arms will be sounded, and all will hasten to join the Mullah. A little while later, one of the women began to speak of the expedition which started out this morning, and from her I learned that it has undoubtedly gone in search of our camp. But guns are scarce, and it seems that the band only has about fifty with it. That the Mullah had warning of our approach was evident, for one of the women stated that her husband was the scout who had observed our arrival on this side of the Hoad.

“Though I listened to their chatter for long, I learned nothing more of importance, for they conversed about their children and their homes. And so, carefully looking down the street, and observing that large numbers were about, I slipped in amongst them, feeling confident that my presence would not be noticed. Soon I was in their market, and following the lead of others of the men who were about, I purchased some fruit, haggling over the price, as is customary. Then, as I wandered from the stalls into the street again, I saw the white prisoner coming towards me.”

“The white prisoner! My father!” almost shouted Jim, his pulses throbbing with the news. “Are you sure that it was he? What did he look like? Was he ill, and overcome by his miserable condition?”

He clutched Ali eagerly by the arm and poured the questions upon him so rapidly that the latter could not answer, but lay there gazing at him stolidly, as if astounded at his excitement.

“Gently! Speak quietly, master,” he replied. “The questions which you ask are unnecessary, for there is but one prisoner, one white slave owned by the Mullah; assuredly, this one whom I saw is your father, and that he is ill and downcast is only to be expected. Indeed, so heavy are his cares, and so great the labor demanded of him, that already he has aged. Though but a few weeks have passed since he was cast upon this coast, and fell into the hands of these, our enemies, yet the time has been sufficient to make great changes in him. He is a tall man, but no longer does he bear himself proudly, for this drudgery and the hopelessness of life have overcome his spirit. He lacks energy, and walks along with eyes cast down and with never a thought of his surroundings.”

“Indeed, it is clear that his mind is forever bent upon escape, and that when he chances to look to right or left he does so with the hope that something shall be there to help him—some friend who, pitying his condition, has come prepared to stretch out a hand, and aid him to reach his countrymen once more. As he passed me by, and looked at me vacantly, ignorant of the fact that I was, in reality, a comrade of his son who had marched all this way and had encountered so many dangers in the hope of rescuing him, it went to my heart to notice the deep lines that care had set upon his face, and the whiteness of his hair. Yes, master, no longer is it grey at the temples alone.”

“Poor father!” murmured Jim sorrowfully, his pity raised to the highest at Ali’s words. “Poor dad! What a change in his condition!”

For more than a minute there was silence.

“Go on!” at last said Jim, in more resolute tones. “It was a blow to hear that there is such a change in my father and that he was so downcast. But after considering the matter, I am bound to confess that it is only to be expected. I must congratulate myself upon the fact that you have seen him alive, for we might have arrived at the Mullah’s camp to find him dead, worn out by his sufferings. What if his hair is grey? Other men have lost their color in a night under some great strain, but they have recovered it to some extent later on. Father will do the same. Once free, he will become the same jolly fellow I have always known him.”

Tears stood in Jim’s eyes as he spoke, for he was deeply moved at the thought of his father’s condition, but with an effort he steadied himself, and signaled to Ali to proceed by raising his hand, for he could not trust himself to speak.

“Be happy, master. It matters nothing, whatever the color of the hair, so long as life is there,” answered Ali, in reassuring tones. “But let me proceed. Had I dared to do so, I would have signed to the prisoner and endeavored to meet him in some out-of-the-way spot, but I saw that such an act would have been madness, for as he approached, I noticed first one, and then a second, armed warrior lounging amidst the throng, but keeping a careful eye all the while upon their charge. Even when my eyes and the prisoner’s met, I could do nothing but turn hastily away and gaze at the passers-by on the opposite side. Then, little by little, I moved in the direction taken by your father, hoping to discover the house in which he dwelt, and have speech with him. But the attempt was doomed to disappointment in the last respect, for his guards kept ever at his side. However, I had the good fortune to find where he slept. It is that tumble-down dwelling which stands behind the central one from which the flag hangs, and some few paces away from it. See! There it is! And before the door is an armed Somali warrior keeping watch upon the prisoner.”

Rising to his knees, Ali leant one hand upon the ground and with the other directed Jim’s eyes to the house of which he had spoken.

“Behind the big one, and with a man in front of the door,” remarked the latter, with his eyes glued to the glasses. “Yes, I can see it, Ali, and feel sure that I can make my way to it in the dark. But go on with your story.”

“Half an hour passed without my seeing the prisoner again,” said Ali, sinking into the grass once more, “so I crept away, and rejoined the people. Then, just as I was about to make my way back to you, I suddenly caught sight of a face which set me trembling. My knees knocked together in my terror, and had I not clung to the post of a doorway which stood near at hand, I should have fallen, for never before has death been so near to me.”

He turned to Jim with flashing eyes, and with cheeks which looked pale in spite of his dusky complexion. Indeed, glancing at his features, it was easy to see that his fear was great, and that the face which he had caught sight of had caused him no little uneasiness.

“I should have fallen,” he repeated, “but the doorpost held me up while this man passed. Then I turned upon my heel, and slipping from the village, fled hither for my life.”

“Who can it have been? Speak, man!” demanded Jim impatiently, bewildered at his follower’s words. “A strange face? Why! It cannot have been——”

“Yes, master, it was the traitor who led the tribesmen against us,” gasped Ali. “Of a sudden I saw him coming towards me, and I trembled lest he should recognize me; for, had he done so, that instant would have been the signal for my death, and with my life would have gone all your hopes, too. Our danger is now greater than ever before, and it seems to me that we should be foolish to remain any longer.”

“And why?” demanded Jim curtly, a look of determination coming over his face. “You are unmanned by this incident and your imagination. What if the traitor is in the Mullah’s village? Is it likely that he suspects that we are close at hand? No! I tell you he is chuckling at the thought that we are with our friends, and that the followers of the Mullah are about to attack us. Pull yourself together, Ali, and be a man! Or, if you cannot, leave me to carry out the rescue alone, for I declare that I will not retire. To-night I shall go down to that hut and endeavor to rescue the prisoner. If it is impossible, I shall wait for another opportunity; but turn my face the other way and leave father to his fate I will not, not even if our presence here is discovered.”

He spoke the words almost fiercely, and turned upon his follower with flushed features and angry eye.

“Well, what is it to be?” he demanded curtly. “There are the camels below. Take one, and fly at once, if you will, for I had rather that you did not stay if you are not ready to stand by me.”

“Master, I was a coward for the moment,” answered Ali humbly. “The sight of that traitor and my narrow escape filled me with fear, and I returned to you feeling as though the Somali warriors were following closely upon me, shouting for my life. But you are brave, and help me to act rightly in this matter. Forgive me. I will stand by you, whatever the danger, and if you persist in going into the Mullah’s village tonight in the hope of releasing the captive, I will follow you at a distance and await you with the camels. If, by chance, you are unsuccessful, and fall into the hands of these people, I swear that I will not leave this part till I have done my utmost to help you. Go, then, and may God aid you in your undertaking!”

There was no doubt of his earnestness, for, rising to his knees once more, he extended his hand and grasped Jim’s firmly, looking steadily into his eyes.

“You are a man again, and will be true to your word,” said Jim simply. “Now bring up the food and water, for at sundown I shall leave for the Mullah’s camp.”

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