While the Mullah is busy in the interior of his hut, making preparations for the following of the fugitives, should his men have failed to capture them before the morning dawns, let us go back to the three Englishmen, whom we last saw before the store-house of the village. From the moment when Colonel Hubbard had pursued the inquisitive Somali and had brought him down in his tracks, events had happened with bewildering rapidity, and indeed Jim, when he had brought the sentry to the ground, seemed for some moments to be stunned.

Luckily, however, the others were fully alive to the danger in which they stood, and well knew that delay would be fatal.


“Rouse yourself! Quick! We must fly!” cried the colonel, in accents of alarm.

“Yes, pull yourself together, for you are the only one who can lead us,” said John Margetson, grasping his young companion by the shoulder to emphasize his words. “Which way do we go, and where do we fly to?”

At first the words had fallen upon Jim’s ears indistinctly, and as if far away. But the rough shaking he received, the reminder that the safety of all the party depended upon himself, aroused him effectually, and with a start he was himself again.

“Follow me to the ravine! This way!” he cried; and turning upon his heel, at once sped down the village street, with his comrades close behind him. When they reached the open, they swerved sharply to the left, and soon struck upon the rough path which Jim had used when coming to rescue his father. Without pause, without even turning his head to see if the others were following, Jim kept on at his fastest pace, being spurred to even greater exertions by the shouts and turmoil which he heard behind him.

Not till he had put at least three-quarters of a mile between himself and the Mullah’s village did he venture to come to a halt, and then it was to throw himself full length upon the grass, with which the countryside was thickly clad, and lie there breathing heavily, for the long sprint had told upon him severely. A short space of time, however, enabled all three to regain their breath once more, and then they discussed the situation in low tones.

“What is the move now?” asked the colonel shortly, in the tones of a man who demands only what is absolutely necessary, and expects to receive a concise reply.

“That depends, father. The ravine in which I left one of my followers with a couple of camels is situated barely a quarter of a mile away, and if it has proved sufficient to shelter him, it will also afford us a safe hiding-place. The question is, has he been discovered; and, if he has, then what shall our action be?”

“H’m! I understand from what you whispered to me when I was still a prisoner that the Somali natives are stationed away in this direction,” said the colonel slowly, “and that another force has been despatched to attack your zareba. That being the case, we cannot hope to move during the daytime, and our only chance of safety is this ravine of which you speak. Therefore, I say, lead us to it at once, and should it prove to be occupied by the enemy, then let us go back on our trail, and while the Mullah and his following are hastening this way in pursuit, let us take a post in the store-hut again.

A few short moments will suffice to place it in a condition of defense. You tell me that there are muzzle-loaders there and that there is an ample supply of ammunition, and of food and drink. Well and good; our movements are perfectly clear, and there can be no doubt of the course we must take. Failing the ravine, we’ll look round as desperate men do who are cornered, and like rats who have no chance of escape; we will make for a spot in which we can die fighting, and which will give us an ample opportunity of making the enemy pay dear for their hatred of us.”

“Yes, father,” chimed in Jim, catching his enthusiasm. “Should it turn out that we are compelled to do as you say, I have a little plan by which we could do even more harm to these warriors; for once safely in the hut, and our defenses prepared, we could set fire to the remainder of the buildings, and with a few handfuls of gunpowder, which could be easily spared, blowdown any of the surrounding walls which would be likely to offer covert to the enemy.

But the ravine is our object now, and I propose that we make our way there quietly and without undue hurry, for were we to run towards it at any great pace, we should, as likely as not, come suddenly upon one or more of the scouts who are posted in this direction. That would be worse than finding that the ravine was already occupied, for a shout would bring scores of the Somalis about us, and we should be hemmed in the open. Therefore, let us take it easy. If only we can choose a defensible site in the ravine, and finally reach the zareba, we need have little fear, for at any moment one or other of the forces about to march upon the Mullah may arrive upon the scene.”

“Put shortly and clearly, like a soldier!” exclaimed the colonel. “Lead on, my boy, for until we are out of this country you are in command. Not for one instant will I permit myself to interfere in your task. Carry it through by yourself, and thereby show your independence and your manliness. But when in a tight corner and uncertain how to act, do not fail to take counsel with those whose age and experience may prove of help, for that is the action of every astute leader.”

By now, all were sufficiently rested and had regained their breath, and therefore were in a position to take the path once more. Springing to their feet, they stood for the space of a few seconds to listen to the distant sounds which still came from the village, and to others which could be heard away in the open country towards which they were making. Then they pressed onward in single file, each one with his hand upon his weapon, his eyes peering into the darkness on every side, and his ears listening attentively for any noise which might betray the approach of an enemy.

They had not gone many yards before Jim suddenly became aware of the fact that a couple of dim figures were advancing from the opposite direction, and instantly, without venturing to utter a word of warning, he stopped abruptly, and catching his father and John Margetson by the arms, pushed them to the right until they were in the center of a clump of thorn-bushes, which grew thickly on either side.

Neither of his companions needed an explanation of such conduct, for they, too, had caught sight of the strangers, and at once, obeying their leader’s directions, crouched in the undergrowth, Jim and Margetson covering the strangers. And now as they watched, the soft call of an owl was heard, and, to the astonishment of Jim, it was repeated by the two men at whom they were looking. Again the sound broke upon the stillness, coming from a distance, and then, with the silence of ghosts, some fifteen natives filed into view, half a dozen being mounted upon ponies.

“That is evidently their signal,” whispered the colonel, “and we must be careful to remember it, for it may yet be of use to us. But—hush! They are talking.”

By now the group of warriors had halted upon the path within a few paces of the fugitives, and, little dreaming that the men they sought were so close at hand, began to discuss the situation in animated tones.

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

“We are bewildered,” said one of them, “for some minutes ago a comrade reached us from the village, telling us that the other white prisoner had escaped, and had flown beyond the river. But how can that be, for we know that the zareba away in the desert is still surrounded, and there can have been no one to help the slave? And yet this man of whom I speak reports that there is evidence that at least a hundred crossed to the village on the farther side of the water, and then went their way again in a southerly direction. The orders are that we at once return, and make ready to pursue them.”

“It is strange, indeed,” chimed in a second. “As I stood at my post, thinking that nothing would occur to disturb the silence, I heard the report of a gun, and realized that the enemy was at work again. But I, too, cannot understand how there can be men abroad to harm us. Perhaps this is a mistake, and we shall do well to pause ere we draw in our lines, for it may fall out that this is only a ruse, and that the escaping prisoner is even now making his way in this direction.”

“Hark!” cried a third at this moment. “I think the sound of a galloping horseman just now fell upon my ears. Stand still, brothers, and be silent while I signal to him. If it is not answered, we shall know that it is this infidel for whom we are waiting; and then——”


Each one of the group gave vent to a guttural exclamation, which denoted the delight he would feel should his long watch prove successful in the end. Then all waited in silence, while the man who had last spoken did as he had suggested. It was weird to hear that low cooing noise vibrating upon the midnight air, and still more wonderful to note how accurately the cry of the owl was reproduced.

Twice in succession was it sent out from the throat of the warrior, and then as they listened, hoping against hope that it would not be repeated from the stranger, the distant splash and clatter of hoofs striking upon the path and upon the springy turf at its side ceased suddenly, and a wailing cry came shrilly in response. Then once more the galloping hoofs could be heard and very soon a horseman dashed up to the party. Not till he was almost upon them, and ran the danger of riding them down, did he attempt to pull in his steed, for the Somali loves a brilliant equestrian, and rather than save pain and distress to the animal he rides, prefers to pull upon its mouth until the bit cuts into the flesh, and the poor beast is dragged upon its quarters.

“The order is reversed,” cried the horseman, flinging his reins upon the neck of his mount and springing to the ground. “Our father, the Mullah, has with his great wisdom discovered a ruse, cunningly planned by the enemy. He finds that they have not fled beyond the river, but in this direction. He commands, therefore, that you set a careful watch, and bring the captives to him by dawn. If you are not successful, he himself will come out in the daylight and lead you. Those are his orders.”

“And we will see that they are carried out at once,” cried one of the group. “Listen, comrades. It is useless for us to wait here expecting these infidels, for they would never dare to come by the path. It is in the bush that we shall find them, and in all probability nearer to the village than we are now. Let us separate from here, therefore, and ride away to right and left.”

The remainder of the natives hastily expressed their approval, and as time was of much importance, and they could not afford to indulge in delay, they at once parted with one another, and melted into the darkness as silently as they had come.

“Things look brighter for us,” said John Margetson, in a whisper, hastily interpreting all that had passed. “These men declare that it is useless watching the path along which we came, and that is a fact which will serve our purpose admirably, for, if I remember rightly, the ravine has its opening close beside a turn in the road, and it, too, should escape observation. Lead on, Jim, and let us make a run for this hiding-place.”

Springing to their feet, the trio emerged from the thorn-bushes, and taking the beaten track again, pressed on at a rapid pace, for, now that it was certain that their ruse had been discovered, it was of great importance to them to find a lair at an early moment. Otherwise, however carefully they hid themselves in the undergrowth, the search-parties would be certain to discover them at the first streak of daylight, and then their fate would be settled. Having traversed a few hundred yards, Jim, who was again leading the party, broke into a walk, and began to study carefully the left-hand edge of the road. Then he suddenly turned away on to the grass, and striding forward, halted, as the pale glimmer of water caught his eye.

“The well which lies at the entrance to the ravine,” he explained in a whisper. “We pass it by and then sweep round to the right until we are out of sight of the path. Then I shall give the signal arranged upon between Ali and myself. Follow closely, and be ready to come to a stop at any moment.”

He pressed forward, and gradually inclining towards his right till he judged that the path would no longer be visible had it been daytime, he stopped and gave vent to a low cough. Again he repeated the signal, and waited in silence for the answer. So long an interval elapsed that at last it appeared as if Ali Kumar must have been forced to leave his post, or as if he had fallen into the hands of the enemy. But just as Jim was about to repeat the signal for the third time, there was a cough close at hand, and someone seemed to start from the darkness and stand beside him.

“I am here, master, and rejoice at your return,” was said in a voice which was undoubtedly that of Ali Kumar. “Speak! Are you unhurt, and sound in wind and limb? And is one of the two who accompany you the Mullah’s white slave, the father for whose rescue you yearned?”

“I am strong and well, and my father is here, Ali. In addition, I have brought with me a second prisoner, the one whom you saw when you went to the village, and whom you took to be the colonel. But we have no time to chatter here, for the Mullah’s followers are hotly in chase. It is a relief to find that you are still in the ravine, for it shows that it has escaped the search of the enemy. Take us farther into it, and show us a spot where we can defend ourselves, for you may be sure that these Somali people will go over the road again, and hunt each corner of the land as if they were dogs.”

“We have a grand hiding-place, master,” was the answer, “though I cannot say that the ravine will escape a further search. However, there is that within these walls of earth which will aid us, should we be discovered, and from which we should be able to drive away every follower that this tyrant possesses. But, come, follow closely, and do not hesitate to hold out your hands on either side, for the path is rugged and dangerous, and in the dark it may well happen that one of you might strike his head against a rock, or tumble and break a limb.”

“Right! Push on like a good fellow! We’ll look to ourselves.”

Ali at once turned about, and pushed on into the ravine at a swift pace, which taxed the efforts of those who came after him. Striking to the right, he soon came to a part which was shrouded in even denser darkness, and then began to mount slightly, following a track which seemed to cut its way along the side of the tiny valley.

“Have a care, my masters,” he whispered suddenly, turning around when he had traversed some forty yards of this path. “At this point, our road bends abruptly to the left and comes to an end at the entrance to an ancient mine, which your servant discovered by the merest chance. It is faced outside with hewn blocks of stone, and from that point runs back for some little way, widening as it does so. Then it divides, and numerous galleries pass away into the hill, but how far I dare not say, for I would not explore one of them to save my life. The opening is close at hand, and when we reach it, I warn you to bend low, for the archway is of no great height and would injure men of your stature.”

This news was a surprise indeed, and in other circumstances would have almost taken their breath away. But the excitement of the past few hours, the numerous incidents which had been crowded into their lives whilst in the Mullah’s village, had left but little room for wonder. With scarcely a murmur, therefore, at the strange tidings which they had just heard, they demanded to be led on again, and followed the native, with only one thought in their minds—the longing to find themselves in some hiding-place, some haven in which they could take refuge, and, if necessary, defend themselves against attack.

Pressing swiftly forward, Ali Kumar swung to the left, and ere long came to a halt for the second time.

“We are here, my masters,” he said. “Take heed of my words.”

Once more he advanced into the inky darkness, Jim and his two companions following without hesitation. It was soon evident to all that they had entered some underground chamber, for each felt a rough archway of hewn stones above his head, while his surroundings suddenly became even denser and less visible. Then the pungent smell of smoldering logs fell upon their nostrils, and in the distance, they saw the faint glimmer of fire. At the same time, they noticed that camels were in the place, for the irregular outlines of two of these animals could be seen upon the floor away on the right, while, closer at hand, was a large pile of newly cut grass with which to feed them.

Striking across the large entrance-hall of the mine, Ali strode to the fire and seized a brand, then he raised it above his head, and bade his followers look about them.

“I have seen places like this elsewhere,” he remarked, “and a hunter whom I accompanied from the coast informed me that they were the work of an ancient people who lived and throve hundreds of years ago. They discovered by their wisdom that gold lay hid among the hills and rocks, and straightway set their slaves and captives to labor in the mines. But these races of which my master spoke must have died out, and become almost forgotten, though the tribes who live in Africa still have legends which tell of their existence.”

“He speaks the truth,” said Colonel Hubbard, going to the fire and helping himself to a piece of flaring timber, with which the better to inspect his surroundings. “I, too, have seen such works as these elsewhere in the continent of Africa, and so greatly has my curiosity and interest been aroused that I have explored some of the mines, and have gone to the trouble of hunting up literature upon the subject. It is currently reported, on the strength of an old legend, that Queen Sheba herself set sail from a point on the northern coast of Africa, not far removed from Berbera, and made her historic journey to the court of Solomon.

No doubt her wealth was derived from mines like these, and it is even possible that as soon as this country is opened up, others may become rich from the same source, for an expert, who accompanied me when searching the old workings of which I have spoken, assured me that many of them were still capable of producing gold. But I must not forget that we are fugitives and that even now the Mullah’s followers are hunting for us. The question arises as to whether we should remain here or push on for Jim’s zareba. I shall not venture to offer my opinion until I have heard him speak, for this is his adventure, and it is my wish that he should carry it through to the end.”

“And mine, too, colonel!” exclaimed John Margetson.

“What you say is fair and right, for our young friend has shown most admirable coolness and a ready wit. We must remember that it was he who thought of entering the country on your behalf and that he has already been the leader of a small following. To deprive him of that post at this moment would be mean indeed, and would cast a slur upon him. For myself, I have the utmost faith in his decision.”

At the words Jim flushed red with pleasure, for there was no doubt that they were said in earnest.

“It is more than kind of you both,” he began, after a short pause, during which he looked sharply about him. “As you have left this matter to me, I will settle it, if possible, but I ask you to correct me should you consider my decision unwise or unreasonable. When I consider that the surrounding country is overrun by enemies and that to venture from this curious place would mean capture, I say at once that we should be fools even to dream of quitting such a spot. Why, look at it! That low and narrow arch is just the position which four desperate men should be able to defend so long as food and drink lasted, and it is my advice that we at once make plans to keep watch at the entrance, in case of discovery. Our future actions absolutely depend upon the existence of sufficient supplies.”

“Then you may call it certain that we have flesh and water to last us for a month,” interposed Ali Kumar. “Look there, master! There we have a store of food, while yonder, in the corner of this great chamber, is a pool of clear spring water, into which a stream drains from the hillside continually, while the overflow disappears through a crevice in the floor.”

Turning suddenly upon his heel, the native shikari pointed to the two sleeping camels, and then away to one side of the entrance-hall. Looking in that direction, and by the aid of the torches, Jim and his comrades at once caught the reflection from the surface of a large pool of water, while a moment later, as they stood there listening, the gentle splash of a falling stream came to their ears.

“Good!” said Jim, in tones of pleasure. “I reckon that, if we were to slay one of the beasts, we could cut the flesh into strips, as the Boers and Red Indians do, and cure it by placing it outside in the sun, or by drying it over a smoky fire. Yes, in my opinion, that absolutely settles the question. Our game is to stick to this place through thick and thin, and resist all attacks; and meanwhile two of our number can easily be spared to explore some of these workings which I see lead from this hall. Indeed, the more I think of it, the more certain am I that Ali’s find will prove to be the very thing for us; for, supposing the Mullah and his men rush the entrance, we can still retire into one of the tunnels, and make things hot for them.”

“I fully agree with you, my boy,” said Colonel Hubbard heartily. “So long as powder and shot last, we four men—for I count you equal to ourselves in strength and pluck—should be able to keep the enemy out. Then, if things get too hot for us, we shall retire, with food, and water too, if we can carry it, into the old workings and defy the Mullah’s army.

Indeed I doubt whether one of them would have the courage to pursue us underground, for these natives are superstitious fellows, and fear all kinds of imaginary things. Had it not been for that, they or their ancestors would have quickly investigated these mines and would have turned them to account. But for generations, they have been little better than savages, and have been pleased with an existence which has been spent partly in agricultural pursuits, and partly in raids upon their neighbors. And now, how are we to defend the position?”

“I’ve an idea,” cried John Margetson, suddenly snatching the torch from the colonel’s hand and advancing to the entrance. “But, first of all, I should like to know from Ali the condition of affairs outside, for I confess that, though I have been for three years a slave to the Mullah, I have never been in this ravine. Indeed, amongst the Somalis, it is scarcely known, and I doubt whether a single one of them has ventured into it; for it is considered to be haunted, and that is quite sufficient to keep all inquisitive people away. But answer my question, Ali, like a good fellow.”

“The valley is a narrow one, and, indeed, when looked into from the hills above, is more like a deep pit with steeply sloping sides. A well stands at the opening, which is but a few yards in breadth. But, farther in, the walls give back quickly, and then slowly approach again, till a sharp angle is formed, in which this mine is situated.

In the old days, of which my master’s father has spoken, a paved road led down the center of the ravine and ascended easily to this entrance, and by that, no doubt, the slaves were wont to come to their work. But the store of water in this chamber has cut its way through the floor, and, issuing upon this stone, has, in course of time, cut a deep and wide furrow across it to its bed beyond, from which it flows to the well beside the village path. For that reason, my masters, I led you by a track which ascended the slope of the hill.”

“Then my plan should be of service to us,” said John Margetson, who had closely followed Ali’s explanation. “It seems to me that when the morning comes, and we have daylight to help us, we shall have an uninterrupted view of the whole ravine from this low-arched entrance of the mine, and shall be able to cover every foot of it with our rifles. But we must remember that these Somalis possess many firearms, and if they happen to discover us, and can get rid of their fears of the supernatural, they will lie upon the slopes about us and pour in their fire with certain aim, for the range will be a close one. Only then should we learn that to lie at the entrance would be impossible, for it would cost us our lives. Do you follow me, my friends?”

“Quite easily!” exclaimed the colonel. “Had you had the training of a soldier, you could not have seen the danger more clearly. I am waiting impatiently to hear how you propose to get over the difficulty, which, there is no doubt, is a very real one.”

“Then listen, colonel. My idea is a very simple one and had I not thought of it, you or your son would quickly have done so. Since life to us would be impossible, even though we were to lie flat upon the floor, my suggestion is that we set to work with what implements we have and dig a trench of sufficient depth just within the opening to allow us to obtain shelter. The earth which we remove can be thrown up in front so that the hole need not be more than three feet in depth.”

“It seems a splendid proposal,” cried Jim, who had been listening attentively. “I notice that the floor here is also paved with slabs of stone, but the earth beneath is soft, and quite loose, as you will see for yourself if you look at this large patch here, where the covering has been removed. That being the case, the sword which I took from the sentry who was watching over father’s prison should be sufficient to thoroughly turn it up, and the remainder of the work can be finished with our hands. If we were to set to at it now, the job would be finished by daylight, and then all would be in readiness in case of attack.”

For some little time the fugitives stood thoughtfully considering the question, and then, taking care that the torches should not be brought too close to the entrance, they went there in a body and closely inspected the ground. Thrusting the long native sword into a crevice between two of the paving-slabs, the colonel rapidly levered one of them up and lifted it out of its place. Then he put the point of the weapon upon the bare earth, and pressed firmly upon the handle, with the result that the blade sank into it easily until the hilt stopped its farther descent. A gentle tug released it, and, when it was held up to the light, they saw that it was not even stained.

“We’re in luck!” cried the colonel. “The soil beneath is composed of pure sand and can be removed with the greatest ease. Look here!”

Dropping upon his knees, he thrust his hands into the opening which he had made and drew them out filled with shining particles.

“That explains the reason for these slabs, and for the paved road outside,” he said; “for if they were not here, the movement would have become most difficult, and the slaves, as they trudged to and fro with their bags of quartz or of gold-bearing sand, would have had a weary time indeed. Let us get to work at once, for the sooner the task is finished, the better.”

Placing their weapons upon the pavement close at hand, the party at once began to tear up the square slabs of stone. They found that, when one had been removed, the rest gave little trouble, and ere many minutes had passed they had cleared a long and narrow track across the opening of the mine. Then they began to shovel out handfuls of sand and did not desist from their labor until a deep trench had been dug. And now, at Jim’s suggestion, the slabs were relaid at the bottom, while a few were used as a narrow coping on the summit of the bank which they had thrown up in front of the trench. Through this four narrow embrasures were left to accommodate the muzzles of the guns, and were cut so deeply that the weapons could be fired whilst the heads of the defenders remained completely undercover.

Two hours later the arched opening became more visible, and soon the rays of the sun were pouring down upon the land.

“I vote for a meal,” sang out the colonel cheerily. “We may as well have it now, while we are undisturbed, for we may not have the opportunity later, and besides, you remember the old tale that men fight better and more bravely when they have had all their wants satisfied.”

Nothing loth, for their exertions during the night had sharpened their appetites, the remainder of the party hastily agreed, and turned with questioning eyes towards Ali Kumar. The shikari was by no means disconcerted, and instantly crossing the entrance of the mine to where the camels lay, he returned with one of the saddle-bags, in which was stored the greater portion of the food which he and Jim had thoughtfully brought from the zareba.

The fugitives had barely done justice to the meal when a low cry from Ali alarmed them, and, looking out through their embrasures, they caught sight of a group of dusky figures standing at the mouth of the ravine. That their eyes were fixed upon the old mine-workings was evident, and soon there was little doubt that the sight had attracted their attention. They remained close together, talking and waving their arms, and then, to the consternation of the defenders, they were seen to be searching for marks upon the ground. That success was likely to attend their efforts was without question, and indeed but a little time had elapsed before one of them gave vent to a shout, and called to his comrades to join him. An instant later the party separated, scrambling like so many monkeys up the steep slopes of the tiny valley, and, when they arrived at the top, each man instantly began to wave his arms aloft, and shout the news of the discovery to all who were within hearing.

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