PREPARING TO ADVANCE
“I think I have now given you all the information I possess,” continued the Consul, after a pause, “and at the risk of appearing anxious to be rid of you, I suggest that you should lose no time in going to your camp. It is already upon nine o’clock, and you will scarcely reach it within an hour. After that progress will be very slow, for marching at night with a convoy of camels is no light undertaking. And now it only remains for me to wish you all success in your enterprise. May you, Mr. Hubbard, return within a short period with your father, and you, Mr. Dixon, reach us once again primed with information concerning the Mullah. Good-bye, and good luck!”
Rising from his seat, the Consul advanced towards Jim and his friend, and shook them most warmly by the hand. Then thrusting the roll of matting, which did service as a blind, on one side, he opened the sash of the window, and stepped out upon the verandah. A hasty inspection satisfied him that there was no one about, and he returned to communicate his news to his guests. Five minutes later the two friends were racing across the compound. When they reached the shadow of the belt of trees, Jim halted, and gripped his comrade by the arm.
“Let us wait here for a few minutes, as we did before,” he said, “for it might happen that one of the servants overheard our conversation, and is waiting somewhere near at hand to catch sight of the Consul’s visitors.”
“Right,” his companion answered promptly. “I was thinking just the same, and I know the precaution is a wise one.”
Accordingly they lay down upon the ground, and remained in that position for nearly a quarter of an hour. Then they rose to their feet again, and moved away like ghosts, for their sandals made not the slightest noise as they walked. When they had put some three hundred yards between themselves and the bungalow, they halted again, so as to make certain that they were going in the right direction.
“Through the town, and bear to the left, away from the sea-coast, the Consul told us,” said Jim, whose spirits were now roused to the highest by the prospect before him. “Ali Kumar has been warned to be prepared to meet us, and, I hope, will have quietly made arrangements to move away. If that is the case, and no one happens to be near, we ought to disappear without exciting curiosity, and without arousing the suspicions of the Mullah’s spies.”
“After that, we’ll strike along the coastline,” broke in Tom, “and march until we come to some wells of which I have been told, and with which our shikari is certain to be acquainted. The following day we shall ride over to the village in which the man lives who gave information about your father. That done, we have only to collect our stores when the dhow arrives, and march straight for the interior. It’s going to be a risky business, Jim; and I tell you plainly, that the more I think of it, the more do I realize the danger and difficulties we have to face. Don’t think I am getting nervous, old chap,” he continued hastily, “but we shall have to be extremely cautious, for this Mullah has just obtained a victory, and that fact alone will make him even more audacious, and will obtain for him the help and support of many who have hitherto held aloof.”
“I agree with you, Tom, and I am quite sure that we shall find it well to steer clear of all these encampments. If we march into the interior, demanding of all we meet whether they have heard of a white prisoner who recently fell into the hands of the Mullah, I am quite sure our doings will be reported, and that we shall call down upon our heads the wrath of this fanatic. I have been thinking the matter out as we came along, and have hit upon a plan which might serve us. Let us tell anyone with whom we come in contact that we have been in the service of the ‘Sirkal,’ or the Government, but that we are tired of them, and have decided to throw in our lot with the Mullah. The fact that I do not speak the language will not matter greatly, for, you see, I can be put down as from Aden, where all sorts of nationalities are to be found. But I shall contrive on all occasions to keep my mouth closed.”
“It sounds well,” answered Tom thoughtfully; “but what about our men? Knowing that we are Englishmen, they will quickly spread the news abroad, so that everyone will know.”
“Much depends upon Ali Kumar,” replied Jim decisively. “If he has told them that they are in the employ of Englishmen, a portion of my plan will fall through, but otherwise, we shall adhere to it, if you are agreeable.”
“Perfectly! And now let us push on.”
Accordingly, walking side by side, and taking no notice of those whom they occasionally passed, save that Tom returned their salutation, the two pressed on, and passed rapidly through the Arab town. Then they bore to the left, and within half an hour came in sight of a zareba. By now a small crescent of the moon had risen in the sky, and its light enabled them to see that some sixty camels lay stretched upon the ground, while close at hand were other smaller figures, the followers who had been engaged to accompany them into the interior. Standing in a listening attitude, a few paces away, was a tall man, dressed in white robes. He bore a lantern in his hand, and every now and again lifted it so as to throw the light farther afield, as if he were expecting someone. Suddenly he had heard Jim and Tom advancing, and recognizing them, even though they were disguised, he came towards them, salaaming deeply.
“Welcome, my masters,” he said eagerly. “I am Ali Kumar, and I was warned to be ready for your coming. Here is the camp, with thirty men lying there sleeping, but prepared to march at any moment. Give your orders, and I will see that they are obeyed.”
Again he salaamed, and, lifting his lantern, looked long and closely into Jim’s face, as if he were anxious to ascertain what sort of lad he was to follow.
“Good!” he exclaimed at length. “You are young, full young for this enterprise, but you are brave—that I can plainly see in your eyes. And how could you be otherwise, for no one who was not possessed of courage could go upon this expedition, even for the sake of his father.”
“Have you heard news of him?” asked Jim eagerly, taking no notice of his remarks.
“None,” was the answer. “I have but lately arrived, and know little more than I did a week ago. But tomorrow, when we meet the man who saw your father, we shall obtain all the information that is possible. Is it your wish that we march at once?”
“Yes; for the sooner we are off the better I shall be pleased. Do you know the direction to take? We are informed that there are wells within twenty miles of here, where we ought to halt.”
“I can follow the road in the dark as surely as in broad daylight,” was the reassuring answer. “Stay here, masters, and I will send camels to you. You could have had horses, had the saddles arrived, but at present we have not received them.”
Leaving the lantern with Jim and his companion, Ali Kumar went across to the sleeping men and gave a quick order. Then he returned leading two enormous camels, which grunted and grumbled at being disturbed, as only animals of that class can.
“Keep a strict watch upon their heads,” said Ali, in warning tones to Jim, “for these beasts are as treacherous as the followers of the Mullah, and love nothing better than to seize with their teeth anyone who may be passing. Then, too, they will kick out with their feet when people pass too close behind them. I have seen more than one man killed in that way. Hau! Lie down!”
He shouted the words in the native tongue, and at once, obedient to the command, but still giving vent to extraordinary grunts, the two camels sank to the ground, and waited there to receive their riders.
“Sit sideways,” said Ali, taking Jim by the sleeve; for he saw that his young master was wholly unaccustomed to such a steed. “Now put your right leg round this piece of the saddle which sticks up in front, and hook it there. That is the way, and now you can slip your foot into the stirrup which dangles here, and will feel safe even when the animal begins to trot.”
Jim carefully followed the instructions given to him, and was surprised to find that, though intensely uncomfortable at first, his seat was secure, and allowed him to turn freely, and without the fear that he was about to fall from the saddle. Having settled himself, and watched Tom take his place with the ease obtained from long practice, Jim gave the word, and at once, on a sharp command from Ali, the camels rose to their feet, swaying wildly from side to side as they did so, in a manner which threatened to throw their riders to the ground, and groaning in such loud and guttural tones that one would have thought the effort was a severe one.
Meanwhile, the sleeping camp had suddenly awakened into bustling life. Men hurried here and there, and the camels were forced to their feet by a succession of loud shouts, and often, too, by means of the free application of the haft of a spear, for they disliked this sudden disturbance. But at last all were ready, and, at a sign from Ali, the cavalcade streamed off into the night, the animals looking decidedly ghostly in the uncertain light. In twos and threes, and sometimes in bigger groups, they took the direction of the wells, leaving the neighborhood of Berbera without a soul being the wiser.
“No one will know what has happened to us,” said Ali, forcing his beast up to the one which Jim was bestriding. “We have given it out that we are in the service of the Governor, and as it is quite the custom for camels to be sent on to one of the advance stations up-country without warning, the natives will think that nothing out of the way has happened.”
“But what about the men?” asked Jim. “Do they think that they, too, are hired by the Sirkal?”
“That is the case, master; but I have quietly sounded them, and I have learnt that they are willing to go anywhere, so long as good pay is promised them. Half of these followers were with me once before in an expedition, and I can fully trust them; the remainder are, however, strangers to me. But I think you will find them brave and reliable.”
“I want to ask another question,” said Jim, as they rode along. “My friend and I think that if we go into the interior disguised as we are, we shall arouse no suspicion, and shall have a better chance of evading the Mullah. What do you think of the plan? And, is it possible to keep our nationality from the followers?”
Ali Kumar did not answer for some moments, but bent his head upon his breast, as if lost in thought. Then he looked across at Jim and shook his head emphatically.
“No; it is not altogether a good plan, and not a bad,” he said. “If you attempt to deceive these men who act as followers, they will certainly discover your secret before many days are past, and will think the worse of you for not taking them into your confidence. Besides, some of the men who went with me before already know of your mission. But they are to be fully trusted, as I said. To hoodwink the Mullah and the tribes with which we happen to come in contact is, however, a ruse which carries great weight with it, and I think with you that it will be well if you and your friend go dressed as you are. If we are questioned, you can stay in the background while I do the necessary talking, and if strangers insist on speaking with you, you can freely admit that you are English, and that you have found it more convenient to travel in the guise of a native.
“That would probably lead to trouble; but, then, you are sure to meet with some, however cautious you are. And now, master, I will go to the head of the cavalcade, and will lead them, for, though the moon is bright, it is easy to lose the way at night.”
Salaaming to Jim and Tom, he spurred his camel forward with his heel, and was not seen again till the following morning. Just as day was breaking he came to the rear again, and reported that the wells were at hand, and that the camels and men were already settling in the camp.
“And now, if the masters are ready, we shall ride on to the village of which you have heard. It is only an hour from here, so that we shall be back before the sun is overhead.”
“We are ready. Show us the way,” answered Jim promptly; “and let us hope that this fellow will have good news for us.”
Accordingly, waiting for one minute to watch their followers, who were preparing to water their beasts, they turned their faces towards the east, and, with the sun striking full into their eyes, pushed on through beautifully green country, dotted in all directions by trees. This was, indeed, a small oasis, surrounding the wells, which, by the many footprints that could be seen indenting the ground, was evidently frequented by numerous animals, which, no doubt, came there to obtain water. Farther on, however, as they increased their distance from the camp, the stretches of closely cropped grass gave place to an interminable sandy waste, devoid of all vegetation, and obstructed here and there by enormous dunes of glistening sand, which had been built up by the wind. An hour’s ride brought them to a tiny village, and soon they were conversing with the man who had given the information of Colonel Hubbard’s capture. But he had no further news.
“It chanced that a beast of mine had strayed from its feeding-ground,” he said, “so that, mounting my pony, I rode into the desert, hoping to discover it. Suddenly I saw a group of tents beyond me with armed men about, and caution prompted me to watch ere I approached them. It was not long before I had every reason to congratulate myself upon my care, for they proved to be a marauding expedition sent down to the coast by the Mullah. As I lay behind a hill of sand, keeping my eyes upon them, I observed a man struggling wearily towards the shore, through the surf which was breaking heavily upon it. Creeping nearer, I watched him, and soon made out that he was a white man. Then, as I was about to run forward to warn him, the Somali warriors suddenly espied him, and, shouting to one another, galloped in his direction. For three hours I watched, and saw the camp break up and the expedition ride away with their prisoner, and then I learned by questioning a follower who had been left behind, having broken a leg, that the prisoner was a colonel, as you speak of the leaders of your soldiers. More than that, I do not know, save his looks, which I will describe to you.”
The native then gave a description of the appearance of the Mullah’s prisoner, and as Jim listened with all his ears, any doubt that he might still have had as to the identity of the man who had reached the shore was set definitely at rest, for it was beyond question that it was his father. Having assured himself that no further information was to be obtained, he made the man a handsome present, and then the party turned about, and retraced their steps towards the camp. On the following day they pushed farther along the coast, and, when the next morning dawned, had the satisfaction of observing a dhow beating in for the shore. It proved to be the one which they were expecting, and before the day had passed she had safely discharged her cargo.
“And now to begin our work in earnest,” said Jim, surveying the piled-up baggage. “I propose that we issue rifles at once to those who can use them, and that we give them a preliminary training. That done, we’ll appoint certain of the men to act as scouts, while others will be in charge of the baggage-camels. I should say that if we march with five men thrown well forward and on the flanks, and another five in the rear, we ought to feel secure from a sudden rush. What do you think, Tom?”
“That the plan is an excellent one, old boy, and shows that you have your wits about you. As an additional precaution, I suggest that one or other of us should always ride with these scouts, Ali Kumar accompanying the one who goes in front, for it is from that direction that danger is to be expected. Then, I think that we ought to make up our minds what action we are to take should we be suddenly attacked. You see, it wouldn’t do to be thrown into confusion and have these followers of ours firing wildly in all directions.”
“Quite so, Tom, and for that purpose I propose a preliminary training. We’ve a couple of hours of daylight left, and we know that there is no one to watch our movements, for Ali Kumar posted half a dozen of our men this morning right away on the hills over there. Let us give the order to strike camp; and, by the way, what about mounts for ourselves?”
“For the purpose of the march we shall find ponies far more useful than camels,” answered Tom promptly; “for the ponies can carry one at a swift gallop for a few miles, and will enable us to keep easily in touch with our front and rear guards. For longer stretches, however, for instance when we desire to reach quickly a spot some twenty miles away and return with equal despatch, the camels will prove most valuable, for, once fed and watered, they will go on for hours at a steady swinging pace, which soon gets over the distance. No wonder they are called ‘ships of the desert,’ for, with their extraordinary powers, their spider-like legs, and their broad, soft feet, they are eminently fitted for such a country. But can you ride, Jim?”
“I’ve been on a horse several times in my life, Tom, but I can’t say that I ever felt very comfortable. But if it is necessary to ride, I will learn, whatever it costs me.”
“Then we’ll give orders for a couple of the ponies to be saddled and bridled,” said Tom, “and for the camp to move on.”
Accordingly they called for Ali Kumar, and directed him to see the baggage loaded. Then, for half an hour, they toiled with their followers, struggling in the midst of a group of recumbent camels, busily lashing burdens on the animals’ backs. That done, all the natives were gathered together, and fifteen of them, who professed to be able to use the rifle, were supplied with weapons, the remainder continuing to carry swords and spears only. Then ten of those who were provided with firearms were mounted upon the best ponies, and given strict orders as to their behaviour.
“They are terribly excitable people, these Somali races,” said Tom, “and I have often been told that when employed as scouts they are continually giving the alarm. Perhaps they see a buck in the distance, or the peak of a mountain comes into their line of vision, and at once, turning about, they gallop furiously back to the column behind them, shouting at the top of their voices, and waving their weapons above their heads. Then they pull up in a matter of two yards, and express their astonishment at finding a hasty zareba formed, and preparations already made for an attack. It is all done to show off, for they are just like children, and love to attract attention to themselves. But as we cannot afford to be in a condition of constant alarm, we had better warn them that they will meet with our displeasure if they behave in such a way.”
Tom’s words were communicated to Ali Kumar, who, with Jim beside him, at once began to address the followers, impressing their duties upon them, and making them repeat the instructions. Then they were dismissed, and at once mounted, the men who were to look after the camels clambering into their seats. At this moment three spirited-looking native ponies were brought forward for the use of the leaders of the party. Giving them a hasty inspection, and pausing for a moment to see that the stirrup-leathers were of the right length, Jim selected the one nearest to him, and at once proceeded to mount.
“Hold the reins like this,” said Tom, coming to his side so as to show him. “Now, while you grip them with your left hand, catch up a wisp of the mane with your right, and twist it round the spare fingers of your left. That’s the way. Now put your foot in the stirrup, and up you go!”
Following these instructions carefully, for hitherto he had had very little acquaintance with horses, Jim was quickly seated in the saddle, and feeling the opposite stirrup dangling beside his sandal, thrust his foot into it. Meanwhile, the pony had made no objection, but had stood there, with ears thrown back, and eyes cast suspiciously at his new master. Then, probably realizing that he had a more or less new hand to deal with, he gave vent to a loud squeal of anger, and started away with a bound which almost shook Jim from his seat.
“Keep his head up, and your knees well pressed into the saddle!” sang out Tom. “Now, watch him, for he’s going to play a trick upon you.”
That this was the case was quickly evident, for, finding that his first efforts to dislodge his rider were unsuccessful, the pony went off at a furious gallop, kicking his legs high in the air as he did so. Then, when in the very midst of the loaded camels, he suddenly ducked his head between his forelegs, and, arching his back, sprang high into the air. It was a fatal movement for Jim, who at once shot forward into space, and, turning as he went, landed full upon the broad of his back. In a moment he was on his feet again, gasping for breath, but determined not to be beaten. Fortunately, he had been thrown upon a sandy patch, and though shaken considerably, he was by no means hurt. As for the pony, now that it had accomplished its purpose, it stood there unconcernedly, as if it were incapable of such behavior. Jim at once walked up to it, and gathering the reins in his hand as Tom had shown him, thrust his sandalled foot into the stirrup, and was in the saddle again in a twinkling.
“Well done!” shouted Tom; while the natives, who were all looking on in the most interested manner, gave vent to exclamations of approval. “Well done! Stick to him like a leech, and show him that you mean to be his master!”
“I will, even if I’m thrown twenty times,” answered Jim, setting his teeth, and sitting down closer to his saddle. “Now then! On you go!”
The animal needed no second bidding, and at once set off at a rapid pace. But this time, when it attempted to go through the old movement which had proved so successful, Jim gave a sharp jerk to the reins, and kept its head well up. Again it made the attempt, but without success, and then, unable to get rid of its rider by means of bucking, the spirited pony suddenly darted to one side, and Jim, losing his balance, was deposited upon the ground once more. Four times in succession was he thrown, but in every case he clambered into his seat again, and finally, after the animal had bolted with him at its topmost speed for a mile or more, he managed to quiet it down by patting it upon the neck, and talking to it in a soothing voice. Then he turned it about, and with the beast well in hand this time, came trotting back into the camp, with flushed face and dusty garments, but triumphant and elated. As he did so, Tom gave vent to a cheer, while the natives hammered their spearheads loudly upon their shields in approbation.
“You have done well, master,” said Ali Kumar, coming forward as Jim dismounted in their midst. “These men already know that you are an Englishman and that you are their leader. They have been waiting to learn what manner of man you are, and whether you are bold enough to ride into the Mullah’s country. It was easy to see that you were no great horseman, and, believe me, your courage in mounting again and again, and in laughing at your falls, has raised you high in their estimation. They will now obey your words far more willingly than they would otherwise have done. But we are ready; shall we move on?”
Jim agreed with a wave of his hand, and at once the cavalcade was set in motion. Forty of the camels, which were laden with every variety of bale and box, marched in the center, while close behind them came twenty others, which could be relied upon to trot for many hours together, all roped to one another. Near them were the followers who were not to act as scouts, keeping an eye upon them lest they should attempt to stray, and prepared to make secure any bundle which showed signs of breaking loose. Spread out like a fan, a mile ahead, were five well-mounted men, while a similar number stood by their horses at the camping-ground, waiting until the column moved well away. And in this order, with Jim and Ali Kumar walking their ponies in company with the front guard, and Tom with the rear, they pushed on in a southerly direction, their faces turned towards a distant hazy blue line which showed the position of the range of hills they would have to cross before reaching the highlands, and the broad stretch of desert which intervened between themselves and the Mullah’s country.
Jim was in the highest spirits, and delighted to feel that at last the search for his father had begun. For a time he rode beside Ali Kumar, conversing with him, and then he trotted back towards the camels. Having assured himself that all was well with them, he was about to return to his post, when suddenly one of the scouts, stationed away on the flank, came galloping towards him at top speed, shouting and waving frantically. At the same moment, catching sight of him, the other scouts retired upon their center.
“Probably a false alarm,” Jim told himself; “but I shall take every precaution. Down!” he shouted, signaling to the followers to stop the camels. Then, remembering the native word used on such an occasion, he repeated it loudly.
Collecting their beasts together, the men quickly had them lying upon the ground. Then, obedient to Jim’s signs, they left two of their number to guard them, and separating, ran forward some fifty yards. There they halted, and knelt upon the ground, ready for anything that might turn up. A few minutes later Ali Kumar and the scouts joined them, and the former at once sharply interrogated the man who had given the alarm.
“What did you see?” he asked.
“A group of camels three miles to the right,” was the answer. “As far as I could see, they were browsing quietly, and had no attendants.”
The words were interpreted to Jim, who immediately gave orders for the column to move on again.
“We’ll send a couple of our scouts over in that direction,” he said to Ali Kumar, “and you must tell them that they are to ride near enough to be able to obtain full information, without themselves being seen. Let all these fellows know at the same time that they are to investigate anything which may turn up within a reasonable distance and that they are not, on any account, to come galloping back until they are sure that there is real danger. Let us have a signal in a case like that, so that all may understand.”
“That is a first-rate idea,” cried Tom, who had been listening to the conversation. “If we are certain of danger, we need not fear making a noise, and, therefore, it would be as well to fire a rifle. A shot out here, in this atmosphere, will be heard for a couple of miles and will give due warning to all of our men. Immediately they hear it, they can turn and gallop back to the center.”
Ali Kumar gathered the scouts about him for the second time, and, having again impressed the caution upon them, despatched them to take up their posts. Then the camels were ordered to rise, and once more the column took the road. Shortly after darkness fell a bright moon climbed into the sky, and, aided by its light, they kept on steadily. At nine o’clock they halted, and at once the followers were sent to cut thorn-bushes, which grew in profusion everywhere. With these a thick wall, or zareba, was formed about the camels, which meanwhile had been relieved of their burdens. A second hedge was constructed near at hand, and in this the two young leaders and their following took their places. Very soon a fire was burning brightly, and an hour later they were all seated at their evening meal.
Two days passed uneventfully, and then, one evening, as the column rested at the foot of the hills, Ali Kumar slipped away from his companions, who were already fast asleep, except for the few who were stationed some fifty paces off as sentries, and creeping to Jim’s side, touched him gently upon the shoulder.
“Hush, master!” he whispered. “Awake, and listen, for I have news of treachery for you. Within an hour, at any moment, indeed, we may be attacked, for I have discovered that one of our followers, who was a stranger to me until a few days ago, has been in conversation with some wandering natives, and has even now stolen away from the zareba so as to join them and lead them to the attack.”
- The UNIQUE Case For The International Recognition Of Somaliland
- The World Can Learn From How Somaliland Overcame Militias
- Somaliland: The Little Country That Could By David Shinn
- Somaliland Is A Beacon Of Democracy In An Unstable Region
- Masuuliyiinta Xidh-Xidhan Iyo Dareemada Dhagarta Xambaarsan Ee Laga Soo Werinayo Dhinaca Madaxtooyada
- KOIGI: Acknowledge Somaliland To Cure Festering Wound On Africa