OFF TO ADEN
Jim Hubbard was a young gentleman of decidedly prepossessing appearance. Broad of shoulder, and particularly well set up for a lad of a little more than seventeen summers, he looked for all that far too young to have such troubles thrown upon his shoulders, to be called thus early in his life to face a difficulty which might well prove too great for a man of mature years and experience. But just as the colonel was endowed with the pluck and perseverance which had enabled him to live through that wild night in the Gulf of Aden, so also was his son gifted with a spirit and tenacity that helped him now to make up his mind to face any danger and difficulty in accomplishing the task he had set himself.
“It is clearly my duty,” he said, as he trudged along from the London terminus of the railway to his uncle’s residence in Kensington, “to see this matter through to the end. I have spent hours and hours thinking about it, and have always come to the same conclusion. Until this doubt is absolutely settled, I can never rest, and never be sure that my father is not living. I will show him and all those who are interested in him that I am no fair-weather friend, and that I am prepared to stick to him and to his cause until the further search is useless. I cannot imagine anyone placed in similar circumstances coming to any other determination, and if I were to hesitate now and allow imaginary dangers to frighten me, I should be a coward at heart, and unfit to bear my father’s name. I’ll put the facts before Uncle George, and I’m sure he will do his utmost to help me. Ah, there is his house opposite.”
Crossing the street, James mounted the steps of a handsome dwelling and pulled the bell vigorously. A moment later the door was thrown open by a footman, who had scarcely taken possession of his bag and ushered him into the hall before a short, stout old gentleman, with grey whiskers and hair and a florid countenance, bustled forward to greet him. Mr. George Hubbard was, in fact, some ten years the colonel’s senior, and was of decidedly comfortable appearance. Indeed, whereas his younger brother had led an active life, going hither and thither to all parts of the world, wherever the duties of a soldier called him, George could scarcely boast that he had ever left the shores of old England.
“I’m a regular stay-at-home, and never feel better, nor more contented, than when I am engaged in my business in London,” he had often said, with no small amount of satisfaction and pride. “I confess that a soldier’s life never had any attraction for me, though, like all civilians, I can and do admire the man who goes out to face death at the call of his country.”
As he advanced towards Jim with outstretched hand, his fat, good-humored face showed the concern he felt for his young nephew.
“My dear, dear boy, welcome!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know what to say to you, or how to help you in this distressing affair. Both your aunt and I have done nothing but talk the matter over, and have, indeed, spent sleepless nights in endeavoring to come to some conclusion, but without success. It is the most cruel, the most unhappy misfortune that I have ever experienced. But come upstairs. Your aunt would never forgive me if I kept her waiting.”
Wiping the moisture from his forehead, and coughing as though the effort of speaking had been almost too much for him, George Hubbard turned and led the way upstairs. Jim followed him closely, and a minute later was in his aunt’s presence. Then sitting down, the three discussed the matter fully, Jim telling his relatives to what decision he had come.
“You know the facts as well as I do, uncle,” he said, “and I am going to ask you to do all you can to help me, and not to try and thwart me. I know how hopeless my mission must seem to you, and that many would think I was undertaking a wild-goose chase. But, as I told the headmaster at school, I feel sure that the man cast up upon the African coast was my father, and if that is the case, he surely needs my help. I have been thinking the matter over as I came up on the train, and bought a map especially to help me. By it I see that my best course will be to take a steamer direct to Aden, and from there I shall be able to get a trader to Berbera.
Meanwhile, I shall telegraph to the News Agency which supplied the information sent me this morning and will endeavor to arrange that the man who saw this survivor of the wreck land upon the coast and afterwards fall into the hands of the Mullah’s Somali warriors, shall be in waiting to receive me. Then, with him as a guide, I shall make my way to the actual point where the incident happened, and from there we shall turn our faces inland. It may happen that I shall be able to join some shooting expedition, for one reads occasionally in the papers that English gentlemen take caravans into that part of Africa for the purpose of big-game shooting. If not, I shall endeavor to hire a few followers and take up the search alone. I know it sounds a big thing to attempt, uncle; but wouldn’t you do the same in a similar case?”
George Hubbard gasped. He was a man of peace, and though well-read and thoroughly sensible, he had, nevertheless, an exaggerated idea of the wildness and dangers to be met within Africa. Nor could he be blamed for that, for weeks past the papers had been filled with accounts of Somaliland, and of the doings of the Mullah. And now to sit there in a comfortable armchair before his open hearth, and hear his young nephew calmly propose to sail for Africa, and make his way into the very heart of the Somali country, was quite enough to make a man of his disposition do more than gasp. He sat forward in his chair staring at Jim with a horrified expression on his face, and with eyes which threatened to fall out of his head.
“Go to Africa! March into the interior, and probably meet the Mullah face to face!” he exclaimed, mopping his forehead with his handkerchief. “Good gracious, you will be killed, you will lose your life to a certainty!”
“I may, uncle,” responded Jim, calmly. “On the other hand, there is a possibility of my succeeding, for many men have made their way into Somaliland and returned to tell the tale. Think of the joy it would be to rescue father.”
“But it is madness, Jim! Because one single white man out of some two or three hundred who left England on that unlucky ship contrived to reach the shore alive, you fly to the conclusion that it must have been my poor brother. It is utter folly to argue in this way, though I cannot help but admire the brave thought which prompts you. Still, I am a matter-of-fact man, and I say, without hesitation, that the dangers are too great, and the end too uncertain, to justify your taking the risks. However, no efforts and no money shall be spared to obtain further information, and should it turn out, as I trust and hope it may, that this survivor is indeed my brother, then you shall go. Indeed, so deeply do I feel his loss, that I am tempted to say that I, too, would join you in the search. But that would be foolish, considering what I am, and how utterly unfitted for such exertions.”
He rose from his seat, and turning, stood facing Jim, with a comical look of despair upon his features. For some minutes there was silence, and then, just as he was about to begin a long and telling argument, with the object of dissuading Jim from an attempt which, to his uncle, appeared worse than madness, a knock sounded on the door, and a footman entered.
“A telegram, sir,” he said.
With an agile spring, which was wonderful considering his unwieldy proportions, George Hubbard left his position by the fire, and darted across the room. Taking the telegram from the footman, he tore it open, and then began to read it aloud, while Jim and his aunt jumped to their feet and looked over his shoulder.
“From the News Agency!” he cried excitedly. “I gave them instructions to spare no expense in obtaining information, and here is the result.”
“Read it!” exclaimed Jim and his aunt, impatiently. “What does it say?”
“Listen!” answered Mr. Hubbard, holding the paper so that the light should fall upon it. “‘In accordance with your instructions, we have questioned native who gave information. He states that surviving white man was tall, with dark hair, getting grey at temples, grey moustache, and muscular body. Not quite certain, owing to distance, but thinks he caught a glimpse of a bangle about his wrist. If not that, it was a piece of cloth tied there, perhaps to cover a wound.'”
“That is father!” shouted Jim, unable to restrain his excitement. “I am certain it is he, for the description tallies exactly with his appearance, and, moreover, he was in the habit of wearing a watch bracelet upon his wrist.”
“Tall, dark hair getting grey, and grey moustache,” repeated Mr. Hubbard, as if to assure himself that he had read the telegram aright. “There can be no doubt that this is my brother. I quite agree with you, Jim, for, though it is possible, and even very probable, that many men aboard the ship would have answered to that description, the fact that the survivor wore a dark bracelet upon his wrist is, in my opinion, an absolute confirmation. I am glad, my boy—more than glad. Indeed, I cannot tell you how much this good news rejoices my heart.”
Turning to his nephew, he grasped his hand and shook it till the lad’s fingers ached, patting him meanwhile upon the shoulder with his other hand.
“Yes, delighted; pleased beyond measure,” he continued earnestly. “Now you may rely upon the fact that your uncle is wholly on your side.”
As for Mrs. Hubbard, she had a tender heart, and gently pushing her husband aside, threw herself into Jim’s arms with tears of joy in her eyes.
“You deserve the good news, my dear boy,” she said, kissing him affectionately. “It went to my heart to see your silent grief, and how bravely you had determined to clear up this uncertainty. It was horrible to feel that your father might be dead, and still more trying to hear that there was just a possibility that he was still alive, a captive in the hands of this man they call the Mullah. The uncertainty was more than I could bear, and I feel sure that, had I been a man, I should have followed the same course, and gone to Africa, so as to set the matter for ever at rest.”
“And now let us discuss the question,” interposed Mr. Hubbard, pacing restlessly up and down the room. “There must be no delay in setting out to rescue my brother, and as we in England can do little, seeing that we are so far from Somaliland, I advise that you at once take ship for Aden. It happens that my firm have business relations with a man living there. He exports camels to that part of Africa ruled over by the Italians, and gathers in his warehouses every description of merchandise which comes from the interior of the country. If anyone can help you he is the man.
Now, let me see, a ship will leave the London Docks for the Mediterranean and Egypt tomorrow evening; we will telephone at once to obtain a berth for you. That done, we will set about getting you a kit, for it is absolutely necessary that you should go well provided, and in that respect the utmost attention must be paid to weapons. That reminds me, a gentleman of my acquaintance who has visited Africa for purposes of sport happens to live close at hand. We will go in and see him at once, for it is more than likely that he will be able to give us valuable advice.”
It was wonderful to see the energy displayed by Mr. Hubbard. Now that there was no doubt that it was his brother who had survived the wreck, he was like a schoolboy in his eagerness to set about his rescue, and took the matter up in a manner which showed that he was determined to do as much for the cause in his own way as was his nephew. Hastening from the room, he and Jim quickly donned their coats and hats, and hurried to the nearest telephone station. As it was late in the evening, the instrument was disengaged, and within five minutes a passage was booked upon a steamer that was to leave England the following evening. Jim and his uncle now hailed a cab and were quickly transported to the residence of the gentleman of whom the latter had spoken.
“Glad to be of service, I’m sure,” he said when Mr. Hubbard had explained the reason for his coming. “Indeed, had it been possible, I should willingly have undertaken to accompany your nephew, in which case my experience of life in Northern Africa would have been of some help to him. Aden is certainly his first point of call, and as you already have an agent there, the difficulty of obtaining a passage over to Berbera, and of getting together the necessary followers and camels for transport purposes, will be easily overcome. I strongly advise him to engage a ‘shikari,’ or head hunting-man, to accompany him and take charge of the natives; and if he applies at the British Consul’s at Berbera, it is possible that he will be able to obtain the services of a man called Ali Kumar, a civilized Somali warrior, who accompanied me on an expedition two years ago, and who proved invaluable.
Now as to kit. A couple of suits of rough cloth, with leather gaiters and good marching boots, will be the best. A felt hat would be worse than useless as a head-covering out there, for in the hot season the sun pours down with a fierceness that cannot be imagined and can only be fully understood when actually experienced. Three or four water-tanks, so constructed as to be capable of being easily slung upon camels, should be procured, for this gentleman known as the ‘Mad’ Mullah has his happy hunting-grounds some two hundred miles inland, and to reach him it is necessary first to cross a range of hills, and then to face the Hoad, or waterless desert, which stretches for quite a hundred and fifty miles without a break. That is always a most trying ordeal, but you will have to face it, for, until the Hoad is passed, there will be no prospect of obtaining more than the most meager news of your father.”
“That will, indeed, be a terrible difficulty,” interposed Mr. Hubbard. “One often hears of whole caravans lost in the attempt to cross these waterless tracts, and I suppose, in the case of this one which you call the Hoad, such a fatality is not unknown.”
“I will not say that accidents have not happened,” was the answer, in reassuring tones; “but so well is this desert known, and so accustomed are the natives to crossing it, that they think lightly of its dangers. But your raising the question reminds me to speak of animals. A good supply of transport camels will be required, and, in addition, a dozen or more of the trotting variety will be absolutely necessary. Then, supposing our young friend happens to obtain some piece of important news, he will be able to leave his caravan and make a dash to any given point. Horses, too, he must have, and he will find no difficulty in getting as many as he requires. A small case of drugs is another item that should prove of use, and I strongly advise him to take some rolls of strong barbed wire. The additional weight that will have to be carried will be fully compensated for by the feeling of security that the wire will give.”
“But how? I do not follow your point,” said Mr. Hubbard dubiously. “I do not see how this wire will help my nephew.”
“Then I will explain. He will march in the early morning, and if the sun is not too hot, will continue to do so for the greater part of the day. Sometimes he will cover only a few miles, and will then halt, for his powers of getting about the country will depend greatly upon the condition of his transport animals. Again, he will occasionally have to make forced marches, for the water-holes are often separated by long distances, which it is absolutely necessary to cover.
“But to come to the barbed wire. When he halts at night, he will form a zareba, sending out his followers to cut thorn-bushes with which to build a hedge. A few posts driven into the ground at intervals along the outside of the zareba, with wire stretched between them, will effectually stop a rush of the enemy, and will give timely warning in case of attack. In South Africa miles and miles were used between the blockhouses, and proved of great service.”
“I see your point,” exclaimed Jim, who had followed his words closely, “and I should imagine that if the posts and wires were hidden amongst the thorns, the surprise and alarm of the enemy would be even greater. Numbers might easily become entangled, and then we should be able to teach them a lesson with our rifles.”
“Quite so. I fully agree with you,” was the answer. “And, speaking of weapons, reminds me that I have not yet dealt with that subject.”
For a few moments, the speaker buried his face in his hands, and sat there thoughtfully.
“There is no doubt,” he suddenly continued, “that this is a most important matter. I take it that you are not bent upon big game shooting, and that if you come upon lions or elephants you will leave them severely alone. For your purpose the Lee-Enfield rifle will be the best, and should it turn out, as it very well may, that you are attacked by the beasts I have mentioned, then you must trust to slay them by means of a volley, for it is hopeless to expect that a single one of these small-caliber bullets will prove fatal. If it were to strike a vital spot it certainly would, but that is a piece of luck which you must not count upon, for, remember, you cannot afford to take unnecessary risks. So you should equip your party with the rifles I have mentioned, and, in addition, a hunting knife and a brace of good revolvers would be useful possessions for yourself. A pair of field-glasses and a tin water-bottle should complete your equipment. I need hardly mention the advisability of carrying an abundant supply of ammunition.
“And now, my lad, it only remains for me to wish you the best of luck. I admire your pluck immensely, but I shall give you a few last words of advice. Be always cautious, never omit to post sentries at night and visit them yourself, and, above all, be ever on the lookout for treachery. The Somali natives have the reputation of being cunning rogues. Plunder seems to be their sole object in life, and camels have a peculiar attraction for them. They would think nothing of killing you, if by doing so they could obtain possession of your transport animals.”
Thanking him heartily for his kindness, and exchanging a cordial shake of the hand, Jim and his uncle left their friend, and returned home at once.
“We shall have to be busy tomorrow,” said Mr. Hubbard, as they took their seats once more in front of the fire. “In the first place, we must get your clothing and revolvers, with a few strong trunks in which to carry them. The rifles and any other items we may happen to think of can be purchased during the week, and I shall see that they follow you out to Aden. You will want to have means of drawing money, and for that purpose I shall write full instructions to our agent. His name, by the way, is Andrews, and you will find him an extremely obliging gentleman. I shall tell him to supply you with anything you may ask for, and I may say now that, though I do not desire that you should be extravagant, no expense that may help to the recovery of my dear brother shall be spared. And now to bed, my dear Jim, for tomorrow you have much to do.”
Early on the following morning, Mr. Hubbard’s house in Kensington was astir. There was an air of subdued excitement about the servants, who in some mysterious way had contrived to hear full details of all that was occurring. Mrs. Hubbard took her place at the breakfast-table, assuming as cheerful a look as she could, though her heart was full of misgivings for the safety of her nephew. But she was wise enough to know that he needed encouragement and help, and therefore determined that he should not guess what her thoughts were. As for Jim, he appeared with a smiling countenance, for now that he felt sure that his father had really escaped the wreck, he was quite light-hearted, and though fully aware of the difficulties and dangers before him, was prepared to face them without hesitation.
“I know it’s going to be a job,” he had said to himself, as he lay awake during the night, “and I must be prepared to spend months, and even a year, in accomplishing it. But it has to be done, and if only I make up my mind from the beginning that nothing shall beat me, then my chances of success will be good.”
Breakfast over, he said good-bye to his aunt, and then, entering a cab with his uncle, drove off to a firm in the city, from whom he was able to obtain a complete outfit of clothing. Trunks were bought at the same place, and directions given to have them packed at once.
“We’ll call for them in an hour,” said Mr. Hubbard, “and I shall be obliged if you will arrange to have everything ready for us, so that there shall be no delay.”
Entering their cab again, they drove to a gunsmith’s, where a couple of big Webley revolvers were purchased, together with a strong hunting knife contained in a sheath, which was so arranged as to be slung in a belt. A small case of drugs in tabloid form was obtained at another establishment, and then, armed with their purchases, James and his uncle returned for the clothing.
Within five minutes the luggage was on the cab, and they were on their way to Fenchurch-street Station. An hour later James was safely installed in his cabin, and shortly afterwards took leave of his uncle.
“You may rely upon my sending the other things promptly,” said Mr. Hubbard, as he moved towards the gangway. “They should reach you within a week of your arrival in Aden, and so that there shall be no difficulty about importing the arms, or about transhipping them to Africa, you had better go to the Governor at Aden, and tell him all the facts. I will visit the Foreign Office in London, and I am sure that every effort will be made to help you. Good-bye, and may you be successful.”
That afternoon the steamer put out into the river, and by night was well at sea. Running down Channel, she made a good passage to Ushant, and was soon in the Bay of Biscay, which, to the delight of all the passengers, was comparatively smooth.
Jim was enchanted with this new experience, and before very long began to feel quite at home. Indeed, so quickly are friendships made upon an ocean-going steamer, that within a day or two he felt as though he had known all the passengers for quite a lengthy period.
After coasting along the Portuguese shore, the ship steered to the east and entered the Mediterranean. Gibraltar was sighted, and signals exchanged, so as to let the folks at home know that a safe passage had thus far been made.
A week later they were in the canal, and in due time reached Aden. Here Jim’s baggage was put ashore, and he himself followed, feeling somewhat forlorn amongst so many strangers.
“Mr. Hubbard, I think?” said a cheery voice at his elbow, causing him to turn round with a start, to find that a short, bearded man, with a pleasant face, was addressing him. He was clad in white from head to foot, and wore an enormous “topee,” or pith helmet, upon his head. “I am making no mistake, I think?” he continued. “I am Mr. Andrews.”
In a moment they were shaking hands, and then Jim’s new friend called loudly to some Indian porters, and gave them instructions concerning the baggage.
“Everything here is done by natives from India,” he said, noticing a look of inquiry on Jim’s face. “In fact, Aden is, officially, part of our Eastern possessions, and boasts of no other coin than the rupee. But I will tell you all about that later. We’ll drive to my place now. Hi! gharri!”
At his shout an open carriage, drawn by two “tats,” as the small native ponies are known, dashed up to them, and when they were seated drove off along the main street of Aden at a pace which in London would have been considered furious. Leaving the town, they took another road which led to the right, into a part occupied by many bungalows, and at one of these, they finally alighted.
“Aden itself is a horrible place,” said Mr. Andrews, apologetically, waving his hand towards the town. “It is, as you see, little more than a wide volcanic plain, with nothing in the way of vegetation to relieve its barrenness. Out here, however, we have contrived to arrange a little oasis, in which we Europeans live. But come in, Mr. Hubbard, and I’ll show you the room you are to occupy while staying with me. Then we’ll have tiffin (luncheon), and afterwards we’ll sit on the verandah and talk this matter over. I believe I’ve excellent news for you, which you shall hear in good time.”
“About father? Does it concern him?” asked Jim, eagerly, pricking up his ears at the mention of news, for he had been without any for more than a week. “Perhaps he has been rescued? But that is expecting too much.”
“No, it’s not that,” was the answer, in reassuring tones; “but it’s remarkably good news, I can tell you, for I have ascertained that a certain gentleman is bound upon a similar expedition, or rather, is about to go into the Mullah’s country for the purpose of obtaining intelligence of his movements. Hearing that you also contemplated penetrating into the interior, he asks leave to accompany you, and I have no doubt you will be delighted to take him.”
“I shall, indeed,” answered Jim, eagerly. “I was quite prepared to undertake the journey alone, but a companion will make all the difference, and I willingly agree to his joining my expedition.”
“Then, that’s settled; and now for tiffin.”
Leading the way through a wide compound, laid out like an English garden, Mr. Andrews mounted the steps of a shady verandah, and entering a doorway in front of which hung a curtain of reeds, ushered his companion into a delightfully cool inner room, in which, on a table placed in the center, was spread a snowy white cloth, littered with sparkling glass and silver. Silent-footed natives salaamed and prepared to wait upon them, and at once the two sat down and began their meal.
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