Part 4 out of 8
"Can you swim with one arm?"
"With both tied!"
"Very well! All ready, men! Overboard, to the beach! There, dig in
for further orders. No individual action! No charge, without command!
Overboard--come on--who follows me?"
He vaulted the rail, plunged in a white smother, surged up and struck
out for shore. Rrisa was not half a second behind him. Then came
all the others (save only that still figure on the buffed metals), a
deluge of leaping, diving men.
The surf suddenly became full of heads and shoulders, vigorous arms,
fighting beachward. Strong swimmers every one, the Legion battled its
way ashore, out from under _Nissr's_ vast-spreading bulk, out from
under her forward floats. Not one Legionary but thrilled with the
killing-lust, the eager spur of vengeance for Kloof, first victim of
the Beni Harb's attack.
Along the dune, perhaps five hundred yards back of the beach, very
many heads now appeared. The Arabs well knew themselves safe from
attack, so long as these hated white swine of _Ajam_ were in the
breakers. Golden opportunity to pick them off, at ease!
[Footnote 1: Arabs divide the world into two categories; themselves,
and _Ajam_, or all non-Arabs.]
A long, ragged line of desert men appeared, in burnouses and
_benishes_, or loose floating garments, and all heavily armed. The
last bleeding rays of the sunset flickered on the silver-mounted
rifles as they spat fire into the heat-quivering air.
All about the swimmers, waterspouts jetted up. Two men grunted,
flailed wild arms and sank, with the water about them tinged red as
the sunset. Another sank face downward, a moment, then with only one
arm, continued to ply for land, leaving a crimson trail behind.
None of the untouched Legionaries took any heed of this, or stopped
their furious swimming to see what damage had been done or to offer
help. Life was at stake. Every second in the breakers was big with
death. This was stern work, to be put through with speed. But the
faces of the swimming men grew hard to look upon.
The Master and Leclair were first to touch foot to the shelving
bottom, all churned up by the long cavalry-charges of the sea-horses,
and to drag themselves out of the smother. Rrisa and Bohannan
came next, then Enemark, and then the others--all save Beziers and
Daimamoto, French ace and Japanese surgeon, whose work was forever
at an end. Enemark, engineer and scientist, shot through the left
shoulder, was dragged ashore, strangling, by eager hands.
"Down! Down!" shouted the Master. "Dig in!"
Right well he knew the futility, the suicidal folly of trying to
charge some three hundred entrenched men with a handful of panting,
exhausted soldiers armed only with revolvers.
"Take cover!" his cry rang along the beach. They obeyed. Under a
galling fire that flung stinging sand into their faces and that took
toll of two more Legionaries, wounded, the expedition dug for its very
The best of strategy! The only strategy, the Master knew, as--panting
a little, with thick, black hair glued by sea-water to his head--he
flattened himself into a little depression in the sand, where the
first ripple of the dunes began.
Hot was the sand, and dry. Withered camel-grass grew in dejected tufts
here, there, interspersed with a few straggles of half a. A jackal's
skull, bleached, lay close to the Master's right hand. Its polish
attested the care of others of its kind, of hyenas, and of vultures.
Just so would a human skull appear, in no long time, if left to
nature's tender ministrations. Out of an eyehole of the skull a dusty
gray scorpion half crawled, then retreated, tail over back, venomous,
Death lurked not alone in sea and in the rifles of the inhabitants of
this harsh land, but even in the crawling things underfoot.
The Master paid no heed to shriveled grass, to skull, or scorpion.
All his thoughts were bent on the overcoming of that band of Islamic
outcasts now persistently pot-shotting away at the strange flying
men from unknown lands "that faced not Mecca nor kept Ramadan"--men
already hidden in swiftly scooped depressions, from which the sand
still kept flying up.
"Steady, men!" the Master called. "Get your wind! Ready with the
lethal guns! Each gun, one capsule. Then we'll charge them! And--no
Again, silence from the Legion. The fire from the dunes slackened.
These tactics seemed to have disconcerted the Beni Harb. They had
expected a wild, only half-organized rush up the sands, easily to be
wiped out by a volley or two from the terribly accurate, long-barreled
rifles. But this restraint, this business-like entrenching reminded
them only too forcibly of encounters with other men of the
Franks--the white-clad Spanish infantry from Rio de Oro, the dreaded
_piou-pious_, zouaves, and _Legion Etrangere_ of the French.
Firing ceased, from the Beni Harb. Silence settled on both sides. From
the sea, the noise of waves breaking along the lower works of _Nissr_
mingled with the hiss and refluent slither of the tumbling surf on the
gleaming beach. For a while peace seemed to have descended.
A purple shade settled over the desert. The sun was nearly gone,
now, and dusk would not be long in closing its chalice down over the
light-wearied world. Leclair, entrenched beside the Master, whispered:
"They do not understand, these dog-brothers--may Allah make their
faces cold!" He grinned, frankly, with sparkling eyes and white teeth.
"Already we have their beards in our hands!"
The Master's only answer was to draw from his pocket an extra lethal
gun, hand it over and, in a whisper, hastily instruct the Frenchman
how to use it. Then he cried, loudly:
"Ready, men! Fire!"
All along the line, the faint, sighing hiss of the strange weapons
sounded. Over the top of the dune little, almost inaudible explosions
began taking place as--_plop! plop! plop!_--the capsules burst. Not
now could their pale virescence be seen; but the Master smiled again,
at realization that already the lethal gas was settling down upon the
horde of Shiah outcasts.
To Leclair he whispered in Arabic an ancient saying of the desert
folk: "'Allah hath given skill to three things, the hands of the
Chinese, the brains of the Franks, the tongues of the Arabs!'" He
added: "When the gas strikes them, they would think the Frankish brain
more wonderful than ever--if they could think at all!"
He slid his hand into the breast of his jacket, pulled a little cord
and drew out a silver whistle, the very same that he had used at
Gallipoli. As he slid it to his lips, they tautened. A flood of
memories surged over him. His fighting-blood was up, like that of
all the other Legionaries in that hasty trench-line along the white
A moment's silence followed. Outwardly, all was peace. No sound but
the waves broke the African stillness. A little sand-grouse, known as
_kata_ by the Arabs, came whirring by. Far aloft, a falcon wheeled,
keen-eyed for prey. Once more the deadly scorpion peeped from the
skull, an ugly, sullen, envenomed thing.
The Master held up the silver whistle, glinting in the last sun-glow.
They saw it, and understood. All hearts thrilled, tightening with
the familiar sense of discipline. Fists gripped revolver-butts; feet
shuffled into the sand, getting a hold for the quick, forward leap.
Keenly trilled the whistle. A shout broke from some twenty-five
throats. The men leaped up, forward, slipping, staggering in the fine
sand, among the bunches of dried grass. But forward they drove, and
broke into a ragged, sliding charge up the breast of the dunes.
"Hold your fire, men! Hold it--then give 'em Hell!" the Master
shouted. He was in the first wave of the assault. Close by came
Rrisa, his brown face contracted with fanatic hate of the Beni Harb,
despoilers of the Haram sanctuary.
There, too, was "Captain Alden," grim with masked face. There was
Bohannan, Leclair--and pistol-barrels flickered in the evening glow,
and half the men gripped knives in their left hands, as well. For this
was to be a killing without quarter, to the very end.
A MISSION OF DREAD
Panting, with a slither of dry sand under their laboring feet, the
Legionaries charged. At any second, a raking volley might burst from
the dunes. The lethal pellets--so few in this vast space--might not
have taken effect. Not one heart there but was steeling itself against
ambush and a shriveling fire.
Up they stormed. The Master's voice cried, once more: "Give 'em Hell!"
He was the first man to top the dune, close to the wady's edge. There
he checked himself, revolver in mid-air, eyes wide with astonishment.
This way and that he peered, squinting with eyes that did not
"_Nom de Dieu!_" ejaculated Leclair, at his side.
"_Wallah_!" shouted Rrisa, furiously. "Oh, may Allah smite their
Each man, as he leaped to the rampart top, stood transfixed with
astonishment. Most of them cried out in their native tongues.
Their amazement was well-grounded. Not an Arab was to be seen. Of all
those Beni Harb, none remained--not even the one shot by the Master.
The sand on the dune was cupped with innumerable prints of feet in
rude _babooshes_ (native shoes), and empty cartridges lay all about.
But not one of the Ahl Bayt, or People of the Black Tents, was
"Sure, now, can you beat that?" shouted Bohannan, exultantly, and
waved his service cap. "Licked at the start! They quit cold!"
Sheffield, at his side, dropped to the sand, his heart drilled by a
jagged slug. The explosion of that shot crackled in from another line
of dunes, off to eastward--a brown, burnt ridge, parched by the tropic
sun of ages.
Sweating with the heat and the exertion of the charge, amazed at
having found--in place of windrows of sleeping men--an enemy still
distant and still as formidable as ever, the Legionaries for a moment
remained without thought or tactics.
Rrisa, livid with fury and baffled hate, flung up wild arms and began
screaming the most extravagant insults at the still invisible nomads,
whose fire was now beginning again all along their line.
"O rejected ones, and sons of the rejected!" the Arab howled. "O hogs
and brothers of hogs!" He fell to gnawing his own hand, as Arabs will
in an excess of passion. Once more he screamed: "O Allah, deny not
their skin and bones to the eternal flame! O owls, oxen, beggars,
cut-off ones! Oh, give them the burning oil, Allah! The cold faces!
Oh, wither their hands! Make them _kusah_! (beardless). Oh, these
swine with black livers, gray eyes, beards of red. Vilest that ever
hammered tent-pegs, goats of El Akhfash! O Beni Harb!"
[Footnote 1: Beni Harb, or Sons of Battle, by a change in the
aspiration of the "H," becomes "Sons of Flight, or Cowardice."]
The Master gripped his furious orderly, and pushed him back, down the
"No more of that, Rrisa!" he commanded, fiercely. "These be old
woman's ways, these screamings! Silence, _Bismillah_!"
He hailed the others.
"They score, the first round! Their game is to retreat, if they're
suspicious of any ruse or any attack from us. They're not going
to stand and fight. We can't get near enough to them to throw the
remaining lethal capsules over. And we can't chase them into the
desert. Their plan is to hold us here, and pick us off one by
one--wipe us out, without losing a man!
"Dig in again! That's our only game now. We're facing a situation
that's going to tax us to the utmost, but there's only one thing to
Life itself lay in digging, death in exposure to the fire of
those maddeningly elusive, unseen Bedouins. Like so many dogs the
Legionaries once more fell to excavating, with their knives and their
bare hands, the sun-baked sand that slithered back again into their
shallow trench almost as fast as they could throw it out.
A ragged fire from the Beni Harb lent speed to their efforts. Dead men
and wounded could now have no attention. Life itself was all at stake.
In their rude trench they lay at last, sweating, panting, covered
with sand and dust, with thirst beginning to take hold on them, and
increasing swarms of flies--tiny, vicious, black things, all sting and
poison--beginning to hum about them. On watch they rested there, while
dull umbers of nightfall glowered through the framework of _Nissr_,
tossing in the surf. Without much plan, wrecked, confronted by what
seemed perils unsurmountable, the Flying Legion waited for the coming
of dark to respite them from sniping.
The Master, half-way along the line with Leclair, Rrisa, the major and
"Captain Alden," mentally took stock of losses thus far sustained. The
wounded were: Alden, Bohannan (burned), Enemark and himself. The dead:
Kloof, Sheffield, Beziers, Travers, Gorlitz, Auchincloss, Daimamoto.
Twenty-four living remained, including Leclair. The mortality, in
about eighteen hours, had been twenty percent. At this rate the Master
understood the Flying Legion was slated for very speedy destruction.
"It's touch-and-go now," he pondered. "We've got to annihilate these
infernal Bedouins, repair the liner and get ahead, or--but there's no
'or' in this! None, at all!"
As dark settled down over the Sahara, the leprous patches of white,
saline earth took on a ghostly pallor. The light of the southern stars
began to glow with soft radiance. A gigantic emptiness, a rolling
vacancy of sea and earth--brine-waves to rear of the Legion,
sand-waves ahead--shrank the party to seeming insignificance.
A soft, purple tapestry of night unrolled across the desert; the wind
died, and the suffocating breath of overheated sands began to emanate
from the baked earth. And ever more and more pestiferously the
infernal torment of the flies increased.
Inflamed with chagrin, rage, and grief for the lost comrades, the
Legionaries lay in waiting. No conversation ran along the line.
Silence held them--and their own thoughts. Wounds had been dressed as
well as they might be. Nothing remained but to await the Master's next
"Captain Alden's" suggestion that Kloof, still lying aboard in the
liner, should be seen to, met a rebuff from the Master. Living or
dead, one man could not now endanger the lives of any others. And that
danger still lay in any exposure was proved by the intermittent firing
from the Arab lines.
The Beni Harb were obviously determined to hold back any possibility
of a charge, or any return to the protection of the giant flying-ship.
Bullets whimpered overhead, spudded into the sand, or pinged against
metal on the liner. Parthian fighters though these Beni Harb were,
they surely were well stocked with munitions and they meant stern
"And stern business is what they shall have, once the dark is
complete," the Master pondered. "It is annihilation for them or for
us. There can be no compromise, nor any terms but slaughter!"
One circumstance was favorable--the falling of the wind. Had it risen,
kicking up a harsher surf, _Nissr_ must have begun to break. But as
the cupped hand of night, closing over the earth, had also shut away
the wind, the air-liner was now resting more easily. Surf still
foamed about her floats and lower gallery--surf all spangled with the
phosphorescence that the Arabs call "jewels of the deep"--but unless
some sudden squall should fling itself against the coast, every
probability favored the liner taking no further damage.
In silence, save for the occasional easing of positions along the
trench, the Legionaries waited. Strange dim colors appeared along
the desert horizons, half visible in the gloom--funeral palls of dim
purple, with pale, ghostly reflections almost to mid-heaven.
Some of the men had tobacco and matches that had escaped being wet;
and cigarettes were rolled, passed along, lighted behind protections
that would mask the match-gleam from the enemy. The comforting aroma
of smoke drifted out on the desert heat. As for the Master, from time
to time he slipped a khat leaf into his mouth, and remained gravely
At length his voice sounded along the trench.
"Men of the Flying Legion," said he, "this situation is grave. We
can't escape on foot, north or south. We are without provisions or
water. The nearest white settlement is Rio de Oro, about a hundred
miles to southward; and even if we could reach that, harassed by the
Beni Harb, we might all be executed there, as pirates. We must go
forward or die right here on this beach.
"In any kind of a straight fight, we are hopelessly out-classed. There
are about three hundred men against twenty-four of us, some of whom
are wounded. Even if we took life for life, the Bedouins would lose
less than ten percent, and we'd be wiped out. And we couldn't expect
to take life for life, charging a position like theirs in the
night. It can't be a stand-up battle. It's got to be science against
savagery, or nothing."
A murmur of approval trickled along the sands. Confidence was
returning. The Legionaries' hearts tautened again with faith in this
strange, this usually silent and emotionless man whose very name was
unknown to almost all of them.
"Just one other word," the Master continued, his voice calm, unshaken,
quite impersonal. "If science fails, do not allow yourselves to be
captured. The tortures of Hell await any white man taken by these
fanatics. Remember, always keep one mercy-bullet--for yourselves!"
Another little silence. Then the chief said:
"I am going to take two men and undertake what seems a preposterous
attack. I need only two. I shall not call for volunteers, because you
would all offer yourselves. You must stay here."
"In case my plan succeeds, you are to come at my call--three long
hails. If my plan fails, Major Bohannan will command you; and I know
you will all fight to the last breath and to the final drop of blood!"
"Don't do this thing, sir!" the major protested. "What chance of
success has it? These desert men can see, where a white man is blind.
They can scent danger as a hunting-dog scents the spoor of game.
You're simply throwing your life away, and we need that life!"
"I will take Lieutenant Leclair, who knows these people," the Master
continued, paying no heed, "and Rrisa, who is of their kin. You
others, all sit tight!"
A chuckling laugh, out there on the vague sands, seemed to mock him.
It burst into a raw, barking cachinnation, that somehow stirred the
blood with shrinking horror.
"One of the Sahara Sanitary Corps," remarked Leclair, dryly. "A hyena.
Well may he laugh! Feasting enough for him and his before this dance
A gleam of fire, off to the left where the farther dunes approached
the sea, suddenly began to show. All eyes turned toward it. The little
fire soon grew into a leaping flame, its base hidden by sand-mounds.
No Arabs were visible there, but they had surely lighted it, using
driftwood from the beach. Up into the purple-velvet night whirled
sparks and fire-tongues; red smoke spiraled on the vagrant desert
"A signal-fire, Master!" whispered Rrisa. "It will be seen in far
oases. If it burn two hours, that will mean an enemy with great
plunder. Others of the Beni Harb will come; there will be gathering of
the tribes. That fire must not burn, _M'alme!_"
"Nor must the Beni Harb live!" To the major: "Collect a dozen lethal
guns and bring them to me!"
When the guns were at hand, the Master apportioned them between
Leclair, Rrisa, and himself. With the one apiece they already had,
each man carried five of the guns, in pockets and in belt. The small
remaining stock of lethal pellets were distributed and the weapons
"In three minutes, Major," said the Master, "we leave these lines.
Ten minutes after that, open a scattering fire, all along the trench.
Shoot high, so as to be sure we are not hit."
"Ah, a barrage, sir?" the major exclaimed.
"Not in the least. My purpose is quite different. Never mind, but
listen to my orders. Keep up that fire sparingly, for five minutes.
Then cease. And keep silent till we return.
"Remember, I will give three long hails when we start to come back.
Those will warn you not to shoot if you see dim figures in the night.
Either we shall be back in these lines by nine o'clock, or--"
"Or we will go after you!" came the voice of "Captain Alden," with
a little catch of anxiety not at all masculine. Something in the
femininity of her promise stirred the Master's heart a second, but he
"Either we shall return by nine, or never," he said calmly.
"Let me go, then!" whispered Alden. "Go, in place of you! You are more
needed than I. Without you all these men are lost. Without me--they
would not miss me, sir!"
"I cannot argue that point with you, Captain. We start at once." He
turned to Rrisa, and in Arabic said:
"The road we are about to take may lead thee to Paradise. A
sand-adder, a scorpion, or a bullet may be the means. Dost thou stand
firm with me?"
The Arab stretched out a thin, brown hand to him in the dark.
"Firm as my faith, Master!" he replied. "Both to help you, and to
destroy the _beni kalb_ (dog-sons), I would pass through Al Araf, into
Eblis! What will be, must be. No man dieth except by permission of
Allah, according to what is written on the scrolls of the angel, Al
"I go with you, Master, where you go, were it to Jehannum! I swear
that by the rising of the stars, which is a mighty oath. _Tawakkal al
Allah!_" (Place reliance on Allah!)
"By the rising of the stars!" repeated Leclair, also in Arabic. "I too
am with you to the end, _M'alme!_"
The Master assured himself that his night-glasses with the megaphotic
reflectors were in their case slung over his shoulder. He looked once
more to his weapons, both ordinary and lethal, and likewise murmured:
"By the rising of the stars!"
Then said he crisply, while the fire-glow of Leclair's strongly
inhaled cigarette threw a dim light on the tense lines of his wounded
"Come! Let us go!"
Leclair buried his cigarette in the warm earth.
Rrisa caught up a handful of sand and flung it toward the unseen
enemy, in memory of the decisive pebbles thrown by Mohammed at the
Battle of Bedr, so great a victory for him.
Then he followed the Master and Leclair, with a whispered:
"_Bismillah wa Allahu akbar_!"
[Footnote 1: In the name of Allah, and Allah is greatest!]
Together, crawling on their bellies like dusty puff-adders of the
Sahara itself, the three companions in arms--American, French,
Arab--slid out of the shallow trench, and in the gloom were lost to
sight of the beleaguered Flying Legion.
Their mission of death, death to the Beni Harb or to themselves, had
ANGELS OF DEATH
In utter silence, moving only a foot at a time, the trio of
man-hunters advanced. They spaced themselves out, dragged themselves
forward one at a time, took advantage of every slightest depression,
every wrinkle in the sandy desert-floor, every mummy-like acacia and
withered tamarisk-bush, some sparse growth of which began to mingle
with the halfa-grass as they passed from the coast-dunes to the desert
Breathing only through open mouths, for greater stillness, taking care
to crackle no twig nor even slide loose sand, they labored on, under
the pale-hazed starlight. Their goal was vague. Just where they
should come upon the Beni Harb, in that confused jumble of dunes and
_nullahs_ (ravines) they could not tell; nor yet did they know the
exact distance separating the Legion's trenches from the enemy. All
was vague mystery--a mystery ready at any second, at any slightest
alarm, to blaze out death upon them.
None the less, stout-hearted and firm of purpose, they serpented their
painful way prone on the hot, dusty bosom of the Sahara. Fate for them
and for all the Legion, lay on so slight a thing as the stirring of
a twig, the _tunk_ of a boot against a bleached camel's skull, the
possibility of a sneeze or cough.
Even the chance scaring-up of a hyena or a vagrant jackal might betray
them. Every breath, every heartbeat was pregnant with contingencies of
life and death.
Groveling, they slipped forward, dim, moving shadows in a world of
brown obscurity. At any moment, one might lay a hand on a sleeping
puff-adder or a scorpion. But even that had been fore-reckoned. All
three of them had thought of such contingencies and weighed them.
Not one but had determined to suppress any possible outcry, if thus
stricken, and to die in absolute silence.
What mattered death for one, if two should win to the close range
necessary for discharging the lethal capsules? What mattered it even
for two, if one should succeed? The survivors, or the sole survivor,
would simply take the weapons from the stricken and proceed.
After what seemed more than an hour, though in fact it was but the ten
minutes agreed on with Bohannan, off behind them toward the coast a
sudden staccato popping of revolvers began to puncture the night. Up
and down the Legionaries' trench it pattered, desultory, aimless.
The three men engaged in the perilous task of what the Arabs call
_asar_, or enemy-tracking, lay prone, with bullets keening high
overhead. As the Master looked back, he could see the little spurts of
fire from that fusillade.
The firing came from more to the left than the Master had reckoned,
showing him that he had got a little off his bearings. But now he took
his course again, as he had intended to do from the Legion's fire; and
presently rifle work from the Arabs, too, verified, his direction.
The Master smiled. Leclair fingered the butt of his revolver.
Rrisa whispered curses:
"Ah, dog-sons, may you suffer the extreme cold of El Zamharir! Ah, may
_Rih al Asfar_, the yellow wind (cholera), carry you all away!"
The racket of aimless firing continued a few minutes, underneath the
mild effulgence of the stars. It ceased, from the Legion's trenches at
the agreed moment; and soon it died down, also from the Arabs'. Quiet
rose again from the desert, broken only by the surf-wash on the
sand, the far, tremulous wail of a jackal, the little dry skitter of
The three scouts lay quiet for ten minutes after the volleying had
ceased. Silence settled over the plain; but, presently, a low moaning
sound came indistinctly from the east. It lasted only a moment, then
died away; and almost at once, the slight wind that had been blowing
from the sea hushed itself to a strange calm.
Rrisa gave anxious ear. His face grew tense, but he held his peace.
Neither of the white men paid any heed to the slight phenomenon. To
them it meant nothing. For all their experience with the desert, they
had never happened to hear just that thing. The Arab, however, felt a
stab of profound anxiety. His lips moved in a silent prayer to Allah.
Once more the Master raised his hand in signal of advance. The three
man-stalkers wormed forward again. They now had their direction,
also their distance, with extreme precision; a simple process of
triangulation, in which the glow of the beach-fire had its share, gave
them the necessary data.
Undaunted, they approached the camp of the Beni Harb; though every
moment they expected to be challenged, to hear the crack of an
alarm-rifle or a cry to Allah, followed by a deadly blast of slugs.
But fortune's scale-pan dipped in their direction, and all held still.
The sun-baked desert kept their secret. Onward they crawled, now over
sand, now over cracked mud-flakes of saline deposit where water had
dried at the bottom of a _ghadir_. All was calm as if the spirit of
rest were hovering over the hot, fevered earth, still quivering from
the kiss of its great enemy, the sun.
"Peace, it is peace until the rising of the morn!" a thought came to
the Master's mind, a line from the chapter Al Kadr, in the Koran. He
smiled to himself. "False peace," he reflected. "The calm before the
storm!" Prophetic thought, though not as he intended it!
On and on the trio labored, soundlessly. At last the chief stopped,
held up his hand a second, lay still. The others glimpsed him by the
starlight, nested down in a shallow depression of the sand. They crept
close to him.
"Lieutenant," he whispered, "you bombard the left-hand sector, toward
the fire and the sea. Rrisa, take the right-hand one. The middle is
for me. Fire at will!"
Out from belts and pockets came the lethal pistols. With
well-estimated elevation, the attackers sighted, each covering his
own sector. Hissing with hardly audible sighs, the weapons fired their
stange pellets, and once again as over the woods on the Englewood
Palisades--really less than twenty-four hours ago, though it seemed
a month--the little greenish vapor-wisps floated down, down, sinking
gently on the Sahara air.
This attack, they knew, must be decisive or all would be hopeless. The
last supply of capsules was now being exhausted. Everything had been
staked on one supreme effort. Quickly the attackers discharged their
weapons; then, having done all that could be done, lay prone and
Once again that hollow moaning sound drifted in across the baked
expanse of the Sahara--a strange, empty sound, unreal and ominous.
Then came a stir of sultry breeze, from the east. It strengthened;
and a fine, crepitant sliding of sand-particles became audible. Rrisa
"Master," he whispered, "we should not delay. If the _jinnee_ of the
waste overtake us, we may be lost."
"The _jinnee_ of the waste?" the Master answered, in a low tone. "What
nonsense is this?"
"The simoom, Master--the storm of sand. We call it the work of evil
The Master made no reply, save to command silence.
For a time nothing happened in the Arabs' camp. Then came a little
stir, off there in the gloom. A sound of voices grew audible. The name
of Allah drifted out of the all-enveloping night, to them, and that of
his Prophet. A cry: "_Ya Abd el Kadir_--" calling on a patron saint,
died before the last word, "_Jilani_," could find utterance. Then
silence, complete and leaden, fell with uncanny suddenness.
The Master laughed, dryly. He touched Leclair's arm.
"Strong medicine for the Beni Harb, Lieutenant," said he. "Their own
_imams_ (priests) have strong medicine, too, but not so strong as that
of the cursed sons of Feringistan. Sleep already lies heavy on the
eyelids of these sons of Allah. And a deeper sleep shall soon overcome
them. Tell me, Lieutenant, can you kill men wholesale?"
"Yes, my Captain."
"Sleeping men, who cannot resist you? Can you kill them
scientifically, in masses, without anger?"
"How do you know now, my Captain, that it will not be in anger?"
And the Frenchman half eased himself up on hands and knees, peering
forward into the night. "After what these Beni Harb--or their close
kin--have done to me and to poor Lebon--listen! What was that?"
"What do you mean?"
"That far, roaring noise?"
"It is nothing! A little wind, maybe; but it is nothing, nothing!
Come, I am ready for the work!"
The Master stood up. Rrisa followed suit. No longer crawling, but
walking erect, they advanced. They still used caution, careful to make
no noise; but confidence had entered into them. Were not the Arabs all
The white men's faces were pale and drawn, with grim determination for
the task that lay ahead--the task of converting the Beni Harb's camp
into a shambles. The Arab's face, with white-rimmed eyes and with
lips drawn back from teeth, had become that of a wild animal. Rrisa's
nostrils were dilated, to scent out the enemy. He was breathing hard,
as if he had run a mile.
"They are near, now, _Ya M'alme!_" said he. "They are close at hand,
these _nakhawilah_! (pariahs). Allah, the high, the great, hath
delivered them into our hands. Verily there is no power or might but
Allah. Shall I scout ahead, Master, and spy out the camp?"
"No, Rrisa. I send no man where I will not gladly go myself. All three
of us, forward!"
Again they advanced, watchful, revolvers in hands, ready for any
sudden ambush. All at once, as they came up over a breastwork of hard
clay and gravel that heaved itself into rolling sands, the camp of the
Beni Harb became visible. Dim, brown and white figures were lying all
about, distorted in strange attitudes, on the sand beyond the ridge.
There lay the despoilers of the Haram, the robber-tribe of Sheik Abd
el Rahman, helpless in blank unconsciousness.
The Master laughed bitterly, as he strode forward into the camp, the
long lines of which stretched vaguely away toward the coast where the
fire was still leaping up against the stars, now paled with a strange
Starlight showed weapons lying all about--long rifles and primitive
flint-locks; _kanat_ spears of Indian male-bamboo tipped with steel
and decorated with tufts of black ostrich-feathers; and _jambiyehs_,
or crooked daggers, with wicked points and edges.
"Save your fire, men," said the Master picking up a spear. "There
are plenty of means, here, to give these dogs the last sleep, without
wasting good ammunition. Choose the weapon you can handle best, and
fall to work!"
With a curse on the heretic Beni Harb, and a murmur of thanks to Allah
for this wondrous hour, Rrisa caught up a short javelin, of the kind
called _mirzak_. The lieutenant chose a wide-bladed sword.
"Remember only one thing, my brothers in arms!" exclaimed the Master.
"But that is most vital!" He spoke in Arabic.
"And what may it be?" asked the Frenchman, in the same tongue.
"I do not know whether old Sheik Abd el Rahman is with this party or
not, but if either of you find him, kill him not! Deliver him to me!"
"Listen, Master!" exclaimed Rrisa, and thrust the point of his javelin
deep into the sand.
"Well, what now, Rrisa?"
"Shall we, after all, kill these sleeping swine-brothers?"
"Eh, what? Thy heart then, hath turned to water? Thou canst not kill?
They attacked us--this is justice!"
"And if they live, they will surely wipe us out!" put in the
Frenchman, staring in the gloom. "What meaneth this old woman's
babble, son of the Prophet?"
"It is not that my heart hath turned to water, nor have the fountains
of mine eyes been opened to pity," answered Rrisa. "But some things
are worse than death, to all of Arab blood. To be despoiled of arms
or of horses, without a fight, makes an Arab as the worm of the earth.
Then he becometh an outcast, indeed! 'If you would rule, disarm'," he
quoted the old proverb, and added another: "'Man unarmed in the desert
is like a bird shorn of wings.'"
"What is thy plain meaning in all this?" demanded the chief.
"Listen, _M'alme_. If you would be the Sheik of Sheiks, carry away
all these weapons, and let these swine awaken without them. They would
drag their way back to the oases and the black tents, with a story
the like of which hath never been told in the Empty Abodes. The Sahara
would do homage, Master, even as if the Prophet had returned!"
"_Lah_! I am not thinking of the Sahara. The goal lies far beyond--far
"Still, the folk are Arabs there, too. They would hear of this, and
bow to you, my _M'alme_!"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. I can take no chances, Rrisa. The land, here
and to the eastward, might all arise against us. The tribes might come
against us like the _rakham_, the carrion-vultures. No, we must kill
and kill, so that no man remaineth here--none save old Abd el Rahman,
if Allah deliver him into our hands!"
"That is your firm command, Master?"
"My firm command!"
"To hear the Master is to obey. But first, grant me time for my
_isha_, my evening prayer!"
"It is granted. And, Rrisa, _there_ is the _kiblah_, the direction of
The Master pointed exactly east. Rrisa faced that way, knelt,
prostrated himself. He made ablution with sand, as Mohammed allows
when water cannot be found. Even as he poured it down his face, the
strangely gusting wind flicked it away in little whirls.
THE GREAT PEARL STAB
The Master began to feel a peculiar anxiety. Into the east he peered,
where now indeed a low, steady hum was growing audible, as of a
million angry spirits swarming nearer. The stars along that horizon
had been blotted out, and something like a dark blanket seemed to be
drawing itself across the sky.
"My Captain," said the lieutenant, "there may be trouble brewing,
close at hand. A sand-storm, unprotected as we are--"
"Men with stern work to do cannot have time to fear the future!"
Leclair grew silent. Rrisa alone was speaking, now. With a call of
"_Ya Latif!_" (O Merciful One!) he had begun the performance of his
ceremony, with rigid exactness. He ended with another prostration and
the usual drawing down of the hands over the face. Then he arose, took
up his javelin again, and with a clear conscience--since now his rites
had all been fulfilled--cried aloud:
"Now, Master, I am ready for the work of helping Azrael, the
death-angel, separate the souls and bodies of these Shiah heretics!"
A sudden howling of a jackal startled Rrisa. He quivered and
stood peering into the night, where now the unmistakable hum of
an approaching sand-storm was drawing near. His superstitious soul
trembled with the old belief of his people that creatures of the
dog breed can see Azrael, invisible to human eyes. At thought of
the death-angel standing nigh, his heart quaked; but rage and hate
inspired him, and he muttered:
"Fire to your bellies, broiling in white flame! Fuel of Jehannum, may
Eblis be your bed, an unhappy couch! Spawn of Shaytan (Satan), boiling
water to cool your throats! At Al Hakkat (judgment day) may the
_jinnee_ fly away with you!"
"To work, men!" cried the Master. "There is great work to do!"
As if in answer to his command, a blustering, hot buffet of wind
roared down with amazing suddenness, filling the dark air with a
stinging drive of sand. The fire by the beach flailed into long
tongues of flame, throwing black shadows along the side of the wady.
No stars were now visible. From empty spaces, a soughing tumult leaped
forth; and on the instant a furious gust of fine, cutting particles
whirled all about, thicker than driven snow in a northern blizzard.
"Iron, O thou ill-omened one!" cried Rrisa, with the ancient
invocation against the sand-storm. He stretched out his forefinger,
making the sign of protection. Neither the meaning of his cry nor
of the gesture could he have explained; but both came to him
involuntarily, from the remote lore of his people.
He turned from the oncoming storm, leaning against the wind, clutching
for his cap that the wind-devil had just whirled away. After it he
stumbled; and, falling to his knees, groped for it in the gloom.
"Thousand devils!" ejaculated the Frenchman. "No time, now, for
killing! Lucky if we get back ourselves, alive, to the beach! My
"What now?" the Master flung at him, shielding mouth and eyes with
"To the wady, all of us! That may give protection till this blast of
A startled cry from Rrisa forestalled any answer. The Arab's voice
rose in a wild hail from the sand-filled dark:
"O _M'alme_, _M'alme!_"
"Behold! I--_I have found him!_"
"Found--?" shouted the Master, plunging forward.
Leclair followed close, staggering in the sudden gale. "_Abd el
"The old hyena, surely! _M'alme, M'alme! See!_"
The white men stumbled with broken ejaculations to where Rrisa was
crouched over a gaunt figure in the drifting sand.
"Is that he, Rrisa?" cried the Master. "Art thou sure?"
"As that my mother bore me! See the old jackal, the son of Hareth!
(the devil). Ah, see, see!"
"_Dieu_!" exclaimed the Frenchman, in his own tongue. "It is none
other!" With a hand of great rejoicing, he stirred the unconscious
Sheik--over whom the sand was already sifting as the now ravening
simoom lashed it along.
Forgotten now were all his fears of death in the sand-storm. This
delivery of the hated one into his hands had filled him with a savage
joy, as it had the two others.
"Ah, _mon vieux!_" he cried. "It is only the mountains that never
meet, in time!"
The Master laughed, one of those rare flashes of merriment that
at infrequent intervals pierced his austerity. Away on the growing
sand-storm the wind whipped that laugh. Simoom and sand now appeared
forgotten by the trio. Keen excitement had gripped them; it held them
as they crouched above the Sheik.
"Allah is being good to us!" exulted the Master, peering by the
gale-driven fire-glare. "This capture is worth more to the Legion than
a hundred machine-guns. What will not the orthodox tribes give for
this arch-Shiah, this despoiler of the sacred Haram at Mecca?"
He began feeling in the bosom of the old man, opening the cloaklike
burnous and exploring the neck and chest with eager fingers.
"If we could only lay hands on the fabled loot of the Haram!" he
whispered, his voice tense with excitement.
Rrisa, wide-eyed, with curling lips of scorn, peered down at the
Sheik. The orderly, bare-headed, was shielding eyes and face from the
sand-blast, with hands that trembled. His teeth were bared with hate
as he peered at the prostrate heretic.
A tall, powerful figure of a man the Sheik was, lying there on his
right side with his robe crumpled under him--the robe now flapping,
whipping its loose ends in the high and rising wind. His _tarboosh_
had been blown away, disclosing white hair.
That hair, too, writhed and flailed in the gusts that drove it full
of sand, that drifted his whole body with the fine and stinging
particles. His beard, full and white, did not entirely conceal the
three parallel scars on each cheek, the _mashali_, which marked him as
originally a dweller at Mecca.
One sinewy brown arm was outflung, now almost wholly buried in the
growing sand-drift. The hand still gripped a long, gleaming rifle,
its stock and barrel elaborately arabesqued in silver picked out with
"Ah!" exclaimed the Master again, pulling at a thin crimson cord his
questing fingers had discovered about the old man's neck. With hands
that trembled a little, he drew out this cord. Then he uttered an
exclamation of intense disappointment.
There was nothing at the end of the crimson loop, save a _lamail_, or
pocket Koran. Leclair muttered a curse, and moved away, peering
toward the fire, spying out the wady through the now almost choking
sand-drive--the wady where they certainly must soon take refuge or be
overwhelmed by the buffeting lash of sand whirled on the breath of the
Even in the Master's anger, he did not throw the Koran away. Too
astute, he, for any such act in presence of Rrisa. Instead, he bound
the Arab to fresh devotion by touching lips and forehead, and by
handing him the little volume. The Master's arm had to push its way
against the wind as against a solid thing; and the billion rushing
spicules of sand that swooped in upon him from the desert emptiness,
stung his flesh like tiny scourges.
"This Koran, Rrisa, is now thine!" he cried in a loud voice, to make
the Arab hear him. "And a great gift to thee, a Sunnite, is the Koran,
of this desecrating son of the rejected!"
Bowed before the flail of the sand--while Rrisa uttered broken words
of thanks--the Master called to Leclair:
"By _Corsi_ (Allah's throne), now things assume a different aspect!
This old dog of dogs is a prize, indeed! And--what now--"
Leclair did not answer. The Frenchman was not even near him. The
Master saw him in the wady, dimly visible through the ghostly white
sand-shrouds spinning in the blue-whipped fire-glare. There on hands
and knees the lieutenant was huddled. With eager hands he was tearing
the hood of a _za'abut_--a rough, woolen slave cloak, patched and
ragged--from the face of a prostrate figure more than half snowed
under a sand-drift.
"_Nom de Dieu!_" the Master heard him cry. "_Mais, nom de_--"
"What have you found, Lieutenant?" shouted the Master, letting the
simoom drive him toward the wady. In their excitement none of the men
would yet take cover, lie down and hide their faces under their coats
as every dictate of prudence would have bidden. "Who is it, now?
"Ah, my Captain! Ah! the pity of it! Behold!"
The Frenchman's voice, wind-gusted, trembled with grief and passionate
anger; yet through that rage and sorrow rang a note of joy.
"Tell me, Leclair! Who, now?" demanded the Master, as he came close
and peered down by the fire-gleam roaring on the beach, sending
sheaves of sparks in comet-tails of vanishing radiance down-wind with
"It is impossible, my Captain," the lieutenant answered in French. His
voice could now make itself heard more clearly; for here in the wady
a certain shelter existed from the roaring sand-cyclone. "Impossible,
but--_Dieu_!--it is true!"
"What is true?"
"In Allah's name, Lieutenant!" the Master ejaculated, "compose
yourself! Explain! Who is this Arab, here?"
"No Arab, sir! No, no!"
"Not an Arab? Well, what is he, then?"
"Ah, these scars, my Captain! Behold--see the slave dress, the weals
of the branding-iron on cheek and brow! Ah, for pity! See the starved
body, the stripes of the lash, the feet mangled by the bastinado! What
horrible things they have done to him--ah, God have pity on us!"
Tears gleamed on the stern fighter's cheeks, there in the ghostly blue
firelight--tears that washed little courses through the dust and sand
now griming his face. The French airman, hard in battle and with heart
of steel and flame, was crying like a child.
"What now? Who is it?" shouted the Master. "A European?"
"Yes, my Captain! A Frenchman!"
"A Frenchman. You don't mean to say it--is--"
"Yes, yes! My orderly! Lebon!"
"God!" exclaimed the Master. "But--"
A cry from Rrisa interrupted him, a cry that flared down-wind with
strange, wild exultation. The Arab had just risen from the sand, near
the unconscious, in-drifting form of the Sheik, Abd el Rahman.
In his hands he was holding something--holding a leather sack with a
broken cord attached to it. This cord in some way had been severed by
the Sheik's rifle when the old man had fallen. The leather sack had
rolled a few feet away. Now, with hands that shook so that the Arab
could hardly control them, Rrisa was holding out this sack as he
staggered through the blinding sand-storm towards his chief.
"_Al Hamdu Lillah!_" (Praise to the Lord of the Three Worlds!) choked
Rrisa in a strange voice, fighting for his very breath. "See--see what
Staring, blinking, trying to shelter his eyes against the demons of
the storm, the Master turned toward him.
Down into the wady stumbled the Arab, gray-powdered with clinging
"Oh," he choked, "it has been taken from these _yezid_, these abusers
of the salt! Now we rescue it from these cut-off ones! From the swine
and brothers of the swine it has been taken by Allah, and put back
into the hands of Rrisa, Allah's slave! See, _M'alme_, see!"
The shaking hands extended the leather sack. At it the Master stared,
his face going dead white.
"Thou--dost not mean--?" he stammered.
"Truly, I do!"
"Not Kaukab el Durri?"
"Aye--it was lying near that heretic dog!"
"The Great Pearl Star, the sacred loot from the Haram?"
"Kaukab el Durri, _M'alme_. The Great Pearl Star itself!"
With hands that quivered in unison with his nerves, now no longer
impassive, the strange chief of this still stranger expedition took
from Rrisa the leather sack. Over the top of the wady a million
sand-devils were screeching. The slither of the dry snow--the white,
fine snow of sand--filled all space with a whispering rustle that
could be heard through the shouting of the simoom.
Sand was beating on them, everywhere, in the darkness lighted only by
the tortured beach-fire. The stinging particles assailed eyes, ears,
mouth; it whitened clothing, sifted into hair, choked breath. But
still the Legionaries could not take shelter under their coats. In
this moment of wondrous finding, they must see the gem of gems that
Kismet had thus flung into their grasp.
The Master loosed a knot in the cord, drew the sack open and shook
into his left palm a thing of marvellous beauty and wonder.
By the dim, fitful gleam of the fire, probably the strangest and most
costly necklace in the world became indistinctly visible. At sight of
it, everything else was forgotten--the wrecked air-liner, the waiting
Legion, the unconscious Arabs now being buried in the resistless
charge of the sand-armies. Even poor Lebon, tortured slave of the Beni
Harb, a lay neglected. For nothing save the wondrous Great Pearl Star
could these three adventurers find any gaze whatever, or any thoughts.
While Leclair and Rrisa stared with widening eyes, the Master, tense
with joy, held up their treasure-trove.
"The Great Pearl Star!" he cried, in a strange voice.
"Kaukab el Durri! See, one pearl is missing--that is the one said to
have been sold in Cairo, twelve years ago, for fifty-five thousand
pounds! But these are finer! And its value as a holy relic of
Islam--who can calculate that? God, what this means to us!"
Words will not compass the description of this wondrous thing. As
the Master held it up in the sand-lashed dimness, half-gloom and
half-light, that formed a kind of aura round the fire--an aura sheeted
through and all about by the aerial avalanches of the sand--the
Legionaries got some vague idea of the necklace.
Three black pearls and two white were strung on a fine chain of gold.
A gap in their succession told where the missing pearl formerly had
been. Each of the five pearls was of almost incalculable value; but
one, an iridescent Oman, far surpassed the others.
This pearl was about the size of a man's largest thumb-joint. Its
shape was a smooth oval; its hue, even in that dim, wind-tossed light,
showed a wondrous, tender opalescence that seemed to change and blend
into rainbow iridescences as the staring Legionaries peered at it.
The other pearls, black and white alike, ranked as marvelous gems;
but this crown-jewel of the Great Pearl Star eclipsed anything the
Master--for all his wide travel and experience of life--ever had seen.
By way of strange contrast in values the pearls were separated
from each other by worthless, little, smooth lumps of madrepore,
or unfossilized coral. These lumps were covered with tiny black
inscriptions in archaic Cufic characters; though what the significance
of these might be, the Master could not--in that gloom and howling
drive of the sand-devils--even begin to determine.
The whole adornment, as it lay in the Master's palm, typified the
Orient. For there was gold; there were gems and bits of worthless
dross intermingled; and there about it was drifting sand of infinite
ages, darkness, flashes of light, color, mystery, wonder, beauty.
"God! What this means!" the Master repeated, as the three men cringed
in the wady. "Success, dominion, power!"
"You mean--" put in Leclair, his voice smitten away by the
ever-increasing storm that ravened over the top of the gully.
"What do I _not_ mean, Lieutenant? No wonder the Apostate Sheik had to
flee from Mecca and take refuge here in this impassable wilderness at
the furthest rim of Islam! No wonder he has been hounded and hunted!
The only miracle is that some of his own tribesmen have not betrayed
him before now!"
"Master, no Arab betrays his own sheik, right or wrong!" said Rrisa in
a strange voice. "Before that, an Arab dies by his own hand!" He spoke
in Arabic, with a peculiar inflection.
Their eyes met a second by the light of the gusting fire.
"Right or wrong, _M'alme_!" repeated the Arab. Then he added: "Shall I
not now go to drag in the swine-brother Abd el Rahman?"
"Thou sayst, if he be left there--"
"Yes, Master, he will surely die. All who are not sheltered, now,
will die. All who lie there on the dune, will be drifted under, will
breathe sand, will perish."
"It is well, Rrisa. Go, drag in the swine-brother. But have a care to
harm him not. Thou wouldst gladly slay him, eh?"
"More gladly than to live myself! Still, I obey. I go, I bring him
safe to you, O Master!"
He salaamed, turned, and vanished up over the edge of the wady.
The lieutenant, warned of the danger of sand-breathing by an
unconscious man, drew the hood of the woollen _za'abut_ up over the
face of Lebon. There was nothing more he could do for the poor fellow.
Only with the passage of time could he be reawakened. The French ace
turned again to where his chief was still scrutinizing the Pearl Star
as he crouched in the wady, back to the storm-wind, face toward the
fire on the beach.
"Do you realize what this thing is?" demanded the Master, turning the
necklace in his hands. "Do you understand?"
"I have heard of it, my Captain. For years vague rumors have come to
me from the desert-men, from far oases and cities of the Sahara. Now
here, now there, news has drifted in to Algiers--not news, but rather
fantastic tales. Yes, I have often heard of the Kaukab el Durri. But
till now I have always believed it a story, a myth."
"No myth, but solid fact!" exulted the Master, with a strange laugh.
"This, Lieutenant, is the very treasure that Mohammed gathered
together during many years of looting caravans in the desert and
of capturing _sambuks_ on the Red Sea. Arabia, India, and China all
contributed to it. The Prophet gave it to his favorite wife, Ayeshah,
as he lay dying at Medina in the year 632, with his head in her lap.
"Next to the Black Stone, itself, it is possibly the most precious
thing in Islam. And now, now with this Great Pearl Star in our hands,
what is impossible?"
Silence fell between the two men. They still huddled there in the
partial protection of the wady, while all the evil _jinnee_ of the
sand-storm shrieked blackly overhead. With no further words they
continued to study the wondrous thing. The fire was dying, now, burned
out by the fierce blast of the storm and blown away to sea in long
spindrifts of spark and vapor, white as the sand-drive itself. By the
fading light little could now be seen of the Great Pearl Star. The
Master replaced it in its leather bag, knotted the cord securely about
the mouth of the receptacle, and pocketed it.
A rattle of pebbles down the side of the wady, and a grunting call,
told them Rrisa had returned. Dimly they saw him dragging the old
Sheik over the lip of the gully, down into its half-protection. He
brought the unconscious man to them, and--though bowed by the frenzy
of the storm--managed a salute.
"Here, Master, I have saved him from the _jinnee_ of the desert,"
Rrisa pantingly announced. His voice trembled with a passionate hate;
his eyes gleamed with excitement; his nails dug into the palms of his
hands. "Now Master, gladden my eyes and expand my breast by letting me
see this old jackal's blood!"
"No, Rrisa," the Master denied him. "I have other use for the old
jackal. Other punishments await him than death at my hands."
"What punishments, Master?" the Arab cried with terrible eagerness.
"Wait, and thou shalt see. And remember always, I am thy sheik, thy
preserver, with whom thou hast shared the salt. 'He who violates the
salt shall surely taste Jahannum!'"
"Death shall have me, first!" cried Rrisa, and fell silent. And for
a while the three men crouched in the wady with the two unconscious
ones, torturer and victim. At length the Master spoke:
"This won't do, Lieutenant. We must be getting back."
Leclair peered at him in the screaming dark.
"Why, my Captain?" asked he. "The Legionaries can care for themselves.
If _Nissr_ is breaking up, in the gale, we can do nothing. And on
the way we may be lost. To retrace our journey over the desert would
surely be to invite death."
"We must return, nevertheless. This storm may last all night, and it
may blow itself out in half an hour. That cannot be told. The Legion
may think us lost, and try to search for us. Lives may be sacrificed.
Morale demands that we go back. Moreover, we certainly need not
traverse the desert."
"We can descend the wady to the beach, and make southward along it,
under the shelter of the dunes."
"In the noise and confusion of the storm they may take us for Arabs
and shoot us down."
"I will see to that. Come, we must go! Carry Lebon, if you like. Rrisa
and I will take Abd el Rahman."
"_M'alme_, not Abd el Rahman, now," ejaculated Rrisa, "but Abd el
Hareth! Let that be his title!"
[Footnote 1: The former name signifies "Slave of Compassion;" the
latter, "Slave of the Devil."]
"As thou wishest, Rrisa. But come, take his feet. I will hold him by
the shoulders. So! Now, forward!"
"And have a care not to breathe the sand, Master," Rrisa warned. "Turn
thy face away when the _jinnee_ smite!"
Stumbling, heavy-laden, the three men made their painful way down to
the beach, turned to the left, and plowed southward in deep sand. As
they left the remains of the fire a great blackness fell upon them.
The boisterous exultation of the wind, howling in from a thousand
miles of hot emptiness, out over the invisible sea now chopped into
frothy waves, seemed snatching at them. But the dunes at their left
flung the worst of the sand-storm up and over. And though whirls and
air-eddies, sand-laden, snatched viciously at them, they won along the
That was lathering toil, burdened as they were, stumbling over
driftwood and into holes, laboring forward, hardly able to distinguish
more than the rising, falling line of white that marked the surf.
Voices of water and of wind conclamantly shouted, as if all the devils
of the Moslem Hell had been turned loose to snatch and rave at them.
Heat, stifle, sand caught them by the throat; the breath wheezed in
their lungs; and on their faces sweat and sand pasted itself into a
kind of sticky mud.
After fifteen minutes of this struggle the Master paused. He dropped
Abd el Rahman's shoulders, and Rrisa the Sheik's feet, while Leclair
stood silently bowed with the weight of Lebon and of the belaboring
"_Oooo-eeee! Oooooeeee! Oooooo-eeee!_" the Master hailed, three long
times. An answering shout came back, faintly, from the black. The
Master bent, assured himself the old Sheik's mouth and nose were still
covered by the hood of the burnous, and cried: "Forward!" And the
three men stumbled on and on.
Five minutes later the Master once more paused.
"Remember, both of you," he cautioned, "not one word of the find!"
"The Great Pearl Star?" asked Leclair gruntingly.
Their voices were almost inaudible to each other in that mad tumult.
"That is to be a secret, my Captain?"
"Between us three; yes. Let that be understood!"
"I pledge my honor to it!" cried the Frenchman. Rrisa added: "The
Master has but to command, and it is done!" Then once more they plowed
on down the shore.
Only a few minutes more brought them, with surprising suddenness, to
the end of the Legionaries' trench. Trench it no longer was, however.
All the paltry digging had been swiftly filled in by the sand-devils;
and now the men were lying under the lee of the dunes, protecting
themselves as best they could with the tunics of their uniforms over
They got up and came stumbling in confusion to greet the returning
trio. Peering in the dark, straining their eyes to see, they listened
to a few succinct words of the Master:
"Perfect success! Lethalizing was complete. Sand has buried the entire
tribe. Leclair found his former orderly, who had been their slave.
We have here their Sheik, Abd el Rahman. Nothing more to fear. Down,
everybody--tunics over heads again--let the storm blow itself out!"
The Legion lay for more than an hour, motionless, waiting in the
night. During this hour both Lebon and the old Sheik recovered
consciousness, but only in a vague manner. There was no attempt to
tell them anything, to make any plans, to start any activities. In a
Sahara simoom, men are content just to live.
TOIL AND PURSUIT
Before midnight the storm died with a suddenness even greater than
that of its onset. Like a tangible flock of evil birds or of the
spirits Victor Hugo has painted in _Les Djinns_, the sand-storm blew
itself out to sea and vanished. The black sky opened its eyes of
starlight, once again; gradually calm descended on the desert, and by
an hour after midnight the steady east wind had begun to blow again.
The "wolf's tail," or first gray streak of dawn along the horizon,
found the Legion all astir. Lebon had long since been told of his
rescue; he and his lieutenant had embraced and had given each other a
long story--the enslaved man's story making Leclair's face white with
rage, his heart a furnace of vengeance on all Islam.
The Sheik, dimly understanding that these devils of Feringistan had by
their super-magic overwhelmed him and his tribe with sleep-magic
and storm-magic of the strongest, lay bound hand and foot, sullenly
brooding. No one could get a word from Abd el Rahman; not even Rrisa,
who exhausted a wonderful vocabulary of imprecation on him, until the
Master sternly bade him hold his peace.
A gaunt, sunken-eyed old hawk of the desert he lay there in the sand,
unblinkingly defiant. Tortures and death, he felt, were to be his
portion; but with the stoicism of the barbarian he made no sound.
What his thoughts were, realizing the loss of tribesmen, capture,
despoilment of the Great Pearl Star, who could tell?
A wondrous dawn, all mingled of scarlet, orange, and vivid yellows,
with streaks of absinthe hue, burned up over the desert world. It
showed _Nissr_ about as she had been the night before; for the simoom
had not thrashed up sea enough--offshore, as it had been--to break up
the partial wreck.
The air-liner had, however, settled down a good deal in the sand,
and had canted at a sharp angle to port. Her galleries, fuselage,
and wings were heavily laden with sand that materially increased her
weight; and to the casual eye she gave the impression of a bird which
never again would soar on level wing.
The major voiced discouragement, but no one shared it. Spirits were
still high, in spite of thirst and exhaustion, and of the losses
already sustained in men and material. Lombardo and "Captain Alden"
had patched up the wounded in rough, first-aid fashion; and they,
in spite of pain, shared the elation of the others in the entire
wiping-out of the Beni Harb.
As soon as the light permitted operations to begin again, the Legion
trekked over to the Arabs' former lines. Nothing now remained to tell
them of the enemy, save here or there the flutter of a bit of burnous
or _cherchia_ (head-dress), that fluttered from the white sand now
all ribbed in lovely scollops like the waves of a moveless sea. In one
spot a naked brown arm and hand were projecting heavenward, out of the
sand-ocean, as if in mute appeal to Allah.
The Legionaries heaped sand on this grim bit of death, completely
burying it, and on the fluttering cloths. And as they peered abroad
across the desert, in the glory of morning, now nothing could be seen
to mind them of the fighting-men who, like the host of Sennacherib,
had been brushed by the death-angel's wing.
The jackals knew, though, and the skulking hyenas, already
sneaking in the _nullahs_; and so did the _rion_ and the yellow
_ukab_-birds--carrion-fowl, both--which already from the farthest
blue, had begun to wheel and volplane toward the coast.
Back on the beach, exultant, yet rather silent in the face of all that
death, the Legion at once got itself into action under the vigorous
command of the Master. Twenty-three men were still fit and active for
service; and both Enemark and Lebon would in a few days be of help.
"Man-power enough," thought the Master, as he laid out his campaign.
"The only troublesome factors, are, first, _Nissr's_ condition;
second, our lack of water and supplies; and third, the possibility of
interference from Arabs or European forces, by land or sea. If we can
overcome all these--_if_, did I say? We can! We will!"
First of all, three volunteers swam out to _Nissr_ through the surf
now again beating in from the open sea. Their purpose was to bring the
wounded Kloof ashore. Even though Kloof's oversight of the stowaway
had wrecked the expedition, and though Kloof would probably be
executed in due time, common humanity dictated succoring him.
The volunteers returned, after a hard fight, with a body past any
human judgments. Kloof, Daimamoto, Sheffield, and Beziers, all of
whom had lost their lives in the battle with the Beni Harb, were
soon buried on the beach by the hungry, thirsty, sand-penetrated
Legionaries. The shallow graves were piled with driftwood--rocks there
were none, even in the wady, which' was of clay and gravel--and so,
protected as best might be from beasts and birds, four of the
Legion entered their long homes. The only ceremony over the fallen
adventurers was the firing of a volley of six pistol-shots.
Swiftly returning heat, and a plague of black flies that poisoned with
every bite, warned the Legionaries not to delay. Hunger and thirst,
too, scourged them on. Their first care was food and drink.
Fortune favored them. In spite of the simoom the prevailing west
wind had cast up all along the shore--for two or three miles each
way--perhaps a quarter or a third of the stores they had been forced
to jettison. Before doing anything else, the Legion brought in these
cases of provisions and established a regular camp in the wady where
they would be protected from observation from the Sahara. The piling
up of these stores, the building of a fire to keep off the flies,
and the portioning out of what little tobacco they had with them,
wonderfully stiffened their morale.
Water, however, was still lacking; and all the Legionaries, as well
as the old Sheik who would have died in the flames before asking
for drink, were beginning to suffer extremely. The Master detailed
Simonds, L'Heureux, and Seres to construct a still, which they did in
only a little more than three hours.
The apparatus was ingeniously and efficiently built, out of two large
provision tins and some piping which they got--together with a few
tools--by swimming out to the air-liner. The still, with a brisk fire
under it, proved capable of converting sea-water into flat, tasteless
fresh water at the rate of two quarts an hour. Thirsty they might
all get, to desperation; but with this supply they could survive till
better could be had.
While the distilling apparatus was being built, work was already under
way on _Nissr_; work which old Abd el Rahman watched with beady eyes
of hate; work in which Dr. Lombardo, fellow-partner in Kloof's guilt,
was allowed to share--the condition being frankly stated to him that
his punishment was merely being deferred.
Under the Master's direction, stout mooring-piles of driftwood were
sunk into the dunes, block-and-tackle gear was improvised, and lines
were rove to the airship. She was lightened by shoveling several tons
of sand from her and by removing everything easily detachable; the men
working in baths of sweat, with a kind of ardent abandon.
Enough power was still left in her storage-batteries to operate the
air-pressure system through the floats. This air, with a huge boiling
and seething of the white surf, loosened the floats from the cling of
the sand; and a score of men at the tackles succeeded at high-tide in
hauling _Nissr_ far up on the beach.
Rough gear, broken ship, toiling men blind with sweat, blazing African
sun, appalling isolation, vultures and jackals at work behind the
dunes, and--back of all--ocean and Sahara, made a picture fit for any
master-painter. We must throw only one glance at it, and pass on.
This much accomplished, nightfall, with the west glowing like
a stupendous jewel, brought rest. They camped in the wady, with
machine-guns mounted and sentinels out. Abd el Rahman, liberated from
his bonds and under strict surveillance, still refused to talk. No
information could be got from him; but Rrisa's eyes brightened with
unholy joy at sight of the old man ceremonially tearing his burnous
and sifting sand on his gray head.
"Allah smite thy face, _ya kalb!_" (O dog!) he murmured. "Robber of
the Haram, from Jehannum is thy body!"
[Footnote 1: Alluding to the Arab superstition that every man's body
is drawn from the place where it will eventually be buried. Rrisa's
remark, therefore, was an Oriental way of wishing the Sheik back into
Night passed with no alarm, quietly save for the yelping and
quarreling of the jackals and hyenas at work beyond the dunes. Early
morning found the Legionaries again at work; and so for five days they
toiled. The Legion was composed of picked men, skilled in science and
deep in technical wisdom. With what tools still remained from the time
when all surplus weight had been jettisoned, and with some improvised
apparatus, they set vigorously to work repairing the engines, fitting
new rudder-plates, patching up the floats and providing the burned
propellers with metal blades.
Metal enough they had at hand, by cutting out dispensable partitions
from the interior. And beavers never worked as these men worked in
spite of the fierce smitings of the tropic sun. Even the wounded men
helped, holding or passing tools. The Master labored with the rest,
grimy, sweating, hard-jawed; and "Captain Alden" did her bit without
a moment's slackening. Save for Abd el Rahman, now securely locked
without any means of self-destruction in a stateroom, no man idled.
Anxiety dogged their every moment. Sudden storm might yet hopelessly
break up the stranded air-liner. Other tribes might have seen the
signal-fire and might descend upon the Legionaries. Arab slavers might
discover them, beating along the coast in well-armed dhows. Twice, in
five days, latteen-sailed craft passed south, and one of these put
in to investigate; but a tray of blanks from a machine-gun, at half a
mile, turned the invader's blunt nose seaward again.
The greatest peril of all was that some news of the wreck might reach
Rio de Oro and be wirelessed to civilization. That would inevitably
mean ruin. Either it would bring an air-squadron swooping down, or
battle-ships would arrive.
The Master labored doggedly to get his neutralizing apparatus
effectively operating once more; and besides this, he spent hours
locked in his cabin, working on other apparatus the nature of which
he communicated to no one. But the Legion knew that nothing could
save them from long-range naval guns, if that kind of attack should
develop. They needed no urging to put forth stern, unceasing energies.
Twice smoke on the horizon raised the alarm; but nothing came of it.
With great astuteness the Master had the wireless put in shape, at
once, and sent out three messages at random, on two successive days.
These messages stated that _Nissr_ had been sighted in flames and
falling, in North latitude 19 deg., 35'; longitude 28 deg., 16', or about two
hundred and fifty miles north-west of the Cape Verdes; that wreckage
from her had been observed somewhat south of that point; and that
bodies floating in vacuum-belts had been recovered by a Spanish
No answer came in from any of these messages; but there was always
an excellent chance that such misinformation would drag a red herring
across the trail of pursuit.
Men never slaved as the Legionaries did, especially toward the end.
The last forty-eight hours, the Master instituted night work. The men
paused hardly long enough to eat or sleep, but snatched a bite when
they could, labored till they could do no more, and then dropped in
their places and were dragged out of the way so that others could
take hold. Some fell asleep with tools in hand, stricken down as if by
The Master had wisely kept the pace moderate, at first, but had
speeded up toward the end. None grew more haggard, toil-worn, or
emaciated than he. With blistered hands, sweat-blinded eyes, parched
mouths and fevered souls these men fought against all the odds of
destiny. Half naked they strove, oppressed by heat, sun, flies,
thirst, exhaustion. Tobacco was their only stay and solace. The
Master, however, only chewed khat leaves; and as for "Captain Alden,"
she toiled with no stimulant.
It was 7:33, on the morning of the sixth day, that Frazier--now chief
engineer--came to the Master, as he was working over some complex bit
of mechanism in his cabin. Frazier saluted and made announcement:
"I think we can make a try for it now, sir." Frazier looked white and
wan, shaking, hollow-eyed, but a smile was on his lips. "Two engines
are intact. Two will run half-speed or a little better, and one will
do a little."
"One remains dead?"
"Yes, sir. But we can repair that on the way. Rudders and propellers
will do. Helicopters O.K."
"Both aft floats repaired, sir. One is cut down a third, and one a
half, but they will serve."
"How about petrol?" the Master demanded. "We have only that one aft
starboard tank, now, not over three-quarters full."
"There's a chance that will do till we can run down a caravan along
the Red Sea, carrying petrol to Suakin or Port Sudan. So there's a
fighting hope--if we can raise ourselves out of this sand that clings
like the devil himself. It's lucky, sir, we jettisoned those stores.
Wind and current brought some of them back, anyhow. If they'd stayed
in the storeroom they'd have all been burned to a crisp."
"Yes, yes. You think, then, we can make a start?" The Master put his
apparatus into the desk-drawer and carefully locked it. He stood up
and tightened his belt a notch.
"We can try, sir," Frazier affirmed grimly. Unshaven, haggard, dirty,
and streaked with sweat, he made a strange figure by contrast with the
trim, military-looking chap who only a week before had started with
the other Legionaries, now no less altered than he.
"Very well," said the Master decisively. "Our prospects are good. The
wounded are coming on. Counting Lebon, we have twenty-five men. I
will have all stores reloaded at once. Be ready in one hour, sir.
"Yes, sir!" And Frazier, saluting again, returned to the ravaged but
once more efficient engine-room.
All hands plunged into the surf, wading ashore--for it was now
high-tide--and in short order reloaded the liner. In forty-five
minutes stores, machine-guns, and everything had been brought aboard,
the cables to the posts in the beach had been cast off and hauled in,
and all the Legionaries were at their posts. The ports were closed.
Everything was ready for the supreme test.
The Master was last to come aboard. Still dripping seawater, he
clambered up the ladder from the lower gallery to the main corridor,
and made his way into the pilot-house. Bohannan was with him, also
Leclair and Captain Alden.
The engines had already been started, and the helicopters had begun
to turn, flickering swiftly in their turbine-tubes. The Master settled
himself in the pilot's seat. All at once a buzzer sounded close at
"Well, what now?" demanded the Master into the phone communicating
with the upper port gallery.
"Smoke to southward, sir. Coming up along the Coast."
"Smoke? A steamer?"
"Can't see, sir." It was the voice of Ferrara that answered. "The
smoke is behind the long point to southward. But it is coming faster
than a merchant vessel. I should say, sir, it was a torpedo-boat or a
destroyer, under forced draft. And it's coming--it's coming at a devil
of a clip, sir!"
ONWARD TOWARD THE FORBIDDEN CITY
The Master rang for full engine-power, and threw in all six
helicopters with one swift gesture.
"Major," commanded he, as _Nissr's_ burned and wounded body began to
quiver through all its mutilated fabric; "Major, man the machine-guns
again. All stations! _Quick_!"
Bohannan departed. The droning of the helicopters rose to a shrill
hum. The Master switched in the air-pressure system; and far
underneath, white fountains of spumy water leaped up about the floats,
mingled with sand and mud all churned to frenzy under the bursting
energy of the compressed air released through thousands of tubules.
_Nissr_ trembled, hesitated, lifted a few inches, settled back once
Again the buzzer sounded. The noise of rapid feet became audible
above, in the upper galleries. Ferrara called into the phone:
"It's a British destroyer, sir! She's just rounded the point, three
miles south. Signals up for us to surrender!"
"Machine-guns against naval ordnance!" gritted the Master savagely.
"Surrender?" He laughed with hot defiance.
The first shell flung a perfect tornado of brine into air, glistening;
it ricochetted twice, and plunged into the dunes. A "dud," it failed
_Nissr_ rose again as the second shell hit fair in the hard clay of
the wady, cascading earth and sand a hundred feet in air. Both reports
boomed in, rolling like thunder over the sea.
"Shoot and be damned to you!" cried the Master. _Nissr_ was rising
now, clearing herself from the water like a wounded sea-bird. A
tremendous cascade of water sluiced from her hissing floats, swirling
in millions of sun-glinted jewels more brilliant even than Kaukab el
Higher she mounted, higher still. The destroyer was now driving in at
full speed, with black smoke streaming from four funnels, perfectly
indifferent to possible shoals, rocks or sand-bars along this
uncharted coast. Another shell screamed under the lower gallery and
burst in a deluge of sand near one of the mooring-piles.
"Very poor shooting, my Captain," smiled Leclair, leaning far out the
port window of the pilot-house. "But then, we can't blame the gunners
for being a bit excited, trying to bag a bit of international game
like this Legion."
"And beside," put in Alden coolly, "our shifting position makes us
rather a poor target. Ah! That shell must have gone home!"
_Nissr_ quivered from nose to tail. A violent detonation flung echoes
from sea and shore; and bits of splintered wreckage spun down past the
windows, to plunge into the still swirling, bubbling sea.
The Master made no answer, but rang for the propellers to be clutched
in. _Nissr_ obeyed their quickening whirl. Her altitude was already
four hundred and fifty feet, as marked by the altimeter. Lamely she
moved ahead, sagging to starboard, badly scarred, ill-trimmed and
awry, but still alive.
Her great black shadow, trailing behind her in the water, passed on
to the beach, wrinkled itself up over the dunes and slid across the
sand-drifts where little flutters of cloth, uncovered by the ghoulish
jackals, showed from the burning stretch of tawny desert.
Flocks of vultures rose and soared away. Jackals and hyenas cowered
and slunk to cover. The tumult of the guns and this vast, drifting
monster of the air had overcome even their greed for flesh.
Another shot, puffing white as wool from the bow-chaser of the
destroyer, screeched through the vultures, scattering them all ways,
but made a clean miss of _Nissr_.
The air-liner gathered speed as the west wind got behind her, listed
her, pushed her forward in its mighty hands. Swifter, ever swifter,
her shadow slipped over dune and wady, over hillock and _nullah_, off
away toward the pellucidly clear-golden tints of the horizon beyond
which lay the unknown.
Rrisa, at his gun-station, gnawed his fingers in rage and scorn of
the pursuing Feringi, and cried: "Allah make it hard for you!
_Laan'abuk!_" (Curses on your fathers!)
Old Sheik Abd el Rahman, close-locked in a cabin, quivered, not with
fear, but with unspeakable grief and amazement past all telling. To
be thus carried away through the heavens in the entrails of the
unbelievers' flying dragon was a thing not to be believed. He
prostrated himself, with groans and cries to Allah. The Legionaries,
from galleries and gun-stations waving derisive arms, raised shouts
Sweaty, spent, covered with grease and dirt, they cheered with leaping
Another shell, bursting in mid-air not fifty yards away, rocked
_Nissr_, keeled her to port, and for a moment sent her staggering
down. She righted, lifted, again gathered speed.
More and more wild became the shooting, as she zigzagged,
rose, soared into something like her old-time stride. Behind
her the sea drew back, the baffled destroyer dwindled, the harmless
shots crashed in.
Ahead of her the desert opened. Uncouth, lame, scarred by flame and
shell, _Nissr_ spread her vast wings and--still the Eagle of the Sky,
undaunted and unbeaten--roared into swift flight toward the waiting
mysteries of the vacant abodes.
Mid-morning found _Nissr_ far from the coast, skimming along at
fifteen hundred feet altitude over the Tarmanant region of the Sahara.
The one shell from the destroyer that had struck her had done no more
than graze the tip of the starboard aileron, inflicting damage of no
material consequence. It could easily be repaired.
For the present, all danger of any interference from any civilized
power seemed to be at an end. But the world had discovered that
_Nissr_ and her crew had not yet been destroyed, and the Legionaries
felt they must prepare for all eventualities. The stowaway's rash act
was still big with possibilities of the most sinister import.
"This is probably just a temporary respite," said Bohannan, as he sat
with the Master in the latter's cabin. The windows had been slid
wide open, and the two men, leaning back in easy wicker chairs, were
enjoying the desert panorama each in his own way--Bohannan with a
cigar, the Master with a few leaves of the "flower of paradise."
Now once more clean and a little rested, they had again assumed
something of their former aspect. "Captain Alden," and as many others
as could be spared from duty, were asleep. The Legion was already
pulling itself together, though in depleted numbers. Discipline had
tautened again. Once more the sunshine of possible success had begun
to slant in through a rift in the lowering clouds of disaster.
"It's still, perhaps, only a temporary respite," the major was saying.
"Of course, as long as we stay in the Sahara, we're safe enough
from molestation. It's trying to get out--that, and shortage of
petrol--that constitute our problem now."
"Yes?" asked the chief, noncommittally. He peered out the window at
the vast, indigo horizons of the desert, curving off to northward into
a semicircle of burnished blue. Here, there, the etherial wonder of a
mirage painted the sandy sea. Vast distances opened on all sides;
the sparkling air, brilliant with what seemed a kind of suspended
jewel-dust, made every object visible at an incredible remoteness. The
wonder of that morning sun and desert could not be put in words.
"Our troubles are merely postponed," the Celt continued, gloomily.
"The damage was done when that infernal destroyer sighted us. Just how
the alarm was given, and what brought the sea-wasp racking her engines
up the coast, we can't tell. But the cat's out of the bag, now, and
we've got to look out for an attack at any moment we try to leave this
"It's obvious my wireless messages about being wrecked at sea won't
have much weight now," the Master replied, analytically. "They would
have, though, if that slaving-dhow hadn't put in to investigate us. I
have an idea that those _jallahs_ (slavers) must in some way have let
the news out at Bathurst, down in Gambia. That's the nearest British
"I wish they'd come within machine-gun fire!" growled the major,
"Still, we've got lots of room to maneuver," the chief continued.
"We're heading due east now," with a glance at the wall-compass and
large-scale chart of Northern Africa. "We're now between Mauretania
and Southern Algeria, bound for Fezzan, the Libyan Desert, and Nubia
on the Red Sea. That is a clear reach of more than three thousand
miles of solid desert."
"Oh, we're all right, as long as we stay in the desert," Bohannan
affirmed. "But they'll be watching for us, all right, when we try to
leave. It's all British territory to the east of us, from Alexandria
down to Cape Town. If we could only make our crossing of the Nile and
the Red Sea, at night--?"
"Impossible, Major. That's where we've got to restock petrol. If it
comes to a show-down, crippled as we are, we'll fight! Of course, I
realize that, fast as we fly, the wireless flies faster. We may have
to rely on our neutralizers again--"
"Imperfectly, yes. They'll still help us, in 'civilized warfare.'
And as for what will happen at Mecca, if the Faithful are indiscreet
enough to offer any resistance--"
"Got something new, have you?"
"I think it may prove something of a novelty, Major. Time will tell,
if Allah wills. Yes, I think we may have a little surprise for our
friends, the Meccans."
The two fell silent again, watching the desert panorama roll back
and away, beneath them. Afar, two or three little oases showed
feathery-tufted palms standing up like delicate carvings against the
remote purple spaces or against the tawny, seamed desolation that
burned as with raw colors of fires primeval. Here, there, patches of
stunted tamarisk bushes were visible. A moving line of dust showed
where a distant caravan was plodding eastward over the sparkling
crystals of an ancient salt sea-bottom. A drift of low-hanging
wood-smoke, very far away, betrayed the presence of a camp of the Ahl
Bayt, the People of the Black Tents.
The buzzer of the Master's phone broke the silence between the two
men, a silence undertoned by the throb and hum of the now effectively
"Well, what is it?" the Master queried.
"Promising oasis, _mon capitaine_," came the voice of Leclair from the
upper starboard gallery. "Through my glass I can make out extensive
date-palm groves, pomegranate orchards, and gardens. There must be
plenty of water there. We should take water, eh?"
"Right!" the Master answered. He got up and turned to Bohannan.
"Major," commanded he, "have Simonds and a crew of six stand by, in
the lower gallery, to descend in the nacelle. Rrisa is to go. They
will need him, to interpret. Give them a few of the trinkets from that
assortment we brought for barter, and a little of our Arabic money."
"Yes, sir. But you know only two of the detachable tanks are left."
"Two will suffice. Have them both lowered, together with the
electric-drive pump. Don't annoy me with petty details. You are in
charge of this job now. Attend to it!"
He passed into the pilot-house, leaned at the window and with his
glasses inspected the deep green patch, dark as the profoundest sea,
that marked the oasis. A little blind village nestled there, with
mud-brick huts, a watch-tower and a tiny minaret; date-grounds and
fields of corn, melons, and other vegetables spread a green fringe
among the groves.
As Nissr slowed near the oasis, the frightened Arabs--who had been
at their _ghanda_, or mid-day meal--swarmed into the open. They left
their mutton, _cous-cous_, date-paste, and lentils, their chibouques
with perfumed vapor and their keef-smoking, and manifested extreme
fear by outcries in shrill voices. Under the shadows of the palms,
that stood like sentinels against the blistering sands, they gathered,
with wild cries.
No fighting-men, these. The glasses disclosed that they were mostly
old men, women, children. Young men were few. The fighters had
probably gone with the caravan, seen a while before. There came a
little ragged firing; but a round of blanks stopped that, and sent the
villagers skurrying back into the shelter of the palms, mimosas, and
_Nissr_ poised at seven hundred and fifty feet and let down tanks,
nacelle, and men. There was no resistance. The local _naib_ came with
trembling, to make salaam. Water was freely granted, from the _sebil_,
or public fountain--an ancient tank with century-deep grooves cut in
its solid stone rim by innumerable camel-hair ropes. The flying men
put down a hose, threw the switch of the electric pump, and in a few
minutes half emptied the fountain. The astonishment of the villagers
passed all bounds.
"These be men of great magic," said the _naib_, to Rrisa, after the
tanks had been hoisted to _Nissr_, and a dozen sacks of fresh dates
had been purchased for the trinkets plus two _ryals_ (about two
dollars). "Tell me of these 'People of the Books!'"
"I will tell thee of but one thing, Abu Shawarib," (father of
whiskers) answered Rrisa with pride. "Old Abd el Rahman is our
prisoner in the flying ship above. We are taking him back to Mecca.
All his people of the Beni Harb lie dead far toward the great waters,
on the edge of the desert of the sea. The Great Pearl Star we also
have. That too returneth to the Haram. _Allah iselmak!_" (Thanks be to
The _naib_ prostrated himself, with joyful cries, and touched lips
and forehead with quivering fingers. All others who heard the
news, did likewise. Fruits, pomegranate, syrup, honey, and _jild el
faras_ were brought as offerings of gratitude. The crew ascended to
the air-liner amid wild shouts of praise and jubilation.
[Footnote 1: Literally "mare's skin." Apricot paste in dried sheets,
cut into convenient sizes. A great dainty among the Arabs.]
"You see, Leclair?" the Master inquired, as _Nissr_ drew away once
more to eastward, leaving the village in the palms behind. "We hold
power already with the sons of Islam! What will it be when--?"
"When you attempt to take from them their all, instead of returning to
them what they so eagerly desire to have!" the Frenchman put in. "Let
us hope all for the best, my Captain, but let us keep our powder very
Two days and one night of steady flying over the ocean of sand, with
but an occasional oasis or caravan to break the appalling wastes of
emptiness, brought _Nissr_ to the Valley of the Nile. The river of
hoar antiquity came to view in a quivering heat-haze, far to eastward.
In anticipation of possible attack, _Nissr_ was forced to her best
altitude, of now forty-seven hundred feet, all gun-stations were
manned and the engines were driven to their limit. The hour was
anxious; but the Legion passed the river in safety, just a little
south of the twentieth degree, near the Third Cataract. Bohannan's
gloomy forebodings proved groundless.
The Red Sea and Arabia were now close at hand. Tension increased.
Rrisa thrilled with a malicious joy. He went to the door of the
captive Sheik, and in flowery Arabic informed him the hour of
reckoning was at last drawing very near.
"Thou carrion!" he exclaimed. "Soon shalt thou be in the hands of the
Faithful. Soon shall Allah make thy countenance cold, O offspring of a
Three hours after, the air-liner sighted a dim blue line that marked
the Red Sea. The Master pointed at this, with a strange smile.
"Once we pass that sea," he commented, "our goal is close. The hour of
great things is almost at hand!"
"Provided we get some petrol," put in Bohannan.
"Faith, an open gate, that should have been closed, defeated Napoleon.
A few hundred gallons of gasoline--"
"The gasoline is already in sight, Major," smiled the chief, his
glasses on the coastline. "That caravan--see there?--comes very
The Legion bore down with a rush on the caravan--a small one, not