There was no doubt that the hiding-place of the fugitives was now discovered, and that they must prepare to defend their position and their lives; for, knowing the character of the Mullah, they could not hope to escape from the attack. Sooner or later, and as quickly as they could overcome their fears of the spot, the fierce followers would advance into the ravine and pour their bullets into the entrance to the mine. Indeed, in view of the fanatical hatred in which they held the infidels, it was more than probable that they would gather together in a body and throw themselves with the utmost ferocity upon the fugitives. But we must leave the little party for a few moments and once more fly to the coast and see how the preparations for invasion were progressing.

The reader will recollect how a force had collected at Berbera, and, following in the wake of Jim’s expedition, had marched across the lowlands and reached the highlands by the very pass in which the latter had so severely defeated the tribesmen. The rendezvous of the British troops had been Bohotle, which had already been strongly reinforced, and filled with supplies calculated to last at least six months.


As a strategic base, this was the very best that the country offered in these parts, for it was practically on the fringe of the Hoad, and guarded the wells at which the last store of water could be obtained. From that point onwards a march of at least six days must be contemplated, across a waterless desert, before the invading force could reach the Mudug pasture lands in which the Mullah had made his home.

From the farther fringe of the desert, two days at most would be occupied in marching upon the Mullah’s stronghold, and after that much depended upon circumstances. If the enemy stood and faced the troops boldly, as he had boasted he would, there was every hope that short work would be made of his army, and that the same fate would befall him as had happened to the Khalifa in the Soudan.

On the other hand, he or his men might suddenly become fearful of this small band marching against him, and might fly into the interior. If that were to happen, much would depend upon whether the force which had already set out from Obbia, and that which had left the Abyssinian frontier, were able to cut off his retreat and compel him to come to action. For the moment, no one could tell how the affair would turn out, but the troops at Bohotle were in the finest spirits, and confident of success.

Making little of the privations before them, therefore, they welcomed the notes of the bugle which sounded the reveillé on the morning selected for the advance, and fell into their ranks with faces which showed their enthusiasm. Had their leader but known the precarious position of Jim’s zareba, and the fact that our hero himself, together with three friends, was at that moment awaiting the attack of the Mullah’s whole force, he would have pushed on with even greater haste, for his men were fit and ready for any exertions. But though he was aware of the marching of a small expedition into the interior, and knew what its object was, he had received no tidings of the fortune or misfortune which had befallen it, and therefore, in accordance with the arrangements which he had so carefully drawn out, he did not venture to begin his march across the Hoad before the date which had been agreed upon.

Now, however, the time for action had arrived, and with a feeling of enthusiasm which was not less than that displayed by his officers and men, he gave the order to march, and, having seen the advance guard leave the camp, sat there upon his pony in the glare of the morning sun, watching critically as each battalion and each portion of the transport corps passed him. Then waving a farewell to the unlucky ones who were to remain behind to garrison Bohotle, and who gave him a ringing cheer in return, he set his beast into a canter, and in due time took his post at the head of his men.

The expedition which had been gathering at Obbia and elsewhere on the Abyssinian frontier had also set out on the date agreed upon, and were even then pushing forward as rapidly as possible in the hope of coming to close quarters with the Mullah.

With this knowledge, let us return to the fugitives in the mine. Seated upon the edge of their trench, with their faces glued to the embrasures which perforated the low bank of sand in front of them, our hero and his comrades had kept their eyes intently fixed upon the Somali scouts, and had seen, with a thrill of excitement, that these men had already guessed their whereabouts.

“They are signalling to the others,” said Jim with an effort to keep his voice steady. “I suppose we must soon expect to have a large force attacking us.”

“That just depends upon how long it takes for the news to spread,” remarked the colonel, his calmness quite unruffled by the sudden excitement. “Unless those fellows who are waving and shouting from the top of the hill can be seen a long distance away, it seems to me that it may be many hours before the others are informed of our discovery, and consequently no serious attack will be made upon us for the present.”

“The deduction is a good one, but, unfortunately, the facts are not precise,” interposed John Margetson, in tones which showed that the turn events had taken had not been without its effect upon him. “I am quite an old resident in this country, you must remember, and I shall tell you one of the many things which I have learnt. It is the power these natives have of transmitting news to one another across long distances. Those beggars whom you see up there, apparently waving their arms in a reckless manner, are, nevertheless, fully alert and quite aware of what they are doing.

Just as we in the Navy use semaphores to convey our news to distant vessels, so do these Somali fellows roughly send their messages to one another by means of their arms. Look at that chap up there! He is standing alone on the summit of the hill, so that his figure is against the sky-line, while his comrades are taking care to keep well away from him, so that those who are looking on at a distance shall not be confused. You may take it from me that there is another native, a mile or more away, upon a second hill, and still another elsewhere. By their means the order to concentrate at this ravine will flash across the country, and the swift ponies which these Somalis possess will quickly bring them to the spot.”

“Then we must make up our minds for an early fight,” said Jim calmly; “and, so far as I can see, we are fully prepared, and have no need to do more than sit where we are, awaiting developments. We’ve fed, and feel contented. For my part, having so recently had a brush with the native tribesmen, I feel confident that our chances are good, and that, so long as our ammunition lasts, we can defy these people.”

“That’s just the way to take it, my boy,” sang out Colonel Hubbard cheerily. “Recklessness in a soldier is, as a general rule, inexcusable, for he should take good care to count the odds. But I freely admit that the forlorn hope has on many occasions gained us a victory, though it is not advisable. But there is nothing like going into an engagement with full belief in yourself, for then you have every determination to be successful. As to the power these beggars have of signaling, it is an interesting piece of information and one of which I was quite unaware. But the news does not absolutely astound me, for I have met with a similar thing elsewhere.

For instance, look at the Kaffirs, who inhabit a land in which we have been so recently fighting. They have some extraordinary means of conveying tidings to one another. Indeed, the result of large engagements, and even of small skirmishes, was known by these people a hundred and more miles away long before our telegraphists had been able to send it over the wires. But we must not occupy our attention with these matters at the present moment, for there is no doubt that we are in for a struggle. I therefore propose that we inspect arms at once.”

Acting on this suggestion, all the available weapons were brought forward and their merits discussed. Then the ammunition was carefully counted out and put in a convenient spot. It was found that the party owned two modern rifles which Jim and Ali Kumar had brought with them from the zareba, and for which a large store of cartridges was available. Then there was the muzzle-loading gun which John Margetson had thoughtfully carried away from the store-hut, together with a quantity of powder and a bag of slugs, while in his belt he still retained the revolver which Jim had handed to him. As for the colonel, his son had presented him with the second revolver, so that each one of the party was fully armed, while there was one firearm over in case of accidents. In addition, they possessed the long double-handled native sword, in case of attack at close quarters.

“It seems to me that we are excellently provided,” remarked Jim, when the inspection was completed. “If we are careful not to throw away a shot, our ammunition should last for a considerable time. The bag of slugs will be the first to require replenishing, and in that case I should imagine a few chips from one of these stone slabs would answer the purpose just as well. But—I say—look at those fellows!”

The group of Somali warriors, who had been standing upon the hill-top signaling to their friends, had become greatly enlarged, and within a very short space of time some two hundred men were stationed there, staring down into the ravine, and looking with suspicion at the entrance to the mine. But as yet not one had dared to enter the haunted valley, though they did not hesitate to crowd together at the opening, as if in the act of doing so.

An hour later their numbers had increased to quite double, while a movement amongst them showed that some leader was expected. That it should prove to be the Mullah himself was not wonderful, for he had promised to help his followers to capture the runaways. His charger was soon seen upon the skyline, while a figure stood with the reins hooked over his arm, listening to the words of his scouts.

“Now something will happen,” said the colonel calmly. “That rogue will find some means by which to quiet his followers’ fears, though I doubt whether he will dare to lead them in person. See! He is haranguing them, and to show that there is no danger to be apprehended, he is descending into the valley alone. By Jove! With those rifles, we could knock him over to a certainty.

But fair play’s a jewel, and for myself, I confess that I don’t care to fire at a man unless I know that he is about to do the same to me; it’s too much like murder to sight a weapon for a native clambering down the slope of a hill and pull the trigger on him. All the same, the prejudice is a silly one, for were we to drop him in his tracks, the chances are that his followers would decamp, and in that case the expeditions which are about to march into the country would find that they had little work to do. Look at the ruffian!”

Clambering down the steep slope of the hill, it was not long before the Mullah had gained the centre of the ravine, where he stood for some few moments, observing the paved road which traversed it. Then he turned to his followers, and called loudly to them to come and join him.

“Slide down, and have no fear!” he shouted in reassuring tones. “The story that this place is haunted is an old woman’s tale, made only to frighten the children. But you are brave men, and there are your enemies, the infidel dogs, who have had the insolence to come hither. By Allah! I swear to you that no harm shall befall you, and I call upon you once more to join me, and then to rush with all your fury upon the mine.”

For a short space of time it was clear that his followers hesitated, but on the Mullah’s repeating his assurances, they began to descend one by one, and then came sliding and running down in a body. Very soon they were collected together in the centre of the ravine, and at a shout from their leader they advanced towards the mine.

“Now, Jim,” whispered the colonel, “we’re in your hands, for you are the senior officer at present.”

“Then hold your fire till I give the word,” was the calm response, “and then you can blaze into them for all you are worth.”

Standing on the stone pavement at the bottom of their trench, each of the defenders carefully adjusted his weapon, Jim and Ali taking care to throw open the catch of their magazines, while John Margetson placed the spare revolver close at hand, so that, when his gun was discharged, he would still have something to fall back upon. Then, in absolute silence, and without allowing any portion of their figures to be observed, they waited with fast-beating hearts for the attack of the enemy. It came even sooner than they had expected, for, spurred on by the Mullah’s words of encouragement, and by their own fanatical hatred of the infidel, the mass of Somali warriors came bounding towards the mine, those on the outer edge crushing towards the centre in their desire to take a part in the battle. As a result, they became closely jammed together, and arrived at the arched entrance in this formation.

“Fire!” cried Jim, when they were only a few yards away.

Instantly the guns of the defenders rang out and poured a perfect hail of missiles into the enemy. At such a close range it was impossible to miss one’s aim, and therefore the losses sustained by the Somalis were very great. Indeed, so unexpected was the volley, and so disconcerted were they at the fall of their comrades, that all at once stopped their mad rush at the mine, and stood there aghast at the slaughter, and hesitating how to act.

The breathing-space thus afforded was taken full advantage of by Jim and his friends, for, instantly reloading, they sent a second volley into the attackers. Its effect was excellent, for, finding that more of their fellow-warriors were falling and that as yet not one of them had caught sight of the enemy, the Somalis gave vent to a howl of dismay, and retreated at the top of their speed. Nor did they pause until they had clambered from the ravine to the top of the slope outside.

“That will make them think twice about the matter,” said the colonel, with a chuckle. “And just look at their leader! He took particular care not to join in the attack, and was the very first to scramble away to a safe distance. However, a humbug, such as he is, will soon stir up the tribesmen again by reminding them that we are few in numbers, and that the score against us is a heavy one. Then, no doubt, we can expect a second attack, and, if I know their wily commander at all, he will adopt different tactics.”

How true the prophecy of the colonel was destined to be was soon found out, for, after retiring out of sight for a short period, the Somalis again appeared on the surrounding heights. Then they dropped silently into the ravine, and, lying down in the long grass at the foot of the hills, began to pour a hot fire into the mine. Soon, indeed, the air was alive with their slugs and bullets, which came whistling in through the opening. But, thanks to the trench which John Margetson had suggested, the defenders ran no danger of being hit, but sat down at the bottom, placidly listening to the uproar. For half an hour the fusillade continued without cessation, and, indeed, at the end of that time, became even louder and fiercer.

“It sounds as though they had been strongly reinforced,” remarked Jim, whose coolness had never for a moment deserted him. “I’ll just take a look through one of our peep-holes and see what is happening, for it would never do to make the sudden discovery that they were rushing upon us again.”

Accordingly, taking every precaution not to expose himself to the bullets, he cautiously raised an eye to one of the embrasures, and closely inspected the ravine. He found that what he had thought had just occurred, for even then scores of men were climbing over the hill-tops, to slide at once into the valley beneath. Down below a large force of Somalis was gathered, and these, it was easy to perceive, were filled with excitement, and eager for the attack. They were shouting to one another, and brandishing their weapons.

“We can expect a second rush in a few moments,” said Jim, sinking into the trench again; “there are scores of the enemy, and it seems to me that we shall be wise if we at once take steps to arrange for a retreat. I cannot think that our four weapons will be sufficient to keep them out. No doubt we shall kill a number of them, but all are in such desperate earnest that those who survive will come on, in spite of their losses, and once they get to close quarters with us, we shall be done for. I suggest, therefore, that a couple of us go and investigate those passages, while the others keep watch here. Then, as soon as the advance begins, a shout will bring us together again.”

“A good soldier should always arrange for an orderly retirement,” remarked the colonel thoughtfully, “for it is not always wise to burn your boats behind you, or destroy your bridges. I must confess that in this case we shall be wise to do as my son suggests, for it will help us to fight the harder if we possess the knowledge that retreat is possible. At the same time, I am quite sure that we are men enough to stand to our guns to the very last, and, in spite of a means of retirement, to stick to our position so long as it is tenable.”

“Hear, hear!” sang out John Margetson, who, as the danger increased, seemed to become more cheerful. “Both of you have made most excellent proposals, and, as they do not need seconding, I shall show my approval by at once volunteering to form one of the exploring party.”

“Then Jim had better go with you, my friend. I will remain here with Ali, and when you hear a shout, come back to us as fast as you can.”

The question having thus been settled, and it being evident that there was no time for delay, the two who had been selected for the enterprise left their weapons on the edge of the sandbank, and, crawling from the trench, crept to the left, where they were quickly out of the range of the bullets. Then they sprang to their feet and ran to the fire, which still smouldered, and, snatching a couple of the largest brands, stepped towards the many openings which ran from the entrance-hall into the workings of the mine.

“Which one?” asked John Margetson, holding his torch aloft. “All are of exactly the same size and appearance so that it is difficult to make a choice.”

“Then I vote for the central arch,” cried Jim. “Come along.”

Darting across the intervening space, which was swept by a cloud of bullets, they plunged into the dark opening, and then, with firebrands held well in front of them, advanced at as rapid a pace as possible. They found themselves in a tunnel, which was of sufficient height to allow them to stand easily. A glance on either side showed them that the walls were composed of bare rock, or of sandstone, while the roof was supported at short intervals by buttresses of stone on either hand, and by a girder of the same material stretched from summit to summit.

Like the hall and the ravine outside, the floor was paved with square blocks, but in parts, these had caved in, and the recesses were filled with dark pools of water. Elsewhere falls of the roof and of the sides had taken place, and obstructed the passage, but in no place did it close it completely. Indeed, in view of the fact that hundreds of years had probably passed since the workings had been constructed, their condition was marvelous, and reflected the greatest credit upon those who had slaved at their construction.

But Jim and his comrade had little time for observing all these points, for they were conscious that their pressing needs would admit of no delay. Avoiding, therefore, the depressions and crevices in the floor, and clambering over the mounds formed by fallen rocks and débris from the roof above, they pushed on at a pace which brought them many a bruise from projecting obstacles. But they never seemed to heed them, and, scrambling along, had quickly traversed some two hundred yards of the tunnel. At this point they came to a crossway, where a passage ran to right and left.

“I should think that our best plan will be to take the direct road,” said Jim, coming to a halt. “However, we will just see where these two tunnels lead to. You take that on the right, John, while I go to the left. If after walking some twenty yards you find nothing extraordinary, return at once, and meet me here.”

Without discussing the question further, they separated at once. When they met again in the space of a couple of minutes, each reported that the crossway opened into a parallel tunnel a few yards away, and into still another farther on.

“Then it looks as though the openings from the entrance-hall ran on into the hill, diverging slightly, and connected at this point by a cross-cut. Evidently, our path lies right ahead.”

“You’ve hit the right nail this time, without a doubt,” answered John Margetson. “Forward is the word.”

When they had advanced some two or three hundred yards farther, the explorers suddenly came to a spot where the workings converged, and here they found a chamber which was larger even than that at the entrance. From it again there were many exits, into which they dared not venture. However, they had already gone far enough to learn that, should the enemy prove too strong for them, they had a way of retreat which would enable them to elude pursuit for some time.

“I doubt even whether these Somali beggars would dare to follow us as far as this,” said John Margetson; “and if they do, I think we can guarantee that they shall be thoroughly scared. But I am firmly of belief that by pushing on we should come to an exit on the other side of this enormous hill, for the air here is perfectly pure and good, which is wonderful, when you come to consider the age of these workings. It looks, in fact, as though there was a perfect system of ventilation, a precaution which the ancients were too wise to neglect. Hullo! That was a shout.”

At that moment a loud cry reached their ears, the sound, indeed, seeming to be collected together and enlarged by the solid walls of the mine. There was no doubt that it came from the two defenders who were watching the Mullah’s followers, and at once Jim and his companion took to their heels, and raced back at their fastest pace. Arrived at the entrance-hall, they flung their brands into the fire and darted across the floor to the trench, in which they at once took their places.

“You have returned in the nick of time,” remarked the colonel, in unruffled tones, “for those fellows outside are on the point of attacking. You can hear for yourself that the firing has ceased. But tell me, what luck have you had?”

“Splendid, father. We’ve explored the central tunnel, and find that it runs on for a considerable distance before coming to a meeting-place in the center of the hill, from which a second series of workings emerge. If we have to fly, there will be plenty of room in which to play hide-and-seek, and always a chance of turning upon our followers and punishing them.”

“Then we put the command in your hands as before, my boy, and leave it to you to give the word to retire. But, remember, all of you, that ammunition is valuable, and that you must not forget to carry every cartridge away with you.”

His last words were interrupted by a perfect babel of sounds which came from the ravine, and each of the defenders at once sprang to his position, and, looking through the embrasure, saw that the enemy had begun to advance. This time they had taken the precaution to observe some order, and collecting together into a long, tongue-like band, came rushing up the central road towards the entrance of the mine.

As before, Jim waited calmly until they were within easy range, and then gave the word to fire. Immediately a volley flashed from the sandbank, and a number of the natives fell. Then the defenders emptied their magazines into the closely packed ranks, and set to work with all haste to load again. For the second time they repeated the process, causing great loss to the enemy. But, in spite of that fact, the latter still rushed forward with marvelous pluck, and with loud shouts. Leaping over the bodies of the fallen, shrieking with pain, and tumbling headlong to the ground in their haste, they struggled fiercely to get at the infidels.

Arriving at the deep cutting which the stream had made through the pathway, the foremost leapt it successfully; but those behind were not able to see it till right upon its edge, and, pushed by those who followed them, fell into the abyss with wild shrieks. Soon some thirty of them had met with this fate, and the gulley was full to overflowing. But their comrades never paused, never even hesitated, but, roused to fury by the loss of their friends, and by the stinging hail of bullets which still swept amongst them, came on with fierce determination, and in such huge numbers that it quickly became clear that there was no stopping them.

“Give them a last volley!” shouted Jim, raising his voice above the din. “Now, all together, and afterwards let us bolt.”

Waiting till all were prepared, the four defenders rapidly emptied their magazines into the enemy, until the barrels of their weapons were so hot that they blistered their fingers. Then snatching up the piles of ammunition which they had placed close at hand, they scrambled from the trench, and, running swiftly across the entrance-hall, dived into the central tunnel, for all the world like rabbits taking to their burrows.

“Halt!” cried Jim sharply, at this moment. “Without a torch we shall be lost. Wait here till I get one.”

Returning, he ran to the fire, and quickly secured four flaming brands, then he rejoined his comrades, noticing as he was about to enter the workings that the cries of the attackers had suddenly ceased and that they had all come to a halt outside the mine, as if too fearful to enter it. But scarcely had the fugitives traversed more than a hundred yards of the tunnel, when loud shouts and cries again rent the air, and being magnified by the enclosing walls, came echoing and reverberating into the working.

Indeed, the natives had at last overcome their superstitious terrors, and, rendered desperate by the baffling tactics of the infidels, had flowed into the entrance hall till it was packed with humanity. Then a second pause ensued, for the passages which led on into the hill looked dark and forbidding. However, a leader was forthcoming, who, imitating Jim’s example, snatched at one of the fiery brands, and, having peered into each one of the tunnels in succession, finally waved to his comrades to divide and search all of them.

Meanwhile, the fugitives had sped on without a pause, and very soon arrived at the large chamber, which seemed to be the heart of the workings. And here they halted to listen for sounds of the pursuers.

“It is perfectly clear,” said the colonel, seating himself to regain his breath, “that these fellows have overcome their fears, and are in hot chase. It occurs to me at the same time that the movement we have made was a most excellent one, for the very fact that there are so many channels leading into the hill will cause the Somalis to divide up into parties. Then in the darkness they will lose one another, and in that way will fall easy victims to our rifles, if they happen to come up with us. My advice is that we sit here for a little while, and then take matters more easily, for we shall require all our powers later. Perhaps we shall find an exit, and in that case we shall be obliged to travel fast to the zareba.”

Accordingly, the party crossed to the other side of the chamber, and entered the tunnel which stood opposite to that from which they had just emerged. Then lowering their torches, so that the flames could not be easily observed, they sat down to await events. Presently they became aware that some, at least, of the natives were close at hand, and prepared to push on, or repel the pursuers, as circumstances should dictate.

But there was no need for interference on their part, for as they peered into the depths of the chamber, the glowing end of a firebrand suddenly appeared, the feeble light enabling them to perceive that five men only accompanied the bearer. They were on the point of leveling their rifles at these intruders when there was a shout from one of the side tunnels, and before the onlookers could realize what was about to happen, a second party of Somalis rushed into the open space, and mistaking the first for the flying infidels, threw themselves with spear and sword upon them.

“I almost expected a catastrophe of that sort,” whispered the colonel; “and it is very probable that it may occur elsewhere, for our pursuers are too angry to be cautious. I think we may safely leave them to themselves and push on now deeper into the mine.”

Acting upon this advice, the party stole silently away into the darkness, leaving the Somali warriors struggling desperately with one another. A trudge of nearly half a mile brought them to a point which seemed to be the farthest limit of the mine, for here galleries ran in every direction, and a glance at the rough surfaces of the walls showed that the workings had been deserted in a hurry, and not because gold was no longer to be found. Indeed, had it been possible, the three Englishmen would have gladly stayed to investigate the matter, for there were numerous interesting relics scattered about. But to delay then might have brought disaster to the party, and, therefore, they at once began to search for an exit.

“I feel sure we are not far from the open air,” cried Jim, suddenly coming to a stop in the centre of a wide space, from which the tiny galleries cut into the hill. “Come here, and you will feel quite a draught blowing upon your heads, and——By Jove! Look at my torch!”

He held the brand above his head, and as he did so the dull red end began to glow brightly, and then, fanned by an invisible stream of air which played upon it, it burst into a brilliant flame, which effectually lit up the surroundings.

“A grand find, my boy!” shouted the colonel, for the first time showing some trace of excitement. “By the aid of that flaring brand we shall find our way to liberty. Push on, and when you see the light die down, you will know at once that we are moving in the wrong direction.”

Jim needed no further encouragement, but, with his rifle grasped in one hand, strode forward, keeping his eye fixed upon the torch. And all the while he could feel the cold air blowing upon his face as it rushed into the workings through the ventilating shaft. Soon he came to a large square orifice, and entering it without hesitation, he went on till almost stopped by the pressure of the atmosphere. Following him closely, his companions were struck with wonder at the draught and watched in amazement as their torches kindled even brighter and sent long flames to the roof above.

“It is almost beyond belief,” murmured John Margetson, breaking in upon the silence, “and I cannot realize how it is that the ventilation of the mine is managed. In a coal-pit, there would be an up-cast and a down-cast shaft, with some arrangement at the former to cause the air to rush in that direction. But here we have come across nothing of the sort.”

“It would take a week to discover the cause,” answered the colonel, “but I have been through similar mines, and have come to the conclusion that the people who constructed them were most capable engineers. Hullo! What’s that?”

As he spoke, the party came to an abrupt halt, and gave vent to cries of delight, for away ahead of them was a square patch of light, the goal for which they had been aiming.

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