Part 7 out of 8
"But this is _serious_," she reproached me.
"Please listen. There isn't much time. I heard this only last night, or
I'd have spoken before, and asked you what you thought. Do you happen
to know whether Captain Fenton wrote a note to Monny, asking her to
wait for him in the inner sanctuary of the temple till after the people
had gone, as he wanted to see her alone about something of great
"I don't know," I said. "Anthony hasn't mentioned Miss Gilder's name to
me since Philae. As a matter of fact he's been particularly taciturn."
"You haven't quarrelled, surely?"
"Anthony and I! Thank goodness, no. But I'm afraid he misunderstands,
and is a bit annoyed. Miss Gilder of course told him we'd overheard a
certain conversation, and he's never given me a chance to explain.
After Khartum it will be all right, if not before, but meanwhile--"
"I see. Then let me tell you quickly what's happened. When we came back
on board the boat, after climbing about the fort of Kasr Ibrim, Monny
found on the table in her cabin a note in French, typewritten on
_Enchantress Isis_ paper. It had no beginning or signature, only an
urgent request to grant the writer five minutes just after sunrise, in
the sanctuary at Abu Simbel, _as soon as every one was out of the way_.
There's only one typewriter on board, isn't there?"
"And nobody but you and he and Captain Fenton ever use it, I suppose?"
"Nobody else, so far as I know."
"Captain Fenton didn't land with us to see the fort, but came up later,
just as we were ready to go down. Well, for all these reasons and the
note being in French Monny thinks it was written by Antoun Effendi. It
was only in chatting last night about the sunrise expedition that she
mentioned finding the letter. I begged her to make certain it _was_
from him, before doing what it asked; because, you see, I'm still
afraid of anything that seems queer or mysterious. But she laughed and
said, 'What nonsense! Who else could have written it except Lord
Ernest, unless you think Mr. Kruger's in a plot.' And she refused to
question Antoun, because if he'd wanted the thing to be talked over,
he'd have spoken instead of writing. As for doing what he asked, she
pretended not to have made up her mind. She said she'd 'see what mood
she was in,' after the others had finished with the sanctuary. Well,
what I want, is for you and me to stay in the place ourselves when the
others have gone."
"With the greatest of pleasure on earth!" said I.
"Don't be foolish. You aren't to torment me there."
"That depends on what you call 'tormenting.' If I'm to be made a
spoil-sport for Fenton and Miss Gilder, a kind of live scarecrow, I mean
to get something out of it for myself."
There was no time for more. We had arrived at the foot of the long
flight of stone steps which lead up to the rocky plateau of the Great
Temple. In the east, a golden fire below the horizon was sending up
premonitory flames, and the procession must bestir itself, or be too
late. The whole object of arriving at this unearthly hour would be
defeated, if, before the sun's forefinger touched the faces of the
altar statues, we were not in the sanctuary. No time to study the
features of the Colossi, or to search for the grave of Major Tidwell.
These things must wait. The dark-faced guardian examined our tickets,
and let us file through the rock-hewn doorway, whose iron _grille_ he
had just opened. As we passed into the cavernous hall of roughly carved
Osiride columns, the huge figures attached to them loomed vaguely out
of purple gloom. There was an impression of sculptured rock walls, with
splashes of colour here and there; of columns in a chamber beyond, and
still a third chamber, whence three rooms opened off, the side doorways
mere blocks of ebony in the dimness. But already the sun's first ray
groped for its goal, like the wandering finger of a blind man. We had
only time to hurry through the faintly lit middle doorway, and plaster
ourselves round the rock walls of the sanctuary, when the golden digit
touched the altar and found the four sculptured forms above: Harmachis,
Rameses, Amen and Ptah. Night lingered in the temple, a black, brooding
vulture. But suddenly the bird's dark breast was struck by a golden
bullet and from the wound a magic radiance grew. The effect, carefully
calculated by priests and builders thousands of years ago, was as
thrilling to-day as on the morning when the sun first poured gold upon
the altar. The sightless faces of the statues were given eyes of an
unearthly brilliance to stare into ours, and search our souls. But with
most of the party, to be thrilled for a minute was enough. As the sun's
finger began to move, they found it time to move also. There was the
whole temple to be seen, and then the walk back to the boat before
dressing for breakfast.
Soon Biddy and I had--or seemed to have--the sanctuary to ourselves.
Even the sun's ray had left us, mounting higher and passing above the
doorway of the inner shrine. The momentarily disturbed shadows folded
round us again, with only a faint glimmer on the wall over the altar to
show that day was born.
"Did you notice that Monny wasn't with the others?" asked Brigit, in a
low voice. "She lingered behind, I think, and never came near us. I
wasn't sure till I watched the rest filing out of this room. Then I saw
she wasn't among them. Neither was Captain Fenton."
"If they're together, it's all right," I assured her.
"Yes, but are they? That affair of the typewritten note has worried
"You're very nervous, darling. But no wonder!"
"You mustn't call me 'darling.'"
"Why not? It's no worse than Duffer. I like your calling me that."
"I wonder if we ought to go, as she never came--or stay and wait?"
"If we go, we shall be playing into Miss Gilder's hands. If we stay, we
shall be playing into mine. Which do you prefer?"
"Oh, I suppose we'd better stay--for fear of something. But you must be
Then abruptly I attacked her with a change of weapons. I had fenced
lightly, knowing that Biddy liked a man who could laugh. But now I
threw away my rapier and snatched a club. I told her I would stand no
more of this. Did she want to spoil my life and break my heart? She was
the one thing I needed. Now she would have to say whether she'd put me
off because she didn't love me and never could, or because of that
trash about not wanting to involve me in her troubles. No use
prevaricating! I should know whether she lied or told the truth by the
sound of her voice. But I might as well confess before she began, that
I'd rather be loved by her and refused, than _not_ loved and refused.
Women seemed to think the unselfish thing was to pretend not to care,
if a man had to be sent away; because in the end that made it easier
for him. But in real life, with a real man, it was the other way round.
"I think you're right, Duffer," Biddy said softly. "That's why I
wouldn't answer you for good and all, that night at Philae. I felt then
it might be kinder to tell you I could never care. But I've thought of
nothing else since--except a little about Monny--and I decided that if
it were _me_, I'd rather be loved, whatever happened. Men can't be so
very different where their hearts are concerned. So I'm going to tell
you I _do_ love you. It was hard to give you to Monny. But I thought it
would be for your happiness. I nearly died of love for you when I was a
little girl. I kept every tiniest thing you ever gave me. I was in love
with your memory when you went up to Oxford. And it was then Richard
O'Brien came. He swept me off my feet, and made me think my heart was
caught in the rebound. When it was too late, I realised that it hadn't
been caught at all. Only hypnotized for a while. I've loved you always,
Duffer dear. The thought of you was my one comfort, often, although I
hardly expected to see you again: or maybe, for that very reason. No,
don't touch me! please let me go on now, or I'll not tell you any more.
I wonder if you never guessed what I had in that chamois-skin bag
you're so worried about?"
"Why, yes, I did guess, Biddy, right or wrong."
"And I'll _bet_ you it was wrong! What did you think, when I wouldn't
understand any of your hints to tell what I wore over my heart?"
"I thought then," I answered after a moment's deliberation, "that you
kept--compromising documents which might be of interest to the
organization you and I have talked about. Now I think differently. I
think you kept a lock of my childish hair, or my first tooth."
"You conceited Duffer!--not so bad as that, because I had never a
chance of getting either. Once I _did_ keep in that bag just what you
said: compromising documents, that the organization would have given
thousands of dollars to get. And my life wouldn't have stood in their
way for a minute, I'm sure. But that was before Richard died. He was
afraid--I mean, I thought it would be better and less suspicious if _I_
had charge of the papers. And if the Society had ever got hold of him,
he believed the letters and lists of names I had, might have bought
back his safety, if I played my hand well. He'd told me just what to
do. But when he was ill, he had a nurse whom I began to suspect as a
spy. Once when I was called into Richard's room suddenly, half dressed,
the chamois-skin bag showed, as my wrapper fell open at the breast. I
caught her looking at it with an eager look; and that very night I had
it locked up in a bank. It was only a few days later that Richard died;
and with him gone, I felt there was no more need to keep papers which
might cost the lives or liberty of men. Richard had wronged his
friends, and I wanted none of them to come to harm through me, though
they'd made me suffer with him. I burned every scrap of paper I had,
every single one! And it wasn't till there was an attempt to kidnap
Esmé that I asked myself if I'd been right. Still, even now, I am not
sorry. I wouldn't hurt a hair of their heads. For a while the bag was
empty; but coming away from America and feeling a bit lonesome, I
thought it would do me good to look now and then at the only love-letter
you ever wrote me. It was on my ninth birthday--but I don't
believe you could write a better one now. There was a photograph, too,
of my lord when he was seventeen. I stole that, but it was all the
dearer. At this very minute, the letter and the picture are lying on my
heart. So now you know whether I care for you or not; and you can
understand why I wouldn't put the bag into a bank."
"Oh, Biddy darling," I said, "you've made me the happiest man in the
"Well, I'm glad," she snapped, twisting away from me, "that it takes so
little to make you happy."
"So little, when I'm going to have you for my wife?"
"But you're not. You said you'd rather be loved and refused--"
"I would, if I had to choose between the two. That's not the case with
me, for I shall marry you, now I know the truth, in spite of fifty, or
fifty thousand, refusals, or any other little obstacles like that."
"Never, Duffer! Not for all the world would I be your wife, loving you
as I do, unless the organization would forget or forgive Esmé and me.
And that I can't fancy they'll ever do, till the millenium. I shall be
past the marrying age then! Oh, Duffer, I _almost_ wish you had fallen
in love with Monny as I wanted you to do--'
"Honest Injun, you really wanted that to happen?"
"Well, I tried to want it, for your sake; and in a way for my own, too.
If I'd seen you caring for Monny, I should have found some medicine to
cure my heartache. Oh, it would have been a very good thing all around,
except for your friend, Anthony Fenton."
"And I was half afraid he was in love with you! I can tell you I've had
my trials, Biddy. It's my turn to be happy now, and yours, too. Just
think, nearly everybody in the world is engaged, but us--or next door
to being engaged. Miss Gilder and Anthony--who's the only man on earth
to keep her in order: and Rachel Guest and Bailey; and Enid Biddell and
Harry Snell; and even your stepdaughter, Esmé O'Brien--"
"Duffer, she's _married_!"
"What, to young Halloran? How did they manage it?"
"I don't know yet. I've had only a telegram. It came to Assuan too
late, and Sir Marcus Lark brought it to the boat. I found it that night
when we got back from Philae. But I haven't told, because I dared not
be with you alone long enough to speak of private affairs, till I could
decide whether to let you know I loved you, or make believe I didn't
care a scrap."
"As if I could have believed your tongue, unless you had shut your
eyes! So Esmé is married, and off your hands?"
"Not off my hands, I'm afraid. This may be visited on me. They must
have known of her meeting Tom Halloran at St. Martin Vesubie, last
summer. They find out everything, sooner or later. Probably they
thought I'd whisked her off to Egypt with me (helped by my rich friend
Miss Gilder, for whom they took Rachel Guest) in order to let her meet
Tom Halloran again, and marry him secretly. Well, she has _married_ him
secretly. When they discover what's happened, they're sure to put the
blame on poor me. And indeed, it is a shocking thing for the son of
that man in prison, and the daughter of the man who sent him there, to
be husband and wife."
"I don't see that at all," I argued. "Why shouldn't their love end the
"It can't, for strong as it may be, it won't release prisoners, or
bring back to life those who are dead."
"Anyhow, don't borrow trouble," said I. "If Esmé's married the more
reason for us to follow her example. After Khartum, when Miss Gilder--"
"Who's taking my name in vain?" inquired the owner of it, at the
"Oh, then you _have_ come, Monny!" Brigit exclaimed. "I--I'd given you
"I haven't come for the reason you thought," returned the girl
promptly. "I was sure you meant to head me off. And I've learned
without asking, that Antoun Effendi didn't write that note."
"I told you so! Who did?"
"He's trying to find out. Probably it was a silly practical joke some
one wanted to play on me. There are _lots_ quite capable of it, on
board! Antoun Effendi said the sunrise was much finer really, from on
top of the great sandhill, so we climbed up. And it came out that he
hadn't asked me to meet him here. If any one not on the boat wrote the
letter, some steward must have been bribed to sell a bit of writing-paper,
and allow a stranger to come on board, while we were away at
Kasr Ibrim. There was a steam dahabeah moored not far off, if you
remember, with Oriental decorations; so we fancied it must belong to an
Egyptian or a Turk."
"It could easily have been hired at Assuan," Biddy exclaimed. "And it
could have beaten us. We've stopped at such heaps of temples where
other boats only touch coming back."
"If there were a plot, as you are always imagining, the dahabeah would
have to be near here, too," Monny laughed incredulously.
"And so it may be. We haven't seen round the corner of the Great Temple
"One would think to hear you talk, that you'd expected this poor little
sanctuary to be stuffed with murderers, or at the least, kidnappers."
"Ugh, don't speak of it!" Biddy shuddered, "Let's go out into the
sunlight again, as quick as ever we can!"
WORTH PAYING FOR
When Anthony says that he will find out things he seldom fails. Perhaps
nobody but a green-turbaned Hadji could so speedily have screwed
information out of secretive Arabs, paid to be silent. And he had to
fit deductions into spaces of the puzzle left empty by fibs and glib
self-excusings. What he did learn was this: a dragoman had come, in a
small boat, from a steam dahabeah to the _Enchantress Isis_ while we
were away at Kasr Ibrim. He presented credentials written out for him
in Cairo by Miss Rachel Guest, and dated a few weeks ago. Inquiring for
her, he seemed sorry to hear that she had gone on the excursion. The
dragoman refused to disturb Antoun Effendi, on hearing that the Hadji
was writing in his cabin. His errand was not of enough importance to
trouble so illustrious a man. All he wanted was permission to type one
or two letters for his employers on the neighbouring dahabeah, which
possessed no machine. In the absence of Mr. Kruger, who had gone on
shore for exercise, the dragoman was given this privilege. Possibly he
had taken some of the boat's letter-paper. Who could be certain of
these trifles? Possibly, also, he had walked about with one of the
cabin stewards, to see the luxurious appointments of the _Enchantress
Isis_. As for paying money for these small favours, who could tell? And
nobody knew if the steam dahabeah had hurried on before us, to anchor
out of sight round the oblique façade of Abu Simbel. In any case, when
we went to look for the suspicious craft seen near Kasr Ibrim, she was
not among the two or three small private dahabeahs of artists and
others, moored within a mile of the Great Temple. Notwithstanding her
absence, however, Anthony and I (suddenly confidential friends again)
thought it likely that the shadows in the Sanctuary had not been its
only tenants when we entered there. The invaluable Bedr knew enough of
the Nile Temples to know that the sun's first light strikes only the
altar and the statues over it, in Abu Simbel's inner shrine: that the
four corners of the small cavern-room remain pitch black, unless the
place is artificially illuminated: and that this is never done at
sunrise. The dragoman and one or both of his employers would have had
no difficulty in getting into the temple before the first streak of
dawn, if they had warned its guardian the night before. So far, our
deductions were simple, after learning how the trick of the typewritten
note had been managed: but it was not so easy to guess the object of
the plot. Was Monny Gilder to have been murdered in the dark Sanctuary,
or was she to have been kidnapped? Either seemed an impossible
undertaking, unless the plotters were willing to face certain detection
As it was, we had no more tangible proof against the man than we had
before, at the House of the Crocodile, in the desert near Medinet, at
Asiut, and at Luxor. With a sly cleverness which did Bedr, or those
employing him, much credit, they had screened themselves behind others.
Even if we had the names of the "tourists" Bedr had served as dragoman,
and if we could lay our hands on their shoulders, we had not enough
evidence of what they had done to obtain a warrant of arrest: and this
of course they knew. Our best chance, Anthony thought, lay in springing
a surprise on them, as they had vainly (so far) tried to do with us;
and when we got them somehow at our mercy, force out the truth.
It was almost certain that a steam dahabeah could not unseen have
passed the _Enchantress Isis_ at Abu Simbel in broad daylight, going
back toward Assuan. Therefore, since it was not moored near the temple,
if it had been in the neighbourhood at all it must have dashed on ahead
of us in the direction of Wady Haifa. With pleasure would we have given
immediate chase, had not the _Enchantress_ been pledged to remain at
Abu Simbel till afternoon. Even as it was, I expected to catch up with
a boat so much smaller than our own; but Anthony damped my hopes,
explaining the difficulties of navigation between Abu Simbel and Wady
Haifa. There were, he said, great shifting sandbanks in the water which
looked so transparently green, so treacherously clear. Without the most
prudent piloting the river was actually dangerous, as new sandbanks had
a habit of forming the minute you shut your eyes or turned your back.
The _Enchantress_ would have to pick her way slowly through the silver
sands of the Nile, which mingled with the spilt gold-dust of the desert
shore. All the same, these impudent rascals would find it hard to hide
from us at Wady Haifa, especially if we stopped the boat and wired from
the next telegraph station to have them watched on the arrival of their
"Perhaps, as they're so clever they'll be clever enough not to arrive
at all," was my suggestion. And Anthony could only shrug his shoulders.
"Wait and see" had to be our policy.
Happily the Set wandered in and out of the two temples, big and little,
all the morning, ignorant of our worries which, even to us, seemed
small under the benign gaze of the great Colossi. The three stone
Rameses who had faces, wore expressions no one could ever forget; and
there was a sense of loss in turning away from them.
A crocodile swam past the _Enchantress_ as she steamed up river; a
long, dark, prehistoric shape. He seemed an anachronism, but so did
Bedr, with his plottings; yet both were real, real as this Nile-dream
of dark rocks, of conical black mountains shaped like ruined pyramids,
and yellow sandhills whose dazzling reflections turned the blue-green
river to gold.
The next day at noon, we came to Wady Halfa; and the _Enchantress Isis_
who had brought us eight hundred miles from Cairo, was now to be
deserted by those with Khartum in view. All save three of the party
were going on through this gate of the Sudan, where the river way ended
and the desert-way began. Neill Sheridan was turning back immediately,
in a government steamer; and a bride and groom who cared not where they
were, if with each other, would wait on board the _Enchantress_ until
the band of passengers should return from Khartum.
These things had to be thought of. But I meant to let Kruger do most of
the thinking, when we landed at the neat, colourful town of Halfa,
which lies (as Assuan lies) all pink and blue and green along the river
bank, sentinelled with trees. From a distance Anthony and I caught
sight of the steam dahabeah seen near Kasr Ibrim, and we could hardly
wait to get on shore. The camp was but a mile and a half away, and I
had wired in Lark's name, to an officer whom he was sure to know,
asking as a great favour to have the passengers on board a boat of that
description watched; and requesting him if possible to meet the
_Enchantress_ on her arrival. "There he is!" said Fenton, standing at
the rail. "I mustn't seem to recognise him, of course. Can't give
myself away! But you--" "Good Lord, there's Bedr!" I broke in, hardly
believing my eyes. And there Bedr was, looking as if butter would by no
means melt in his mouth: Bedr, smiling from the pier, evidently there
for the special purpose of meeting us. His ugly squat figure, and the
tall, khaki-clad form of the officer, were conspicuous among squatting
blacks, male and female, in gay turbans, veils, and mantles, muffled
babies in arms, and children dressed in exceedingly brief fringes.
"I'll attend to him, while you powwow with Ireton," said Anthony, ready
for the unexpected situation. And while the indispensable if humble
Kruger showed the passengers how to get to the desert train,
superintended the landing of the luggage, and made himself perspiringly
useful, I thanked Major Ireton in Sir Marcus Lark's and my own name.
His news was astonishing. There were no passengers on board the steam
dahabeah _Mamoudieh_. She had arrived with none save her crew, and the
dragoman now talking with that good-looking Hadji there. As I murmured
"Yes," and "No," and "Indeed--Really!" to the officer, who had kindly
worked on our behalf, I was saying to myself, "My _dear_ Duffer, what
an ass you were not to think of that!" For of course the men had
remained at Abu Simbel, hiding till we should be out of the way, and
sending their boat on to put us off the track. A Cook steamer and a
Hamburgh-American boat were due to stop at the temple. We had passed
both on the river. By this time the two men were doubtless on their way
north, making for Cairo and safety.
Still, here was Bedr, looking like a fat fly who had deliberately come
to pay a call on the lean and hungry spider. I was impatient for the
moment when the need for genuine gratitude and "faked" explanations was
over, and Major Ireton had gone about other business.
Then I could follow the Hadji and the Armenian, who had mounted the
steps leading up from river-level to the town. Not far off I could see
the blue-windowed, white-painted desert train, round which, on the
station platform, buzzed and scolded the Set, demanding their
hand-luggage and their compartments. But Anthony and his victim (or was it
by chance vice versa?) were keeping out of eyeshot and earshot of the
late passengers of the _Enchantress_. Brigit and Monny, who must have
seen Bedr, were too tactful to hover near: also they knew "Antoun
Effendi" too well to think it necessary.
Bedr gave me no time to speak. He rushed forward to greet me with
effusion, as if I were a long-lost and well-loved patron. "I bin so
glad see you again after these days, milord. Sure!" he began. "Antoun
Effendi, he tell you I come here on purpose to do you good. I find out
those genlemens very wicked men, so I leave them quick. They want to
pay me for go back with them, but no money big enough now I know they
try to do harm to my nice young lady. She wasn't so good to me as the
other nice young lady, but that makes no matter. I not stand for any
hurt to her, sure I will not, milord."
"The meaning of this rigmarole," Anthony cut him short, speaking in
German (which he knew I understood and trusted Bedr didn't) "is, that
the fellow wants us to buy information from him. He pretends to have
broken with his employers on our account (though his explanation of
getting here to Halfa on their dahabeah is ridiculous) and that, having
come for our benefit against their wishes, he's without pay, penniless,
"A lie of course," I took for granted, also in German.
"The part about being broke--certainly. But it's certain, too, that he
must know some things we'd like to know."
"Could we trust a word he says?"
"No, as far as his moral sense is concerned. But my idea is to bargain
with him. We to pay according to value received. That might be bait for
a fish worth hooking."
"Yes, that's our line. We haven't much time to hear and digest his
story, though. The train will start in less than an hour."
"We shan't waste a minute. Without waiting for you, I began to bargain
on the line I've just suggested."
"How far did you get?"
"A good way, for I was able to scare him a bit. You see, he earns his
living in Cairo, and I've persuaded him that I have some influence
there, in quarters that can make or break him. He hasn't much more time
to spare than we have, if it's true that he wants to start back on the
government boat. You know they take natives, third class. My
suggestion, subject to your approval, is this: in any case we give a
thousand piasters, ten pounds. But if what he can tell us is of real
use or even interest, we rise to the extent of ten times that sum."
"It's a good deal for a beastly baboon like him."
"Remember, he has been doing services lately for which he probably got
"All right, whatever you say, goes," I agreed.
"I trust to your honours, my genlemens," remarked the beastly baboon in
question, in a manner so apropos that I guessed him not entirely
ignorant of German, after all.
"Thanks for the compliment," I responded gratefully.
"We shall have to talk here. There's no time to find a more convenient
place," said Fenton, returning to Arabic as a medium of communication.
"Fire away, Bedr. But don't start your story in the middle. Begin where
you took service with these Irish-American gentlemen."
"Was the genlemens Irish? I never know that," purred the guileless
Bedr; but Fenton brought him to his bearings. All questions were to be
from us to him. So Bedr "fired away": and there, within a stone's throw
of the train getting up steam for Khartum, we listened to a strange
tale--as strange, and as great an anachronism as that dark crocodile-shape
we had seen--except in the Nile country, where live crocodiles
and many other dark things can easily happen any day.
Blount's name, according to Bedr, was not Blount, but something else,
well-known in America. It was a name already associated with that of
O'Brien, which inclined us to hope for some grains of truth in the
chaff of lies we expected. Bedr said that in New York, years ago, he
had known the man "Blount." He was related to the American family who
took Bedr from Cairo. Later, when the Armenians had returned to Egypt,
"Blount" had come with him, for a "rest cure." He had engaged Bedr as
dragoman, and on leaving had asked for Bedr's card. That was years ago,
and nothing had been heard from him since: but before the _Laconia_ was
due to arrive, Bedr had received a telegram from Blount instructing him
to meet the ship, and wire to Paris whether Miss Gilder of New York and
a "Mrs. Jones" were on board, with a party. "Blount" knew that Bedr had
seen Miss Gilder as a child, and might now be able to recognize her. On
the day in New York when a block in traffic had given a glimpse of the
little girl in a motor-car with her father, Bedr and "Blount" had been
As soon as possible after Bedr's reply, "Blount" and another man, who
called himself Hanna, had arrived in Cairo. Bedr knew that they had a
fixed theory in regard to the young lady who passed as Miss Gilder. Who
they supposed her to be, he could not tell; but once he had "happened"
to be near, when they were not aware of his presence, and had heard one
of them mention a woman's name, which sounded like "Esny." They
accepted his word that he had been able to identify the so-called Miss
Guest as Rosamond Gilder, and in her they appeared to take no further
interest. Their attention was concentrated on Mrs. Jones and on the
lady who, according to their belief, was but posing as Miss Gilder.
Apparently they imagined her to be quite another person, one whom they
had taken a great deal of trouble to reach. Also they had an idea that
Mrs. Jones possessed something of which they were anxious to get hold.
It was a thing which ought to be theirs, and they had been after it for
years; but she had contrived to hide herself and it, until lately.
Why he had been told to guide the two younger ladies to the House of
the Crocodile, Bedr pretended not to know. Perhaps--only perhaps
--Blount and his companion, Hanna, wished to kidnap the one we called
Miss Gilder, and they called "Esney." But good, kind Bedr had never
dreamed that they meant any real harm. There had been a plan of some
sort for that night. Blount and Hanna were to arrive at the House of
the Crocodile for a close look at the young ladies, when the latter had
gone to sleep under the influence of the hasheesh they intended to
smoke. But the two gentlemen had not kept the appointment. At first,
Bedr had not understood why, and had not known what to do. Afterward,
of course, when he had heard of the row in the street, which had caused
the closing of the house for many tedious hours, he had guessed. And
later when he learned that poor Mr. Blount lay wounded in a hospital,
it had all become clear. Mr. Hanna, who seemed to work under Mr.
Blount's orders, had not been able to act alone.
Then, as to all the travelling up the Nile, Bedr had never been told
why "his genlemen" made the journey. Every one who came to Egypt went
up the Nile. Only, he had been instructed to find out, always, where we
were, and told to arrange their arrival at about the same time. At
Medinet they had not camped, or gone to an hotel, but had stayed in the
house of a friend of Bedr's. It was convenient, though not as
comfortable as he could wish for his clients. The advantage was, that
from the roof it was possible to see into our camp. Bedr had made
friends with one of the camel-boys who went to market to buy the black
lamb: and while we were away, had found out which was the tent where
Mrs. Jones and Miss Gilder (or "Esney") slept. What happened in the
night he could not say. He had stayed at his friend's house, while the
two gentlemen went out. He had done nothing at all for them in Medinet,
except to discover the ladies' tent, and also to buy a bottle of olive
oil. When the gentlemen came home in the middle of the night, they were
angry with him because they said he had shown them the wrong tent. But
that was unjust. It was the only time they had been unkind. Except for
that, they had been good, and had given him plenty of money for a
while. At Asiut and Luxor they had been pleased with him. All they
wanted at Rechid Bey's house, was to get the thing Mrs. Jones had,
which ought to be theirs. They had not told him this, but he heard them
talk sometimes. He knew more languages than they thought. If they
wanted to steal the young lady, they had never said so. When the plan
failed, they did not blame Bedr. It was not his fault. They saw that.
The _Mamoudieh_ had been engaged as long ago as just after Medinet,
when the thing the gentlemen wanted to do there could not be done. But
Bedr thought that, if the Luxor plan had been a success, the steam
dahabeah would have gone north from there instead of south. It was
because of that failure the boat had followed us up the Nile. At Abu
Simbel Bedr had quarrelled with the gentlemen, because he began to
suspect they meant harm to the ladies, or to one of them. He had been
clever, and got on board the _Enchantress_ as they told him to do. He
had obtained writing-paper, and typed a copy of a letter. In America,
he had learned to do typing. Often he could make better money in an
engagement now, because he knew how to use a machine. And when the
steward showed him over the boat, he left the letter in the stateroom
which the Arab boy said was Miss Gilder's. In spite of all these good
services, which no other dragoman in Egypt could have given, those
gentlemen would not listen to a word of advice. Bedr heard them speak
with the guardian of the temple, about going in before any one else
came to see the sunrise: and afterward they talked of hiding in the
Sanctuary. First, they had asked him if it were always dark there, as
the guide-books said. After hearing this he had put two and two
together: and when he remembered what was in the note he typed for Miss
Gilder, Bedr feared for her and Mrs. Jones. He begged the gentlemen not
to do anything rash, and they were so angry at his interference that
they sent him off with no more pay--nothing at all since Luxor.
Oh, no, they were not afraid of him, and what he could tell, because
they said nobody would believe a dragoman's word, against rich white
gentlemen. People would say he lied, for spite. But Bedr thought maybe
we should believe, because we knew already that something strange had
been going on. The gentlemen paid off the men on the _Mamoudieh_ and
ordered her to go on to Wady Halfa. They did not know that Bedr had
slipped on board, and hidden there, on purpose to find us, and tell his
A part of this tale carried truth on its face. But Anthony and I agreed
that there was a queer discrepancy at the end. If Bedr spoke the truth,
Blount and his comrade must have had a reason for wishing to get rid of
the fellow, or for not caring what became of him, a reason unconnected
with a quarrel. And it was certain that, if there had been a quarrel,
it was not because of virtuous plain-speaking from Bedr. It seemed
impossible that he could have got on board their hired boat to follow
us, without his employers' knowledge. Was his appearance at Wady Halfa,
and his apparent betrayal of his clients, all a part of their plan?
We could not decide this question in our minds, or by cross-questioning
Bedr, while the train waited, for only time could prove. But what we
had heard was interesting enough to be worth the promised thousand
piasters, and the fare north on the government boat just starting. To
make sure that Bedr did start, we called Kruger, put the whole sum into
his hands, asking him to help the dragoman by buying his ticket and
getting the notes changed into gold and silver. This little manoeuvre
left the Armenian so calm, however, that we fancied his wish must
really be to depart on the government boat. Such inquiries as we had
time to make concerning the _Mamoudieh_ seemed to show that she must
remain at Halfa for slight repairs to her engine, and instructions from
her owner, who was staying at Assuan. It was just at the last minute of
grace, with the station-master adjuring, and the Set reproaching us,
that Anthony and I jumped on board the train.
* * * * *
Strange that two rows of blue glass windows should have power to turn
the whole world topsy-turvy, or to create a new one, of an entirely
original colour-scheme! But so it was. Those people seated in their
grand, travelling "bed-sitting rooms," had only a superficial
resemblance to the passengers of the _Enchantress Isis_. Monny, for
instance, had pale green hair, with immense purple eyes; and showed
every sign of rapid transformation into a mermaid. Cleopatra's auburn
waves had turned to a vivid magenta: Biddy's black tresses had a blue,
grapey bloom on them: and Anthony's dark eyes were a sinister green,
with red lights. Ghostly, mother o' pearl faces with opal shadows,
peered through the violet glass at an unreal landscape, which would
instantly cease to exist if the windows were opened. But the windows
could not be opened, or a rain of sand would pour in; so we gazed out
on an impossible fairy land consisting of golden sea, with mountainous
shores carved from amethyst, through which shone the glow of pulsing
fires. Always we carried with us an immense shadow, like a trailing
purple banner, unfurling as we moved. Men and women and animals seen at
the numbered white stations in the sand, were but fantastic figures in
a camera obscura. The shadow of the train was torn with fiery streaks:
and when the sun had burned to death on a red funeral-pyre, the moon
stole out to mourn for him. Her coming was sudden. She seemed abruptly
to draw aside a hyacinth curtain, and hold up a lamp over the desert,
when the sun's fire had died. And the lamp gave forth an unearthly
light, which poured over the endless sands a sheet of primrose-yellow
flame. The warm sun-shadow was chilled from purple to gray, and flowed
over the magic primrose fields like a river of molten silver.
At Number Six Station, where we stopped for water after dinner, a hyena
came galumping over the sand like a humpbacked dog, to stare at us, as
we strolled in couples away from the train into the desert. Next
morning, every one was up early to see the gray hornets' nest huts
which were Sudanese villages, and the villagers themselves, who urged
us to buy straw rugs, baskets, fans, oranges, dried beans, live birds,
and milk in wooden bowls, whenever the train stopped: respectable old
ladies, dressed in short fringes, and small, full-stomached boys
dressed in nothing at all.
I had not told Biddy about our bargain with Sir Marcus: Anthony's and
my services in exchange for the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid. Why
should she be forced to share our suspense? For she would share it, if
she knew, even though she didn't yet yield to me, in the matter of a
united future. I wanted to wait before telling her the story, until
Fenton and I had made sure if there were anything golden about the
mountain, except its name. If we were doomed to disappointment I could
then give the tale a humorous turn, easier to do in retrospect than
anticipation. Now, when in blinding light of noon we pointed out, in an
impersonal manner, to all who cared to see, the pyramid-field of Meröe,
it seemed strange to think that no heart but Anthony's and mine beat
the faster. The sun was so hot that most people, blinking dazedly,
retired behind their screens of blue glass almost as soon as the train
stopped, close to Garstang's camp. I had informed the Set, casually,
that wonderful things were being found here in the rocky desert: that
the few neat white tents sheltered men who were going to make of Meröe
a world's wonder: that not only had the army of stunted black pyramids
visible from the train, yielded up treasures, but three tiers of
palaces were being unearthed, or rather, unsanded. I said nothing,
however, of the more distant dark shapes, like the pyramids yet unlike
them. Among those low, conical mountains which perhaps gave inspiration
to the pyramid builders, was our mountain. And I was not sorry when the
burning sun smote curiosity from eyes and brains, and sent nearly all
my flock back to their places, while the train had still some minutes
at the station.
Cleopatra had not come out. She had frankly lost interest in scenic
history, and did not want to be intelligent: but as Anthony and I
stepped off the train, we saw that Brigit and Monny stood arm in arm in
"Would you like to jump down?" I asked, reluctantly. For the first time
I did not wish Biddy O'Brien to give me her society. I hoped she would
say "No, thank you," for I wanted Fenton to point out our mountain
(which he had told me could be seen): and it would be inconvenient to
"Yes, we should like it," they both replied together: so Anthony and I
had to look delighted. It really was a pleasure to help them down: but
even that we could have waited for till our arrival at Khartum. And the
first remark that Biddy made was too intelligent. "What are those weird
things off there in the distance, that look exactly like ruined
pyramids--sort of mudpie pyramids?"
"Mountains," said Fenton.
"What, didn't anybody _make_ them?"
"The legend is, that Djinns, or evil spirits, created them to use as
tombs for themselves."
"But they're almost precisely like the made pyramids, only a little
more tumbledown. Have they names?"
"Some have, I believe," Anthony returned, with his well-put-on air of
indifference. "That blackest and most ruined looking one of all, for
instance, between two which are taller--there, away to the left, I
mean--that is called the 'Mountain of the Golden Pyramid.'"
Our eyes met over the girls' veiled hats. After all, he had found an
opportunity of telling me what I wanted to know.
"What a fascinating name!" said Monny. "It sounds as if there were some
special story connected with it. Is there?"
"Ye--es," Anthony was obliged to admit. "There is a legend that it was
used as a tomb by the first Queen Candace, who lived about two hundred
years B.C. after Ptolemy Philadelphus. She used to reign over what they
called the "Island of Meröe." It was this once fertile kingdom, between
the Atbara River over there, and the Blue Nile. They say she wished to
be buried with all her jewels and treasure, and was afraid of her tomb
being robbed, so she wouldn't trust to a man-made pyramid. She ordered
a secret place to be hollowed out in the heart of a mountain; and
that's the one they pretend it is."
"What a lovely legend! But I suppose there's nothing in it, really, or
clever people like those who're digging here now would have found the
tomb and the treasure long ago," said Monny.
"I don't know," I left Anthony to answer; wondering what he would say.
"Only a very few have ever put enough faith in the story to search, and
they have never been able to discover traces of an entrance into that
mountain or any other. Of course, in trying to enter the great pyramid
of Ghizeh, they looked a long time before they succeeded. But that was
different. There was never any doubt of there being something worth
seeing, inside, whereas this black lump may be solid rock, and nothing
more. It's many years since anybody has tried to get at the secret."
"I beg your pardon," politely said (in French) an elderly man, in a
pith helmet, blue spectacles, and khaki clothes, who stood near. "I
couldn't help hearing your conversation; and it may interest you and
these ladies to learn that at this very moment work is going on at the
so-called Mountain of the Golden Pyramid."
I envied Anthony the brown stain on his face, for I felt the blood
rushing to mine.
"Indeed!" I ejaculated in English. "We are very much interested. Work
--actually going on!"
"Yes, it was begun about four or five weeks ago, by an agent of Sir
Marcus Lark, the well-known financier, who got the concession which
some other party was said to be trying for. I am here," went on the
helmeted man, gazing benevolently through his blue spectacles at the
two pretty women, "I am here with my son, who is one of Garstang's men.
We have nothing to do with the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid. Luckily
for Sir Marcus, it was adjudged to be off our 'pitch.' Still, we are
interested. They are keeping their work very secret, but--these things
are in the air. The talk here is that they're on the point of making,
if they haven't made already, some very startling discovery."
"All aboard, _if_ you please!" shouted the Greek guard.
If there had been no Brigit and no Monny in the world we should have
let that train go on without us, and--hang the Set and its feelings!
But there was a Brigit; there was a Monny; and they were more to us
than all the treasure Sir Marcus was apparently stealing while we
What fools we had been to trust in such a man! And I had actually
wasted pity on the fellow. Now, as we were borne away from Meröe, we
saw our hopes, which had begun to seem certainties, dissolving into
air. They were like the mirage of the desert which lured us with siren
enchantment and mystery in this Never-Never-land which thousands of
brave men had died to win: shimmering blue lakes, that mirrored green
trees and low purple mountains, and the gold of sand-dunes, so real, so
near, it seemed we might walk to them in a few moments: only mocking
dreams, like our belief in a famous financier's loyalty; like our hopes
of fortune. For if Sir Marcus Lark had secretly begun work at the
Mountain of the Golden Pyramid, it meant that he intended to steal
everything best worth having, for himself.
It was maddening to realize that we might be too late to thwart him,
but we had to risk this, or risk losing something dearer than the
jewels of a Queen Candace. Anthony was staking the happiness of his
future on the events of the following night. Now that the small cloud
of misunderstanding had passed from the clear sky of our friendship, we
were one again in confidence, as we had been before the Philae
eavesdropping: and I knew the plan he meant to carry out at the
Sirdar's ball. It was rather a melodramatic plan, perhaps, but somehow
it fitted into the circumstances of his queer courtship, and I could
see why Anthony preferred it to any other more conventional. As for me,
I too counted on Khartum to give me a present of happiness. Bedr's
story, largely false as it might be, must have a basis of truth. I'd
ceased to argue with Biddy. "We'll leave the subject of the future
alone till we get to Khartum," I had said. She thought, maybe, that she
had half convinced me of her worldly wisdom. But this was far from
being the case. I was only waiting to see whether my theory were right
or wrong. I couldn't know until Khartum: and nothing on earth, or
hidden under earth, would have induced me to put off the moment of
North Khartum was standing in a mirage as we approached. And Fenton and
I were superstitious enough to wonder if it were a bad omen, that
lovely lake which was not there, reflecting clearly each white and
ochre-coloured house of the city in the sand. Only the blue glitter of
the Nile was real, as the train crossed the river on a high bridge, and
landed us in the surprising garden of beauty which is Khartum itself.
Wide streets, bordered with flowering trees, rose-pink acacias and
coral pendants of pepper-berries; lawns green as velvet; big, verandaed
houses of silver-gray or ruddy stone; roses climbing over hedge and
wall; scent of lilies and magnolias floating in an air clear as
crystal; droning sakkeyehs spraying pearls over the warm bodies of
slow-moving oxen; white sails like butterflies' wings dotting the Blue
Nile: this was the new city created as if by magic, in sixteen years,
upon the sad ruins of Gordon's stronghold.
On the wide veranda of the Grand Hotel, where pretty girls were giving
tea to young officers in khaki, Fenton came up to Brigit and Monny, who
were questioning me about letters. The look on his face struck the girl
"What is it?" she asked, almost sharply.
"Don't let me interrupt you," he said. "I can wait a few minutes."
"No," Monny insisted. "Please speak. I know it's something important."
"Important only to myself, perhaps," he answered, with a smile that was
rather wistful. "I have to say good-bye now."
"Good-bye?" echoed Monny, surprised and even frightened, more by his
look and tone than the words themselves.
"My engagement with Sir Marcus Lark ended when our train stopped at
Khartum. I have other business to attend to here. I've just made my
adieux with everybody else. I saved you till the last."
Monny was pale. Even the fresh young rose that was her mouth had
blanched. Otherwise she controlled herself perfectly. Was this part of
Anthony's plan? I wondered. He had told me what he intended to do at
the Palace ball to-morrow night; but he had said nothing about this
preliminary scene. I understood, however, why he had not manoeuvred to
get Monny to himself, in a deserted corner of this big ground-floor
balcony of the hotel. Even when with the Set it was a question of
getting their tea, or looking at their rooms, eyes were always ready to
observe Miss Gilder, especially since it was "in the air" that she
really _was_ Miss Gilder--"_the_ Miss Gilder." He did not want Miss
Hassett-Bean and Mrs. Harlow to be saying: "Look, my dear, at the
tragic, private farewell Antoun Effendi and our American Beauty are
having!" Since Philae, there would have been no use in trying to
conceal his feelings for Monny from Brigit or me. Therefore we made
useful chaperons, and could be regarded as dummies.
"You never told me you were leaving us at Khartum," the girl stammered.
"I thought--" But, though we knew what she thought, she could go no
further before an audience.
"My business prevents me from staying at the hotel," Anthony explained.
"And--though I shall see you, never again will you see poor Ahmed
"I don't understand," Monny said.
"I know. But that was what we agreed upon. You promised to trust me
without understanding. To-morrow night, at the Sirdar's ball, you will
understand. I've arranged with Lord Ernest that you and Mrs. Jones and
Mrs. East and he shall write your names in the book at the Palace. Then
you will all receive invitations for the ball; you four only, of the
"And you will be there?"
"I've just told you," Anthony repeated, "that Antoun is saying good-bye
to you forever."
"Yet you told me, too, that after Khartum I should be hap--" She cut
herself short, and shut her lips closely. I was angry with Fenton for
what seemed cruelty to one who had very nobly confessed her love for
him. Biddy's eyes protested, too; but the man and the girl cared no
more for us or our criticism, at that moment, than if we had been
harmless, necessary chairs for them to sit upon.
"There are many paths to happiness," Fenton answered. "I shall see you
to-morrow night, and I shall know whether you are happy. Meanwhile I
say again--trust me. And good-bye."
He held out his strong, nervous hand, so browned by the sun that it
needed little staining for the part he had played--and was to play no
more. As if mechanically, Monny Gilder laid her hand in it. They looked
into each other's eyes, which were almost on a level, so tall was she.
Then Antoun Effendi turned abruptly away, forgetting apparently that he
had not taken leave of Brigit or me.
"Let's go upstairs at once, dear, and see our rooms," Biddy said
An instant later, I stood alone on the veranda. But I knew well enough
where to find Captain Anthony Fenton when I wanted him, although the
death knell of Antoun was sounding. I was not in the least melancholy,
and despite the tense emotion of that short scene, I had never felt
less sentimental in my life. My whole being concentrated itself in a
desire to visit the post-office, and to bash Sir Marcus Lark's head.
When Anthony came up for his farewell I had been asking Brigit and
Monny if they expected letters at the Poste Restante. Both said no, but
advised by me, they gave me their cards, armed with which I could ask
for letters and obtain them if there were any. "It's very unlikely any
one will address me there," Biddy had assured me. "The only letter I'm
hoping for will come to the hotel."
I was not jealous: because I was sure the said letter was from Esmé
O'Brien, now for weal or woe Mrs. Halloran. The letter I hoped for
would be from a very different person, though if it materialized it
would certainly mention the runaway bride. And if such a letter came to
Khartum, the place to look for it, I thought, would be the Poste
Restante. The writer not being a personal friend of Mrs. O'Brien, and
presumably not knowing Khartum, could not be certain at which hotel she
I was hurrying away, a few minutes later, to prove once and for all
whether I were a budding Sherlock Holmes or merely an imaginative fool,
when a servant came out from the hotel and handed me a telegram.
"_Lark!_" I read the signature at the end with a snort of rage. "I
wonder he has the cheek to--" But by that time I was getting at the
meat of the message. "What the dev--by Jove! Here's a complication!" I
heard myself mutter a running accompaniment to Marcus Lark's words--
This is what he had to say on two sheets of paper:
LORD ERNEST BORROW, Grand Hotel, Khartum:
In train leaving Assuan met man from Meröe told me work begun at our
place strange news don't understand but sure you two haven't gone
ahead of bargain must be foul play or else mistake but thought
matter too serious go on north left train returned Assuan caught
government steamer for Halfa just arrived too late for train de luxe
but will proceed by ordinary train to camp better meet me there soon
as possible leaving boat people take care of themselves. Wire
His loyalty to us shamed me. We had not given him the benefit of the
doubt, but had at once believed the worst. He, though "not a gentleman"
in the opinion of Colonel Corkran and some others, was chivalrously
sure that we had "not gone ahead of the bargain!" A revulsion of
feeling gave me a spasm of something like affection for the big fellow
whom his adored Cleopatra sneered at as "common."
I longed to show the telegram to Anthony; but he would now be at the
Palace, reporting to the Sirdar. Later he would be at his own quarters,
transforming himself from a pale brown Hadji in a green turban into a
sunburned young British officer in uniform. Meantime I would go to the
Poste Restante, and then (whatever the result of the visit) I would
return, collect Brigit and Monny, and take them to the Palace to write
their names in the book.
I dare not think what my blood pressure must have been as I waited for
a post-office official to look through a bundle of letters.
"Mrs. B. Jones," he murmured. "No, nothing for B. Jones--unless it's
O'Brien Jones. Here's a letter addressed to Mrs. O'Brien Jones."
"That's it," said I, swallowing heavily, "Mrs. O'Brien Jones. I think
the letter must be postmarked Assuan."
Without further hesitation the post-office man handed me the envelope,
on the strength of Mrs. B. Jones' visiting card.
Going out of the office, I walked on air. "Sherlock Holmes it is!" I
congratulated myself. And I ventured to be wildly happy, because it
seemed to me that a letter sent to Mrs. O'Brien Jones, from Assuan,
could mean only one thing; a justification of my theory.
I went straight to Biddy's door and knocked. There was no answer, and I
stood fuming with impatience on the upstairs balcony, upon which each
bedroom opens. It seemed impossible to live another minute without
putting that letter into Biddy's hand. And not for the world would I
have let it come to her from any one else. I was tempted to tear open
the envelope, but before I had time to test my character, Biddy
appeared on the balcony, coming round the corner from Monny's room.
"Why, Duffer! You look as if the sky had fallen!" she exclaimed.
"It has," I returned. "It's lying all over the place. There's a bit of
it in this letter. A bit of heaven, maybe."
"A letter for me?"
"Yes. And if you aren't quick about opening it I'll commit hari kari."
She was quick about opening it.
As she read, almost literally my eyes were glued to her face. It went
white, then pink. "Thank heaven!" I said within myself. If she had been
pink first and white afterward, I should have been alarmed. For a
woman's colour to blossom warmly from a snowfield, means good news.
"Duffer!" she breathed. "Do you--know--what's in this?"
"I--thought it would come." My voice sounded rather queer. I'd fancied
I had more self-control. "That's why I--wanted your card--for the Poste
"Read this," she said, and gave me the open letter.
It was written on paper of a hotel at Assuan, near the railway station,
and was as follows:
MADAM: Let me explain frankly before I go further, that my name is
Thomas Macmahan. You may remember it. If you do, you will not think
it strange that I--as a private person, as well as a member of a
Society--whose name it is not necessary to mention--wanted certain
papers you were supposed to possess. For a long time I, and others
almost equally interested, tried to trace you, after learning that
you had the documents, or in any case knew where they were.
Naturally we were prepared to go far in order to make you give them
up. We believed that your step-daughter was with you. As the need
was pressing, and we had failed more than once, we would, if
necessary, have worked upon your feelings through her. Had we
questioned you, and you had replied that we were mistaken concerning
the young lady and the papers, we should have been incredulous. But
accident enabled us to hear from your own lips, details which we
could not disbelieve. As a woman we wish you no harm, therefore we
rejoice in this turn of events, for your sake. Your step-daughter
must now be _one of us_, through her husband. She has nothing
further to fear, much as we regret her marriage into a family so
deeply injured by her father. As for you, Madam, you may be at rest
where we are concerned. You said to Lord Ernest Borrow in the Temple
of Abu Simbel, that you could never be happy, until the Organization
Richard O'Brien betrayed, "forgot and forgave his daughter and
yourself." Through me, the Organisation now formally both forgets
Wishing you well in future, Yours truly,
T. MACMAHAN (alias Blount).
P. S. Kindly acknowledge receipt of this letter in care of Bedr el
Gemály whose address you have at Cairo. Not hearing from you, we
shall try to communicate this news in some other way. The present
method has occurred to us, as you may find it useful to know the
state of affairs without delay.
"Oh, Biddy, _do_ you find it useful?" I asked.
She held out her hands to me. There was no one on the veranda just then
and I kissed her.
"Mine!" I said. "What a gorgeous place Khartum would be, to be married
* * * * *
Monny was very brave next day. She went to Omdurman with the rest of
us. And it was the chance of a lifetime, because (through Anthony)
Slatin Pasha himself took us to the place of his captivity: Slatin
Pasha, slim, soldierly, young, vital and brilliant. It was scarcely
possible to believe that this man, who looked no more than thirty-five,
and radiated energy, could have passed eleven years in slavery terrible
beyond description. He spoke of those experiences almost lightly, as if
telling the story of some one else, and it was "all in the day's work"
that he should have triumphed over his persecutors in a way more
complete, more dramatic than any author of romance would dare invent
for his hero.
He took us, from the river-steps in front of his own big, verandaed
house, down the Blue Nile in a fast steam launch. It was a Nile as blue
as turquoise; and after the low island of Tuli had been left behind it
was strange to see the junction of the Blue and the White Niles, in a
quarrelsome swirl of sharply divided colours. Landing on the shore at
Omdurman, we met carts loaded with elephant-tusks, and wagons piled
with hides. Giant men, like ebony statues, walked beside pacing camels
white as milk. The vegetable market was a town of little booths: the
grain markets had gathered riches of green and orange-gold. Farther on,
in the brown shadows of the roughly roofed labyrinth of bazaars, were
stores of sandalwood, and spices smelling like Araby the blest;
open-fronted shops showing splendid leopard skins, crocodile heads
bristling with knives, carved tusks of elephants, shields, armour said to
have been captured from crusaders; Abyssinian spears, swords and strange
headgear used by the Mahdi's and Khalifa's men. The bazaars of Cairo
and even Assuan seemed tame and sophisticated compared to this wild
market of the Sudan, where half the men, and all the bread-selling
women who were old enough, had been the Khalifa's slaves.
With Slatin Pasha we went to the Khalifa's "palace" to gaze at the
"saint's" carriage, the skeleton of Gordon's piano, and scores of
ancient guns which had cut short the lives of Christian men. Slatin's
house we saw, too, and the gate whence he had escaped: the Mahdi's
shattered tomb, and the famous open-air Mosque.
Then we had a run up the Blue Nile, as far as "Gordon's Tree," and
lunched on board the launch. In the afternoon, back at Khartum again,
there was still time to group round the statue of Gordon on his camel,
holding the short stick that was his only weapon, and gazing over the
desert. The Set were allowed to walk through the Palace gardens, to
behold the spot at the head of the grand staircase, where Gordon fell,
and to have a glimpse, in the Sirdar's library, of the Khalifa's
photograph, taken after death. This was a special favour, and as they
knew nothing about the four invitations to the ball, they were
satisfied with their day.
Dinner was in the illuminated garden of the hotel: and when it was
over, I smuggled Brigit and Monny and Cleopatra inconspicuously away.
No one suspected; and if the lovely dresses worn by Mrs. East and Miss
Gilder were commented upon, doubtless aunt and niece were merely
supposed to be "showing off."
Never, I think, had Monny come so near to being a great beauty. In her
dress of softly folding silver cloth she was a tall white lily. She
wore no jewels except a string of pearls, and there was no colour about
her anywhere, except the deep violet her hazel eyes took on at night,
and the brown-gold of her hair. Even her lips were pale as they had
been when Antoun bade her good-bye. Hers was no gay, dancing mood. She
was going to the ball because Antoun Effendi had ordered, rather than
asked, her to go. But she was like some fair, tragic creature on trial
for her life, waiting to hear what the verdict of the jury might be.
THE SIRDAR'S BALL
Biddy, radiating joy, walked beside me with wide-open, eager eyes,
taking in every detail of the historic house. She admired the immense
hall, whose archways opened into dim, fragrant gardens. She was
entranced with the Sudanese band, ink-black giants uniformed in white,
playing wild native music in the moonlight. She wanted to stop and make
friends with the Shoebill, a super-stork, apparently carved in shining
metal, with a bill like an enormous slipper, eyes like the hundredth-
part-of-a-second stop in a Kodak, and feet that tested each new tuft of
grass on the lawn, as if it were a specimen of some hitherto
No question but she was happy! I was proud of her, and proud of myself
because my love had power to give her happiness. What matter now if I
were being robbed at the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid, by some
unknown thief? Neither he nor any one could steal Biddy.
Even Cleopatra seemed pleased to be coming to the Sirdar's ball, though
gloom lay heavy upon her. She wanted to look her best. She wanted to be
admired by the officers she was to meet, and to have as many partners
as she could split dances for. To be admired by some one was essential
to her just now, a soothing medicine to heal the smart of hurt vanity.
Monny, I felt, had made herself look beautiful only because she thought
that Antoun, unseen, would see her. As we entered the ballroom, her
eyes were wistful, searching, yet not expecting to find. He had said
that she would never see Antoun again.
I found friends in the ballroom: men I knew at home, and a few pretty
women I had met in England or abroad: but there was no more than time
to be received by the Aide-de-Camp, and to introduce a few officers to
my three ladies, when the moment came for the formal entry of our host
and hostess, the soldier-Sirdar and his graceful wife, the Royalties of
the Sudan. We were presented: and I guessed at once that the Sirdar had
been prepared in advance to take a special interest in Rosamond Gilder.
"Anthony has told him the whole thing, and asked his help," was my
thought. From the instant of his kindly greeting for the girl, I found
myself suddenly, excitedly assuming the attitude of a spectator in a
theatre, on the night of a new play. I knew the plot of the play, but
not how it would be presented, nor how it would work out. I saw that
the Sirdar had made up his mind to a certain line of action where Monny
was concerned. And by and by, when he had time to spare from his
general duties as host, I heard him ask if she would like to go on the
roof, where Gordon used to stand watching for the English soldiers to
"I will take you," he said. "And if you like to stay longer than I can
stop away from our guests, I'll give you another guide."
He turned to Biddy and me. (Cleopatra was dancing with Baron Rudolph
von Slatin Pasha, gorgeous in medals and stars: Brigit and I had just
"Would you like to come, too?" the Sirdar asked.
I answered for Biddy, knowing what she would want me to say. And still
the sense of being a spectator in a wonderful theatre was dreamily upon
me. Stronger and stronger the impression grew, as the Sirdar led us out
onto a wide loggia white with moonlight, and up a flight of stairs to a
flat roof. Overhead a sky of milk was spangled with flashing stars.
Beneath our eyes lay the palace gardens, where the torches of the
Sudanese band glowed like transfixed fireflies, in the pale moon-rays.
Palms and acacias and jewelled flower-beds, were cut out sharply in
vivid colour by the lights which streamed from open windows. Beyond
--past the zone of violet shadow so like a stage background--was the
sheen of the river, bright as spilt mercury under the moon. And beyond
again, on the other side of the Nile, the tawny flame of that desert
across which came the Khalifa's fierce army. "This is where Gordon
used to stand," the Sirdar stopped us near the parapet. "Only the roof
was one story lower then. He climbed up here every day, till the last,
to look out across the desert, saying: 'The English _will_ come!'
There's a black gardener I have, who thinks he meets him now, on
moonlight nights like this, walking in the garden. It wasn't much of a
garden in his day; only palms and orange trees: but a rose-bush he
planted and loved is alive still. I've just asked one of my officers
--one whom I particularly want you to meet, Miss Gilder--to pluck a rose
from Gordon's bush and bring it to you here. He knows where to find us;
and when he comes, I must go back to the ballroom and leave you--all
three--to his guidance. Lord Ernest and he used to be friends as boys,
I believe. Perhaps you've heard him speak of Captain Anthony Fenton?"
"Perhaps. I don't remember," Monny answered, apologetically. She, so
self-confident and self-possessed, was charmingly shy with this great
soldier who had made history in the Sudan.
"If you don't remember, Lord Ernest can't have done justice to the
subject. Fenton's one of the finest young officers in Egypt, or indeed,
in the service. We're rather proud of him. Lately he's been employed on
a special mission, which he has carried out extremely well. Few others
could have done it, for a man of great audacity and self-restraint was
needed: a combination hard to find. He has been in the Balkans. And
since, has had a particularly delicate task intrusted to him, to be
conducted with absolute secrecy. No 'kudos' to be got out of it in case
of success. And failure would almost certainly have cost his life. It
was a question of disguise, and getting at the native heart."
"It sounds like something in a story book," said Monny, while Brigit
and I kept mum, drinking in gulps of moonlight.
"Yes," the Sirdar agreed, "or the autobiography of Sir Richard Burton.
Fenton has the same extraordinary gift of language and dialect that
Burton had: the art of 'make-up,' too; and he's been to Mecca; a great
adventure I believe he had. Perhaps you can get him to talk of it:
though he's not fond of talking about himself. Altogether he's what I
sometimes hear the ladies call 'a romantic figure.' His father was a
famous soldier. If you were English you would have heard of him. He
broke off a brilliant career in Egypt by running away with a beautiful
princess. She was practically all Greek and Italian, though her father
called himself a Turk: no Egyptian blood whatever. But there was a
great row, of course, and Charles Fenton left the Army. Now Anthony
Fenton's grandfather, who lives in Constantinople, would like to adopt
his grandson: but the young man is in every sense of the word an
Englishman, devoted to his career, and doesn't want a fortune or a
"Why, that sounds--" Monny faltered.
"Like a man of character, and a born soldier, doesn't it? Here he comes
There was a sound of quick, light footsteps on the stairs. In silence
we turned to see a tall young officer in uniform walk out upon the flat
roof. The moon shone straight into a face grave, yet eager, so deeply
sunburned as to be brown even in that pale light: long eyebrows
sketched sharply as if in ink--the black lines running down toward the
temples; large, sad eyes; a slight upward hitch of the mouth on one
side; clear cut Roman nose; aggressive chin.
"Miss Gilder, let me introduce Captain Anthony Fenton," the Sirdar
"I've brought you a rose," said Anthony.
They stood looking at one another for a long moment, the sun-browned
British officer, and the pale girl. We, Biddy and I, stared at them
both from our distance; and when the spell of the instant had broken,
we saw that the Sirdar had gone.
We, too, would have gone, though the man and the girl were between us
and the stairway, and we should have had to push past them. But
Anthony, seeing our hesitation, spoke quietly. "Don't go," he said. "I
may want you."
Never until to-night had Monny Gilder heard him speak English.
"You see," he said to her, "why I told you yesterday you would never
see Antoun again. I had to tell you that, to make sure you would trust
me--fully, through everything. You _have_ trusted me, and so you've
made it possible for me to keep my vow--a wrong and stupid vow, but it
had to be kept. When I was angry because you treated me like a servant,
I swore that never, no matter how I might be tempted, would I tell you
with my own lips who I was--or let Borrow tell. I was going to make
myself of importance in your life as Ahmed Antoun, if I could, not as
Anthony Fenton. But long before that night at Philae I was ashamed. I
--but you said then, you would forgive me. Now, when you understand what
you didn't understand then, can you still say the same?"
"I--hardly know what to say," she answered. "I don't know how I feel
"Well, I know, you goose!" exclaimed Biddy, rushing to the rescue,
where angels who haven't learned to think with their hearts might have
feared to tread. "You feel so happy you're afraid you're going to howl.
Why, it's all perfectly wonderful! And only the silliest, earliest
Victorian girls would sulk because they'd been 'deceived.' If anybody
deceived you, you deceived _yourself_. _I_ knew who he was from the
first! So did your Aunt Clara. We'd kept our ears open, and heard the
Duffer talk about his friend Anthony Fenton who was coming to meet us.
_You_ were mooning I suppose, and didn't listen. We didn't give him
away partly because it wasn't our business, and partly because each of
us was up to another game, never mind what. Captain Fenton never tried
to play you a trick. You threw yourself at his head, you know you did,
from Shepheard's terrace. He had his _mission_ to think of, and you'd
be _very_ conceited if you thought he ought to have let you interfere
with it. As it happened, you worked in quite well with the mission at
first. Then Fate stepped in, and made the band play a different dance
tune; no military march, but a love-waltz. That wasn't his fault. And I
have to remind you of all this, because you're glaring at Captain
Fenton now as if he'd done something wrong instead of fine, and he
can't praise himself."
As she finished, out of breath, having dashed on without a single
comma, the giant black musicians in the garden began to sing a strange
African love song, in deep rich voices, their instruments, which had
played with precision European airs, suddenly pouring out their
primitive, passionate souls.
"Biddy dear," said the girl in a small, meek voice, "thank you very
much, and you're just sweet. But I _didn't_ need even you to defend him
to me. I was only just stopping to breathe, for fear my heart would
burst, because I was _dizzy_ with too much joy. I _worship_ him! And
--and you can both go away now, please. We don't want you."
We went. Biddy would have fallen downstairs, if I hadn't caught her
round the waist. Needless to say, I didn't look back; but Biddy did,
and should by rights have been turned into a pillar of salt.
"My gracious, but they're beautiful!" she gasped. "For goodness' sake,
let's dash as fast as we can, down into the garden, and do the same
"What?" I floundered.
"Why, you _duffer_, kiss each other like mad!"
* * * * *
Boiling with excitement, when I met Cleopatra later in the ballroom, I
told her what was going on above, in the moonlight, on the roof.
"At last your niece knows what I think you have guessed all along, but
so wisely kept to yourself," I said. "About Fenton, I mean. It's all
right between those two now. They will come downstairs engaged."
"Everybody is engaged!" Cleopatra stormily retorted.
"That's exactly what I remarked to Brigit, before I could persuade her
to follow the general example. 'Everybody in the world is engaged
except ourselves,' are the words I used."
"And except me," added Mrs. East. "You forgot me, didn't you?"
"Never!" I insisted. "You could be engaged to a dozen men any moment,
if you wanted to."
"I think you're exaggerating a little, Lord Ernest," Cleopatra replied
modestly and unsmilingly. But her countenance brightened faintly. "Of
course there are a few men--there were some in New York--"
"You don't need to tell me that," I assured her.
"I feel as if I'd like to tell you something else," she went on, "if
you can spare a few minutes."
"Will you sit out the next dance?" I asked. "It isn't a Bunny Hug or
Tango, or anything distracting for lookers-on."
"Aren't you dancing with Brigit?"
"No such luck--I mean, fortunately not. She has grabbed Slatin Pasha,
and forgotten that I exist. By jove, there come Miss Gilder and Fenton.
What a couple! They're rather gorgeous, waltzing together--what?"
"Very nice," said Cleopatra, trying with all her over-amuleted heart,
not to be acid. "But oh, Lord Ernest, that _settles_ it! I _must_ be
engaged myself, _before_ Monny brings him to show me, like a cat with a
mouse it's caught. Otherwise I couldn't _stand_ it; and afterward would
be too late."
Hastily I rushed her out into the garden, where the Shoebill regarded
her with one eye of prehistoric wisdom. If she really were a
reincarnation, I'm sure he knew it: and had probably belonged to her in
Alexandria, when she was Queen.
"There's a Mr. Talmadge in New York," she went on, wildly. "He said he
would come to me from across the world, at a moment's notice, if I
wired. Only it would be awkward if I announced our engagement to-night,
and then found he'd changed his mind. Besides, he'd be a _last_ resort:
and Sayda Sabri said I ought--"
"Why not wire _Sir Marcus_?" I ventured. (If his telegram had not come
yesterday, I would as soon have advised Cleopatra to adopt an asp.)
"Oh! well--I _was_ thinking of it. That's one thing I wanted to ask
your advice about. I believe he does love me."
"Idolizes is the word."
"And now and then in the night I've had a feeling, it was almost like
wasting something _Providential_, to refuse a Marcus Antonius. Sayda
Sabri warned me to wait for a man named Antony, whom I should meet in
Egypt. That's why I--but no matter now. The 'Lark' is a dreadful
obstacle, though. How could I live with a lark?"
"Lady Lark has quite a musical lilt."
"Do you think so? There's one thing, even if you're the wife of a
marquis or an earl, you can only be called 'Lady' This or That. You
might be _anything_. He's taller than Antoun--I mean, Captain Fenton.
And his eyes are just as nice--in their way. They quite haunt me, since
Philae. But Lord Ernest, he has some horrid, common little tricks! He
scratches his hair when he's worried. If you look up his coat sleeves
you catch glimpses of gray Jaeger, a thing I always felt I could
_never_ marry. And worst of all, when he finishes a meal and goes away
from the table, he walks off _eating!_"
"I don't suppose," said I, "that your first Marcus Antonius ever went
away from a table at all--on his feet; anyhow, while you were doing him
so well in Egypt. He had to be carried. _I_ call Sir Marcus (and I
stole the Sirdar's epithet for the other Anthony) a Romantic Figure!
His adoration for you is a--a sonnet. There's no 'h' in his name to
bother you. And he fell in love at first sight, like a real sport--I
mean, like the hero of a book. If he has ways you don't approve, you
can cure them; redecorate and remodel him with the latest American
improvements. Why, I believe he'd go so far as to give his Lark a tail
if you asked him to spell it with an 'e'."
"Well--I suppose you're right about what I'd better do," she sighed. "A
bird in the hand--oh, I'm not making a silly pun about a lark--is worth
two in New York! Please tell _every one_ you see I'm engaged to Sir
Marcus, for he is my bird in the hand: and I'll send off a telegram the
first thing to-morrow morning, for fear he hears the news that he's
engaged to me, prematurely. Where is he--do you know?"
"By to-morrow he'll be at Meröe Camp," I said: But I did not add: "So
THE MOUNTAIN OF THE GOLDEN PYRAMID
There was not much room in our hearts for mountains or gold just then:
yet somehow, before we left the Palace, Anthony and I had told Brigit
and Monny the secret which had been the romance of our lives, until
they came into it to paint dead gold with the living rose of love.
Victorian women would have been grieved or angry with men who could
leave them at such a time; but these two, instead of reproaching us,
urged us on. Naturally, they wanted to go with us. They said, if there
were danger, they wished to share it. And if there were to be a "find,"
they wished to be among the first to see what no eyes had seen for two
thousand years. But when Anthony explained that there wasn't time to
get tents together and make a decent camp for ladies, even if we were
sure not to tumble into trouble, they said no more. This was surprising
in Monny, if not in Brigit. I supposed, however, that she was being on
her best behaviour, as a kind of thank-offering to Providence for its
unexpected gift of legitimate happiness.
Our secret was to be kept. Only the Sirdar knew--and gave Fenton leave
of absence for a few days. The Set did not suspect the existence of a
mountain at Meröe more important than its neighbours. They did not even
know what had become of Antoun Effendi after he bade them farewell, and
"good luck." From the first, he had given it out that he must leave the
party at Khartum. The object of returning to Meröe was to "meet Sir
Marcus;" and I promised to be back in plenty of time to organize the
return trip to Cairo. My departure, therefore, was all in the day's
work: and the great sensation was Mrs. East's engagement. Even though,
for obvious reasons, Monny's love affair was kept dark, Cleopatra could
not resist parading hers, the minute her wire to Sir Marcus had been
safely sent. I got an invitation for all the members of the Set to a
tennis party in the Palace gardens, at which the Sultan of Dafur and a
bodyguard armed with battle axes would be the chief attraction. Also I
induced the landlord of our hotel to promise special illuminations,
music, and an impromptu dance for the evening. This was to make sure
that none of our friends should find time to see me off at the train.
Anthony was to join me there, in mufti, and might be recognised by
sharp eyes on the lookout for mysteries. Once we got away, that danger
would be past: unless Cleopatra told. But I was certain that she would
not to any one ever again mention the name of Antoun.
It was a full train that night, but no one in it who knew Antoun. Many
people who had been visiting friends or staying at an hotel for weeks,
were saying good-bye. The narrow corridors of the sleeping-cars had
African spears piled up on the floor against the wall, very long and
inconvenient. Ladies struggled in, with rainbow-coloured baskets almost
too big for their compartments. Seats were littered with snake-skins
like immense, decayed apple parings; fearsome, crescent-shaped knives;
leopard rugs in embryo; and strange headgear in many varieties. Stuffed
crocodiles fell down from racks and got underfoot: men walked about
with elephant tusks under their arms; dragomans solicited a last tip; a
six-foot seven Dinka, black as ink and splendid as a Greek statue,
brought flowers from the Palace for some departing acquaintance of the
Sirdar and his wife. Officers in evening dress dashed up through the
sand, on donkey-back, to see the last of friends, their mess jackets
making vivid spots of colour in the electric light. All the fragrant
blossoms of Khartum seemed to be sending farewell messages of perfume
on the cool evening air. No more fantastic scene at a railway-station
could be imagined. If the world and its doings is but a moving picture
for the gods on Olympus they must enjoy the film of "a train departing
Anthony did not join me until just as the train was crawling out of the
station, for we had asked Brigit and Monny not to see us off, and they
had been startlingly acquiescent. We had a two-berthed compartment
together, and talked most of the night, in low voices; of the mountain;
of the legends concerning it, and the papers of the dead Egyptologist
Ferlini, which indirectly had brought Fenton into Monny Gilder's life,
and given Brigit back to me. There was the out-of-doors breakfast
party, too, on the terrace at Shepheard's. Had it not been for this
incident Antoun, the green-turbaned Hadji, would never have been
selected by Miss Gilder, in words she might now like to forget. "I'll
have _that_!" But, had not a distressed artist called on me one morning
in Rome, months ago, with an old notebook to sell, I should not have
come to Egypt for my sick-leave; and none of us would have met. I had
visited the artist's studio to please a friend, and bought a picture to
please him (not myself); therefore he regarded me as a charitable
dilettante, likely to buy anything if properly approached. Bad luck had
come to him; he wanted to try pastures new, and needed money at short
notice: therefore he wished to dispose of a secret which might be the
key to fortune. Why didn't he use the key himself? was the obvious
question; which he answered by saying that a poor man would not be able
to find the lock to fit it.
The notebook he had to sell had been the property of a distinguished
distant relative, long since dead; the Italian, Ferlini, who about 1834
ransacked the ruins of Meröe in the kingdom of Candace. Ferlini had
given treasure in gold, scarabs, and jewels to Berlin, all of which he
had discovered in a secret _cache_ in the masonry of a pyramid, in the
so-called "pyramid field" of Meröe. But he had been blamed for
unscientific work, and in some quarters it was not believed that he had
found the hoard at Meröe. This jealousy and injustice had prevented
Ferlini's obtaining a grant for further explorations he wished to make.
He claimed to have proof that in a certain mountain not far from the
Meröe pyramids, and much resembling them in shape, was hidden the tomb
of a Candace who lived two hundred years earlier than the queen of that
name mentioned in the New Testament, mistress of the eunuch baptized by
St. Philip. In the notebook which had come down with other belongings
of Ferlini the Egyptologist, to Ferlini the artist, was a copy of
certain Demotic writing, of a peculiar and little known form. The
original had existed, according to the dead Ferlini's notes, on the
wall of an antechapel in one of the most ruinous pyramids at Meröe,
decorated in a peculiarly barbaric Ethiopian style. The wall-writing
described the making of the mountain tomb, ordered by Candace in fear
that her body might be disturbed, according to a prophecy which
predicted the destruction of the kingdom if the jewels of the dead were
Ferlini, a student of the Demotic writings which had superseded
hieroglyphics, doubted not that he had translated the revelation
aright, though he admitted supplying many missing words in accordance
with his own deductions. He was in disfavour at the time he tried to
organize an expedition in search of the queen's hoard, and though
legends of the mountain confirmed the writings which Ferlini was the
first to translate, the Italian could induce no one to finance his
scheme. The one person he succeeded in interesting had a relative,
already excavating in Egypt: but eventually addressed on the subject,
this young man replied that the antechapel in question had fallen
completely into ruin. It would be impossible, therefore, to find the
wall-writing, "if indeed it ever existed."
This verdict had put an end to Ferlini's hopes, and nothing remained of
them save the translated copy of the writing in his notebook (the
missing words inserted) and the legends of the negroes who, generation
after generation since forgotten times, had told the story of the
"Mountain of the Golden Pyramid." Nobody, within the memory of man, had
ever searched for the problematical tomb: and as tales of more or less
the same character are common in Egypt, I did not place much faith in
the enthusiastic jottings of Ferlini. However, my love of the unknown,
the mysterious and romantic, made me feel that the possession of the
notebook was worth the price asked: two thousand lire. When I had
brooded over it myself, I posted it to Fenton at Khartum; and his
opinion had brought me to Egypt. Thinking of the matter in this way, it
seemed that we owed our love stories to the impecunious artist, who had
probably spent his eighty pounds and forgotten me by this time. In a
few hours, or a few days, we might owe him even more.
Anthony, acquainted with Meröe, its pyramids and pyramidal mountains,
since his first coming to the Sudan, had been able to plan out our
campaign almost at an hour's notice. He knew where to wire for camels
[to take us to our destination, eighteen miles from Kabushîa], also for
trained excavators. And he knew one who, if the white men were in
ignorance, could tell us all the most hidden happenings of the desert
for fifty miles around. This was the great character of the
neighbourhood, among the blacks, the Wise Man of the Meröitic desert,
who claimed to be over a hundred years old, had a tribe of sons and
grandsons, and practically ruled the village of Bakarawiya. For
countless generations his forbears had lived under the shadow of the
ruined pyramids. Family tradition made them the descendants of those
Egyptian warriors who revolted in the time of King Psammetichus,
migrating from Elephantine Island to Ethiopia. There they were well
received by the sovereign, given lands in Upper Nubia, and the title of
Autolomi, or Asmack, meaning "Those who stand on the left side of the
King." Anthony's friend and instructor in the lore of legends rejoiced
in the name of "Asmack," which, he proudly said, had been bestowed on
the eldest son in his family, since time immemorial.
Asmack the old and wise was to meet us at Kabushîa Station, with
camels, one for each, and one for Sir Marcus, in case he had arrived
and wished to ride to the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid.
It was orange-red afternoon when our white train slowed down, to pause
for a moment at Kabushîa Station, and the first face we saw was that of
Sir Marcus Antonius--a radiant face whose beaming smile was, I knew,
not so much a welcome for us as a sign that he had received the
telegram from Cleopatra. He hurried along the platform to the steps of
our sleeping car; and Anthony, ready to swing himself down before the
train stopped, pointed out Asmack not far off,--a thin old black man
who must once have been a stately giant, but bent forward now as if
searching the earth for his own grave. He had got to his feet, from a
squatting position in the coal-stained, alluvial clay of this strange
desert, and was gazing toward us, his few rags fluttering in the warm
wind. Beside him stood a mere youth of fifty or so, and two or three
young men, with several sulky camels.
Sir Marcus began to shake hands almost before we were on the platform;
and so did he engross himself in us and absorb our attention that none
of us quite knew when the train went out.
"My dear boys!" he addressed us, nearly breaking our finger bones.
"Lord, Fenton, you're even better looking as a true Britisher than a
false Arab! But never mind that now. Borrow, you're a trump. I believe
I owe everything to you. I mean, in the matter of Mrs. East--_Clara_.
It always was my favourite name. Fenton knows? Thanks for the
congratulations. Thanks to you both. You must be my best men. What?
Can't have but one? Well, it must be Borrow, then, I suppose. Oh, about
the mountain? Why, of course you're anxious. Don't think I have not
been busy. I have. Got here by special train. Cost me a lot of money.
But who cares? It's worth it. I want to hurry things up, and get to
Khartum. What your blessed mountain is to you, that is a certain lady
"What have you found out?" I managed at last to cut short his
"Why, not much, I'm bound to confess. But I've had only a few hours.
Some one--heaven knows who--came here, it seems, with Arabs he'd
engaged heaven knows where, and pretended to be my agent, empowered by
me to work at the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid, where it was well
known I'd got the right to excavate. Well, the chap was armed with
credentials, and had a contract signed by me, so the authorities
thought he was all right of course, and let him go on. This was more
than a month ago. He pitched his camp out by the mountain, and nobody
disturbed him. Fact is, from what I hear, I don't believe the
excavating men from the Liverpool School of Archeology or whatever you
call it, thought much of his chances of success. A case of looking for
Captain Kidd's treasure! He and his men were excavating round the
mountain, and he'd engaged some more fellows from the neighbourhood to
make the work go faster. But a few days ago--not yet a week--he
discharged the lot, paid them up and sent them off saying he'd
abandoned hope of finding any entrance to an alleged tomb. The Arabs
departed by train; but the fellows from hereabouts gossiped a bit, it
seemed, and the story was started that they'd been got rid of because
the Boss had hit on something, and wanted to be left to himself.
"You haven't told us yet the name of the man," Anthony reminded him.
"By Jove, no more I haven't! I'm so excited about everything. You won't
know it, but Borrow will. Colonel Corkran."
Anthony gave me a look. "I do know the name," he said. "It's the man of
"The man of your dream? Corkran a _dream_?"
"A dream which has kept repeating itself until I grew superstitious
about it. A red-faced man with a purplish sort of moustache, I saw
coming between you and us, or looking at me out of a dark recess,
something like a deep doorway. Borrow said when I told him, I was
describing your man, Corkran, whose place he took on your yacht
"Well, I'm hanged! If that's not the rummiest go! I only hope he's not
in that recess or deep doorway now, if it leads into your mountain. You
remember, Borrow, my telling you he'd been alone for a while in the
sitting-room I use as an office at the Semiramis Hotel, and had had a
good chance if he wanted to browse among my papers? Well, I didn't
mention this to you at the time, but an unsigned contract with you for
your services, in return for all my rights in the Mountain of the
Golden Pyramid, was lying on the desk. (As for the contract he's been
showing here, it could only have been for the trip; but it showed him
to be my agent right enough.) And there were two confidential letters
on my desk: one from a man I'd written to, an Egyptologist chap, saying
in his opinion there _might_ be a tomb in the mountain; the other, an
answer, not finished, telling him I meant to run the risk, and had
secured the rights. You know how queer I thought it, Corkran should
throw up his job, which was paying him pretty well? But it wasn't my
business, and I was jolly glad to be rid of him as it happened. Well,
here we have the mystery explained."
"Not quite yet! I wish we had," I said, thinking of the sly old poacher
on our preserves, who had perhaps by this time skimmed the cream off
the secret. It was easy to guess why he had sent away his workers if,
indeed, he had imagined himself on the eve of a discovery. Rights to
dig are given on the understanding that the Egyptian government shall
have half of anything found, worth the taking. Corkran's scheming to be
alone must mean that he intended annexing what treasure he could carry
off, and then getting out of the bad business. Already six days had
passed since the Arabs and Nubians had left him alone in his camp; and
though it was lucky that we had learned what was going on, it might be
too late to profit by the information. Even if we caught Corkran
red-handed, he might have hidden his spoil where none but he, or some
messenger, could ever find it.
"You'll go out with us to the mountain, Sir Marcus?" I went on. "We'll
be ready to start--"
But Sir Marcus had suddenly become deaf. He had turned as if to gaze
after the long ago departed train. Instead of answering me, he was
stalking off toward a group of people at the far end of the platform:
three ladies and two men in khaki. For a second I felt an impulse of
indignation. Cheek of him to march away like that, not caring much that
we had been robbed, largely through his carelessness, and by one of his
But the indignation turned to surprise, sheer incredulous amazement. I
glanced at Anthony to learn whether he had seen; but he was beckoning
the old wise man of the desert. "Fenton," said I, "it seems we weren't
the only passengers to get off here. There are three people we know,
talking to two we don't."
Anthony looked. "Great Scott!" said he. And in another instant we were
following Sir Marcus hastily along the platform to greet--or scold (we
weren't sure which it ought to be) the big hatted, green-veiled,
khaki-dressed but easily recognised figures of Brigit O'Brien, Monny
Gilder, and Mrs. East.
"We couldn't help it," Monny cried in self-defence to Anthony, before
he had time to reach the group. "We knew you wouldn't let us come, so
we came--because we _had_ to be in this with you. Even Biddy wanted to
--and she's so _wise_. As, for Aunt Clara, I believe she'd have started
without us, if we hadn't been wild for the journey. So you _see_ how it
We did see. And we couldn't help rejoicing in their pluck, as well as
in the sight of them, though it was all against our common sense.
"We've ordered our own camels, and a tent, and things to eat and drink,
so we shan't be any bother to you," Monny went on, as Anthony rather
gravely shook hands, his eager brows lifted, his eyes smiling in spite
of himself. "We couldn't have done it, if it hadn't been for Slatin
Pasha. We first went and confided _everything_ to him, because we knew
he loved adventures and would be sure to sympathize. These gentlemen
from the camp are his friends, and they've organized our little
expedition at his request. More than one person can use the telegraph,
you know! And oh, won't it be lovely going with you out into the
* * * * *
It was not yet evening when we set forth; but it was the birth of
another day when we arrived within sight of Corkran's camp. The tents
glimmered pale in the light which comes up out of the desert before
dawn, as light rises from the sea; and so deep was the stillness that
it might have been a ghost camp. There was not even the howling of a
dog; and this silence was more eerie than the silence of sleep in a
lonely place; because of the tale a grandson of Asmack's had brought to
the village. He was one of the Nubian men Corkran had engaged to help
his Arab workmen from the north; and when the whole gang had been
discharged he, suspecting that some secret thing was on foot, hid in
the desert-scrub that he might return by night to spy. He had wished
his brothers to stay with him, but they, fearing the djinns who haunt
the mountain and have power at night, refused, and begged him to come
away lest he be struck by a terrible death. The legend was that Queen
Candace, the queen who ordered the making of the tomb--had been a
witch. When she died, by her magic arts learned from the lost Book of
Thoth, she had turned all those aware of the tomb's existence, into
djinns, to guard the secret dwelling of her soul. Even the great men of
the court who by her wish hid in the mountain her body and jewels and
treasure, became djinns the moment they had closed and concealed the
entrance to the tomb. They could never impart the secret to mortals;
and because of the knowledge which burned within their hearts, and the
anguish of being parted forever from those they loved, the tortured
spirits in prison grew malevolent. While the sun (still worshipped by
them as Rã) was above the horizon they had no power over men, but the
moment that Rã? "died his red death" the djinns could destroy those who
ventured within such distance of the mountain as its shadow might
reach: and if any man ventured nearer in the darkness of night, he
heard the wailing of the spirits. Camp had been pitched beyond the
shadow's furthest reach; but the night after the workmen were
discharged, Asmack's one brave grandson had been led by curiosity to
approach the haunted mountain. When he had crept within the trench most
lately dug, he had heard the wicked voice of the djinns raging and
quarrelling together. There had been a threatening cry when they knew
how a man had defied their power, and the Nubian had escaped a fate too
horrible to put in words, only by running, running, until his breath
gave out, and the sun rose.
This story gave the silent desert power even over European minds, as we
came where the small camp glimmered, just outside the Shadow's wicked
Not one of Asmack's men would go with us to the tent, which was
evidently that of the leader. He might be lying there dead, struck by
the djinns, they said, and all those who looked upon the body would be
accursed. The three women would not have gone to Corkran's tent, even
had we allowed them to do so; and Sir Marcus, already a slave, though a
willing one, stayed with his adored lady and her friends, inside the
ring which the Nubians proceeded to make with the camels. Carrying a
lighted lantern Anthony and I walked alone to the tent.
The flap was down, but not fastened, and the canvas moved slightly as
if trembling fingers tried to hold it taut.
"Colonel Corkran!" I called out, sharply. But there was no answer.
Anthony lifted the flap, holding up the lantern, and we both looked in.
No one was there--but the tent had the look of recent occupation. It
was neatly arranged, as the tent of an old soldier should be: but on
the table stood a half-used candle stuck in a bottle; and beside it a
book lay open, face downward. Entering the tent the first thing I did
was to glance at the title of this book. It was a learned archeological
treatise. Here and there a paragraph was marked, and leaves
dog's-eared. Three other volumes of the same sort were piled one upon the
other. Anthony and I had read all four during the last few months,
since our minds had concentrated on the subject of pyramids and rock
"What do you think has become of Corkran?" I said to Anthony.
"I think the djinns have got him," he answered, gravely.
"I don't quite know what I mean. But--he must have hit upon something,
and then--have been prevented from coming back."
"Why should he have had such luck, after a few weeks' work, an
unscientific fellow like him, if the secret of the mountain has been
inviolate for over two thousand years?"
"Wait and see what's happened to him before you call it 'luck,' Duffer.
But you must remember that nobody except Ferlini and a few
superstitious blacks ever believed that the mountain had a secret.
Incredulity has protected it. And Corkran had to work like a thousand
devils if he hoped to get hold of anything before he was found out. I
believe he has got hold of something, and--that it then got hold of
him. But we shall see."
"Yes, we shall see," I repeated. "And before long if we too have luck."
"I hope it won't be the same kind as his. But come along out of this.
We must get to work before sunrise, and try for a result of some sort
before the worst of the heat. If _he's_ found anything, we ought pretty
quickly to profit by his weeks of frantic labour. That, maybe, will be
We had to tell the party what we had found in the tent, and what we
meant to do next. Sir Marcus was now excused by Mrs. East; but until
summoned by us the ladies were to remain where they were, under shelter
of the tent which the camel-boys were getting into shape. When exhorted
to be patient, they received the advice in sweet silence; but we did
not until later attach much importance to this unusual mood. Perhaps at
the moment we were too preoccupied to notice expressions, even in the
eyes we loved best.
We took with us two men whom Asmack had provided as diggers, and in
five minutes we were at the base of the little dark, conical mountain
which for weeks had been the object of our dreams. Now, standing face
to face with it, the glamour faded. The Mountain of the Golden Pyramid
was exactly like a dozen other tumbled shapes of black rock, grouped or
scattered over the dull clay desert which many centuries ago had been
the fertile realm of Candace. Why should a queen have selected it from
among its lumpish fellows, to do it secret honour? But Corkran had had
faith. Here were traces of what Fenton called his "frantic labours."
A parallel trench had been dug with the evident object of unearthing a
buried entrance into the mountain. Down it went through hardened sand
and clay, to a depth of eight or ten feet; and descending, we found as
we expected to do, several low tunnels driven at right angles toward
the mountain itself. One after another we entered, crawling on hands
and knees, only to come up against a solid wall of rock at the end.
Each of these burrows represented just so much toil and disappointment.
But Corkran, whose undertaking could be justified even to his own mind
only by success, had not been discouraged. The trench went round three
sides of the mountain, as we soon discovered; and the corner of the
fourth façade not having yet been turned, it seemed a sign that Corkran
had, as Anthony said, "hit upon something," or thought that he had done
so. Otherwise he would not have discharged his men before the fourth
gallery was begun. We had started from the south because our camp faced
the long trench on that side, and it was quicker to jump into it than
to walk round and examine the excavations from ground-level. On the
east, the plan of the work was the same as on the south, except that
the tunnels leading mountainward were driven at different distances,
relatively to each other; and each of these also ended in a _cul de
sac_. Now remained the trench on the north side of the mountain, which
was the most promising direction for a "find": and as we turned the
corner which brought us into this third trench the sun rose, making the
sky blossom like the primrose fields of heaven.
On this side, sand driven by the northerly wind which never rests had
banked itself high against the mountain, and the excavation had been a
more serious task. There were only two tunnels, and into both sand had
fallen. One was nearly blocked up, and impossible to enter without
reopening; but we took it for granted hopefully that the second had
been made later. This ran toward the mountain with a northeasterly
slant; and though it was partly choked by sand, it was possible to
crawl in. Anthony insisted on going first. I followed, at the pace of
my early ancestor the worm, and Sir Marcus comfortably waited outside.
He wanted to be a pioneer only in financial paths; and after all, this
was _our_ mountain now. It wasn't worth his while to be killed in it.
Besides, as he pointed out, if anything happened to us there must be
some one to organize a rescue, and break the news to the ladies.
Anthony had a small electric torch, and I a lantern, but going on hands
and knees, we could use the lights only now and then. When we had crept
ahead (descending always) for twelve or fifteen feet, Anthony stopped.
"Hullo!" I heard him call, in a muffled, reverberating voice. "Here's
the reason why Corkran sent his Arabs away!"
"What is it?" I yelled, my heart jumping.
"The rock's been cut back, by the hands of men."
"His men, perhaps."
"No, it isn't done like that nowadays. The tunnel turns here, dips
down, and goes on along this flat wall. I bet Corkran always kept ahead
of the men. When he saw this, he discharged his workers--And yet, it
may be nothing of importance after all. Only a flat surface for some
old wall-inscription such as Romans and even Egyptian soldiers made
constantly, on the march."
The rumbling voice ceased, as Anthony crawled round the turn of the
passage. I followed, literally close on his heels, the burrow
descending like a rabbit-hole. Suddenly Anthony stopped again. "I've
come into a sort of chamber Corkran's scooped out," I heard him say.
"It's high enough to sit up in--no, to stand up in. This is the end of
the passage, I think. By Jove, look out!" He had disappeared in the
darkness behind a higher arch in the roof of the gallery. As he cried
out, I slipped through after him, slid down a steep, abrupt slope, and
by the light of my agitated lantern saw Anthony standing waist-deep in