Barely half an hour had passed from the time when the sail was unloosed, and the dhow cast off her moorings, before one of the crew knelt upon the deck, and, thrusting his head through the hatchway, shouted to Jim and his companion to come out of the hold.

“Now for it,” whispered Tom. “Keep cool, and be perfectly unconcerned. If there is trouble, do not hesitate for an instant, but draw your revolvers and shoot. You’ve only got to look at those fellows’ faces to see that we have to deal with desperate men, who would kill us if they had the slightest doubts of our good faith. Ready?”


“Quite,” answered Jim with a calmness that surprised himself.

“Then up we go.”

Rising to their feet, and bending low, for the cargo of guns left little space in which to move, they crept towards the hatchway, and in due time emerged upon the deck, blinking as the dazzling rays of the noonday sun fell upon their eyes. When they had accustomed themselves to the strong light, they became aware that three of the crew confronted them, while the fourth stood at the tiller, keeping the vessel to her course. Right astern, a dim blue line showed the position of Aden, while ahead, and on either hand, nothing but blue ocean could be seen. Not a sail was in sight, though Jim strained his eyes in every direction, and not a streak of cloud in the sky could, by the wildest flight of imagination, be interpreted as the smoke from the funnel of the gunboat. But at this moment one of the natives addressed him.

“You and your comrade can lie upon the deck for a while,” he said, “but you must be ready at any moment to give us a help. Keep a keen look-out in all directions, and if you see a sail, shout so that I shall know. If we are pursued we must fly, and may Allah send a breeze to aid us. If not, we will fight, and in that we are told that you can help us.”

“We hear what you say,” answered Tom hurriedly, anxious to explain his companion’s silence. “Take no notice of my friend, for, as those who sent us here may have told you, he is, for the time being, both deaf and dumb. Do not speak to him, I beg of you, for he will not answer, and will stand, as he does now, refusing to comprehend your words. If you have orders to give, I will hand them on to him by signs. As for fighting, what is that to us? In our country we are ever at war, and should be miserable without it. Make your mind easy, therefore, for we shall strike hard when the moment of danger arrives.”

Apparently, his words satisfied the natives, for they turned away, and walked towards the steersman. Tom at once grasped Jim by the arm, and pointing to the deck, strode across to the bulwark, and threw himself down there for an instant. Then he rose to his feet again, and placing a hand above his eyes, so as to shield them from the sun, stared long and anxiously across the sea. Again he threw himself upon the deck and repeated the process, but this time with a different result, for, apparently, he caught sight of some distant object, and giving vent to a shout, ran to communicate his news to the crew. Indeed, so realistic was his acting that they, too, imagined he had seen something of interest, and at once came crowding to the bulwarks, and stared eagerly across the water in the vain endeavor to discover some object between themselves and the horizon.

“Where?” shouted the man who had addressed Jim, and who seemed to be the master. “Where?” he repeated anxiously. “I can see no sail, though it is possible that one is hidden in the haze yonder. Hold out your arm so that I may follow the direction.”

There was no doubt from the manner in which he spoke, and from the anxiety displayed by the remainder of the crew, that the prospect of discovery had filled them with alarm. They were conscious that they were engaged upon an unlawful expedition, and though that did not trouble them much, the thought of what would follow if they were captured set them trembling.

“Ah, what is that?” shouted one of their number. “I can see something which has the appearance of a bird, but which may well be a sail. If so, we are safe, for the Government would follow us in a steamship, if at all.”

“It is nothing,” replied Tom calmly, with difficulty keeping his features straight. “I saw nothing to alarm me, but was merely explaining to my comrade the duties he was to carry out. See, it is evident that he understands.”

“Is that so?” was the grumbling reply. “By the manner in which you gave the alarm, I thought you had sighted a suspicious sail, and my heart leapt into my mouth at your shout. But it is well that there is nothing in it. Go to your places now, and do not forget to keep constant watch.”

For a minute he stood by the bulwark, while Jim and his companion went forward and threw themselves upon the deck. Then he retired to the stern of the vessel, and sat down in the shade cast by the enormous sail.

For three hours the dhow kept steadily on her course, and then Jim, who lay upon the starboard side, suddenly caught sight of a speck of white coming from the opposite direction. Keeping his eyes fixed upon it, he noticed that it increased rapidly in size, and soon there was no doubt that it was another vessel. Giving a low cough to attract Tom’s attention, he pointed towards the object, and then sprang to his feet. Walking along the deck, he approached the group at the farther end, and laid his hand upon the shoulder of the master, shaking him as he did so, for he had fallen asleep.

In a moment all were on their feet, and staring across the sea.

“It is a large dhow,” said the man who commanded the crew, “and she is sweeping down in our direction. What do you think she is?”

“It is too early to say,” answered one of the men, “but she is not a trader—of that I am sure—nor does she belong to the Government. It is possible that she comes from some African port, but until she is closer I cannot be certain. This I can say, she is larger than any dhow plying between Aden and the opposite coast, and therefore we shall do well to keep her at a distance.”

For a few minutes the natives held a heated conversation, and a sharp order was given to alter the course. When that was done, and the dhow was holding along in a southerly direction, the crew gathered in the bows and stood there, gazing anxiously at the distant vessel. Cries of alarm escaped their lips when they noticed that her head came round, and that she, too, had altered her course so as to intercept them.

“She sails faster than we do!” exclaimed the master, with an oath. “We cannot hope to escape her, and therefore I advise that we resume our course, and make ready for an encounter, though it is more than likely that she will prove to be a friend. And if not that—well, we must prepare to sell our lives dearly. But I cannot believe that we have anything to fear, for none but peaceful traders sail upon this sea.”

“That is so,” agreed one of the crew. “But I have heard that, at times, piratical craft sail from the coast of Africa, and swoop down upon the traders. If that dhow is bent upon such an expedition, we are lost, for her owners care no more for the Mullah than they do for other people.”

The news filled his companions with dismay. In a half-hearted manner they produced a number of guns from the hold, and proceeded to load them. Then they placed swords beside the bulwark, and motioned to Jim and Tom to select a couple.

“There is trouble before us, and we must fight for our lives,” said the master, brightening up a little. “If you do not wish to be killed, you must join us, and help in the struggle.”

“We shall do so gladly, if there is need,” answered Tom. “But let us hope that the stranger will turn out to be a friend.”

“I wish I could think the same,” the master replied with a shake of his head. “It is more than likely that she is a pirate. But now we must separate. You and your friend go forward into the bows. I shall station two of my men in the center of the dhow, while I and the fourth go aft. Then we shall be prepared at all points, and wherever they attempt to board us, we shall have men at hand to beat them back.”

“If I were you I should order everyone to lie down,” said Tom, thoughtfully. “At the distance they are from us now they cannot have ascertained how many we have on board, and will naturally keep away until they are certain. If they are bent on capturing us, and open fire when within range, we can all creep to the center and give them a volley. Then we’ll hasten to the bows, and fire from that quarter. You have plenty of guns, so that you have only to load a number, and pile them at various points along the deck, in readiness for our volleys. If we are quick, and take good care to keep well below the bulwarks, we ought to confuse them, and make them think that we have plenty of men.”

“It is a good plan,” the native answered. “I shall see that the guns are brought up at once, and the men warned. That ship will sail close up to us, expecting us to fall an easy prey. But we’ll astonish them with our bullets, and will set them wondering, for it is unusual for a peaceful trader, as we are supposed to be, to carry any firearms. Go forward now, and explain to your comrade.”

Tom at once ran to the bows, where Jim was reclining on the deck, watching the oncoming ship, and throwing himself down beside him, began to make signs to him, keeping a watch all the time, however, upon the other members of the crew.

“Ah, they’ve gone below for the guns,” he said at last, “and there is only the man at the helm to be feared, and he is engaged in watching this pirate, or whatever she may be. Listen, Jim. We’re in for a struggle, for that ship is an enemy, and is probably filled with negro cut-throats. I have advised the master of our ship to make a fight for it, but I doubt if he or his men have the necessary courage. What are we to do if that is the case?”

“It is hard to say, Tom. If the dhow over there carries a big crew, resistance would be madness, in my opinion. Better to give in and fraternize with them, if they will allow us, trusting to get away from them at some future date. That’s the best advice I can give. But if you think we have any chance, I’m ready and willing to stand by you.”

“I know that, old boy,” answered Tom warmly; “but though I have advised resistance, I doubt whether it will be attempted. We’ll just wait, and see how things go. This stranger may turn out, after all, to be a friend.”

Whatever hopes they might have had as to the peaceful nature of the approaching dhow, they were quickly disappointed, for she was coming up rapidly, aided by a steady and brisk breeze. Almost before they thought it possible, she was within range, and then they saw that she was quite double the size of their vessel. Shooting up into the wind, she lay to dead across their bows, displaying at the same moment a broad expanse of white deck, which was thickly crowded with men. Almost instantly a puff of smoke belched from her bulwarks, and a ball came hurtling over the water.

“Caught, I am afraid,” whispered Jim, peeping at the stranger. “We haven’t a chance, Tom, for look at our comrades.”

As he spoke the leader of the native crew rushed to the helm and waved his arm frantically in token of surrender, while his men threw themselves upon the deck, and grovelled there, in terror lest another shot should be fired by the pirate.

“Curs!” exclaimed Tom, angrily. “When there is no danger to be feared, they are fierce enough looking fellows. But now that we are in trouble, they show the real stuff of which they are made. But what are we to do?”

“Stay where we are till the enemy comes alongside,” answered Jim, promptly. “If they rush on board with the intention of killing us, we must stand side by side up here in the bows, and keep them off with our revolvers. It is ten chances to one that they are only armed with swords, and in that case we ought to be able to make a good fight of it. Whatever happens, I don’t mean to be killed without a struggle.”

He spoke quite calmly and thrust his hands into his waistcloth to make certain that his weapons were there. As for Tom, he looked at his young companion with amazement, and then, fired by his example of pluck, prepared to do as he had said.

“Then it’s agreed that, if there is no hope, we fight,” he said; “and if there is, we give ourselves up, and trust to better luck later on.”

“That’s it,” replied Jim, shortly. “It would be madness to resist if they were inclined to spare our lives. But if they want to slay us, they’ll find one here who strongly objects.”

By now, the big native dhow had paid off into her course again, and, seeing that she had nothing to fear, came on till within easy hailing-distance. Then a huge negro, dressed in gaudy colors, and bearing a cutlass in his hand, sprang upon the bulwarks, and shouted to them.

“Who are you?” he cried. “And where do you come from?”

Shaking with terror, the master went to the side, and answered that there were five besides himself on the vessel, and that she came from Aden.

“Where for, and what cargo?” was the next question.

“For the coast, with arms for the Mullah.”

“Then we are friends,” came the answer. “The Mullah is our master also, and we sail the sea in his ship. All whom we capture we send to him to swell his forces, while the loot we keep for ourselves. Do you know of any trader about to leave the shores on the farther side?”

“Not one,” shouted the master, scarcely able to restrain his joy. “But I can tell you that a British gunboat is on patrol, and you will do well to keep clear of her. Now, goodbye. We must press on at our fastest pace.”

Going aft to the helm he brought the dhow round, and in another minute they were shooting away from the piratical-looking stranger, leaving her rolling gently on the water, with her bulwarks lined by a crew of natives, of all sorts of every race, who stood there watching the smaller vessel depart. Ten minutes later she, too, had turned, and was dashing away at a pace which showed how hopeless it would have been for the dhow to have attempted to evade her.

The delight of the master and crew of the smaller vessel was immense, and they could scarcely contain themselves for joy. They threw themselves into one another’s arms, leapt high into the air, and shouted at the top of their voices. Then they produced a hubble-bubble, and, going aft, squatted down close to the steersman, and began to converse in loud tones. It was wonderful to see the change in their appearance. Whereas a few minutes before, they had been shaking with terror and prepared to accept their death without so much as a struggle, now they held their heads erect, and recounted to one another, in piercing tones, the brave deeds which they would have accomplished had the larger dhow turned out, after all, to be an enemy.

As for Jim and his friend, they lay full length upon the deck in the bows of the vessel, keeping a bright look-out over the bulwarks, and apparently undisturbed by the excitement of recent events. But, for all that, they were deeply relieved, for the situation had for a time seemed desperate.

“I am trying to think what would have happened,” whispered Jim, taking advantage of the fact that the natives were fully engaged in conversation. “Suppose those pirates had compelled us to join them, and we had afterwards fallen in with a British ship, we should have been in a very awkward position, for we could not have refused to fight.”

“We should have found a way out of it somehow, Jim. I noticed that, like this dhow, she carried a dinghy on her decks, and we could have taken advantage of that and slipped away during the night. But I am glad that things have turned out as they have, for now we have a better chance of capturing this vessel. Look out! Here’s one of the beggars coming to talk to us.”

As he spoke one of the men aft handed the stem of the hubble-bubble to his companion and came running forward.

“The chief bids you come and join us,” he cried, and at once returned to his old position.

“You stay here, Jim,” whispered Tom; “those fellows want a chat, so I’ll go and smoke with them. If you were to attempt that you would certainly fail, for it requires a deal of practice to tackle a hubble-bubble.”

Accordingly, leaving Jim on the lookout in the bows of the vessel, Tom sauntered aft, and was soon squatting beside the natives. The stem of the pipe was at once handed to him, and soon he was engaged in animated conversation. It was evident that something had aroused the suspicion of the master and his crew, for they questioned him closely. But his answers seemed to satisfy them, and in half an hour he returned to Jim’s side, and taking advantage of the fact that the natives were still engaged in animated conversation, began to chat in low tones to him.

“They seem inclined to be very friendly,” he said, “but I am not quite satisfied. Something—I don’t know what it is—seems to have upset them. The fact of the matter is they don’t quite believe in this silence of yours. One man declared that he had seen us exchanging words when the pirate bore down upon us. Of course, I said that that was impossible, and that he had imagined it. But he was positive, and, I could see, had been talking to his fellows. However, the subject dropped, and after a time turned to the Mullah. His position was mentioned, and, by pretending to know a great deal more about him than I really do, they became quite confiding, and told me the number of adherents of which he boasted. In the most unconcerned manner, I mentioned that a white prisoner had fallen into his hands of late, and I could see at once that they knew all about it. But I could get no further information from them.

“‘Yes,’ said their chief, ‘a man was thrown upon the shore, and fell into the Mullah’s hands; but he is only one, whereas, as soon as the foolish English advance, hundreds more will be made into slaves.’

“That’s all I could get out of him, and so, after changing the conversation and having another turn at the hubble-bubble, I rose to my feet and returned.”

“I’m not surprised to hear that they are suspicious, Tom. I saw one of the natives look at us while we were deciding what to do, and if he is quite certain that he saw us speaking, he will never be satisfied until he has found out all about us. You know what kind of men these fellows are, better than I do, and I have no doubt that, rather than run any risk in the matter, they would pounce upon us and throw us overboard. I advise that we keep watch in turn. It’s already getting dark, and, if you like, I’ll take the first watch. I’ll wake you in a couple of hours, and you can do the same for me when you have had your turn. Hush! They are moving.”

Turning his head, Jim saw the natives rise to their feet and disappear down the hatchway. Ten minutes later they climbed to the deck again, bearing a large dish and a gourd of water, and, having given the steersman a drink and placed a pile of food beside him, they advanced to the mast and sat down there, motioning to Jim and Tom to join them. Gladly did the young fellows obey the summons, for many hours had elapsed since they had partaken of any food, and their naturally keen appetites were sharpened by the sea air and by the excitement of the past few hours. Indeed, up to that moment, so much had occurred that Jim had had no time to think of food, for all his thoughts had been concentrated upon his surroundings. But the sight of it reminded him at once of his long fast, and he joined the group, feeling that it would require a large amount to satisfy his hunger.

Squatting around the bowl, they helped themselves to dates, of which there was an abundant supply. Simple though the food was it was satisfying, and Jim soon returned to his old position, feeling very much better. Tom remained for a short while chatting with the natives, and then rejoined his friend. It was now evening, and within a few minutes darkness fell, for there is scarcely any twilight in the Tropics.

“The night will be a cold one, and the dew heavy,” said the master, coming up to them. “You had better go down into the hold and sleep there. I will post a man up here to keep watch.”

“If it is the same to you, we would rather remain where we are,” Tom answered promptly. “You see, we are not used to this kind of thing, and that stuffy hold makes us feel ill. We will ask you to lend us a couple of blankets in which to wrap ourselves.”

“You shall have them, but you cannot sleep here, for the look-out man must stand in this position; but you can go farther along the deck, if you like. Come with me now, and I shall give you what you have asked for.”

Ten minutes later Jim and his friend were wrapped from head to foot in thick blankets, and had taken their places close to the bulwark on one side, and about the center of the vessel. As they did so one of the crew passed them and went to take his station forward, while the remainder proceeded aft, and throwing themselves down upon the deck, prepared to sleep. Two hours passed without incident, Tom’s heavy breathing telling clearly that he was asleep. Then Jim, whose eyes had been wide open all the time, touched him gently with his foot, and had the satisfaction of seeing that he had awakened his companion. Then curling himself in his blanket, he closed his eyes. He could not sleep, however, for, though he was tired out with the long day of excitement, his novel position, and the thought that danger threatened them, kept him wide awake. He was, therefore, fully prepared when Tom stealthily stretched out an arm and tugged at his blanket, and at once sat up with his back against the bulwark. Once more it was time for his companion’s watch, and Jim, who was now feeling decidedly drowsy, awoke him and lay down again upon the deck. A few minutes later he was fast asleep, and remained so for a considerable period. But a shout from Tom suddenly roused him, and, starting up, he saw that a struggle was taking place within a few feet of him. Dawn was just breaking, and the light enabled him to discover the fact that his companion was clasped in the arms of two of the natives, who were hustling him towards the bulwarks, and evidently endeavoring to throw him overboard.

Springing to his feet, Jim leapt across the deck at one bound, and sent his fist crashing into the face of one of Tom’s opponents. Then, with a shout, he clasped the other by the neck, and, tearing him from his hold, sent him reeling across the deck.

“What has happened, Tom?” he asked. “What made them attack you?”

“I can’t say,” was the breathless answer; “but I deserved to be thrown overboard, for I believe I had fallen asleep. At any rate, they were upon me before I was aware of it, and, while one held me by the shoulders and placed a hand firmly over my mouth, the other caught me by the legs, and hustled me to the side. I fought like a cat, and managed to free my mouth. But you saved my life, old chap.”

“Look out! They are preparing to rush again,” cried Jim, in a warning voice. “I suppose we must make a fight for it.”

As they were talking, the two men who had attacked Tom had picked themselves up, and had retired to their comrades, who stood close to the helm. That they were disconcerted by the sudden resistance was evident, but, seeing only two unarmed young fellows, they forgot their fear, and at once prepared to renew the combat. Snatching arms from a pile which lay beside them on the deck, they shouted to their comrades to join in the struggle, and then came rushing towards Jim and Tom at their fastest pace.

It was a critical moment, and might well have unnerved the bravest of men. Indeed, Tom was so shaken by the narrow escape he had had, that, for a second or two, he did nothing but stare at his opponents, as if fascinated. Jim, however, was fully alive to the danger, and promptly took measures to protect himself. Without taking his eyes from the natives he felt for and grasped the butt of a revolver, and, as they approached, presented it at their heads, hesitating to press the trigger in the hope that a sight of the weapon would overawe them. But they were maddened with rage, and, with shrill cries, came on boldly, waving their swords above their heads.

Crack! Jim pressed the trigger ever so gently, and, to his astonishment, the report had scarcely rung out upon the air when the leading man suddenly tossed his weapon above his head and fell to the deck with a crash. A second later, the native who followed him tripped over his body, and came sprawling upon all fours, where he lay, stunned by the fall.

“Now get ready for the other two,” cried Jim. “Pull yourself together, Tom, and when they rush, leave me to manage the first one. You can put a bullet into the second, if necessary, but we don’t want to kill them all, if it can be helped. Ah, here they come!”

Undeterred by the quick fate which had befallen their comrades, the master of the dhow advanced cautiously along the deck, accompanied by the steersman, and armed with an enormous double-handed sword, which he held well before him. The steersman snatched at one of the guns which had been loaded in preparation for the attack of the pirate on the previous evening, and sinking upon one knee, took steady aim in Jim’s direction. He was in the act of firing it when Tom, who had suddenly come to his senses, took a snapshot at him with his revolver, in the hope of killing him before he could do any harm. But the bullet flew wide of the mark, and striking the bulwarks, buried itself deep in the wood. An instant later there was a loud report, and, to Jim’s amazement, the folds of linen which were bound about his head flew high into the air, while he staggered back, feeling as though someone had struck him violently.

But he was not the lad to give way without a struggle, or to cry out before he was hurt. Starting forward a pace or two, he leveled his revolver at the man who had just fired, and who was, at that moment, engaged in reaching for another gun. Sighting carefully, and with the utmost coolness, he pressed gently upon the trigger, and had the satisfaction of seeing the native start to his feet with a shriek of pain, and then collapse suddenly upon the deck.

“And now for the master!” he said quietly, turning to Tom. “Tell him that if he moves a pace forward we will shoot him like a dog.”

“Drop your weapon!” Tom at once shouted, advancing towards the man, revolver in hand. “We have already killed two of your number, and will shoot you also, if you show the slightest wish to continue the conflict. Drop your sword, I say, and hands up!”

“You are too strong for us,” answered the native humbly, letting his weapon tumble with a crash to the deck. “Spare my life, and I promise not to attack you again.”

“That’s right! And now, wake this fellow up,” continued Tom, pointing to the man who had been stunned, and who was now recovering consciousness. “When you’ve done that, go aft, and send him into the bows; but before doing so, you can repeat to him what I have said.”

Meekly obeying these commands, the master of the vessel went to his fallen comrade and shook him savagely. Then he dragged him to his feet, and shouting words of warning in his ear, sent him forward, retiring himself to the helm.

“And now let us see to these other fellows,” said Jim. “I expect the first is dead, for I fired at close quarters, and aimed plump at the middle of his chest. The second was a longer and more difficult shot, and may not have proved fatal.”

Keeping their revolvers in their hands, in case of treachery, they crossed the deck to the fallen native, and turned him upon his back, Jim in vain attempting to disguise the horror with which the sight filled him.

“Dead!” he said in a whisper. “It’s terrible to think that I killed him.”

“I dare say it is, old boy,” Tom answered calmly. “But then, you see, it would have been far more terrible if he had run you through with this murderous-looking sword, and had then thrown you into the sea. It’s not nice, I admit, to feel that that ugly-looking wound is due to your bullet, but then, you know, he fully deserved it, for he had every intention of killing you, and, as you saw, did his best to rid the world of my presence. So, cheer up, Jim. It was a splendid shot, and I’m still marveling at your pluck and coolness. If it hadn’t been for you, I really believe that our bodies would have been floating a mile or more astern by now, a prey to the sharks, for I was completely unhinged by my struggle with them. You behaved grandly, I tell you, and you saved both my life and your own.”

“I don’t think so,” replied Jim modestly. “You see, I couldn’t very well have behaved in any other way. Your shout awakened me with a start to find you fighting with those two ruffians. Naturally, I went to your help, and as an Englishman’s first weapons are his fists, I used mine with a result that fairly astonished me. After that, everything was, of course, plain sailing.”

“There’s no plain sailing at all about it, Jim, my boy,” said Tom sharply, “and I’m not going to allow you to run down the share you took in the matter. You behaved splendidly, and with the greatest pluck, while I made a fool of myself. First of all, I fell asleep when I should have been keeping careful watch, and then I was so thoroughly upset by the attack made upon me that I was practically useless. But there, I can see you don’t like the subject, so I’ll say no more. Shake hands! That’s right. I feel better now.”

“Then let us look at this other fellow, Tom.”

Walking along the deck, they knelt down beside the second native who had fallen, and turning him over, at once saw that he was dead, for he had been struck in the neck.

“A lucky shot,” said Jim, looking pityingly at the man.

“And mine was an execrable one!” exclaimed Tom, in disgust. “It almost lost you your life. Let’s look at your head.”

“Yes, it was a narrow shave, Tom, but I was so excited that I forgot all about it in a moment. George! Look at that!”

Jim placed his hand to his head, and withdrew it with a long curl of dark hair, which had been neatly severed by the bullet.

“Yes,” he repeated, “it was a close shave, and I never want another like it. Indeed, I have very much to be thankful for, for had the gun been aimed half an inch lower, my head would have been shattered, and I should be lying like that poor fellow there.”

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