“Now come out to the verandah,” said Mr. Andrews, taking James by the arm as soon as tiffin was finished. “I have a couple of comfortable chairs there, in which we can lounge, for just now is the hottest part of the day, and no European ventures abroad unless compelled to by unforeseen circumstances.”

Leaving the airy dining-room, the two stepped onto a broad paved verandah, which entirely surrounded the bungalow, and took their seats in a shady nook.


Above their heads was a thickly thatched roof, the eaves of which projected so far beyond the supporting posts as to make a broad stretch of shadow beneath. But as they lay in their chairs, Jim and his new friend could easily see beneath it. For the moment they sat there in silence. Indeed, Jim was lost in admiration, for Mr. Andrews had created for himself a perfect English garden. Glancing between the pillars, about which clung roses, jasmine, and honeysuckle, and many another creeper, he looked out upon beds of brilliant flowers, laid out in orderly array, and flashing gorgeously in the rays of the Eastern sun.

“I’ve only to forget the bungalow, and imagine myself in old England again,” said Mr. Andrews. “That garden is just one of the luxuries I allow myself, and which helps to make life more pleasant here. Some day I hope to end my exile and return home, for, however fascinating bright and continuous sunshine may be, to return to one’s native country is always a pleasure to which we who live out here look forward. But here is someone coming through the gate. Ah, I see, it’s the gentleman of whom I was speaking.”

He sprang from his seat and went toward the steps to greet his visitor. As for Jim, he watched with some interest to see what kind of man this stranger should prove to be.

“I hope I shall like him,” he said to himself, “for it would be disastrous to our expedition if we were to fall foul of each other. But here he is, and—yes, he looks a good fellow, and I am sure we shall be excellent friends.”

As this passed through his mind the visitor mounted the steps, and Jim obtained a clear view of his features. He was tall and thin, with fair hair and clean-shaven face, and, as far as one could guess, was about twenty-five years of age.

“Ah, how do, Andrews?” he exclaimed cheerily, springing with one bound on to the verandah. “Glad to see you, my dear fellow. I heard that the ship had arrived, and so came along to have a chat, and to meet the Mr. Hubbard of whom you were speaking.”

“There he is, then,” cried Mr. Andrews, turning to Jim; “and he, too, is anxious to make your acquaintance.”

A moment later the two were shaking hands, each greeting the other with a steady look, which seemed to say, “I want to know what sort of a chap you are, and how we are likely to get along together.”

“Glad to meet you, and I hope we shall be good friends. My name is Dixon—Tom Dixon; Tom for short.”

“And mine is James—James Hubbard, you know,” said our hero, with a friendly smile. “Mr. Andrews tells me that you, too, are bound for Somaliland, and have suggested accompanying me. I need not say that I shall be delighted, for it would be dreary work to go alone. But I would do it if necessary, for my father’s life depends upon my going.”

“Quite so, and that is just where we shall agree,” was the ready answer; “for you must understand that I am a secret agent, an Intelligence officer, as we are often called, and——But one minute. Are we alone, Andrews? For my news is of great importance, and if your native servants were to obtain an inkling of it, the tidings would fly at once, and reach the ears of the Mullah in an incredibly short space of time. It is a fact,” he continued, noticing the look of surprise with which Jim greeted his remark. “Our dusky friend has a perfect system of espionage, which would shame that of many a European country. Tales of a coming expedition told across the dinner-table in these bungalows are whispered in the native bazaars before a day has gone, and I speak only the truth when I say that the first ship for Berbera or the Somali coast, whether it be a steamer, a native dhow, or a rascally gun-runner, bears a man whose duty it is to pass on his information to the Mullah. Why, he knows well that the British Government is now buying camels here and training and equipping a native levy at Berbera. Our camp there is full of spies, and I do not exaggerate when I tell you that the movements of our troops are known by the Mullah almost before they are by our officers. So, take my advice, and go about with your lips closed and your eyes very wide open.”

Tom Dixon spoke in the most earnest manner, and lifted his finger, as if thereby to impress Jim with his warning. And, indeed, he was making no erroneous statement, and telling only the truth when he described the extraordinary manner in which news is conveyed into the heart of Somaliland.

“Make your mind easy, Tom,” said Mr. Andrews, reassuringly, stepping across the verandah to look into the dining-room. “The servants are all on the other side of the bungalow, and out of earshot, so that you may speak here without fear of the consequences, and chat this matter over to your heart’s content. But your warning is a timely one, and, indeed, has only forestalled by a few minutes the advice I was about to give our young friend. Ever since this matter cropped up, I have kept it a dead secret between myself and the British Governor, you, of course, being also included. I have gone so far as to set aside a certain number of camels of the trotting and of the transport variety, and have also engaged some fifty followers. They were despatched from here a month ago for the service of the Government. But this is a more urgent matter, and, with the Governor’s permission, I have arranged that you shall have them. When you arrive at Berbera, you will find them all encamped outside the town. Ali Kumar, a shikari of noted reputation, and a trustworthy fellow, will be there to head the followers and guide you through the country, while some twenty miles along the coast is a village in which lives the man who gave information about the survivor of the wreck. I have purposely refrained from engaging him in any capacity, but my agent at Berbera has seen him, and has informed him that a relative of the survivor will come to speak with him. That means reward, or ‘backsheesh,’ as these Somali fellows know it, and you may be sure that he will not fail you.”

“Splendid!” exclaimed Jim. “Then, thanks to your kindness and forethought, there will be little or no delay, and, so far as I can see, the weapons and ammunition which are coming from England are the only things that can keep us waiting, and my uncle promised that they should be here within a few days of my arrival. What luck, too, to have got hold of Ali Kumar, for he is the very man I was told to engage.”

“I know him well, and can tell you that he is a capital fellow,” answered Mr. Andrews. “But to continue my story. All these preparations have been made in the quietest and most secret manner possible. Once you and Tom arrive at Berbera, you have only to ride out to this camp. Then, when night falls, you can slip away and march along the coast. There is a headland, forty miles east of Berbera, where you had better camp for a few days, keeping a bright look-out for a certain native dhow, which will bring you your rifles, ammunition, and stores. By acting in this way, you will be able to leave the coast for the interior without anyone being aware of your intentions—at least, I hope you may. Tom and I have talked the matter over, for he is as anxious as you to get away without the news reaching the Mullah’s ears.”

“Just so,” interposed Tom. “You see, Hubbard, your search will carry you into the very heart of the Mullah’s country, and as I am anxious to obtain full information of his doings, I, too, am bound in that direction. If he had the slightest notion of our intentions, you may be sure that he would do his utmost to murder the whole lot of us, and so it is of great importance to keep him in ignorance. This is your expedition, but I propose that we share expenses, and the command also, if you like. You see, I have spent many years on the coast, and speak the language like a native—a useful accomplishment for the job we have in hand. But I’m not a bit of a soldier, and when it comes to fighting I shall have to look to you to pull us through. Nominally, you will be in charge of the expedition, but I think that by putting our heads together we shall get along with greater success.”

“I quite agree with you,” responded Jim, thoughtfully; “the fact that you speak the language will be of the greatest service, and as this expedition is to suit your purpose as well as mine, I feel sure that we shall not fall out when difficulties arise. But there is one thing I wish to say. I must not have my movements hampered in any way, for it may turn out that news of my father will reach us as soon as we get into the interior. Perhaps, even, we may have the good fortune to rescue him at once, and in that case, my mission being ended, I should return to the coast immediately.”

“And I should not attempt to dissuade you,” said Tom Dixon, with a smile. “If by that time I had not obtained information of the utmost value, it would be my own fault entirely; and besides, supposing you were to rescue your father, I think there is but little doubt that we should find it necessary to retire at once—in fact, to make a bolt for our lives, for the Mullah has a reputation for fierceness, and would not easily forgive our boldness.

“But I have something else to tell you, which may cause you to prick up your ears. It has come to my knowledge that a rascal here is about to ship a load of guns across to Somaliland. Would you care to join me in an attempt to capture him? It would be a risky business, I tell you candidly, but if we are successful, it would be a glorious adventure. You need not be afraid that it will delay us, for my plan is to ship aboard as a hand, and wait until close to the African coast. Then matters must depend upon circumstances. I shall endeavor to give warning to one of the British gunboats stationed in these waters, and in that case should allow myself to be taken prisoner without saying a word. But it is just possible that I may be unable to ascertain the exact destination for which we are bound, and in that case should have to take my chance of capturing the dhow single-handed, or of looking on quietly while the guns were handed over to the Mullah’s emissaries. If you were with me, we could make a grand fight of it, for these dhows seldom have more than four men aboard. Sometimes, of course, they carry a bigger crew, and if it were to turn out like that, we should have to alter our plans.”

“But how am I to be smuggled aboard?” asked Jim, eagerly, delighted at the thought of such an adventure. “I don’t speak the language, and should certainly be spotted the very moment I set foot upon the vessel.”

“I don’t think so,” responded Tom Dixon, emphatically. “The natives in these parts do all sorts of curious things, and it has just struck me that, by pretending that you have made a vow, you can get over this difficulty. We’ll give it out that we come from some Somali tribe which is friendly to the Mullah, and that we are willing to lend a hand in loading and unloading the dhow in return for our passage. I shall say that you have sworn never to speak until you have made a pilgrimage to Mecca. That is no uncommon vow, and amongst these fanatical people will raise you to their highest estimation.”

“It sounds a likely story,” cried Jim, “and I’ll come with you. When do you propose to start? And when are we likely to arrive on the Somali coast?”

“That I cannot say, but I believe the dhow will sail within a couple of days, and two more should take us across the water. Then much depends upon how matters turn out.”

“It’s a risky business,” said Mr. Andrews, who had listened attentively all the while. “But I won’t try to dissuade you, Hubbard, for the danger is no greater than you will encounter in Somaliland, and I think the experience you will get will help you in your search. It may turn out that by going upon this dhow you will come across a native who knows of your father. In that case the risk will not have been taken for nothing, for you can rely upon it that Tom will worm his secrets out. Our friend is a thorough native, and I only tell you the bare truth when I say that his get-up and behaviour are marvellous. You see, his father was stationed here for many years, and Tom has made the most of his opportunities.”

“That is so,” said Tom. “I used to be awfully fond of dressing up as a native and going down to the bazaar. Once or twice my disguise was discovered, and if I hadn’t taken to my heels, I should have come in for some rough handling. But that is a very old tale, and I have played the trick so often now that, when in native costume, I feel and act the part with assurance. Indeed, I often forget that I am an Englishman, so absorbed do I become, and many and many a time have I come from the bazaars primed with a piece of information that has proved of service to our Governor. And it is on that account that I have been employed as an Intelligence officer. But you’ll come, then, Hubbard? That is splendid, for, with you to help me, I shall hope to bag these fellows. I propose that you remain here till this evening, and then, when the servants have retired after dinner, walk down the garden to the gate. I’ll be there to meet you, and together we’ll go to my place. Mr. Andrews will look after your things here, and will send them over in the ship he spoke of.”

Tom Dixon now rose, and, after chatting for a few moments with his friends, departed. For more than an hour Jim and Mr. Andrews sat on the verandah, talking in low tones, for there were many points to be arranged. Then Jim went to his room, and wrote a long letter to his uncle, telling him all that was about to occur, and describing the preparations which Mr. Andrews had made for his expedition.

“And now, as weapons will be required, I’ll look to my revolvers,” he said to himself. “I am very glad that I spent the time on board ship practising, for until then I had never fired anything but a toy pistol. Now, however, I can feel fairly sure of putting a bullet into a man at ten yards’ range, and, as they are heavy revolvers, that should be quite enough to stop him. I have heard that these natives are very hardy, and will stand far more knocking about than the average individual, but I’ve a notion that if I were to hit the hardiest of them plump with one of these big bullets he would not require any more.”

Unpacking his revolvers, he set to work to clean and thoroughly overhaul them. Then wrapping them in a towel, together with a small box of ammunition, he placed them in one of his trunks until it was time to join Tom Dixon. Then he set to work to look through his possessions, and so absorbed did he become in the occupation that he did not notice the time slipping by, and, when dinner was announced, could scarcely believe that it was already evening.

An hour later, having said good-bye to Mr. Andrews, he left the bungalow, with his bundle under his arm. When he emerged from the gate of the compound, he was joined by Tom Dixon.

“That you?” asked Tom, in a low voice.

“Yes; here I am,” answered Jim.

“Then come along, old chap. We had better walk along silently, for I know these natives well, and caution in such matters pays. For instance, it’s quite likely that someone is following you, just to see where you are going. The natives are the most curious people under the sun, and will take no end of trouble over a little matter like this. But we’ll soon see. Come down here.”

Catching Jim by the sleeve, Tom Dixon suddenly drew him into the deep shadow of a palm which grew close at hand, and whispered to him to crouch low upon the ground. Ten minutes later their caution was rewarded, for a dusky figure crept silently past them, and disappeared in the darkness.

“We’ll give him five minutes to get well away,” said Tom, “and then we’ll move off in the opposite direction, and get to my place by a different route. I dare say all this secrecy seems unnecessary to you, but you’ve heard my warning.”

“It does seem strange,” Jim agreed, in a whisper. “Coming from old England, where everything is so free and open, one is at first at a loss to understand the need for all this secrecy; but after what you have told me, I can fully believe that our plans might easily be ruined, unless we kept them to ourselves. That fellow creeping after us just now is an object-lesson which I shall not easily forget.”

When sufficient time had elapsed to make it certain that there was no fear of detection, the two rose to their feet again, and leaving the shadow of the tree, went off in the opposite direction. In some twenty minutes’ time they arrived at the outskirts of the town of Aden, and, pausing to make sure that they were unobserved, entered a narrow doorway, which led to the interior of a native house.

“Ten paces to your front, and then stop,” whispered Tom. “Now follow me closely, and take care that the door does not bang in your face.”

There was the creak of rusty hinges, and the snap of a lock being pushed back. Then, guided by Tom’s hand, Jim found himself descending a flight of rickety stairs, which groaned beneath his weight, and threatened to deposit him with more swiftness than was quite agreeable in the room below. A minute later a match flickered before his eyes, and he saw Tom applying it to a candle, which quickly burned up and allowed him to take note of his surroundings. To his astonishment he found himself in a comfortably-furnished room, with a tiny bed in one corner. There was a washhand-stand against the wall, and a couple of basket-chairs, while a big chest stood beneath a tiny window, which admitted light and air to the room during the day, but which was now curtained with thick material.

“Not exactly a model dwelling, or the kind of place that a European would choose for his residence in this hot climate,” said Tom, with a laugh, “but it has the great advantage of obscurity. This is really part of a disused building, and it was whilst consorting with a gang of rogues, whose secrets I was endeavouring to ascertain, that I accidentally discovered it. I at once saw that it was the very place for me, and promptly set about putting it in order. You see, I am supposed to be a kind of clerk to the Governor, though my duties in that way are purely nominal. As a matter of fact, I turn up every now and again with bundles of papers in my hand, and have an audience with my chief. But the official-looking documents are a fraud, and my conversation has no reference to them. But to return to this room. I’ve the share of a bungalow elsewhere, and when about to undertake one of my spying adventures, I slip away from there during the night, for all the world like a thief, and find my way to this place. That chest is full of disguises, stains, and paints, and it takes but little more than an hour to transform myself into a worthy Parsee, a race of men engaged in trade in Aden. More often I leave this place as a simple coolie, and at times I have appeared in more disreputable attire, such as is worn by the budmashes, or criminal class of the town. Look here!”

Taking the candle with him, he went across the room to where the chest stood, and slipped in a key. Throwing open the lid, he disclosed a neatly packed interior, with a shallow tray at one end, which contained a number of wigs and hirsute adornments for the face.

“My stock-in-trade,” said Tom, with some degree of pride. “It has taken me a long time to collect them, and so important do I consider the question of wigs, that I’ve gone to enormous trouble to provide myself with all those you see. After all, clothes are easily purchased. One has merely to go into the bazaars, and one will easily find every variety of garb worn by the natives in these parts. With the hair it is a different matter, and to obtain exactly what I wanted I have been compelled to make every one of those little articles myself, for the slightest mistake in get-up would lead to discovery, and most likely to death. But take a seat, and let us decide how we are going to act.”

Throwing himself upon the bed, Tom motioned Jim to one of the chairs, and then lay at full length, his hands behind his head, and his eyes fixed upon a patch of dingy light thrown by the flickering candle upon the ceiling above. As for Jim, he sat back in his chair, lost in wonderment. Indeed, when he came to think the matter over, he could scarcely believe that less than three weeks had passed since the first news of the wreck had reached his ears. Then he was just a schoolboy, on the threshold of life, with no higher aim than to go up for his examination, and win a commission in the Army. In the meanwhile, no worry troubled his mind, and all his spare hours were taken up in an endeavor to excel in games, for he was passionately fond of exercise in any form. And now, in a moment it seemed, he had been transported into a different life—into a different world indeed. Who could have dreamt that those few short days would have made such a difference to him, would have brought him all those miles across the sea, to face dangers and difficulties the extent of which he could scarcely conceive!

“And here I am, a regular conspirator,” he said to himself, looking about the room, “and bound upon an adventure which, from all I can gather, will afford considerable excitement. But I’ve thought the matter out carefully, and believe that I am justified in entering upon it, for, who knows but that it may turn out an advantage in the end! If these gun-runners are in league with the Mullah, it stands to reason that they know something of his movements, and as white prisoners are seldom or never taken, the fact that the survivor of the wreck fell into his hands will have reached their ears. Perhaps, too, they are even aware of father’s exact whereabouts, and if only Tom can worm the secret out of them, we shall be saved enormous trouble, and very likely a large proportion of risk; for, in that case, we should march into the interior as rapidly as possible, choosing night for our movements, and hiding up amongst the sand-dunes and hills during the day. Then, when we got within striking distance, we should mount our trotting camels, and make a dash for the place. If we were successful, I should abandon the transport animals and our baggage, so as to enable us to retire to the coast at all speed.

“But that is hoping for too much,” he continued. “This business is going to be no ordinary affair, and before we are successful we shall be compelled to face no end of difficulties. But all the better, if in the end we are able to carry out our purpose.”

For quite five minutes Jim sat there silently, lost in thought, while Tom lay upon the bed, still staring at the dingy ceiling, as if, indeed, he could see there a plan which would be likely to prove of service when endeavouring to capture the dhow.

“I can see my way quite easily,” he said aloud, as if addressing himself to no one in particular. “At first, of course, I shall have to find out where the dhow lies, but an hour or two spent in the bazaar will soon set the matter at rest. That done, we shall have to obtain a passage aboard her, but there again I fancy things will be easily arranged. I’ll get into casual conversation with some fellow who seems to know the destination of the craft, and I’ll drop, as if by accident, a few words which will let him know that I am a friend of the Mullah. These natives are well aware of the risk they incur in these gun-running expeditions, and I’ve no doubt that hands are difficult to obtain. If that is the case, they will jump at our services, and we shall soon find ourselves installed upon the dhow. After that the outlook is uncertain.”

“Bound to be!” exclaimed Jim, emphatically. “That’s just where the risk comes in. But it would be a fine thing to hold them up, and to capture the vessel and its contents.”

“By George, it would! You’re right, Jim, and we will do it,” cried Tom enthusiastically, swinging himself into a sitting position. “Look here, I’ve been going over all the points, and I’ve come to the conclusion that our best plan will be to do as I have just said. Just you lie down there and have a snooze, while I get into the proper togs and go out to the bazaar. Then we shall be able to start for the dhow to-morrow morning, without delay.”

“I’d like to come, too, if it could be arranged,” said Jim eagerly. “You see, I have to get used to the dress of a native, and shall feel far more sure of myself if my first attempt is made while it is dark.”

“Then come along. Just hop out of your things as quickly as you can, while I do the same. Then we’ll apply the stain to our bodies, and dress ourselves in the robes usually worn by natives from the interior of Somaliland.”

Both at once proceeded to undress, and that done, Tom dived to the bottom of the chest, and produced a carefully stoppered jar, and a big brush, composed of the silkiest hair. With this he at once proceeded to paint Jim from head to foot, and when that operation was concluded, the latter took the brush and did the same for his companion. Another dive into the chest produced an earthen pot. This contained a dark, oily liquid, which was freely applied to the hair and eyebrows.

“Hum! Doesn’t smell over-pleasant,” remarked Jim, with a grimace. “It has a most peculiarly pungent odour.”

“Oh, you’ll get used to it in time,” was the laughing rejoinder. “But I can assure you that it is very necessary, and quite typical of the Somali people. There are your sandals. Slip your toes into the tags, and walk across the floor. No, not that way, but like this, shuffling along.”

Slipping a pair on to his own feet, Tom strode swiftly up and down the room, imitating a native, and would not be satisfied until Jim was able to do precisely the same.

“Now watch me put on this head-gear,” he said, taking a long fold of snowy linen, and beginning to wrap it about his temples. He then produced a light belt of webbing, to which two holsters were made fast, and proceeded to buckle it about his waist, tossing a second to Jim for his own use. A minute or two later he had wound a long cloak of linen about his body, contriving, however, to leave one arm and half his breast bare, while his legs were visible from the knee downwards. Then revolvers were placed in the holsters, a small pouch filled with ammunition, and a long and spiteful dagger thrust through the belt, and arranged so that the handle just peeped out through the clothing. A second and shorter weapon was attached to the inside of the left arm, and thus equipped, Tom placed himself before a wide strip of looking-glass which was nailed against the wall, and having put the candle in position, so that its light fell full upon him, began to survey himself critically.

It was evident that he was satisfied, for he smiled at his own image, displaying a set of teeth which looked particularly white, now that his features were stained.

“And now for you,” he said. “I want you to dress yourself from head to foot just as I have done, for, remember, you may have to do so before the natives, and if you bungled, then you would certainly be discovered.”

Twenty minutes later the candle was extinguished, and the two crept up the creaking staircase and went out. Then, with long, shuffling strides, which carried them quickly over the ground, they made their way towards the native bazaar.

“Remember your rôle,” whispered Tom, as they approached the line of squalid huts and booths which formed the native market. “Not a sound is to escape your lips. If you are addressed, make no answer, but turn away angrily, waving your arm. Should the man persist, turn upon him, but beware that you do not touch your weapons, for to do so would be fatal. Of course, if you are discovered, you must make a fight of it; but we’ll hope that it is not coming to that.”

Walking side by side, the two were soon in the midst of the bazaar, and Jim was interested to see how these Eastern people behaved. Lights twinkled in the various booths, and dusky natives were gathered in knots here and there. Some sat silently, but the majority were conversing in the most excited and voluble manner. Indeed, they might very well have been engaged in a squabble, so exaggerated were their movements. Suddenly, on turning a corner, the two adventurers came upon a circle of men squatting about a brazier, and singing a weird song to the accompaniment of a tom-tom. As they came into the firelight, one of the natives caught sight of them, and called loudly to them.

“Come hither and join us, brothers,” he shouted. “Here we shall make room for you.”

He shuffled to one side, those who were close at hand doing the same, until a sufficiently wide gap was left in the circle.

“Come on,” whispered Tom; and straightway, shouting his pleasure, he went towards the place, Jim following closely upon his heels. To hesitate would have been to arouse instant suspicion, and therefore, watching closely to see how his comrade acted, our hero joined the circle and squatted in native fashion. It was a trying ordeal for a lad who had but recently left school, and though he fought against the feeling of excitement, almost of fear, which assailed him, he was nevertheless well aware that his heart was beating like a sledge-hammer against his ribs, and that his pulses were throbbing almost painfully. But he was not the lad to show the white feather, and remembering his determination to go through with the adventure, he sat stolidly, staring into the glowing brazier.

“A song, brother! Allah has willed it that you should join us this night, and we would hear your voice,” shouted one of the group, stretching out a lanky arm and touching Jim upon the knee.

There was no answer, and, to the astonishment of all the natives gathered there, the stranger who had been bidden to join them as a guest still kept his eyes fixed upon the brazier. That he had heard they were certain, for an involuntary turn of the head had betrayed that fact. At once shouts of anger arose, and the man who had spoken sprang to his feet.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.