Part 1 out of 6
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Dudding, email@example.com
and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
This text was orignally prepared from a 1909 edition, published by
Eveleight Nash & Grayson Ltd., 148 Strand, London, and printed in
Britain by The Northumberland Press Ltd., Newcastle-upon-tyne.
QUEEN SHEBA'S RING
by H. Rider Haggard
THE COMING OF THE RING
Every one has read the monograph, I believe that is the right word, of
my dear friend, Professor Higgs--Ptolemy Higgs to give him his full
name--descriptive of the tableland of Mur in North Central Africa, of
the ancient underground city in the mountains which surrounded it, and
of the strange tribe of Abyssinian Jews, or rather their mixed
descendants, by whom it is, or was, inhabited. I say every one
advisedly, for although the public which studies such works is usually
select, that which will take an interest in them, if the character of
a learned and pugnacious personage is concerned, is very wide indeed.
Not to mince matters, I may as well explain what I mean at once.
Professor Higgs's rivals and enemies, of whom either the brilliancy of
his achievements or his somewhat abrupt and pointed methods of
controversy seem to have made him a great many, have risen up, or
rather seated themselves, and written him down--well, an individual
who strains the truth. Indeed, only this morning one of these
inquired, in a letter to the press, alluding to some adventurous
traveller who, I am told, lectured to the British Association several
years ago, whether Professor Higgs did not, in fact, ride across the
desert to Mur, not upon a camel, as he alleged, but upon a land
tortoise of extraordinary size.
The innuendo contained in this epistle has made the Professor, who, as
I have already hinted, is not by nature of a meek disposition,
extremely angry. Indeed, notwithstanding all that I could do, he left
his London house under an hour ago with a whip of hippopotamus hide
such as the Egyptians call a /koorbash/, purposing to avenge himself
upon the person of his defamer. In order to prevent a public scandal,
however, I have taken the liberty of telephoning to that gentleman,
who, bold and vicious as he may be in print, is physically small and,
I should say, of a timid character, to get out of the way at once. To
judge from the abrupt fashion in which our conversation came to an
end, I imagine that the hint has been taken. At any rate, I hope for
the best, and, as an extra precaution, have communicated with the
lawyers of my justly indignant friend.
The reader will now probably understand that I am writing this book,
not to bring myself or others before the public, or to make money of
which I have no present need, or for any purpose whatsoever, except to
set down the bare and actual truth. In fact, so many rumours are
flying about as to where we have been and what befell us that this has
become almost necessary. As soon as I laid down that cruel column of
gibes and insinuations to which I have alluded--yes, this very
morning, before breakfast, this conviction took hold of me so strongly
that I cabled to Oliver, Captain Oliver Orme, the hero of my history,
if it has any particular hero, who is at present engaged upon what
must be an extremely agreeable journey round the world--asking his
consent. Ten minutes since the answer arrived from Tokyo. Here it is:
"Do what you like and think necessary, but please alter all names, et
cetera, as propose returning via America, and fear interviewers. Japan
jolly place." Then follows some private matter which I need not
insert. Oliver is always extravagant where cablegrams are concerned.
I suppose that before entering on this narration, for the reader's
benefit I had better give some short description of myself.
My name is Richard Adams, and I am the son of a Cumberland yeoman who
married a Welshwoman. Therefore I have Celtic blood in my veins, which
perhaps accounts for my love of roving and other things. I am now an
old man, near the end of my course, I suppose; at any rate, I was
sixty-five last birthday. This is my appearance as I see it in the
glass before me: tall, spare (I don't weigh more than a hundred and
forty pounds--the desert has any superfluous flesh that I ever owned,
my lot having been, like Falstaff, to lard the lean earth, but in a
hot climate); my eyes are brown, my face is long, and I wear a pointed
white beard, which matches the white hair above.
Truth compels me to add that my general appearance, as seen in that
glass which will not lie, reminds me of that of a rather aged goat;
indeed, to be frank, by the natives among whom I have sojourned, and
especially among the Khalifa's people when I was a prisoner there, I
have often been called the White Goat.
Of my very commonplace outward self let this suffice. As for my
record, I am a doctor of the old school. Think of it! When I was a
student at Bart.'s the antiseptic treatment was quite a new thing, and
administered when at all, by help of a kind of engine on wheels, out
of which disinfectants were dispensed with a pump, much as the
advanced gardener sprays a greenhouse to-day.
I succeeded above the average as a student, and in my early time as a
doctor. But in every man's life there happen things which, whatever
excuses may be found for them, would not look particularly well in
cold print (nobody's record, as understood by convention and the
Pharisee, could really stand cold print); also something in my blood
made me its servant. In short, having no strict ties at home, and
desiring to see the world, I wandered far and wide for many years,
earning my living as I went, never, in my experience, a difficult
thing to do, for I was always a master of my trade.
My fortieth birthday found me practising at Cairo, which I mention
only because it was here that first I met Ptolemy Higgs, who, even
then in his youth, was noted for his extraordinary antiquarian and
linguistic abilities. I remember that in those days the joke about him
was that he could swear in fifteen languages like a native and in
thirty-two with common proficiency, and could read hieroglyphics as
easily as a bishop reads the /Times/.
Well, I doctored him through a bad attack of typhoid, but as he had
spent every farthing he owned on scarabs or something of the sort,
made him no charge. This little kindness I am bound to say he never
forgot, for whatever his failings may be (personally I would not trust
him alone with any object that was more than a thousand years old),
Ptolemy is a good and faithful friend.
In Cairo I married a Copt. She was a lady of high descent, the
tradition in her family being that they were sprung from one of the
Ptolemaic Pharaohs, which is possible and even probable enough. Also,
she was a Christian, and well educated in her way. But, of course, she
remained an Oriental, and for a European to marry an Oriental is, as I
have tried to explain to others, a very dangerous thing, especially if
he continues to live in the East, where it cuts him off from social
recognition and intimacy with his own race. Still, although this step
of mine forced me to leave Cairo and go to Assouan, then a little-
known place, to practise chiefly among the natives, God knows we were
happy enough together till the plague took her, and with it my joy in
I pass over all that business, since there are some things too
dreadful and too sacred to write about. She left me one child, a son,
who, to fill up my cup of sorrow, when he was twelve years of age, was
kidnapped by the Mardi's people.
This brings me to the real story. There is nobody else to write it;
Oliver will not; Higgs cannot (outside of anything learned and
antiquarian, he is hopeless); so I must. At any rate, if it is not
interesting, the fault will be mine, not that of the story, which in
all conscience is strange enough.
We are now in the middle of June, and it was a year ago last December
that, on the evening of the day of my arrival in London after an
absence of half a lifetime, I found myself knocking at the door of
Professor Higgs's rooms in Guildford Street, W.C. It was opened by his
housekeeper, Mrs. Reid, a thin and saturnine old woman, who reminded
and still reminds me of a reanimated mummy. She told me that the
Professor was in, but had a gentleman to dinner, and suggested sourly
that I should call again the next morning. With difficulty I persuaded
her at last to inform her master that an old Egyptian friend had
brought him something which he certainly would like to see.
Five minutes later I groped my way into Higgs's sitting-room, which
Mrs. Reid had contented herself with indicating from a lower floor. It
is a large room, running the whole width of the house, divided into
two by an arch, where once, in the Georgian days, there had been
folding doors. The place was in shadow, except for the firelight,
which shone upon a table laid ready for dinner, and upon an
extraordinary collection of antiquities, including a couple of mummies
with gold faces arranged in their coffins against the wall. At the far
end of the room, however, an electric lamp was alight in the bow-
window hanging over another table covered with books, and by it I saw
my host, whom I had not met for twenty years, although until I
vanished into the desert we frequently corresponded, and with him the
friend who had come to dinner.
First, I will describe Higgs, who, I may state, is admitted, even by
his enemies, to be one of the most learned antiquarians and greatest
masters of dead languages in Europe, though this no one would guess
from his appearance at the age of about forty-five. In build short and
stout, face round and high-coloured, hair and beard of a fiery red,
eyes, when they can be seen--for generally he wears a pair of large
blue spectacles--small and of an indefinite hue, but sharp as needles.
Dress so untidy, peculiar, and worn that it is said the police
invariably request him to move on, should he loiter in the streets at
night. Such was, and is, the outward seeming of my dearest friend,
Professor Ptolemy Higgs, and I only hope that he won't be offended
when he sees it set down in black and white.
That of his companion who was seated at the table, his chin resting on
his hand, listening to some erudite discourse with a rather distracted
air, was extraordinarily different, especially by contrast. A tall
well-made young man, rather thin, but broad-shouldered, and apparently
five or six and twenty years of age. Face clean-cut--so much so,
indeed, that the dark eyes alone relieved it from a suspicion of
hardness; hair short and straight, like the eyes, brown; expression
that of a man of thought and ability, and, when he smiled, singularly
pleasant. Such was, and is, Captain Oliver Orme, who, by the way, I
should explain, is only a captain of some volunteer engineers,
although, in fact, a very able soldier, as was proved in the South
African War, whence he had then but lately returned.
I ought to add also that he gave me the impression of a man not in
love with fortune, or rather of one with whom fortune was not in love;
indeed, his young face seemed distinctly sad. Perhaps it was this that
attracted me to him so much from the first moment that my eyes fell on
him--me with whom fortune had also been out of love for many years.
While I stood contemplating this pair, Higgs, looking up from the
papyrus or whatever it might be that he was reading (I gathered later
that he had spent the afternoon in unrolling a mummy, and was studying
its spoils), caught sight of me standing in the shadow.
"Who the devil are you?" he exclaimed in a shrill and strident voice,
for it acquires that quality when he is angry or alarmed, "and what
are you doing in my room?"
"Steady," said his companion; "your housekeeper told you that some
friend of yours had come to call."
"Oh, yes, so she did, only I can't remember any friend with a face and
beard like a goat. Advance, friend, and all's well."
So I stepped into the shining circle of the electric light and halted
"Who is it? Who is it?" muttered Higgs. "The face is the face of--of--
I have it--of old Adams, only he's been dead these ten years. The
Khalifa got him, they said. Antique shade of the long-lost Adams,
please be so good as to tell me your name, for we waste time over a
"There is no need, Higgs, since it is in your mouth already. Well, I
should have known you anywhere; but then /your/ hair doesn't go
"Not it; too much colouring matter; direct result of a sanguine
disposition. Well, Adams--for Adams you must be--I am really delighted
to see you, especially as you never answered some questions in my last
letter as to where you got those First Dynasty scarabs, of which the
genuineness, I may tell you, has been disputed by certain envious
beasts. Adams, my dear old fellow, welcome a thousand times"--and he
seized my hands and wrung them, adding, as his eye fell upon a ring I
wore, "Why, what's that? Something quite unusual. But never mind; you
shall tell me after dinner. Let me introduce you to my friend, Captain
Orme, a very decent scholar of Arabic, with a quite elementary
knowledge of Egyptology."
"/Mr./ Orme," interrupted the younger man, bowing to me.
"Oh, well, Mr. or Captain, whichever you like. He means that he is not
in the regular army, although he has been all through the Boer War,
and wounded three times, once straight through the lungs. Here's the
soup. Mrs. Reid, lay another place. I am dreadfully hungry; nothing
gives me such an appetite as unrolling mummies; it involves so much
intellectual wear and tear, in addition to the physical labour. Eat,
man, eat. We will talk afterwards."
So we ate, Higgs largely, for his appetite was always excellent,
perhaps because he was then practically a teetotaller; Mr. Orme very
moderately, and I as becomes a person who has lived for months at a
time on dates--mainly of vegetables, which, with fruits, form my
principal diet--that is, if these are available, for at a pinch I can
exist on anything.
When the meal was finished and our glasses had been filled with port,
Higgs helped himself to water, lit the large meerschaum pipe he always
smokes, and pushed round the tobacco-jar which had once served as a
sepulchural urn for the heart of an old Egyptian.
"Now, Adams," he said when we also had filled our pipes, "tell us what
has brought you back from the Shades. In short, your story, man, your
I drew the ring he had noticed off my hand, a thick band of rather
light-coloured gold of a size such as an ordinary woman might wear
upon her first or second finger, in which was set a splendid slab of
sapphire engraved with curious and archaic characters. Pointing to
these characters, I asked Higgs if he could read them.
"Read them? Of course," he answered, producing a magnifying glass.
"Can't you? No, I remember; you never were good at anything more than
fifty years old. Hullo! this is early Hebrew. Ah! I've got it," and he
"'The gift of Solomon the ruler--no, the Great One--of Israel, Beloved
of Jah, to Maqueda of Sheba-land, Queen, Daughter of Kings, Child of
"That's the writing on your ring, Adams--a really magnificent thing.
'Queen of Sheba--Bath-Melachim, Daughter of Kings,' with our old
friend Solomon chucked in. Splendid, quite splendid!"--and he touched
the gold with his tongue, and tested it with his teeth. "Hum--where
did you get this intelligent fraud from, Adams?"
"Oh!" I answered, laughing, "the usual thing, of course. I bought it
from a donkey-boy in Cairo for about thirty shillings."
"Indeed," he replied suspiciously. "I should have thought the stone in
it was worth more than that, although, of course, it may be nothing
but glass. The engraving, too, is first-rate. Adams," he added with
severity, "you are trying to hoax us, but let me tell you what I
thought you knew by this time--that you can't take in Ptolemy Higgs.
This ring is a shameless swindle; but who did the Hebrew on it? He's a
good scholar, anyway."
"Don't know," I answered; "wasn't aware till now that it was Hebrew.
To tell you the truth, I thought it was old Egyptian. All I do know is
that it was given, or rather lent, to me by a lady whose title is
Walda Nagasta, and who is supposed to be a descendant of Solomon and
the Queen of Sheba."
Higgs took up the ring and looked at it again; then, as though in a
fit of abstraction, slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
"I don't want to be rude, therefore I will not contradict you," he
answered with a kind of groan, "or, indeed, say anything except that
if any one else had spun me that yarn I should have told him he was a
common liar. But, of course, as every schoolboy knows, Walda Nagasta--
that is, Child of Kings in Ethiopic--is much the same as Bath-Melachim
--that is, Daughter of Kings in Hebrew."
Here Captain Orme burst out laughing, and remarked, "It is easy to see
why you are not altogether popular in the antiquarian world, Higgs.
Your methods of controversy are those of a savage with a stone axe."
"If you only open your mouth to show your ignorance, Oliver, you had
better keep it shut. The men who carried stone axes had advanced far
beyond the state of savagery. But I suggest that you had better give
Doctor Adams a chance of telling his story, after which you can
"Perhaps Captain Orme does not wish to be bored with it," I said,
whereon he answered at once:
"On the contrary, I should like to hear it very much--that is, if you
are willing to confide in me as well as in Higgs."
I reflected a moment, since, to tell the truth, for sundry reasons, my
intention had been to trust no one except the Professor, whom I knew
to be as faithful as he is rough. Yet some instinct prompted me to
make an exception in favour of this Captain Orme. I liked the man;
there was something about those brown eyes of his that appealed to me.
Also it struck me as odd that he should happen to be present on this
occasion, for I have always held that there is nothing casual or
accidental in the world; that even the most trivial circumstances are
either ordained, or the result of the workings of some inexorable law
whereof the end is known by whatever power may direct our steps,
though it be not yet declared.
"Certainly I am willing," I answered; "your face and your friendship
with the Professor are passport enough for me. Only I must ask you to
give me your word of honour that without my leave you will repeat
nothing of what I am about to tell you."
"Of course," he answered, whereon Higgs broke in:
"There, that will do; you don't want us both to kiss the Book, do you?
Who sold you that ring, and where have you been for the last dozen
years, and whence do you come now?"
"I have been a prisoner of the Khalifa's among other things. I had
five years of that entertainment of which my back would give some
evidence if I were to strip. I think I am about the only man who never
embraced Islam whom they allowed to live, and that was because I am a
doctor, and, therefore, a useful person. The rest of the time I have
spent wandering about the North African deserts looking for my son,
Roderick. You remember the boy, or should, for you are his godfather,
and I used to send you photographs of him as a little chap."
"Of course, of course," said the Professor in a new tone; "I came
across a Christmas letter from him the other day. But, my dear Adams,
what happened? I never heard."
"He went up the river to shoot crocodiles against my orders, when he
was about twelve years old--not very long after his mother's death,
and some wandering Mahdi tribesmen kidnapped him and sold him as a
slave. I have been looking for him ever since, for the poor boy was
passed on from tribe to tribe, among which his skill as a musician
enabled me to follow him. The Arabs call him the Singer of Egypt,
because of his wonderful voice, and it seems that he has learned to
play upon their native instruments."
"And now where is he?" asked Higgs, as one who feared the answer.
"He is, or was, a favourite slave among a barbarous, half-negroid
people called the Fung, who dwell in the far interior of North Central
Africa. After the fall of the Khalifa I followed him there; it took me
several years. Some Bedouin were making an expedition to trade with
these Fung, and I disguised myself as one of them.
"On a certain night we camped at the foot of a valley outside a great
wall which encloses the holy place where their idol is. I rode up to
this wall and, through the open gateway, heard some one with a
beautiful tenor voice singing in English. What he sang was a hymn that
I had taught my son. It begins:
'Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.'
"I knew the voice again. I dismounted and slipped through the gateway,
and presently came to an open space, where a young man sat singing
upon a sort of raised bench with lamps on either side of him, and a
large audience in front. I saw his face and, notwithstanding the
turban which he wore and his Eastern robe--yes, and the passage of all
those years--I knew it for that of my son. Some spirit of madness
entered into me, and I called aloud, 'Roderick, Roderick!' and he
started up, staring about him wildly. The audience started up also,
and one of them caught sight of me lurking in the shadow.
"With a howl of rage, for I had desecrated their sanctuary, they
sprang at me. To save my life, coward that I was, I fled back through
the gates. Yes, after all those years of seeking, still I fled rather
than die, and though I was wounded with a spear and stones, managed to
reach and spring upon my horse. Then, as I was headed off from our
camp, I galloped away anywhere, still to save my miserable life from
those savages, so strongly is the instinct of self-preservation
implanted in us. From a distance I looked back and saw by the light of
the fired tents that the Fung were attacking the Arabs with whom I had
travelled, I suppose because they thought them parties to the
sacrilege. Afterwards I heard that they killed them every one, poor
men, but I escaped, who unwittingly had brought their fate upon them.
"On and on I galloped up a steep road. I remember hearing lions
roaring round me in the darkness. I remember one of them springing
upon my horse and the poor beast's scream. Then I remember no more
till I found myself--I believe it was a week or so later--lying on the
verandah of a nice house, and being attended by some good-looking
women of an Abyssinian cast of countenance."
"Sounds rather like one of the lost tribes of Israel," remarked Higgs
sarcastically, puffing at his big meerschaum.
"Yes, something of that sort. The details I will give you later. The
main facts are that these people who picked me up outside their gates
are called Abati, live in a town called Mur, and allege themselves to
be descended from a tribe of Abyssinian Jews who were driven out and
migrated to this place four or five centuries ago. Briefly, they look
something like Jews, practise a very debased form of the Jewish
religion, are civilized and clever after a fashion, but in the last
stage of decadence from interbreeding--about nine thousand men is
their total fighting force, although three or four generations ago
they had twenty thousand--and live in hourly terror of extermination
by the surrounding Fung, who hold them in hereditary hate as the
possessors of the wonderful mountain fortress that once belonged to
"Gibraltar and Spain over again," suggested Orme.
"Yes, with this difference--that the position is reversed, the Abati
of this Central African Gibraltar are decaying, and the Fung, who
answer to the Spaniards, are vigorous and increasing."
"Well, what happened?" asked the Professor.
"Nothing particular. I tried to persuade these Abati to organize an
expedition to rescue my son, but they laughed in my face. By degrees I
found out that there was only one person among them who was worth
anything at all, and she happened to be their hereditary ruler who
bore the high-sounding titles of Walda Nagasta, or Child of Kings, and
Takla Warda, or Bud of the Rose, a very handsome and spirited young
woman, whose personal name is Maqueda----"
"One of the names of the first known Queens of Sheba," muttered Higgs;
"the other was Belchis."
"Under pretence of attending her medically," I went on, "for otherwise
their wretched etiquette would scarcely have allowed me access to one
so exalted, I talked things over with her. She told me that the idol
of the Fung is fashioned like a huge sphinx, or so I gathered from her
description of the thing, for I have never seen it."
"What!" exclaimed Higgs, jumping up, "a sphinx in North Central
Africa! Well, after all, why not? Some of the earlier Pharaohs are
said to have had dealings with that part of the world, or even to have
migrated from it. I think that the Makreezi repeats the legend. I
suppose that it is ram-headed."
"She told me also," I continued, "that they have a tradition, or
rather a belief, which amounts to an article of faith, that if this
sphinx or god, which, by the way, is lion, not ram-headed, and is
"Harmac!" interrupted Higgs again. "That is one of the names of the
sphinx--Harmachis, god of dawn."
"If this god," I repeated, "should be destroyed, the nation of the
Fung, whose forefathers fashioned it as they say, must move away from
that country across the great river which lies to the south. I have
forgotten its name at the moment, but I think it must be a branch of
"I suggested to her that, in the circumstances, her people had better
try to destroy the idol. Maqueda laughed and said it was impossible,
since the thing was the size of a small mountain, adding that the
Abati had long ago lost all courage and enterprise, and were content
to sit in their fertile and mountain-ringed land, feeding themselves
with tales of departed grandeur and struggling for rank and high-
sounding titles, till the day of doom overtook them.
"I inquired whether she were also content, and she replied, 'Certainly
not'; but what could she do to regenerate her people, she who was
nothing but a woman, and the last of an endless line of rulers?
"'Rid me of the Fung,' she added passionately, 'and I will give you
such a reward as you never dreamed. The old cave-city yonder is full
of treasure that was buried with its ancient kings long before we came
to Mur. To us it is useless, since we have none to trade with, but I
have heard that the peoples of the outside world worship gold.'
"'I do not want gold,' I answered; 'I want to rescue my son who is a
"'Then,' said the Child of Kings, 'you must begin by helping us to
destroy the idol of the Fung. Are there no means by which this can be
"'There are means,' I replied, and I tried to explain to her the
properties of dynamite and of other more powerful explosives.
"'Go to your own land,' she exclaimed eagerly, 'and return with that
stuff and two or three who can manage it, and I swear to them all the
wealth of Mur. Thus only can you win my help to save your son.'"
"Well, what was the end?" asked Captain Orme.
"This: They gave me some gold and an escort with camels which were
literally lowered down a secret path in the mountains so as to avoid
the Fung, who ring them in and of whom they are terribly afraid. With
these people I crossed the desert to Assouan in safety, a journey of
many weeks, where I left them encamped about sixteen days ago, bidding
them await my return. I arrived in England this morning, and as soon
as I could ascertain that you still lived, and your address, from a
book of reference called /Who's Who/, which they gave me in the hotel,
I came on here."
"Why did you come to me? What do you want me to do?" asked the
"I came to you, Higgs, because I know how deeply you are interested in
anything antiquarian, and because I wished to give you the first
opportunity, not only of winning wealth, but also of becoming famous
as the discoverer of the most wonderful relics of antiquity that are
left in the world."
"With a very good chance of getting my throat cut thrown in," grumbled
"As to what I want you to do," I went on, "I want you to find someone
who understands explosives, and will undertake the business of blowing
up the Fung idol."
"Well, that's easy enough, anyhow," said the Professor, pointing to
Captain Orme with the bowl of his pipe, and adding, "he is an engineer
by education, a soldier and a very fair chemist; also he knows Arabic
and was brought up in Egypt as a boy--just the man for the job if he
I reflected a moment, then, obeying some sort of instinct, looked up
"Will you, Captain Orme, if terms can be arranged?"
"Yesterday," he replied, colouring a little, "I should have answered,
'Certainly not.' To-day I answer that I am prepared to consider the
matter--that is, if Higgs will go too, and you can enlighten me on
certain points. But I warn you that I am only an amateur in the three
trades that the Professor has mentioned, though, it is true, one with
"Would it be rude to inquire, Captain Orme, why twenty-four hours have
made such a difference in your views and plans?"
"Not rude, only awkward," he replied, colouring again, this time more
deeply. "Still, as it is best to be frank, I will tell you. Yesterday
I believed myself to be the inheritor of a very large fortune from an
uncle whose fatal illness brought me back from South Africa before I
meant to come, and as whose heir I have been brought up. To-day I have
learned for the first time that he married secretly, last year, a
woman much below him in rank, and has left a child, who, of course,
will take all his property, as he died intestate. But that is not all.
Yesterday I believed myself to be engaged to be married; to-day I am
undeceived upon that point also. The lady," he added with some
bitterness, "who was willing to marry Anthony Orme's heir is no longer
willing to marry Oliver Orme, whose total possessions amount to under
£10,000. Well, small blame to her or to her relations, whichever it
may be, especially as I understand that she has a better alliance in
view. Certainly her decision has simplified matters," and he rose and
walked to the other end of the room.
"Shocking business," whispered Higgs; "been infamously treated," and
he proceeded to express his opinion of the lady concerned, of her
relatives, and of the late Anthony Orme, shipowner, in language that,
if printed, would render this history unfit for family reading. The
outspokenness of Professor Higgs is well known in the antiquarian
world, so there is no need for me to enlarge upon it.
"What I do not exactly understand, Adams," he added in a loud voice,
seeing that Orme had turned again, "and what I think we should both
like to know, is /your/ exact object in making these proposals."
"I am afraid I have explained myself badly. I thought I had made it
clear that I have only one object--to attempt the rescue of my son, if
he still lives, as I believe he does. Higgs, put yourself in my
position. Imagine yourself with nothing and no one left to care for
except a single child, and that child stolen away from you by savages.
Imagine yourself, after years of search, hearing his very voice,
seeing his very face, adult now, but the same, the thing you had
dreamed of and desired for years; that for which you would have given
a thousand lives if you could have had time to think. And then the
rush of the howling, fantastic mob, the breakdown of courage, of love,
of everything that is noble under the pressure of primæval instinct,
which has but one song--Save your life. Lastly, imagine this coward
saved, dwelling within a few miles of the son whom he had deserted,
and yet utterly unable to rescue or even to communicate with him
because of the poltroonery of those among whom he had refuged."
"Well," grunted Higgs, "I have imagined all that high-faluting lot.
What of it? If you mean that you are to blame, I don't agree with you.
You wouldn't have helped your son by getting your own throat cut, and
perhaps his also."
"I don't know," I answered. "I have brooded over the thing so long
that it seems to me that I have disgraced myself. Well, there came a
chance, and I took it. This lady, Walda Nagasta, or Maqueda, who, I
think, had also brooded over things, made me an offer--I fancy without
the knowledge or consent of her Council. 'Help me,' she said, 'and I
will help you. Save my people, and I will try to save your son. I can
pay for your services and those of any whom you may bring with you.'
"I answered that it was hopeless, as no one would believe the tale,
whereon she drew from her finger the throne-ring or State signet which
you have in your pocket, Higgs, saying: 'My mothers have worn this
since the days of Maqueda, Queen of Sheba. If there are learned men
among your people they will read her name upon it and know that I
speak no lie. Take it as a token, and take also enough of our gold to
buy the stuffs whereof you speak, which hide fires that can throw
mountains skyward, and the services of skilled and trusty men who are
masters of the stuff, two or three of them only, for more cannot be
transported across the desert, and come back to save your son and me.'
That's all the story, Higgs. Will you take the business on, or shall I
try elsewhere? You must make up your mind, because I have no time to
lose, if I am to get into Mur again before the rains."
"Got any of that gold you spoke of about you?" asked the Professor.
I drew a skin bag from the pocket of my coat, and poured some out upon
the table, which he examined carefully.
"Ring money," he said presently, "might be Anglo-Saxon, might be
anything; date absolutely uncertain, but from its appearance I should
say slightly alloyed with silver; yes, there is a bit which has
oxydized--undoubtedly old, that."
Then he produced the signet from his pocket, and examined the ring and
the stone very carefully through a powerful glass.
"Seems all right," he said, "and although I have been greened in my
time, I don't make many mistakes nowadays. What do you say, Adams?
Must have it back? A sacred trust! Only lent to you! All right, take
it by all means. /I/ don't want the thing. Well, it is a risky job,
and if any one else had proposed it to me, I'd have told him to go to
--Mur. But, Adams, my boy, you saved my life once, and never sent in a
bill, because I was hard up, and I haven't forgotten that. Also things
are pretty hot for me here just now over a certain controversy of
which I suppose you haven't heard in Central Africa. I think I'll go.
What do you say, Oliver?"
"Oh!" said Captain Orme, waking up from a reverie, "if you are
satisfied, I am. It doesn't matter to me where I go."
THE ADVICE OF SERGEANT QUICK
At this moment a fearful hubbub arose without. The front door slammed,
a cab drove off furiously, a policeman's whistle blew, heavy feet were
heard trampling; then came an invocation of "In the King's name,"
answered by "Yes, and the Queen's, and the rest of the Royal Family's,
and if you want it, take it, you chuckle-headed, flat-footed, pot-
Then followed tumult indescribable as of heavy men and things rolling
down the stairs, with cries of fear and indignation.
"What the dickens is that?" asked Higgs.
"The voice sounded like that of Samuel--I mean Sergeant Quick,"
answered Captain Orme with evident alarm; "what can he be after? Oh, I
know, it is something to do with that infernal mummy you unwrapped
this afternoon, and asked him to bring round after dinner."
Just then the door burst open, and a tall, soldier-like form stalked
in, carrying in his arms a corpse wrapped in a sheet, which he laid
upon the table among the wine glasses.
"I'm sorry, Captain," he said, addressing Orme, "but I've lost the
head of the departed. I think it is at the bottom of the stairs with
the police. Had nothing else to defend myself with, sir, against their
unwarranted attacks, so brought the body to the present and charged,
thinking it very stiff and strong, but regret to say neck snapped, and
that deceased's head is now under arrest."
As Sergeant Quick finished speaking, the door opened again, and
through it appeared two very flurried and dishevelled policemen, one
of whom held, as far as possible from his person, the grizzly head of
a mummy by the long hair which still adhered to the skull.
"What do you mean by breaking into my rooms like this? Where's your
warrant?" asked the indignant Higgs in his high voice.
"There!" answered the first policeman, pointing to the sheet-wrapped
form on the table.
"And here!" added the second, holding up the awful head. "As in duty
bound, we ask explanation from that man of the secret conveyance of a
corpse through the open streets, whereon he assaults us with the same,
for which assault, pending investigation of the corpse, I arrest him.
Now, Guv'nor" (addressing Sergeant Quick), "will you come along with
us quietly, or must we take you?"
The Sergeant, who seemed to be inarticulate with wrath, made a dash
for the shrouded object on the table, with the intention, apparently,
of once more using it as a weapon of offence, and the policemen drew
"Stop," said Orme, thrusting himself between the combatants, "are you
all mad? Do you know that this woman died about four thousand years
"Oh, Lord!" said the policeman who held the head, addressing his
companion, "it must be one of them mummies what they dig up in the
British Museum. Seems pretty ancient and spicy, don't it?" and he
sniffed at the head, then set it down upon the table.
Explanations followed, and after the wounded dignity of the two
officers of the Force had been soothed with sundry glasses of port
wine and a written list of the names of all concerned, including that
of the mummy, they departed.
"You take my advice, bobbies," I heard the indignant Sergeant declaim
outside the door, "and don't you believe things is always what they
seem. A party ain't necessarily drunk because he rolls about and falls
down in the street; he may be mad, or 'ungry, or epileptic, and a body
ain't always a body jest because it's dead and cold and stiff. Why,
men, as you've seen, it may be a mummy, which is quite a different
thing. If I was to put on that blue coat of yours, would that make me
a policeman? Good heavens! I should hope not, for the sake of the Army
to which I still belong, being in the Reserve. What you bobbies need
is to study human nature and cultivate observation, which will learn
you the difference between a new-laid corpse and a mummy, and many
other things. Now you lay my words to heart, and you'll both of you
rise to superintendents, instead of running in daily 'drunks' until
you retire on a pension. Good-night."
Peace having been restored, and the headless mummy removed into the
Professor's bedroom, since Captain Orme declared that he could not
talk business in the presence of a body, however ancient, we resumed
our discussion. First of all, at Higgs's suggestion I drew up a brief
memorandum of agreement which set out the objects of the expedition,
and provided for the equal division amongst us of any profit that
might accrue; in the event of the death of one or more of us, the
survivors or survivor to take their or his share.
To this arrangement personally I objected, who desired neither
treasure nor antiquities, but only the rescue of my son. The others
pointed out, however, that, like most people, I might in future want
something to live on, or that if I did not, in the event of his
escape, my boy certainly would; so in the end I gave way.
Then Captain Orme very sensibly asked for a definition of our
respective duties, and it was settled that I was to be guide to the
expedition; Higgs, antiquarian, interpreter, and, on account of his
vast knowledge, general referee; and Captain Orme, engineer and
military commander, with the proviso that, in the event of a
difference of opinion, the dissentient was to loyally accept the
decision of the majority.
This curious document having been copied out fair, I signed and passed
it to the Professor, who hesitated a little, but, after refreshing
himself with a further minute examination of Sheba's ring, signed
also, remarking that he was an infernal fool for his pains, and pushed
the paper across the table to Orme.
"Stop a minute," said the Captain; "I forgot something. I should like
my old servant, Sergeant Quick, to accompany us. He's a very handy man
at a pinch, especially if, as I understand, we are expected to deal
with explosives with which he has had a lot to do in the Engineers and
elsewhere. If you agree I will call him, and ask if he will go. I
expect he's somewhere round."
I nodded, judging from the episode of the mummy and the policeman that
the Sergeant was likely to be a useful man. As I was sitting next to
it, I opened the door for the Captain, whereon the erect shape of
Sergeant Quick, who had clearly been leaning against it, literally
fell into the room, reminding me much of an overset wooden soldier.
"Hullo!" said Orme as, without the slightest change of countenance,
his retainer recovered himself and stood to attention. "What the deuce
are you doing there?"
"Sentry go, Captain. Thought the police might change their minds and
come back. Any orders, Captain?"
"Yes. I am going to North Central Africa. When can you be ready to
"The Brindisi mail leaves to-morrow night, Captain, if you travel by
Egypt, but if you go by Tunis, 7.15 a.m. Saturday is the time from
Charing Cross. Only, as I understand that high explosives and arms
have to be provided, these might take awhile to lay in and pack so as
to deceive customs."
"You understand!" said Orme. "Pray, how do you understand?"
"Doors in these old houses are apt to get away from their frames,
Captain, and the gentleman there"--and he pointed to the Professor--
"has a voice that carries like a dog-whistle. Oh, no offence, sir. A
clear voice is an excellent thing--that is, if the doors fit"--and
although Sergeant Quick's wooden face did not move, I saw his humorous
grey eyes twinkle beneath the bushy eyebrows.
We burst out laughing, including Higgs.
"So you are willing to go?" said Orme. "But I hope you clearly
understand that this is a risky business, and that you may not come
"Spion Kop was a bit risky, Captain, and so was that business in the
donga, where every one was hit except you and me and the sailor man,
but we came back, for all that. Begging your pardon, Captain, there
ain't no such thing as risk. Man comes here when he must, and dies
when he must, and what he does between don't make a ha'porth of
"Hear, hear," I said; "we are much of the same way of thinking."
"There have been several who held those views, sir, since old Solomon
gave the lady that"--and he pointed to Sheba's ring, which was lying
on the table. "But excuse me, Captain; how about local allowances? Not
having been a marrying man myself, I've none dependent upon me, but,
as you know, I've sisters that have, and a soldier's pension goes with
him. Don't think me greedy, Captain," he added hastily, "but, as you
gentlemen understand, black and white at the beginning saves bother at
the end"--and he pointed to the agreement.
"Quite right. What do you want, Sergeant?" asked Orme.
"Nothing beyond my pay, if we get nothing, Captain, but if we get
something, would five per cent. be too much?"
"It might be ten," I suggested. "Sergeant Quick has a life to lose
like the rest of us."
"Thank you kindly, sir," he answered; "but that, in my opinion, would
be too much. Five per cent. was what I suggested."
So it was written down that Sergeant Samuel Quick was to receive five
per cent. of the total profits, if any, provided that he behaved
himself and obeyed orders. Then he also signed the agreement, and was
furnished with a glass of whisky and water to drink to its good
"Now, gentlemen," he said, declining the chair which Higgs offered to
him, apparently because, from long custom, he preferred his wooden-
soldier attitude against the wall, "as a humble five-per-cent. private
in this very adventurous company I'll ask permission to say a word."
Permission was given accordingly, and the Sergeant proceeded to
inquire what weight of rock it was wished to remove.
I told him that I did not know, as I had never seen the Fung idol, but
I understood that its size was enormous, probably as large as St.
"Which, if solid, would take some stirring," remarked the Sergeant.
"Dynamite might do it, but it is too bulky to be carried across the
desert on camels in that quantity. Captain, how about them picrates?
You remember those new Boer shells that blew a lot of us to kingdom
come, and poisoned the rest?"
"Yes," answered Orme; "I remember; but now they have stronger stuffs--
azo-imides, I think they call them--terrific new compounds of
nitrogen. We will inquire to-morrow, Sergeant."
"Yes, Captain," he answered; "but the point is, who'll pay? You can't
buy hell-fire in bulk for nothing. I calculate that, allowing for the
purchase of the explosives and, say, fifty military rifles with
ammunition and all other necessaries, not including camels, the outfit
of this expedition can't come to less than £1,500."
"I think I have that amount in gold," I answered, "of which the lady
of the Abati gave me as much as I could carry in comfort."
"If not," said Orme, "although I am a poor man now, I could find £500
or so in a pinch. So don't let us bother about the money. The question
is--Are we all agreed that we will undertake this expedition and see
it through to the end, whatever that may be?"
We answered that we were.
"Then has anybody anything more to say?"
"Yes," I replied; "I forgot to tell you that if we should ever get to
Mur, none of you must make love to the Walda Nagasta. She is a kind of
holy person, who can only marry into her own family, and to do so
might mean that our throats would be cut."
"Do you hear that, Oliver?" said the Professor. "I suppose that the
Doctor's warning is meant for you, as the rest of us are rather past
that kind of thing."
"Indeed," replied the Captain, colouring again after his fashion.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I feel a bit past it myself, and, so far
as I am concerned, I don't think we need take the fascinations of this
black lady into account."
"Don't brag, Captain. Please don't brag," said Sergeant Quick in a
hollow whisper. "Woman is just the one thing about which you can never
be sure. To-day she's poison, and to-morrow honey--God and the climate
alone know why. Please don't brag, or we may live to see you crawling
after this one on your knees, with the gent in the specs behind, and
Samuel Quick, who hates the whole tribe of them, bringing up the rear.
Tempt Providence, if you like, Captain, but don't tempt woman, lest
she should turn round and tempt you, as she has done before to-day."
"Will you be so good as to stop talking nonsense and call a cab," said
Captain Orme coldly. But Higgs began to laugh in his rude fashion, and
I, remembering the appearance of "Bud of the Rose" when she lifted her
veil of ceremony, and the soft earnestness of her voice, fell into
reflection. "Black lady" indeed! What, I wondered, would this young
gentleman think if ever he should live to set his eyes upon her sweet
and comely face?
It seemed to me that Sergeant Quick was not so foolish as his master
chose to imagine. Captain Orme undoubtedly was in every way qualified
to be a partner in our venture; still, I could have wished either that
he had been an older man, or that the lady to whom he was recently
affianced had not chosen this occasion to break her engagement. In
dealing with difficult and dangerous combinations, my experience has
been that it is always well to eliminate the possibility of a love
affair, especially in the East.
THE PROFESSOR GOES OUT SHOOTING
Of all our tremendous journey across the desert until we had passed
the forest and reached the plains which surrounded the mountains of
Mur, there are, I think, but few incidents with which the reader need
be troubled. The first of these was at Assouan, where a letter and
various telegrams overtook Captain Orme, which, as by this time we had
become intimate, he showed to me. They informed him that the
clandestine infant whom his uncle left behind him had suddenly
sickened and died of some childish ailment, so that he was once again
heir to the large property which he thought he had lost, since the
widow only took a life interest in some of the personalty. I
congratulated him and said I supposed this meant that we should not
have the pleasure of his company to Mur.
"Why not?" he asked. "I said I was going and I mean to go; indeed, I
signed a document to that effect."
"I daresay," I answered, "but circumstances alter cases. If I might
say so, an adventure that perhaps was good enough for a young and
well-born man of spirit and enterprise without any particular
resources, is no longer good enough for one who has the ball at his
feet. Think what a ball it is to a man of your birth, intelligence,
record, and now, great fortune come to you in youth. Why, with these
advantages there is absolutely nothing that you cannot do in England.
You can go into Parliament and rule the country; if you like you can
become a peer. You can marry any one who isn't of the blood royal; in
short, with uncommonly little effort of your own, your career is made
for you. Don't throw away a silver spoon like that in order, perhaps,
to die of thirst in the desert or be killed in a fight among unknown
"Oh, I don't know," he answered. "I never set heart much on spoons,
silver or other. When I lost this one I didn't cry, and now that I
have found it again I shan't sing. Anyway, I am going on with you, and
you can't prevent me under the agreement. Only as I have got such a
lot to leave, I suppose I had better make a will first and post it
home, which is a bore."
Just then the Professor came in, followed by an Arab thief of a
dealer, with whom he was trying to bargain for some object of
antiquity. When the dealer had been ejected and the position explained
to him, Higgs, who whatever may be his failings in small matters, is
unselfish enough in big ones, said that he agreed with me and thought
that under the circumstances, in his own interest, Orme ought to leave
us and return home.
"You may save your breath, old fellow," answered the Captain, "for
this reason if for no other," and he threw him a letter across the
table, which letter I saw afterwards. To be brief, it was from the
young lady to whom he had been engaged to be married, and who on his
loss of fortune had jilted him. Now she seemed to have changed her
mind again, and, although she did not mention the matter, it is
perhaps not uncharitable to suppose that the news of the death of the
inconvenient child had something to do with her decision.
"Have you answered this?" asked Higgs.
"No," answered Orme, setting his mouth. "I have not answered, and I am
not going to answer it, either in writing or in person. I intend to
start to-morrow for Mur and to travel as far on that road as it
pleases fate to allow, and now I am going to look at the rock
sculptures by the cataract."
"Well, that's flat," said Higgs after he had departed, "and for my
part I am glad of it, for somehow I think he will be a useful man
among those Fung. Also, if he went I expect that the Sergeant would go
too, and where should we be without Quick, I should like to know?"
Afterwards I conversed with the said Quick about this same matter,
repeating to him my opinions, to which the Sergeant listened with the
deference which he was always kind enough to show to me.
"Begging your pardon, sir," he said, when I had finished, "but I think
you are both right and wrong. Everything has two ends, hasn't it? You
say that it would be wicked for the Captain to get himself killed,
there being now so much money for him to live for, seeing that life is
common as dirt while money is precious, rare and hard to come by. It
ain't the kings we admire, it's their crowns; it ain't the
millionaires, it's their millions; but, after all, the millionaires
don't take their millions with them, for Providence, that, like
Nature, hates waste, knows that if they did they'd melt, so one man
dead gives another bread, as the saying goes, or p'raps I should say
gingerbread in such cases.
"Still, on the whole, sir, I admit you are right as to the sinfulness
of wasting luck. But now comes the other end. I know this young lady
what the Captain was engaged to, which he never would have been if he
had taken my advice, since of all the fish-blooded little serpents
that ever I set eyes on she's the serpentest, though pretty, I allow.
Solomon said in his haste that an honest woman he had not found, but
if he had met the Honourable Miss--well, never mind her name--he'd
have said it at his leisure, and gone on saying it. Now, no one should
never take back a servant what has given notice and then says he's
sorry, for if he does the sorrow will be on the other side before it's
all done; and much less should he take back a /fiancée/ (Quick said a
'finance'), on the whole, he'd better drown himself--I tried it once,
and I know. So that's the tail of the business.
"But," he went on, "it has a couple of fins as well, like that eel
beast I caught in the Nile. One of them is that the Captain promised
and vowed to go through with this expedition, and if a man's got to
die, he'd better die honest without breaking his word. And the other
is what I said to you in London when I signed on, that he won't die a
minute before his time, and nothing won't happen to him, but what's
bound to happen, and therefore it ain't a ha'porth of use bothering
about anything, and that's where the East's well ahead of the West.
"And now, sir, I'll go and look after the camels and those half-bred
Jew boys what you call Abati, but I call rotten sneaks, for if they
get their thieving fingers into those canisters of picric salts,
thinking they're jam, as I found them trying to do yesterday,
something may happen in Egypt that'll make the Pharaohs turn in their
graves and the Ten Plagues look silly."
So, having finished his oration, Quick went, and in due course we
started for Mur.
The second incident that is perhaps worth recording was an adventure
that happened to us when we had completed about two of our four
After weeks of weary desert travel--if I remember right, it was
exactly a fortnight after the dog Pharaoh, of which I shall soon have
plenty to say, had come into Orme's possession--we reached an oasis
called Zeu, where I had halted upon my road down to Egypt. In this
oasis, which, although not large in extent, possesses springs of
beautiful water and groves of date-trees, we were, as it chanced, very
welcome, since when I was there before, I had been fortunate enough to
cure its sheik of an attack of ophthalmia and to doctor several of his
people for various ailments with good results. So, although I was
burning to get forward, I agreed with the others that it would be wise
to accede to the request of the leader of our caravan, a clever and
resourceful, but to my mind untrustworthy Abati of the name of
Shadrach, and camp in Zeu for a week or so to rest and feed our
camels, which had wasted almost to nothing on the scant herbage of the
This Shadrach, I may add here, whom his companions, for some reason
unknown to me at that time, called the Cat, was remarkable for a
triple line of scars upon his face, which, he informed me, had been
set there by the claws of a lion. Now the great enemies of this people
of Zeu were lions, which at certain seasons of the year, I suppose
when food grew scarce, descended from the slopes of a range of hills
that stretched east and west at a distance of about fifty miles north
of the oasis, and, crossing the intervening desert, killed many of the
Zeu sheep, camels, and other cattle, and often enough any of the tribe
whom they could catch. As these poor Zeus practically possessed no
firearms, they were at the mercy of the lions, which grew
correspondingly bold. Indeed, their only resource was to kraal their
animals within stone walls at night and take refuge in their huts,
which they seldom left between sunset and dawn, except to replenish
the fires that they lit to scare any beast of prey which might be
prowling through the town.
Though the lion season was now in full swing, as it happened, for the
first five days of our stay at Zeu we saw none of these great cats,
although in the darkness we heard them roaring in the distance. On the
sixth night, however, we were awakened by a sound of wailing, which
came from the village about a quarter of a mile away, and when we went
out at dawn to see what was the matter, were met by a melancholy
procession advancing from its walls. At the head of it marched the
grey-haired old chief, followed by a number of screaming women, who in
their excitement, or perhaps as a sign of mourning, had omitted to
make their toilette, and by four men, who carried something horrid on
a wickerwork door.
Soon we learned what had happened. It seemed that hungry lions, two or
three of them, had broken through the palm-leaf roof of the hut of one
of the sheik's wives, she whose remains were stretched upon the door,
and, in addition to killing her, had actually carried off his son. Now
he came to implore us white men who had guns to revenge him on the
lions, which otherwise, having once tasted human flesh, would destroy
many more of his people.
Through an interpreter who knew Arabic, for not even Higgs could
understand the peculiar Zeu dialect, he explained in excited and
incoherent words that the beasts lay up among the sand-hills not very
far away, where some thick reeds grew around a little spring of water.
Would we not come out and kill them and earn the blessing of the Zeus?
Now I said nothing, for the simple reason that, having such big
matters on hand, although I was always fond of sport, I did not wish
any of us to be led off after these lions. There is a time to hunt and
a time to cease from hunting, and it seemed to me, except for the
purposes of food, that this journey of ours was the latter. However,
as I expected, Oliver Orme literally leaped at the idea. So did Higgs,
who of late had been practising with a rifle and began to fancy
himself a shot. He exclaimed loudly that nothing would give him
greater pleasure, especially as he was sure that lions were in fact
cowardly and overrated beasts.
From that moment I foreboded disaster in my heart. Still, I said I
would come too, partly because I had not shot a lion for many a day
and had a score to settle with those beasts which, it may be
remembered, nearly killed me on the Mountain of Mur, and partly
because, knowing the desert and also the Zeu people much better than
either the Professor or Orme, I thought that I might possibly be of
So we fetched our rifles and cartridges, to which by an afterthought
we added two large water-bottles, and ate a hearty breakfast. As we
were preparing to start, Shadrach, the leader of the Abati camel-
drivers, that man with the scarred face who was nicknamed the Cat,
came up to me and asked me whither we were going. I told him, whereon
"What have you to do with these savages and their troubles, lords? If
a few of them are killed it is no matter, but as you should know, O
Doctor, if you wish to hunt lions there are plenty in that land
whither you travel, seeing that the lion is the fetish of the Fung and
therefore never killed. But the desert about Zeu is dangerous and harm
may come to you."
"Then accompany us," broke in the Professor, between whom and Shadrach
there was no love lost, 'for, of course, with you we should be quite
"Not so," he replied, "I and my people rest; only madmen would go to
hunt worthless wild beasts when they might rest. Have we not enough of
the desert and its dangers as it is? If you knew all that I do of
lions you would leave them alone."
"Of the desert we have plenty also, but of shooting very little,"
remarked the Captain, who talked Arabic well. "Lie in your beds; we go
to kill the beasts that harass the poor people who have treated us so
"So be it," said Shadrach with a smile that struck me as malicious. "A
lion made this"--pointing to the dreadful threefold scar upon his
face. "May the God of Israel protect you from lions. Remember, lords,
that, the camels being fresh again, we march the day after to-morrow,
should the weather hold, for if the wind blows on yonder sand-hills,
no man may live among them;" and, putting up his hand, he studied the
sky carefully from beneath its shadow, then, with a grunt, turned and
vanished behind a hut.
All this while Sergeant Quick was engaged at a little distance in
washing up the tin breakfast things, to all appearance quite
unconscious of what was going on. Orme called him, whereupon he
advanced and stood to attention. I remember thinking how curious he
looked in those surroundings--his tall, bony frame clothed in semi-
military garments, his wooden face perfectly shaved, his iron-grey
hair neatly parted and plastered down upon his head with pomade or
some equivalent after the old private soldier fashion, and his sharp
ferret-like grey eyes taking in everything.
"Are you coming with us, Sergeant?" asked Orme.
"Not unless ordered so to do, Captain. I like a bit of hunting well
enough, but, with all three officers away, some one should mount guard
over the stores and transport, so I think the dog Pharaoh and I had
best stop behind."
"Perhaps you are right, Sergeant, only tie Pharaoh up, or he'll follow
me. Well, what do you want to say? Out with it."
"Only this, Captain. Although I have served in three campaigns among
these here Arabians (to Quick, all African natives north of the
Equator were Arabians, and all south of it, niggers), I can't say I
talk their lingo well. Still, I made out that the fellow they call Cat
don't like this trip of yours, and, begging your pardon, Captain,
whatever else Cat may be, he ain't no fool."
"Can't help it, Sergeant. For one thing, it would never do to give in
to his fancies now."
"That's true, Captain. When once it's hoist, right or wrong, keep the
flag flying, and no doubt you'll come back safe and sound if you're
Then, having relieved his mind, the Sergeant ran his eye over our
equipment to see that nothing had been forgotten, rapidly assured
himself that the rifles were in working order, reported all well, and
returned to his dishes. Little did any of us guess under what
circumstances we should next meet with him.
After leaving the town and marching for a mile or so along the oasis,
accompanied by a mob of the Zeus armed with spears and bows, we were
led by the bereaved chief, who also acted as tracker, out into the
surrounding sands. The desert here, although I remembered it well
enough, was different from any that we had yet encountered upon this
journey, being composed of huge and abrupt sand-hills, some of which
were quite three hundred feet high, separated from each other by deep,
For a distance, while they were within reach of the moist air of the
oasis, these sand-mountains produced vegetation of various sorts.
Presently, however, we passed out into the wilderness proper, and for
a while climbed up and down the steep, shifting slopes, till from the
crest of one of them the chief pointed out what in South Africa is
called a pan, or /vlei/, covered with green reeds, and explained by
signs that in these lay the lions. Descending a steep declivity, we
posted ourselves, I at the top, and Higgs and Orme a little way down
either side of this /vlei/. This done, we dispatched the Zeus to beat
it out towards us, for although the reeds grew thick along the course
of the underground water, it was but a narrow place, and not more than
a quarter of a mile in length.
Scarcely had the beaters entered the tall reeds, evidently with
trepidation, for a good many of them held back from the adventure,
when a sound of loud wailing informed us that something had happened.
A minute or two later we saw two of them bearing away what appeared to
be the mangled remains of the chief's son who had been carried off on
the previous night.
Just then, too, we saw something else, for half-way down the marsh a
great male lion broke cover, and began to steal off toward the sand-
hills. It was about two hundred yards from Higgs, who chanced to be
nearest to it, and, therefore, as any big-game hunter will know, for
practical purposes, far out of shot. But the Professor, who was quite
unaccustomed to this, or, indeed, any kind of sport, and, like all
beginners, wildly anxious for blood, lifted his rifle and fired, as he
might have done at a rabbit. By some marvellous accident the aim was
good, and the bullet from the express, striking the lion fair behind
the shoulder, passed through its heart, and knocked it over dead as a
"By Jingo! Did you see that?" screamed Higgs in his delight. Then,
without even stopping to reload the empty barrel, he set off at the
top of his speed toward the prostrate beast, followed by myself and by
Orme, as fast as our astonishment would allow.
Running along the edge of the marsh, Higgs had covered about a hundred
yards of the distance, when suddenly, charging straight at him out of
the tall reeds, appeared a second lion, or rather lioness. Higgs
wheeled round, and wildly fired the left barrel of his rifle without
touching the infuriated brute. Next instant, to our horror, we saw him
upon his back, with the lioness standing over him, lashing her tail,
We shouted as we ran, and so did the Zeus, although they made no
attempt at rescue, with the result that the lioness, instead of
tearing Higgs to pieces, turned her head confusedly first to one side
and then to the other. By now I, who had a long start of Orme, was
quite close, say within thirty yards, though fire I dared not as yet,
fearing lest, should I do so, I might kill my friend. At this moment
the lioness, recovering her nerves, squatted down on the prostrate
Higgs, and though he hit at her with his fists, dropped her muzzle,
evidently with the intention of biting him through the head.
Now I felt that if I hesitated any more, all would be finished. The
lioness was much longer than Higgs--a short, stout man--and her hind
quarters projected beyond his feet. At these I aimed rapidly, and,
pressing the trigger, next second heard the bullet clap upon the great
beast's hide. Up she sprang with a roar, one hind leg dangling, and
after a moment's hesitation, fled toward the sand-hill.
Now Orme, who was behind me, fired also, knocking up the dust beneath
the lioness's belly, but although he had more cartridges in his rifle,
which was a repeater, before either he or I could get another chance,
it vanished behind a mound. Leaving it to go where it would, we ran on
towards Higgs, expecting to find him either dead or badly mauled, but,
to our amazement and delight, up jumped the Professor, his blue
spectacles still on his nose, and, loading his rifle as he went,
charged away after the wounded lioness.
"Come back," shouted the Captain as he followed.
"Not for Joe!" yelled Higgs in his high voice. "If you fellows think
that I'm going to let a great cat sit on my stomach for nothing, you
are jolly well mistaken."
At the top of the first rise the long-legged Orme caught him, but
persuade him to return was more than he, or I when I arrived, could
do. Beyond a scratch on his nose, which had stung him and covered him
with blood, we found that he was quite uninjured, except in temper and
dignity. But in vain did we beg him to be content with his luck and
the honours he had won.
"Why?" he answered, "Adams wounded the beast, and I'd rather kill two
lions than one; also I have a score to square. But if you fellows are
afraid, you go home."
Well, I confess I felt inclined to accept the invitation, but Orme,
who was nettled, replied:
"Come, come; that settles the question, doesn't it? You must be shaken
by your fall, or you would not talk like that, Higgs. Look, here runs
the spoor--see the blood? Well, let's go steady and keep our wind. We
may come on her anywhere, but don't you try any more long distance
shots. You won't kill another lion at two hundred and fifty yards."
"All right," said Higgs, "don't be offended. I didn't mean anything,
except that I am going to teach that beast the difference between a
white man and a Zeu."
Then we began our march, following the blood tracks up and down the
steep sand-slopes. When we had been at it for about half-an-hour our
spirits were cheered by catching sight of the lioness on a ridge five
hundred yards away. Just then, too, some of the Zeus overtook us and
joined the hunt, though without zeal.
Meanwhile, as the day grew, the heat increased until it was so intense
that the hot air danced above the sand slopes like billions of midges,
and this although the sun was not visible, being hidden by a sort of
mist. A strange silence, unusual even in the desert, pervaded the
earth and sky; we could hear the grains of sand trickling from the
ridges. The Zeus, who accompanied us, grew uneasy, and pointed upward
with their spears, then behind toward the oasis of which we had long
lost sight. Finally, when we were not looking, they disappeared.
Now I would have followed them, guessing that they had some good
reason for this sudden departure. But Higgs refused to come, and Orme,
in whom his foolish taunt seemed still to rankle, only shrugged his
shoulders and said nothing.
"Let the black curs go," exclaimed the Professor as he polished his
blue spectacles and mopped his face. "They are a white-livered lot of
sneaks. Look! There she is, creeping off to the left. If we run round
that sand-hill we shall meet her."
So we ran round the sand-hill, but we did not meet her, although after
long hunting we struck the blood spoor afresh, and followed it for
several miles, first in this direction, and then in that, until Orme
and I wondered at Higgs's obstinacy and endurance. At length, when
even he was beginning to despair, we put up the lioness in a hollow,
and fired several shots at her as she hobbled over the opposing slope,
one of which hit her, for she rolled over, then picked herself up
again, roaring. As a matter of fact, it came from the Captain's rifle,
but Higgs, who, like many an inexperienced person was a jealous
sportsman, declared that it was his and we did not think it worth
while to contradict him.
On we toiled, and, just beyond the ridge, walked straight into the
lioness, sitting up like a great dog, so injured that she could do
nothing but snarl hideously and paw at the air.
"Now it is my turn, old lady," ejaculated Higgs, and straightway
missed her clean from a distance of five yards. A second shot was more
successful, and she rolled over, dead.
"Come on," said the exultant Professor, "and we'll skin her. She sat
on me, and I mean to sit on her for many a day."
So we began the job, although I, who had large experience of this
desert, and did not like the appearance of the weather, wished to
leave the beast where it lay and get back to the oasis. It proved
long, for I was the only one of us who had any practical knowledge of
flaying animals, and in that heat extremely unpleasant.
At length it was done, and, having doubled the hide over a rifle for
two of us to carry in turns, we refreshed ourselves from the water-
bottles (I even caught the Professor washing the blood off his face
and hands with some of the precious fluid). Then we started for the
oasis, only to discover, though we were all sure that we knew the way,
that not one of us had a slightest idea of its real direction. In the
hurry of our departure we had forgotten to bring a compass, and the
sun, that would have been our guide in ordinary circumstances, and to
which we always trusted in the open desert, was hidden by the curious
haze that has been described.
So, sensibly enough, we determined to return to the sand crest where
we had killed the lioness, and then trace our own footprints backward.
This seemed simple enough, for there, within half-a-mile, rose the
We reached it, grumbling, for the lion-skin was heavy, only to
discover that it was a totally different ridge. Now, after reflection
and argument, we saw our exact mistake, and made for what was
obviously the real ridge--with the same result.
We were lost in the desert!
THE DEATH WIND
"The fact is," said Higgs presently, speaking with the air of an
oracle, "the fact is that all these accursed sand-hills are as like
each other as mummy beads on the same necklace, and therefore it is
very difficult to know them apart. Give me that water-bottle, Adams; I
am as dry as a lime-kiln."
"No," I said shortly; "you may be drier before the end."
"What do you mean? Oh! I see; but that's nonsense; those Zeus will
hunt us up, or, at the worst, we have only to wait till the sun gets
As he spoke, suddenly the air became filled with a curious singing
sound impossible to describe, caused as I knew, who had often heard it
before, by millions and millions of particles of sand being rubbed
together. We turned to see whence it came, and perceived, far away,
rushing towards us with extraordinary swiftness, a huge and dense
cloud preceded by isolated columns and funnels of similar clouds.
"A sand-storm," said Higgs, his florid face paling a little. "Bad luck
for us! That's what comes of getting out of bed the wrong side first
this morning. No, it's your fault, Adams; you helped me to salt last
night, in spite of my remonstrances" (the Professor has sundry little
superstitions of this sort, particularly absurd in so learned a man).
"Well, what shall we do? Get under the lee of the hill until it blows
"Don't suppose it will blow over. Can't see anything to do except say
our prayers," remarked Orme with sweet resignation. Oliver is, I
think, the coolest hand in an emergency of any one I ever met, except,
perhaps, Sergeant Quick, a man, of course, nearly old enough to be his
father. "The game seems to be pretty well up," he added. "Well, you
have killed two lions, Higgs, and that is something."
"Oh, hang it! You can die if you like, Oliver. The world won't miss
you; but think of its loss if anything happened to /me/. I don't
intend to be wiped out by a beastly sand-storm. I intend to live to
write a book on Mur," and Higgs shook his fist at the advancing clouds
with an air that was really noble. It reminded me of Ajax defying the
Meanwhile I had been reflecting.
"Listen," I said. "Our only chance is to stop where we are, for if we
move we shall certainly be buried alive. Look; there is something
solid to lie on," and I pointed to a ridge of rock, a kind of core of
congealed sand, from which the surface had been swept by gales. "Down
with you, quick," I went on, "and let's draw that lion-skin over our
heads. It may help to keep the dust from choking us. Hurry, men; it's
Coming, it was indeed, with a mighty, wailing roar. Scarcely had we
got ourselves into position, our backs to the blast and our mouths and
noses buried after the fashion of camels in a similar predicament, the
lion-skin covering our heads and bodies to the middle, with the paws
tucked securely beneath us to prevent it from being blown away, when
the storm leaped upon us furiously, bringing darkness in its train.
There we lay for hour after hour, unable to see, unable to talk
because of the roaring noise about us, and only from time to time
lifting ourselves a little upon our hands and knees to disturb the
weight of sand that accumulated on our bodies, lest it should encase
us in a living tomb.
Dreadful were the miseries we suffered--the misery of the heat beneath
the stinking pelt of the lion, the misery of the dust-laden air that
choked us almost to suffocation, the misery of thirst, for we could
not get at our scanty supply of water to drink. But worst of all
perhaps, was the pain caused by the continual friction of the sharp
sand driven along at hurricane speed, which, incredible as it may
seem, finally wore holes in our thin clothing and filed our skins to
"No wonder the Egyptian monuments get such a beautiful shine on them,"
I heard poor Higgs muttering in my ear again and again, for he was
growing light-headed; "no wonder, no wonder! My shin-bones will be
very useful to polish Quick's tall riding-boots. Oh! curse the lions.
Why did you help me to salt, you old ass; why did you help me to salt?
It's pickling me behind."
Then he became quite incoherent, and only groaned from time to time.
Perhaps, however, this suffering did us a service, since otherwise
exhaustion, thirst, and dust might have overwhelmed our senses, and
caused us to fall into a sleep from which we never should have
awakened. Yet at the time we were not grateful to it, for at last the
agony became almost unbearable. Indeed, Orme told me afterwards that
the last thing he could remember was a quaint fancy that he had made a
colossal fortune by selling the secret of a new torture to the Chinese
--that of hot sand driven on to the victim by a continuous blast of
After a while we lost count of time, nor was it until later that we
learned that the storm endured for full twenty hours, during the
latter part of which, notwithstanding our manifold sufferings, we must
have become more or less insensible. At any rate, at one moment I
remembered the awful roar and the stinging of the sand whips, followed
by a kind of vision of the face of my son--that beloved, long-lost son
whom I had sought for so many years, and for whose sake I endured all
these things. Then, without any interval, as it were, I felt my limbs
being scorched as though by hot irons or through a burning-glass, and
with a fearful effort staggered up to find that the storm had passed,
and that the furious sun was blistering my excoriated skin. Rubbing
the caked dirt from my eyes, I looked down to see two mounds like
those of graves, out of which projected legs that had been white. Just
then one pair of legs, the longer pair, stirred, the sand heaved up
convulsively, and, uttering wandering words in a choky voice, there
arose the figure of Oliver Orme.
For a moment we stood and stared at each other, and strange spectacles
"Is he dead?" muttered Orme, pointing to the still buried Higgs.
"Fear so," I answered, "but we'll look;" and painfully we began to
When we came to it beneath the lion-skin, the Professor's face was
black and hideous to see, but, to our relief, we perceived that he was
not dead, for he moved his hand and moaned. Orme looked at me.
"Water would save him," I said.
Then came the anxious moment. One of our water-bottles was emptied
before the storm began, but the other, a large, patent flask covered
with felt, and having a screw vulcanite top, should still contain a
good quantity, perhaps three quarts--that is, if the fluid had not
evaporated in the dreadful heat. If this had happened, it meant that
Higgs would die, and unless help came, that soon we should follow him.
Orme unscrewed the flask, for my hands refused that office, and used
his teeth to draw the cork, which, providentially enough the
thoughtful Quick had set in the neck beneath the screw. Some of the
water, which, although it was quite hot, had /not/ evaporated, thank
God! flew against his parched lips, and I saw him bite them till the
blood came in the fierceness of the temptation to assuage his raging
thirst. But he resisted it like the man he is, and, without drinking a
drop, handed me the bottle, saying simply:
"You are the oldest; take care of this, Adams."
Now it was my turn to be tempted, but I, too, overcame, and, sitting
down, laid Higgs's head upon my knee; then, drop by drop, let a little
of the water trickle between his swollen lips.
The effect was magical, for in less than a minute the Professor sat
up, grasped at the flask with both hands, and strove to tear it away.
"You cruel brute! You cruel selfish brute!" he moaned as I wrenched it
"Look here, Higgs," I answered thickly; "Orme and I want water badly
enough, and we have had none. But you might take it all if it would
save you, only it wouldn't. We are lost in the desert, and must be
sparing. If you drank everything now, in a few hours you would be
thirsty again and die."
He thought awhile, then looked up and said:
"Beg pardon--I understand. I'm the selfish brute. But there's a good
lot of water there; let's each have a drink; we can't move unless we
So we drank, measuring out the water in a little india-rubber cup
which we had with us. It held about as much as a port wine glass, and
each of us drank, or rather slowly sipped, three cupfuls; we who felt
as though we could have swallowed a gallon apiece, and asked for more.
Small as was the allowance, it worked wonders in us; we were men
We stood up and looked about us, but the great storm had changed
everything. Where there had been sand-hills a hundred feet high, now
were plains and valleys; where there had been valleys appeared sand-
hills. Only the high ridge upon which we had lain was as before,
because it stood above the others and had a core of rock. We tried to
discover the direction of the oasis by the position of the sun, only
to be baffled, since our two watches had run down, and we did not know
the time of day or where the sun ought to be in the heavens. Also, in
that howling wilderness there was nothing to show us the points of the
Higgs, whose obstinacy remained unimpaired, whatever may have happened
to the rest of his vital forces, had one view of the matter, and Orme
another diametrically opposed to it. They even argued as to whether
the oasis lay to our right or to our left, for their poor heads were
so confused that they were scarcely capable of accurate thought or
observation. Meanwhile I sat down upon the sand and considered.
Through the haze I could see the points of what I thought must be the
hills whence the Zeus declared that the lions came, although of
course, for aught I knew, they might be other hills.
"Listen," I said; "if lions live upon those hills, there must be water
there. Let us try to reach them; perhaps we shall see the oasis as we
Then began our dreadful march. The lion-skin that had saved our lives,
and was now baked hard as a board, we left behind, but the rifles we
took. All day long we dragged ourselves up and down steep sand-slopes,
pausing now again to drink a sip of water, and hoping always that from
the top of the next slope we should see a rescue party headed by
Quick, or perhaps the oasis itself. Indeed, once we did see it, green
and shining, not more than three miles away, but when we got to the
head of the hill beyond which it should lie we found that the vision
was only a mirage, and our hearts nearly broke with disappointment.
Oh! to men dying of thirst, that mirage was indeed a cruel mockery.
At length night approached, and the mountains were yet a long way off.
We could march no more, and sank down exhausted, lying on our faces,
because our backs were so cut by the driving sand and blistered by the
sun that we could not sit. By now almost all our water was gone.
Suddenly Higgs nudged us and pointed upwards. Following the line of
his hand, we saw, not thirty yards away and showing clear against the
sky, a file of antelopes trekking along the sand-ridge, doubtless on a
night journey from one pasturage to another.
"You fellows shoot," he muttered; "I might miss and frighten them
away," for in his distress poor Higgs was growing modest.
Slowly Orme and I drew ourselves to our knees, cocking our rifles. By
this time all the buck save one had passed; there were but six of
them, and this one marched along about twenty yards behind the others.
Orme pulled the trigger, but his rifle would not go off because, as he
discovered afterwards, some sand had worked into the mechanism of the
Meanwhile I had also covered the buck, but the sunset dazzled my
weakened eyes, and my arms were feeble; also my terrible anxiety for
success, since I knew that on this shot hung our lives, unnerved me.
But it must be now or never; in three more paces the beast would be
down the dip.
I fired, and knowing that I had missed, turned sick and faint. The
antelope bounded forward a few yards right to the edge of the dip;
then, never having heard such a sound before, and being overcome by
some fatal curiosity, stopped and turned around, staring at the
direction whence it had come.
Despairingly I fired again, almost without taking aim, and this time
the bullet went in beneath the throat, and, raking the animal, dropped
it dead as a stone. We scrambled to it, and presently were engaged in
an awful meal of which we never afterwards liked to think. Happily for
us that antelope must have drunk water not long before.
Our hunger and thirst assuaged after this horrible fashion, we slept
awhile by the carcase, then arose extraordinarily refreshed, and,
having cut off some hunks of meat to carry with us, started on again.
By the position of the stars, we now knew that the oasis must lie
somewhere to the east of us; but as between us and it there appeared
to be nothing but these eternal sand-hills stretching away for many
miles, and as in front of us toward the range the character of the
desert seemed to be changing, we thought it safer, if the word safety
can be used in such a connection, to continue to head for that range.
All the remainder of this night we marched, and, as we had no fuel
wherewith to cook it, at dawn ate some of the raw meat, which we
washed down with the last drops of our water.
Now we were out of the sand-hills, and had entered on a great pebbly
plain that lay between us and the foot of the mountains. These looked
quiet close, but in fact were still far off. Feebly and ever more
feebly we staggered on, meeting no one and finding no water, though
here and there we came across little bushes, of which we chewed the
stringy and aromatic leaves that contained some moisture, but drew up
our mouths and throats like alum.
Higgs, who was the softest of us, gave out the first, though to the
last he struggled forward with surprising pluck, even after he had
been obliged to throw away his rifle, because he could no longer carry
it, though this we did not notice at the time. When he could not
support himself upon his feet, Orme took him by one arm, and I by the
other, and helped him on, much as I have seen two elephants do by a
wounded companion of the herd.
Half-an-hour or so later my strength failed me also. Although advanced
in years, I am tough and accustomed to the desert and hardships; who
would not be who had been a slave to the Khalifa? But now I could do
no more, and halting, begged the others to go on and leave me. Orme's
only answer was to proffer me his left arm. I took it, for life is
sweet to us all, especially when one has something to live for--a
desire to fulfil as I had, though to tell the truth, even at the time
I felt ashamed of myself.
Thus, then, we proceeded awhile, resembling a sober man attempting to
lead two drunken friends out of reach of that stern policeman, Death.
Orme's strength must be wonderful; or was it his great spirit and his
tender pity for our helplessness which enabled him to endure beneath
this double burden.
Suddenly he fell down as though he had been shot, and lay there
senseless. The Professor, however, retained some portion of his mind,
although it wandered. He became light-headed, and rambled on about our
madness in having undertaken such a journey, "just to pot a couple of
beastly lions," and although I did not answer them, I agreed heartily
with his remarks. Then he seemed to imagine that I was a clergyman,
and kneeling on the sand, he made a lengthy confession of his sins
which, so far as I gathered, though I did not pay much attention to
them, for I was thinking of my own, appeared chiefly to consist of the
unlawful acquisition of certain objects of antiquity, or of having
overmatched others in the purchase of such objects.
To pacify him, for I feared lest he should go raving mad, I pronounced
some religious absolution, whereon poor Higgs rolled over and lay
still by Orme. Yes; he, the friend whom I had always loved, for his
very failings were endearing, was dead or at the point of death, like
the gallant young man at his side, and I myself was dying. Tremors
shook my limbs; horrible waves of blackness seemed to well up from my
vitals, through my breast to my brain, and thence to evaporate in
queer, jagged lines and patches, which I realized, but could not
actually see. Gay memories of my far-off childhood arose in me,
particularly those of a Christmas party where I had met a little girl
dressed like an elf, a little girl with blue eyes whom I had loved
dearly for quite a fortnight, to be beaten down, stamped out,
swallowed by that vision of the imminent shadow which awaits all
mankind, the black womb of a re-birth, if re-birth there be.
What could I do? I thought of lighting a fire; at any rate it would
serve to scare the lions and other wild beasts which else might prey
upon us before we were quite dead. It would be dreadful to lie
helpless but sentient, and feel their rending fangs. But I had no
strength to collect the material. To do so at best must have meant a
long walk, for even here it was not plentiful. I had a few cartridges
left--three, to be accurate--in my repeating rifle; the rest I had
thrown away to be rid of their weight. I determined to fire them,
since, in my state I thought they could no longer serve either to win
food or for the purposes of defence, although, as it happened, in this
I was wrong. It was possible that, even in that endless desert, some
one might hear the shots, and if not--well, good-night.
So I sat up and fired the first cartridge, wondering in a childish
fashion where the bullet would fall. Then I went to sleep for awhile.
The howling of a hyena woke me up, and, on glancing around, I saw the
beast's flaming eyes quite close to me. I aimed and shot at it, and
heard a yell of pain. That hyena, I reflected, would want no more food
The silence of the desert overwhelmed me; it was so terrible that I
almost wished the hyena back for company. Holding the rifle above my
head, I fired the third cartridge. Then I took the hand of Higgs in my
own, for, after all, it was a link--the last link with humanity and
the world--and lay down in the company of death that seemed to fall
upon me in black and smothering veils.
I woke up and became aware that some one was pouring water down my
throat. Heaven! I thought to myself, for at that time heaven and water
were synonymous in my mind. I drank a good deal of it, not all I
wanted by any means, but as much as the pourer would allow, then
raised myself upon my hands and looked. The starlight was
extraordinarily clear in that pure desert atmosphere, and by it I saw
the face of Sergeant Quick bending over me. Also, I saw Orme sitting
up, staring about him stupidly, while a great yellow dog, with a head
like a mastiff, licked his hand. I knew the dog at once; it was that
which Orme had bought from some wandering natives, and named Pharaoh
because he ruled over all other dogs. Moreover, I knew the two camels
that stood near by. So I was still on earth--unless, indeed we had all
moved on a step.
"How did you find us, Sergeant?" I asked feebly.
"Didn't find you, Doctor," answered Quick, "dog Pharaoh found you. In
a business like this a dog is more useful than man, for he can smell
what one can't see. Now, if you feel better, Doctor, please look at
Mr. Higgs, for I fear he's gone."
I looked, and, although I did not say so, was of the same opinion. His
jaw had fallen, and he lay limp and senseless; his eyes I could not
see, because of the black spectacles.
"Water," I said, and Quick poured some into his mouth, where it
Still he did not stir, so I opened his garments and felt his heart. At
first I could detect nothing; then there was the slightest possible
"There's hope," I said in answer to the questioning looks. "You don't
happen to have any brandy, do you?" I added.
"Never travelled without it yet, Doctor," replied Quick indignantly,
producing a metal flask.
"Give him some," I said, and the Sergeant obeyed with liberality and
almost instantaneous effect, for Higgs sat up gasping and coughing.
"Brandy; filthy stuff; teetotaller! Cursed trick! Never forgive you.
Water, water," he spluttered in a thick, low voice.
We gave it to him, and he drank copiously, until we would let him have
no more indeed. Then, by degrees, his senses came back to him. He
thrust up his black spectacles which he had worn all this while, and
stared at the Sergeant with his sharp eyes.
"I understand," he said. "So we are not dead, after all, which perhaps
is a pity after getting through the beastly preliminaries. What has
"Don't quite know," answered Orme; "ask Quick."
But the Sergeant was already engaged in lighting a little fire and
setting a camp-kettle to boil, into which he poured a tin of beef
extract that he had brought with other eatables from our stores on the
chance that he might find us. In fifteen minutes we were drinking
soup, for I forbade anything more solid as yet, and, oh! what a
blessed meal was that. When it was finished, Quick fetched some
blankets from the camels, which he threw over us.
"Lie down and sleep, gentlemen," he said; "Pharaoh and I will watch."
The last thing I remember was seeing the Sergeant, in his own fashion
an extremely religious man, and not ashamed of it, kneeling upon the
sand and apparently saying his prayers. As he explained afterwards, of
course, as a fatalist, he knew well that whatever must happen would
happen, but still he considered it right and proper to return thanks
to the Power which had arranged that on this occasion the happenings
should be good, and not ill, a sentiment with which every one of us
agreed. Opposite to him, with one of his faithful eyes fixed on Orme,
sat Pharaoh in grave contemplation. Doubtless, being an Eastern dog,
he understood the meaning of public prayer; or perhaps he thought that
he should receive some share of gratitude and thanks.
When we awoke the sun was already high, and to show us that we had
dreamed no dream, there was Quick frying tinned bacon over the fire,
while Pharaoh sat still and watched him--or the bacon.
"Look," said Orme to me, pointing to the mountains, "they are still
miles away. It was madness to think that we could reach them."
I nodded, then turned to stare at Higgs, who was just waking up, for,
indeed, he was a sight to see. His fiery red hair was full of sand,
his nether garments were gone, apparently at some stage in our march
he had dispensed with the remains of them because they chafed his sore
limbs, and his fair skin, not excluding that of his face, was a mass
of blisters, raised by the sun. In fact he was so disfigured that his
worst enemy would not have known him. He yawned, stretched himself,
always a good sign in man or beast, and asked for a bath.
"I am afraid you will have to wash yourself in sand here, sir, like
them filthy Arabians," said Quick, saluting. "No water to spare for
baths in this dry country. But I've got a tube of hazeline, also a
hair-brush and a looking-glass," he added, producing these articles.
"Quite so, Sergeant," said Higgs, as he took them; "it's sacrilege to
think of using water to wash. I intend never to waste it in that way
again." Then he looked at himself in the glass, and let it fall upon
the sand, ejaculating, "Oh! good Lord, is that me?"
"Please be careful, sir," said the Sergeant sternly; "you told me the
other day that it's unlucky to break a looking-glass; also I have no
"Take it away," said the Professor; "I don't want it any more, and,
Doctor, come and oil my face, there's a good fellow; yes, and the rest
of me also, if there is enough hazeline."
So we treated each other with the ointment, which at first made us
smart fearfully, and then, very gingerly sat down to breakfast.
"Now, Sergeant," said Orme, as he finished his fifth pannikin of tea,
"tell us your story."
"There isn't much of a story, Captain. Those Zeu fellows came back
without you, and, not knowing the lingo, I could make nothing of their
tale. Well, I soon made Shadrach and Co. understand that, death-wind
or no death-wind--that's what they call it--they must come with me to
look for you, and at last we started, although they said that I was
mad, as you were dead already. Indeed, it wasn't until I asked that
fellow Shadrach if he wanted to be dead too"--and the Sergeant tapped
his revolver grimly--"that he would let any one go.
"As it proved, he was right, for we couldn't find you, and after
awhile the camels refused to face the storm any longer; also one of
the Abati drivers was lost, and hasn't been heard of since. It was all
the rest of us could do to get back to the oasis alive, nor would
Shadrach go out again even after the storm had blown itself away. It
was no use arguing with the pig, so, as I did not want his blood upon
my hands, I took two camels and started with the dog Pharaoh for
"Now this was my thought, although I could not explain it to the Abati
crowd, that if you lived at all, you would almost certainly head for
the hills as I knew you had no compass, and you would not be able to
see anything else. So I rode along the plain which stretches between
the desert and the mountains, keeping on the edge of the sand-hills. I
rode all day, but when night came I halted, since I could see no more.
There I sat in that great place, thinking, and after an hour or two I
observed Pharaoh prick his ears and look toward the west. So I also
started toward the west, and presently I thought that I saw one faint
streak of light which seemed to go upward, and therefore couldn't come
from a falling star, but might have come from a rifle fired toward the
"I listened, but no sound reached me, only presently, some seconds
afterwards, the dog again pricked his ears as though /he/ heard
something. That settled me, and I mounted and rode forward through the
night toward the place where I thought I had seen the flash. For two
hours I rode, firing my revolver from time to time; then as no answer
came, gave it up as a bad job, and stopped. But Pharaoh there wouldn't
stop. He began to whine and sniff and run forward, and at last bolted
into the darkness, out of which presently I heard him barking some
hundreds of yards away, to call me, I suppose. So I followed and found
you three gentlemen, dead, as I thought at first. That's all the
"One with a good end, anyway, Sergeant. We owe our lives to you."
"Beg your pardon, Captain," answered Quick modestly; "not to me at
all, but to Providence first that arranged everything, before we were
born perhaps, and next to Pharaoh. He's a wise dog, Pharaoh, though
fierce with some, and you did a good deal when you bought him for a
bottle of whisky and a sixpenny pocket-knife."
It was dawn on the following morning before we sighted the oasis,
whither we could travel but slowly, since, owing to the lack of
camels, two of us must walk. Of these two, as may be guessed, the
Sergeant was always one and his master the other, for of all the men I
ever knew I think that in such matters Orme is the most unselfish.
Nothing would induce him to mount one of the camels, even for half-an-
hour, so that when I walked, the brute went riderless. On the other
hand, once he was on, notwithstanding the agonies he suffered from his
soreness, nothing would induce Higgs to get off.
"Here I am and here I stop," he said several times, in English,
French, and sundry Oriental languages. "I've tramped it enough to last
me the rest of my life."
Both of us were dozing upon our saddles when suddenly I heard the
Sergeant calling to the camels to halt and asked what was the matter.
"Looks like Arabians, Doctor," he said, pointing to a cloud of dust
advancing toward us.
"Well, if so," I answered, "our best chance is to show no fear and go
on. I don't think they will harm us."
So, having made ready such weapons as we had, we advanced, Orme and
the Sergeant walking between the two camels, until presently we
encountered the other caravan, and, to our astonishment, saw none
other than Shadrach riding at the head of it, mounted on my dromedary,
which his own mistress, the Lady of the Abati, had given to me. We
came face to face, and halted, staring at each other.
"By the beard of Aaron! is it you, lords?" he asked. "We thought you
"By the hair of Moses! so I gather," I answered angrily, "seeing that
you are going off with all our belongings," and I pointed to the
baggage camels laden with goods.
Then followed explanations and voluble apologies, which Higgs for one
accepted with a very bad grace. Indeed, as he can talk Arabic and its
dialects perfectly, he made use of that tongue to pour upon the heads
of Shadrach and his companions a stream of Eastern invective that must
have astonished them, ably seconded as it was by Sergeant Quick in
Orme listened for some time, then said:
"That'll do, old fellow; if you go on, you will get up a row, and,
Sergeant, be good enough to hold your tongue. We have met them, so
there is no harm done. Now, friend Shadrach, turn back with us to the
oasis. We are going to rest there for some days."
Shadrach looked sulky, and said something about our turning and going
on with /them/, whereon I produced the ancient ring, Sheba's ring,
which I had brought as a token from Mur. This I held before his eyes,