Part 5 out of 8
above fifty camels, but well laden. The cameleers left off crying
"_Ooosh! Ooosh!_" and beating their spitting beasts with their
_mas'hab_-sticks, and incontinently took to their heels. Rrisa viewed
them with scorn, as he went down in the nacelle with a dozen of the
The work of stripping the caravan immediately commenced. In an hour
some five hundred tin cases of petrol had been hoisted aboard. On
the last trip down, the Master sent a packet wrapped in white cloth,
containing a fair money payment for the merchandise. British goods, he
very wisely calculated, could not be commandeered without recompense
The packet was lashed to a camel-goad which was driven into the sand,
and _Nissr_ once more got slowly under way.
All eyes were now on the barren chalk and sandstone coasts of the Red
Sea, beyond which dimly rose the castellated peaks of Jebel Radhwa.
At an altitude of 2,150 feet the air-liner slid out over the Sea,
the waters of which shone in the mid-afternoon sun with a peculiar
luminosity. Only a few _sambuks_, or native craft, troubled
those historic depths; though, down in the direction of Bab el
Mandeb--familiar land to the Master--a smudge of smoke told of some
steamer beating up toward Suez.
Leaning from the upper port gallery, the Master with Bohannan,
Leclair, and "Captain Alden," watched the shadow of the giant
air-liner sliding over the tawny sand-bottom. That shadow seemed a
scout going on before them, spying out the way to Arabia and to Mecca,
the Forbidden City. To the white men that shadow was only a shadow.
To Rrisa, who watched it from the lower gallery, it portended ominous
"It goes ahead of us, by Allah!" he murmured. "Into the Empty Abodes,
where the sons of Feringistan would penetrate, a shadow goes first!
And that is not good." He whispered a prayer, then added: "For the
others, I care not. But my Master--his life and mine are bound with
the cords of Kismet. And in the shadows I see darkness for all!"
At 4:27, _Nissr_ passed the eastern shores of the Red Sea. Arabia
itself now lay beneath. There exposed to their eyes, at length lay the
land of mystery and fear. Bare and rock-ribbed, a flayed skeleton of
a terrain, it glowed with wondrous yellow, crimson, and topaz hues.
A haze bounded the south-eastern horizon, where a range of iron hills
jaggedly cut the sky. Mecca was almost at hand.
The Master entered his cabin and summoned Rrisa.
"Listen," he commanded. "We are now approaching the Holy City. I am
bringing back the Apostate Sheik and the Great Pearl Star. I am the
preserver of the Star. Thine own people could not keep it. I have
recovered it. Is that not true?"
"True, _M'alme_, praise to Allah!"
"It may be that I shall be called on to preserve some other and
still more sacred thing. If so, remember that my salt is still in thy
"Master, I will not forget." Rrisa spoke dutifully, but his eyes
were troubled. His face showed lines of fear, of the struggle already
developing in his soul.
"Go thou, then! And remember that whatever happens, my judgment tells
me it is best. Raise not a hand of rebellion against me, Rrisa, to
whom thou owest life itself. To thy cabin--go!"
The Arab salaamed and departed, with a strange look in his eyes.
When he was gone, the Master called Bohannan and Leclair, outlined the
next _coup_ in this strange campaign, and assigned crews to them for
the implacable carrying-out of the plan determined on--surely the most
dare-devil, ruthless, and astonishing plan ever conceived by the brain
of a civilized man.
Hardly had these preparations been made, when the sound of
musketry-fire, below and ahead, drew their attention. From the open
ports of the cabin, peering far down, the three Legionaries witnessed
an extraordinary sight--a thing wholly incongruous in this hoar land
of mystery and romance.
Skirting a line of low savage hills that ruggedly stretched from
north to south, a gleaming line of metal threaded its way. A train,
southbound for Mecca, had halted on the famous Pilgrims' Railway.
From its windows and doors, white-clad figures were violently
gesticulating. Others were leaping from the train, swarming all about
An irregular fusillade, harmless as if from pop-guns, was being
directed against the invading Eagle of the Sky. A faint, far outcry
of passionate voices drifted upward in the heat and shimmer of that
Arabian afternoon. The train seemed a veritable hornets' nest into
which a rock had been heaved.
"Faith, but that's an odd sight," laughed the major. "Where else
in all this world could you get a contrast like that--the desert, a
semibarbarous people, and a railroad?"
"Nowhere else," put in Leclair. "There is no other road like that,
anywhere in existence. The Damascus-Mecca line is unique; a Moslem
line built by Moslems, for Moslems only Modern mechanism blent with
ancient superstition and savage ferocity that implacably hold to the
very roots of ancient things!"
"It is the Orient, Lieutenant," added the Master. "And in the Orient,
who can say that any one thing is stranger than anything else? To your
They took their leave. The Master entered the pilot-house and assumed
control. As _Nissr_ passed over the extraordinary Hejaz Railway,
indifferent to the mob of frenzied, vituperating pilgrims, the chief
peered far ahead for his first sight of Mecca, the Forbidden.
He had not long to wait. On the horizon, the hills seemed suddenly to
break away. As the air-liner roared onward, a dim plain appeared, with
here or there a green-blue blur of oasis and with a few faint white
spots that the Master knew were pilgrims' camping-places.
Down through this plain extended an irregular depression, a kind of
narrow valley, with a few sharply isolated, steep hills on either
The Master's eyes gleamed. His jaw set; his hand, on the controls,
tightened till the knuckles whitened.
"The Valley of Mina!" he exclaimed. "Mount Arafat--and there, beyond,
lies Mecca! _Labbayk! Labbayk!_"
The descent of the giant air-liner and her crew of masterful
adventurers on the Forbidden City had much the quality of a hawk's
raid on a vast pigeon-cote. As _Nissr_, now with slowed engines loomed
down the Valley of Sacrifice, a perfectly indescribable hurricane of
panic, rage, and hate surged through all the massed thousands who had
come from the farthest ends of Islam to do homage to the holy places
of the Prophet.
The outraged Moslems, in one fierce burst of passion against the
invading Feringi, began to swarm like ants when the stone covering
their ant-hill is kicked over. From end to end of the valley, a
howling tumult arose.
On the Darb el Ma'ala, or Medina Road, a caravan bearing the annual
_mahmal_ gift of money, jewels, fine fabrics, and embroidered
coverings for the Ka'aba temple, cut loose with rifles and old
blunderbusses. Dogs began to bark, donkeys to bray, camels to spit and
snarl. The whole procession fell into an anarchy of hate and fear.
The vast camp of conical white tents in the Valley of Mina spewed out
uncounted thousands of _Hujjaj_ (pilgrims), each instantly transformed
into a blood-lusting fiend. From the Hill of Arafat; from Jannat el
Ma'ale Cemetery; from the dun, bronzed, sun-baked city of a hundred
thousand fanatic souls; from the Haram sanctuary itself where mobs of
pilgrims were crowded round the Ka'aba and the holy Black Stone;
from latticed balcony and courtyard, flat roof, mosque, and minaret,
screams of rage shrilled up into the baked air, quivering under the
intense sapphire of the desert sky.
Every crowded street of the bowl-shaped city, all converging toward
the Sacred Enclosure of the Haram, every caravanserai and square,
became a mass of howling _ghuzzat_, or fighters for the faith. Mecca
and its environs, outraged as never before in the thousands of years
of its history, instantly armed itself and made ready for a _Jihad_,
or holy war of extermination.
Where the Ahl Bayt, or People of the Black Tents, had tamely enough
submitted to the invaders, these Ahl Hayt, or People of the Walls,
leaped to arms, eager for death if that could be had in the battle
against the infidel dog--for death, so, meant instant bearing up to
Paradise, to cool fountains and sweet fruits, and to the caresses of
the seventy entrancing houris that each good Moslem has had promised
him by "The Strong Book," Al Koran.
Every man and boy in all that tremendous multitude spread over many
square miles of rocky, sun-blistered aridity, seized whatever came
first to hand, for the impending war, as the black shadow of _Nissr_
lagged down toward the city and the Haram. Some snatched rifles, some
pistols; others brandished spears and well-greased _nebut_ clubs, six
feet long and deadly in stout hands. Even camel-sticks and tent-poles
were furiously flung aloft. Pitiful, impotent defiance, no more
effective than the waving of ants' antennae against the foot that
kicks their nest to bits!
Screams, curses, execrations in a score of tongues mounted in one
frenzied chorus. Swarms of white-robed pilgrims came running in masses
after the drifting shadow, knocking each other down, falling
aver tent-pegs, stampeding pack-animals. The confusion amazed the
Legionaries as they watched all this excitement through their powerful
"It looks," thought the Master, with a smile, "as if our little
surprise-party might be a lively affair. Well, I am ready for it.
'Allah knows best, and time will show!'"
All over the plain and through the city, myriads of little white
puffs, drifting down-wind, showed the profusion of firing. Now came
the boom of a cannon from the Citadel--an unshotted gun, used only for
calling the Faithful to prayer. Its booming echo across the plain and
up against the naked, reddish-yellow hills, still further whipped the
blood-frenzy of the mad mobs.
Even the innumerable pigeons, "Allah's announcers," swirled in
clouds from the arcades, mosques, and minarets surrounding the Haram,
and from the Ka'aba itself, and began winging erratic courses all
about the Forbidden City. Men, birds, and animals alike, all shared
the terror of this unheard-of outrage when--according to ancient
prophesy--the Great Devils of Feringistan should desecrate the holy
[Footnote 1: So called because of their habit of cooing and bowing.
Moslems fancy they are praying to Allah and making salaam to him.]
"Slow her!" commanded the Master into the engine-room phone, and began
compensating with the helicopters, as _Nissr_ lagged over the crowded
city. "Shut off--let her drift! Stand by to reverse!"
Mecca the Unattainable now lay directly beneath, its dun roofs, packed
streets, ivory minarets all open to the heretics' gaze from portholes,
from the forward observation pit and from the lower gallery. As
_Nissr_ eased herself down to about one thousand feet, the plan of
the city became visible as on a map. The radiating streets all started
from the Haram. White mobs were working themselves into frenzy,
trampling the pilgrims' shrouds that had been dipped in the waters of
the well, Zem Zem, and laid out to dry.
Not even the Master's aplomb could suppress a strange gleam in
his eye, could keep his face from paling a little or his lips from
tightening, as he now beheld the inmost shrine of two hundred and
thirty million human beings. Nor did any of the Legionaries, bold as
they were, look upon it without a strange contraction of the heart. As
for the Apostate Sheik, that old jackal of the desert was crouched
in his place of confinement, with terror clutching at his soul; with
visions of being torn to pieces by furious Sunnite mobs oppressing
And Rrisa, what of him? Shut into his cabin, with the door locked
against intrusion, he was lying face downward on the metal floor,
praying. For the first time in the world's history, a Moslem's
_kiblah_, or direction of prayer, was directly downward!
"Reverse!" ordered the Master. Nissr hovered exactly above the Haram
enclosure. "Lower to five hundred feet, then hold her!"
The air-liner sank slowly, with a hissing of air-intakes into the
vacuum-floats, and hung there, trembling, quivering with the slow
back-revolution of her screws, the swift energy of her helicopters.
The Master put her in charge of Janina, the Serbian ace, and descended
to the lower gallery.
Here he found the crew assembled by Bohannan and Leclair ready for the
perilous descent they were about to make.
He leaned over the rail, unmindful of the ragged patter of bullets
from below, and with a judicial eye observed the prospect. His calm
contrasted forcibly with the frenzied surging of the pilgrim mobs
below, a screaming, raging torrent of human passion.
Clearly he could discern every detail of the city whereof Mohammed
wrote in the second chapter of the Koran: "So we have made you the
center of the nations that you should bear witness to men." He could
see the houses of dark stone, clustering together on the slopes like
swallows' nests, the unpaved streets, the _Mesjid el Haram_, or
sacred square, enclosed by a great wall and a colonnade surmounted by
small white domes.
At the corners of this colonnade, four tall white minarets towered
toward the sky--minarets from which now a pretty lively rifle-fire
was developing. A number of small buildings were scattered about the
square; but all were dominated by the black impressive cube of the
Ka'aba itself, the _Bayt Ullah_, or Allah's house.
The Master gave an order. Ferrara obeying it, brought from his cabin
a piece of apparatus the Master had but perfected in the last two days
of flight over the Sahara. This the Master took and clamped to the
"Captain Alden," said he, "stand by, at the engine-room phone from
this gallery, here, to order any necessary adjustments as weights
are dropped or raised. Keep the ship at constant altitude as well as
position. Major Bohannan and Lieutenant Leclair, are your crews ready
for the descent?"
"Yes, sir," the major answered. "_Oui, mon capitaine_," replied the
"Tools all ready? Machine-guns installed? Yes? Very well. Open the
trap, now, and swing the nacelle by the electric crane and winch.
The yells of rage and hate from below were all this time increasing in
volume and savagery. Quite a pattering of rifle-bullets had
developed against the metal body of the lower gallery and--harmlessly
glancing--against the fuselage.
Smiling, the Master once more peered over. He seemed, as indeed he
was, entirely oblivious to any fear. Too deeply had the Oriental
belief of Kismet, of death coming at the appointed hour and no sooner,
penetrated his soul, to leave any place there for the perils of
The swarming Haram enclosure presented one of the most extraordinary
spectacles ever witnessed by human eyes. The strangeness of the scene,
witnessed under the declining sun of that desert land, was heightened
by the fact that all these furious Moslems were seen from above. Men
cease to appear human, at that angle. They seem to be only heads, from
which legs and arms flail out grotesquely.
The Haram appeared to have become a vast pool of brown faces and
agitated white _ihrams_ (pilgrim robes) of weaving brown hands,
of gleaming weapons. This pool, roaring to heaven, showed strange,
violent currents in flow and refluent ebb of hate.
To descend into that maelstrom of frenzied murder-lust took courage
of the highest order. But neither Bohannan nor the Frenchman had even
paled. Not one of their men showed any hesitancy whatever.
"Ready, sir," said the major, crisply. "Faith, give the signal and
down we go; and we'll either bring back what we're going after, or
we'll all come back and report ourselves dead!"
"Just a minute, Major," the Master answered. He had opened a small
door of the box containing the apparatus he had just clamped to the
rail, and had taken out a combination telephone earpiece and receiver.
With this at mouth and ear, he leaned over the rail. His lips moved in
a whisper inaudible even to those in the lower gallery with him.
An astonishing change, however, swept over the infuriated mob in the
Haram and throughout the radiating streets. One would have thought a
bolt from heaven had struck the Moslems dumb. The angry tumult died;
the vast hush that rose to _Nissr_ was like a blow in the face,
so striking was its contrast with the previous uproar. Most of the
furious gesticulation ceased, also. All those brown-faced fanatics
remained staring upward, silent in a kind of thunder-struck amazement.
EAST AGAINST WEST
The major, peering down through the trap, swore luridly. Leclair
muttered something to himself, with wrinkled brow. "Captain Alden's"
eyes blinked strangely, through the holes of the mask. The others
stared in frank astonishment.
"What the devil, sir--?" began the major; but the chief held up
his hand for silence. Again he spoke whisperingly into the strange
apparatus. This time a murmur rose to him; a murmur increasing to a
confused tumult, that in an angry wave of malediction beat up about
Nissr as she hung there with spinning helicopters, over the city.
The Master smiled as he put up the receiver in the little box and
closed the door with a snap. Regretfully he shook his head.
"These Arabic gentlemen, _et al_," he remarked, "don't seem agreeably
disposed to treat with us on a basis of exchanging the Sheik Abd el
Rahman for what we want from them. My few remarks in Arabic, via this
etheric megaphone, seem to have met a rebuff. Every man in the Haram,
the minarets, the arcade, and the radiating streets heard every word I
said, gentlemen, as plainly as if I had spoken directly into his ear.
Yet no sound at all developed here."
"The principle is parallel to that of an artillery shell that only
bursts when it strikes, and might be extremely useful in warfare,
if properly developed--as I haven't had time, yet, to develop it. No
matter about that, though. My proposal has been rejected. Peace having
been declined, we have no alternative but to use other, means.
There is positively no way of coming to an agreement with our Moslem
As if to corroborate his statement, a rifle-bullet whistled through
the open trap and flattened itself against the metal underbody of the
fuselage, over their heads. It fell almost at "Captain Alden's" feet.
She picked it up and pocketed it.
"My first bit of Arabia," said she. "Worth keeping."
The firing, below, had now become more general than ever. Shrill cries
rose to Allah for the destruction of these infidel flying dogs. The
Master paid no more heed to them than to the buzzing of so many bees.
"I think, Major," said he, "we shall have to use one of the two
kappa-ray bombs on these Arabic gentry. It's rather too bad we haven't
more of them, and that the capsules are all gone."
"Pardon me, my Captain," put in Leclair, "but the
paralysis-vibrations, eh? As you did to me, why not to them?"
"Impossible. The way we're crippled, now, I haven't the equipment. But
I shall nevertheless be able to show you something, Lieutenant. Major
will you kindly drop one of the kappa-rays?"
He gestured at two singular-looking objects that stood on the metal
floor of the lower gallery, about six feet from the trap. Cubical
objects they were, some five inches on the edge, each enclosed in what
seemed a tough, black, leather-like substance netted with stout white
cords that were woven together into a handle at the top.
Strong as Bohannan was, his face grew red, with swollen veins in
forehead and neck, as he tried to lift this small object. Nothing in
the way of any known substance could possibly have weighed so much;
not even solid lead or gold.
"Faith!" grunted the major. "What the devil? These two little metal
boxes didn't weigh a pound apiece when--ugh!--when we packed 'em in
our bags. How about it, chief?"
The Master smiled with amusement.
"They weren't magnetized then, Major," he answered. "Shall I have
someone help you?"
"No, by God! I'll either lift this thing or die, right here!" the Celt
panted, redder still. But he did not lift the little cube. The best he
could do was to drag it, against mighty resistance, to the edge of the
trap; and with a last, mighty heave, project it into space.
As it left the trap, _Nissr_ rocked and swayed, showing how great a
weight had been let drop. Down sped the little, netted cube, whirling
in the sunlight. Its speed was almost that of a rifle-ball--so far in
excess of anything that could have been produced by gravitation as to
suggest that some strange, magnetic force was hurling it earthward,
like a metal-filing toward an electro-magnet. It dwindled to nothing,
in a second, and vanished.
All peered over the rail, eager with anticipation. No explosion
followed, but the most astonishing thing happened. All at once,
without any preliminary disturbance, the ground became white. A
perfect silence fell on the Haram and the city for perhaps half a mile
on all sides of the sacred enclosure Haram and streets, roof-tops,
squares all looked as if suddenly covered with deep snow.
This whiteness, however, was not snow, but was produced by the
_ihrams_ of the pilgrims now coming wholly to view.
Instead of gazing down on the heads of the multitude--all bare heads,
as the Prophet commands for pilgrims--the Legionaries now found
themselves looking at their whole bodies. Every pilgrim in sight
had instantaneously fallen to the earth, on the gravel of the Haram,
along the raised walks from the porticoes to the Ka'aba, on the marble
tiling about the Ka'aba itself, even in the farthest visible streets.
The white-clad figures lay piled on each other in grotesque attitudes
and heaps. Even the stone tank at the north-west side of the Ka'aba,
under the famous Myzab, or Golden Waterspout on the Ka'aba roof, was
heaped full of them; and all round the sacred Zem Zem well they lay in
silent windrows, reaped down by some silent, invisible force.
In the remote suburbs and out on the plain, the Legionaries'
binoculars could still see a swarming of white figures; but all the
immediate vicinity was now wholly silent, motionless. To and fro the
Master swept his glasses, and nodded with satisfaction.
"You have now fifteen minutes, men," said he, "before the paralyzing
shock of that silent detonation--that noiseless release of molecular
energies which does not kill nor yet destroy consciousness in the
least--will pass away. So--"
"You mean to tell me, my Captain, _those pilgrims are still
conscious?_" demanded Leclair, amazed.
"Perfectly. They will see, hear, and know all you do. I wish them to.
The effect will be salutary, later. But they cannot move or interfere.
All you have to look out for is the incoming swarm of fanatics already
on the move. So there is no time to be lost. Into the nacelle, and
down with you!"
"But if they try to rush us you can drop the other bomb, can't you?"
demanded the major, as they all clambered into the nacelle.
The Master smiled, as he laid his hands on top of the basket and
cast his eyes over the equipment there, noting that machine-guns,
pick-axes, crowbars, and all were in position.
"The idea does you credit, Major," said he. "The fact that the other
bomb would of course completely paralyze you and your men, here, is
naturally quite immaterial. Let us have no more discussion, please.
Only fourteen minutes, thirty seconds now remain before the _Hujjaj_
will begin to recover their muscular control. You have your work cut
out for you, the next quarter-hour!"
The Master raised his hand in signal to Grison, at the electric winch
A turn of a lever, and the nacelle rose from the metals of the lower
gallery. It swung over the trap and was steadied there, a moment, by
many hands. The raiding-party leaped in.
"Lower away!" commanded the chief
Smoothly the winch released the fine steel cable, with a purring
sound. Down shot the nacelle, steadily, swiftly, with the major,
Leclair, and the others now engaged in the most perilous, dare-devil
Down, swiftly down, to raid the _Bayt Ullah_, the sacred Ka'aba, holy
of holies to more than two hundred million Moslem fanatics, each of
whom would with joy have died to keep the hand of the unbelieving
dog from so much as touching that hoar structure or the earth of the
Down, swiftly down with picks and crowbars. Down, into the midst of
all that paralyzed but still conscious hate, to the very place of the
supremely sacred Black Stone, itself.
THE BATTLE OF THE HARAM
The raiding-party, beside its two leaders, consisted of Lombardo,
Rennes, Emilio, Wallace, and three others, including Lebon. The
lieutenant's orderly, now having recovered strength, had pleaded so
hard for an opportunity to avenge himself on the hated Moslems that
Leclair had taken him.
As for Lombardo, he had downright insisted on going. His life, he
knew, was already forfeited to the expedition--by reason of his having
let the stowaway escape--and, this being so, he had begged and been
granted the favor of risking it in this perilous undertaking.
Such was the party now swiftly dropping toward the Haram where never
yet in the history of the world two English-speaking men had at one
time gathered; where never yet the speech of the heretic had been
heard; where so many intruders had been beheaded or crucified for
having dared profane the ground sacred to Allah and his Prophet.
To the major, peering over the side of the nacelle, it seemed as
if the Haram--central spot of pilgrimage and fanatic devotion for
one-seventh of the human race--were leaping up to meet him. With
dizzying rapidity the broad square, the grim black Ka'aba, the
prostrate white throngs all sprang up at the basket. Fascinated, the
major watched; his eyes, above all, sought the mysterious Ka'aba.
Excitement thrilled his romantic soul at thought that he was one of
the very first white men in the world ever to behold that strange,
Clearly he could see the stone slabs cemented with gypsum, the few
stricken pigeons lying there, the cords holding the huge _kiswah_,
or brocaded cloth, covering "Mecca's bride," (the Ka'aba). The Golden
Waterspout was plainly visible, gleaming in the sun--a massive trough
of pure metal, its value quite incalculable.
Now the Ka'aba was close; now the nacelle slowed, beside it, in the
shadow of its grim blackness. The major got an impression of exceeding
richness from the shrouding veil, which he saw to be a huge silken
fabric, each side like a vast theater curtain of black, with a
two-foot band a little more than half-way up, the whole covered with
verses from the Koran worked in gold.
The nacelle sank gently on to a heap of motionless pilgrims, canted to
the left, and came to rest. Not a groan, curse, or even a sigh escaped
the desecrated Moslems forever defiled by the touch of the infidels'
The effect was horribly uncanny--of all those brown men, open-eyed and
conscious, but perfectly unable to move so much as an eyebrow. Such as
had fallen with their eyes in the direction of the nacelle, could
see what was going on; the others could only judge of this incredible
desecration by what they could hear. The sound of foreign voices,
speaking an unbelievers' tongue in the very shadow of the Ka'aba, must
have been supremely horrible to every Mohammedan there.
"Out, men, and at it!" the major commanded, as he scrambled from the
nacelle, slid and stumbled over the Moslems, and reached hands for the
tools passed out to him. Leclair followed. Men and tools were swiftly
unloaded, leaving only Wallace and Emilio at their guns, as agreed.
"Faith, but this is some proposition!" grunted the major, as the seven
men trampled over the prostrate bodies, without any delay whatever to
peer at the Haram or the Ka'aba.
"The stone's there, men, at the south-east corner! Get busy!"
No exhortation was necessary. Every man, nerved to the utmost energy
by the extreme urgency of the situation, leaped to work. And a strange
scene began, the strangest in all the history of that unknown city of
mysteries. The little troop of white men in uniform stumbled over the
bodies and faces of their enemies along the Ka'aba, past the little
door about seven feet from the ground, and so, skirting the slanting
white base, two feet high, came to the Hajar el Aswad, or Black Stone,
Above, in the burning Arabian sky, the air-liner hovered like a
gigantic bird of prey, her gallery-rails lined with motionless
watchers. The Master observed every move through powerful glasses.
Over his ears a telephone headpiece, which he had slipped on, kept him
in close touch with the men in the nacelle, via the steel cable. This
cable formed a strand between East and West; if any evil chance
should break it, life would end there and then for nine members of the
Legion, brave men all.
That their time was short, indeed, was proved by the vague, hollow
roar already drifting in from the outskirts of the city, and from
the plain whence, crowding, struggling into the city's narrow ways, a
raging mass of pilgrims was already on the move. A tidal-wave, a sea
of hate, the hundred thousand or more _Hujjaj_ as yet untouched by the
strong magic of the Feringi, were fighting their way toward the Haram.
The time of respite was measured but by minutes. Each minute, every
second, bore supreme value.
"There she is, men!" the major shouted, pointing. And on the instant,
driving furiously with pick-axe, he struck the first blow.
Plainly, about three feet below the bottom of the silken veil and four
feet above the pavement, there indeed they saw the inestimably sacred
stone, which every Moslem believes once formed a part of Paradise and
was given by Allah to the first man. To the Legionaries' excited eyes
it seemed to be an irregular oval, perhaps seven inches in diameter,
with an undulating surface composed of about a dozen smaller stones
joined by cement and worn blackly smooth by millions of touches and
It was surrounded by a border of cement that looked like pitch and
gravel; and the major noted, even as he drove his pick into this
cement, that both the stone and the border were enclosed by a massive
circle of gold with the lower part studded full of silver nails.
Only these hasty observations, and no more, the Legionaries made as
they fell with furious energy to the task of dislodging the venerable
relic. To all but this labor they were oblivious--to the heat and
stifle of that sun-baked square, the mute staring of the paralyzed
_Hujjaj_, the wafting languor of incenses from the colonnades, the
quiet murmur of waters from the holy well, Zem Zem.
The scene, which ordinarily would have entranced them and filled them
with awe, now had become as nothing. Every energy, every sense had
centered itself only on this one vital work of extracting the Black
Stone from the Ka'aba wall and of making a swift getaway with it
before the rising murmur of rage, from without the area of paralysis,
should sweep in on them with annihilating passion.
"Here, Emilio--drive your pick here!" commanded the major, his red
face now dark crimson with heat and excitement as well as with the
intense force wherewith he was wielding his implement. Cement flew
in showers at every stroke, out over the sweating Legionaries and the
prostrate Moslems near the stone. The white men slid and stumbled
on limp bodies, trampled them unheedingly, and of the outstretched
pilgrims made as it were a kind of vantage-post for the attack on the
inmost citadel of Islam.
"Work quick, Major!" came the Master's voice, seemingly at Bohannan's
elbow. "There's a fearful drove of the rascals coming. You'd better
get that stone out and away in double-quick time!"
The major replied nothing, but his pick-axe flailed into the cement
with desperate energy. Emilio and others seconded him, while Rennes
and Wallace dug, kneeling, with their crowbars. The blows echoed with
staccato rapidity through the sacred Haram, which now had begun to
fill with the confused roar of the on-coming mobs from the Ma'abidah
suburb and the Plain of Mina, from Jebel Hindi and the Sulaymainyah
"You have about five minutes more," the Master spoke again. "If
necessary, we will open on them with machine-guns, from the ship, but
I'd like to avoid bloodshed if possible. Do the best you can!"
Bohannan had no breath for answering. Every ounce of energy of all
seven men was being flung into that mad labor. Sweat streamed into
their eyes, half blinding them; they dashed it off, and struck again
and again. The cement crumbled and gave; the heavy gold band commenced
to bend; Rennes got his crowbar into an advantageous leverage and gave
a mighty heave.
The stone seemed to cry aloud, with a dry, harsh screaming sound
of outraged agony, as it yielded. It was only the sundering of
the mortar, of course; but a chill ran up the major's spine, and
goose-flesh prickled all over him. Furiously the Legionaries worked
the stone back and forth; a shower of mortar fell on the workers' feet
and on the upturned, staring faces of the paralyzed Moslems trampled
by the horrible contamination of heretical boots--perhaps even pigskin
boots!--and then, all at once, the Hajar el Aswad slid from the place
where it had lain uncounted centuries.
Cursing with frantic excitement, the Legionaries tugged it from the
wall, together with its golden band. Above them the _kiswah_ bellied
outward, swaying in the breeze. No Moslem has ever admitted that the
Ka'aba veil is ever moved by any other thing than the wings of angels.
Those of the Faithful who now beheld that movement, felt the avenging
messengers of Allah were near, indeed; and a thousand unspoken prayers
"Angels of death, Azrael and his host, smite these outcasts of
The prayers seemed more likely of fulfilment from the hands of the
oncoming hordes already streaming into the converging streets to the
Haram. As the stone came clear, into the hands of the invaders, a
dank, chill blast of air blew from the aperture against the white
men's faces. It seemed to issue as from a cavern; and with it came a
low, groaning sound, as of a soul in torment.
A shadow fell across the Haram; the light of the sun was dulled. The
sudden crack of a rifle-shot snapped from the arcade, and a puff of
rock-dust flew from the corner of the Ka'aba, not two feet from the
"Come on, men!" cried the major. "Away!"
Some latent mysticism had been stirred in him; some vague, half-sensed
superstition. Nothing more natural than that a cold draught should
have soughed from the pent interior of the temple, or that the
air-liner, slowly turning as she hung above the Haram, should with her
vast planes have for a moment thrown her shadow over the square. But
the Celt's imaginative nature quivered as he gripped the stone.
"You, quick, on the other end!" he cried to Emilio. "You, Lombardo,
steady her! So! Now--to the nacelle!"
The rifles were opening a lively fire, already, as the men staggered
over the prostrate Moslems, reached the nacelle and with a grunt and
a heave tumbled the Hajar el Aswad into it. They scrambled after,
falling into the shelter of the basket.
Into the arcade, at the north-east corner and half-way along the
western side, two furious swarms of white-robed _Hujjaj_ were already
debouching, yelling like fiends, firing as they came. The uproar
swelled rapidly, in a swift-rising tide. The Haram grew all a
confusion of wild-waving arms, streaming robes, running men who
stumbled over the paralyzed forms of their coreligionists. Knives,
spears, scimitars, rifles glinted in the sun.
The whine and patter of bullets filled the air, punctured the
_kiswah_, slogged against the Ka'aba. Lebon and Rennes, turning loose
the machine-guns, mowed into the white of the pack; but still they
came crowding on and on, frenzied, impervious to fear.
Up rose the nacelle, as the major wildly shouted into the phone. It
soared some forty feet in air, up past the black silken curtain, then
unaccountably stopped, level with the Ka'aba roof.
"Up! Up!" yelled Bohannan, frantically. The spud of bullets against
the steel basket tingled the bodies of the men crouching against the
All at once Dr. Lombardo stood up, pick-axe in hand, fully exposed to
"Down, you blazing idiot!" commanded the major, dragging at him with
hands that shook. The doctor thrust him away, and turned toward the
Ka'aba, the roof of which was not three feet distant.
"The golden spout--see?" he cried, pointing. "_Dio mio_, what a
treasure!" On to the edge of the nacelle he clambered.
"Don't be a damn fool, Doctor!" the major shouted; but already
Lombardo had leaped. Pick in hand, he jumped, landing on the flat roof
of the temple.
Ferocious howls and execrations swelled into a screaming chorus
of hate, of rage. Unmindful, the Italian was already frantically
attacking the Myzab. Blow after blow he rained upon it with the sharp,
cutting edge of the pick, that at every stroke sank deep into the
massive gold, shearing it in deep gashes.
A perfect hail of rifle-fire riddled the air all about him, but still
he labored with sweat streaming down his face all blackened with dirt
and cement. From _Nissr_, far above, cries and shouts rang down at
him, mingled with the sharp spitting of the machine-guns from the
lower gallery. The guns in the nacelle, too, were chattering; the
Haram filled itself with a wild turmoil; the scene beggared any
attempt at description, there under the blistering ardor of the
All at once Dr. Lombardo inserted the blade of the pick under the
golden spout, pried hard, bent it upward. He stamped it down again
with his boot-heel, dropped the pick and grappled it with both
straining hands. By main force he wrenched it up almost at right
angles. He gave another pull, snapped it short off, dragged it to the
parapet of the Ka'aba, and with a frantic effort swung it, hurled it
into the nacelle.
Down sank the basket, a little, under this new weight.
The doctor leaped, jumped short, caught the edge of the basket and
was just pulling himself up when a slug caught him at the base of the
His hold relaxed; but the major had him by the wrists. Into the
nacelle he dragged the dying man.
"For the love o' God, _haul up!_" he shouted.
The basket leaped aloft, as the winch--that had been jammed by a
trivial accident to the control--took hold of the steel cable. Up
it soared, still pursued by dwindling screams of rage, by now futile
rifle-fire. Before it had reached the trap in the lower gallery,
the main propellers had begun to whicker into swift revolution, all
gleaming in the afternoon sun. The gigantic shadow of the Eagle of the
Sky began to slide athwart the hill-side streets to south-eastward of
the Haram; and so, away.
Up came the nacelle through the trap. The davit swung it to one side;
the trap was slammed down and bolted. Out of the nacelle tumbled the
major, pale as he had formerly been red, his face all drawn with grief
"The damned Moslem swine!" he panted. "Faith, but they--they've killed
him!" He flung a passionate hand at the basket, in which, prone across
the golden spout, the still body of Lombardo was lying. "They've
killed as brave a man--"
"We all saw what he did, Major," the chief said quietly. "Dr. Lombardo
owed us all a debt, and he has paid it. This is Kismet! Control
yourself, Major. The price of such brave adventure--is often death."
They lifted out the limp form, and carried it away to the cabin Dr.
Lombardo had occupied, there to wait some opportune time for burial
in the desert. Mecca, in the meanwhile, was already fading away to
north-westward. The heat-shimmer of that baked land of bare-ribbed
rock and naked, igneous hills had already begun to blur its outlines.
The white minarets round the Haram still with delicate tracery as of
carved ivory stood up against the sky; but of the out-raged people,
the colonnades, the despoiled and violated Ka'aba, nothing could any
more be seen.
Southward by eastward sped _Nissr_; and with her now was departing the
soul of Islam. In her keeping lay three things more sacred than all
else to Mohammedan hearts--Kaukab el Durri, the Great Pearl Star; Ha
jar el As wad, the Black Stone; and Myzab, the Golden Waterspout.
Awed, silenced, the Legionaries stood there in the lower gallery,
peering into the blood-stained nacelle. Hard-bitten men, all, and used
to the ways and usages of war; yet factors were present in this latest
exploit that sobered and steadied them as never before.
The Master, still unmoved, merely smiled a peculiar smile as he
"Major, have the stone and the golden spout carried to my cabin. And,
if you please, no remarks!"
Bohannan picked a few men to fulfil the order. Then he asked and
received permission to retire to the smoke-room, for a pipe and a
quiet half-hour, after having washed the dust and grime of battle
from his hands and face. The major's Celtic nerves needed tobacco and
reflection as they had rarely needed them.
The Master, climbing up the ladder to the main gallery, left Leclair
and a few off-duty men in the lower one. Two or three approached the
French ace, to hold speech with him about the exploit at the Ka'aba,
but he withdrew from them to the extreme rear end of the gallery and
remained for a long time in silent contemplation of the fading city,
the Plain of Mina, and Mount Arafat, beyond.
As the vague purple haze of late afternoon deepened to veils that
began to hide even the outlines of the mountain, he leaned both elbows
on the rail and in his own language whispered:
"_Nom de Dieu!_ The Pearl Star--the Golden Waterspout--the sacred
Black Stone!" His face was white with pride and a fire of eagerness
that burned within. "Why, now we're masters of all Islam--masters of
the treasure-houses of the Orient!
"_Mais--nom de Dieu!_"
THE ORDEAL OF RRISA
Alone in his cabin with the waterspout of massive gold and with the
sacred Black Stone, the Master sat down in front of the table where
they had been laid, took a few leaves of khat, and with profound
attention began to study the treasures his _bold coup_ had so
successfully delivered into his hands.
The waterspout, he saw at once, would as a mere object of precious
metal be worth a tremendous sum. It was of raw gold, apparently
unalloyed--as befitted its office of carrying the water from the roof
of the Ka'aba and throwing it upon Ishmael's grave, where pilgrims
have for centuries stood fighting to catch it. Its color verged
on reddish; all its lateral surfaces were carved with elaborate
arabesques and texts from the Koran. The bottom bore an inscription in
Tumar characters, easily decipherable by the Master, stating that it
had been sent from Constantinople in the year of the Hegira 981, by
Shafey Hanbaly, the Magnificent.
"A great treasure," pondered the Master. "An almost incalculable
treasure, in itself; but less so, intrinsically, than as an object of
Moslem veneration. In either case, however, enormously valuable."
He examined it a moment or two longer, noting with care the gashes and
deep cuts made by the frantic strokes of Dr. Lombardo's pick-axe. What
his thoughts might have been regarding the doctor's tragic death, none
could have told. For with a face quite unmoved, he turned now to the
examination of the world-famous Black Stone.
This object, he saw, possessed no value whatever, _per se_. Aside from
its golden encircling band studded with silver nails, its worth seemed
practically nothing. As it lay on the table before him, he realized
that it was nothing but a common aerolite, with the appearance of
black slag. Its glossy, pitchlike surface, on the end that had been
exposed from the wall, was all worn and polished smooth by innumerable
caresses from Moslem hands and lips.
"Very hygienic," the Master thought. "If there was ever a finer way
devised for spreading the plague and other Oriental diseases, I can't
very well imagine what it could be!"
A bit of the stone had been broken off by Leclair's crowbar. The
Master's trained, scientific eye saw, by the brightly sparkling,
grayish section of the break, that iron and nickel formed the chief
elements of the stone. Its dimensions, though its irregular form made
these hard to come by, seemed about two and a half feet in length, by
about seven or eight inches in breadth and thickness. Its weight, as
the Master stood up and lifted it, must have been about two hundred
pounds. No doubt one man could have carried it from its place in the
Ka'aba to the nacelle; but in the excitement of battle, and impeded by
having to stumble over prostrate Moslems, the major had considered it
advisable to ask for help.
"Mineralogically speaking, this is a meteor or a block of volcanic
basalt," judged the Master. "It seems sprinkled with small crystals,
with rhombs of tile-red feldspath on a dark background like velvet or
charcoal, except for one reddish protuberance of an unknown substance.
A good blow with a hammer would surely break it along the original
lines of fracture--and this is well worth knowing and remembering".
"Well, so far so good," he concluded. "The Air Control Board hasn't
got us, yet. Neither have the Mohammedans. True, we've lost a number
of men, but that was to have been expected. That's inevitable, and we
still have enough. I hardly see that we have so very much to complain
of, so far."
He turned, pulled a blanket from his berth and carefully spread it
over the loot on the table. Then he pushed the button communicating
with the cabin wherein Rrisa was still quivering as a result of having
heard the fusillades and the terrific tumult--unseen though they had
been to him--at Mecca.
In a couple of minutes the faithful orderly appeared, salaamed, and
stood waiting with a drawn, troubled face.
"_Allah m'a!_" the Master greeted him, in Allah's name inquiring for
his good health. "I have something important to ask thee. Come in.
Come in, and close the door."
He spoke in Arabic. The orderly, in the same tongue, made answer as he
"The Master hath but to talk, and it is answered, if my knowledge can
suffice." His words were submissive; but the expression was strange
in his eyes, at sight of the blanket on the table. That blanket might
hide--what might it not hide? The light in his gaze became one the
Master had never yet seen there, not even in the sternest fighting at
"Mecca lieth behind us, Rrisa," the Master began. "Thou hast seen
nothing of it, or of what happened there?"
"Nothing, _M'alme._ I was bidden remain in my cabin, and the Master's
word is always my law. It is true that I heard sounds of a great
fighting, but I obeyed the Master. I saw nothing. The Sheik Abd el
Hareth, did you deliver him into the hands of the Faithful?"
"No, Rrisa. They refused to accept him. And now I have other plans
for him. It is well that thou didst see nothing, for it was a mighty
fighting and there was death both to them and to us. Now, my questions
"Tell me this thing, first. Is it indeed true speaking, as I have
heard, that the Caliph el Walid the First, in Hegira 88, sent to Mecca
an immense present of gold and silver, forty camel-loads of small cut
gems and a hundred thousand _miskals_ in gold coin?"
"It is true, Master. Save that he sent more; nearly two hundred
thousand _miskals_. He also sent eighty Coptic and Greek artists to
carve and gild the mosques.
"One Greek sculptured a hog on the Mosque of Omar, trying to make it
into a _kanisah_ (unclean idol-house). My people discovered the sacrilege,
and"--he added with intent--"gave that Greek the bowstring, then quartered
the body and threw it to the vultures."
"That is of no importance whatever, Rrisa," answered the Master with
an odd smile. "What thy people do to the unbeliever, if they capture
him, is nothing to me. For--dost thou see?--they must first make the
capture. What I would most like to know is this: where is all that
"I cannot tell you, Master."
"No, Master, not at Mecca."
"_M'alme!_ My lips are sealed as the Forbidden Books!"
"Not against the commands of thy sheik--and I am thy sheik!"
Rrisa's lips twitched. The inner struggle of his soul reflected itself
in his lean, brown face. At last he aroused himself to make answer:
"The treasure, Master, is far to the south-east--in another city."
"Ah! So there _is_ another city far out in Ruba el Khali, the Empty
"Yea, _M'alme_, that is so."
"Then the ancient rumor is true? And it is from near that city that
thou didst come, eh? By Allah's power, I command thee to tell me of
this hidden city of the central deserts!"
"This thing I cannot do, my sheik."
"This thing thou must do!"
"O Master! It is the secret of all secrets! Spare me this!"
"No Rrisa, thou must obey. Far inside El Hejaz (the barrier), that
city is lying for my eyes to behold. I must know of it. Thy oath to me
cannot be broken. Speak, thou!"
The Master made no gesture with his hands, did not frown or clench his
fists, but remained impassively calm. His words, however, cut Rrisa
like knives. The orderly remained trembling and sweating, with a
piteous expression. Finally he managed to stammer:
"_M'alme_, in our tongue we have a proverb: 'There are two things
colder than ice--a young old man and an old young man.' There is still
a colder thing--the soul that betrays the Hidden City!"
"Speak Rrisa! There is no escape for thee!"
"My sheik, I obey," quavered the unfortunate orderly, shaken with a
palsy of fear. Without a quiver, the Arab would rush a machine-gun
position or face a bayonet-charge; but this betrayal of his kin struck
at the vitals of his faith. Still, the Master's word was law even
above Al Koran. With trembling lips he made answer:
"This city--spare me uttering its name, Master!--lies many hours'
journey, even by this Eagle of the Sky, beyond the Iron Mountains that
no man of the Feringi hath ever seen. It lies beyond the Great Sand
Barrier, in a valley of the Inner Mountains; yea, at the very heart of
Ruba el Khali."
"I hear thee, Rrisa. Speak further. And let thy speaking be truth!"
"It shall be truth, by the Prophet's beard! What doth the Master ask
"Is it a large city, Rrisa?"
"As the Jebel Radhwa!" (Mountain of Paradise).
"Thou hast been in that secret city, Rrisa?"
"Once, Master. The wonderful sight still remaineth in mine eyes."
"And, seeing the Iron Mountains again, thou couldst guide us thither?"
"Allah forbid! That is among the black deeds, Master! 'The grave is
darkness and good deeds are its lamps; but for the betrayer, there
shall be no light!' _Wallah, Effendi!_ Do not make me your guide!"
"I have not said I intended to do so, Rrisa. I merely asked thee
if thou _couldst_!" The Master's voice was silken, fine, penetrant.
"Well, Rrisa, tell me if thou couldst!"
"Yea, Master. _Ya gharati!_ (O my calamity!) It is true I could." The
words issued from his unwilling throat as if torn out by main force.
"But I earnestly beg of you, my sheik, do not make me do this thing!"
"Rrisa, if I command, thou must obey me! 'There is only one thing can
ever loose the bonds I have knotted about thee."
"And that is certainty (death), Master?"
"That is certainty! But this, to the oath-breaker and the abuser
of the salt, means a place among the _mujrim_ (sinful). It means
Jehannum, and an unhappy couch shall it be!"
Rrisa's face grew even more drawn and lined. A trembling had possessed
his whole body.
"Master, I obey!" he made submission, then stood waiting with downcast
eyes of suffering.
"It is well," said the chief, rising. He stood for a moment peering at
Rrisa, while the hum and roar of the great air-liner's mechanism, the
dip and sway of its vast body through the upper air, seemed to add a
kind of oppressive solemnity to the tense situation. To the cabin
wall the Master turned. There hung a large-scale map of the Arabian
Peninsula. He laid a hand on the vast, blank interior, and nodded for
Rrisa to approach.
"Listen, thou," said he. "Thy knowledge is sufficient. Thou dost
understand the interpretation of maps, and canst read latitude and
longitude. Mark here the place of the Hidden City!"
"Of the Bara Jannati Shahr, Master? Ah no, _no_!"
"So then, that is its name?" the chief demanded, smiling.
"No, _M'alme_. Thou dost know the Arabic. Thou dost understand this
means only, in thy tongue, the Very Heavenly City."
"True. Well, let it pass. Very Heavenly City it shall be, till the
real name becomes known. Come now, mark the place of the Hidden City
and mark it truly, or the greatest of sins will lie upon thy soul!"
The Arab advanced a brown, quivering hand.
"Give me a pencil, Master, and I obey!" he answered, in a voice hardly
THE INNER SECRET OF ISLAM
The chief handed him a pencil. Rrisa intelligently studied the map for
nearly two minutes, then raised his hand and made a dot a few miles
north-east of the intersection of fifty degrees east and twenty
degrees north. The Master's eye was not slow to note that the
designated location formed one point of a perfect equilateral
triangle, the other points of which were Bab el Mandeb on the south
and Mecca on the north.
"There, _M'alme_," whispered the Arab, in a choking voice. "Now I
have told you the secret of all secrets, and have lost my soul. I have
revealed the inner mystery of Islam, that to this day no man of the
Feringi hath ever known. I am a very great man of sin, and should have
first torn out my tongue.
"But my life is in your hands, Master, and I have shared your salt.
Allah knows I was forced to speak. _Shal'lah!_ (It is _Allah's_
will!) Allah will weigh my heart and will forgive, for he is the
Compassionate, the Merciful! I beg you, Master, now let me go!"
"Soon, Rrisa," the chief answered, turning away from the map. "But
first there is something of highest import I must show thee."
"And what may that be, my sheik?" the Arab queried, his widening eyes
fixed on the blanket that covered the loot from Mecca. Instinctively
he sensed that some horrible sight was about to be presented to him.
His face paled even more. He licked dry lips with a tongue equally
dry, and leaned against the table to steady himself. "What have you
now to show me, O _M'alme?_"
"Listen!" the chief commanded sternly. "The Meccans are a people
corrupt and accursed. 'Their hearts are black as their skins are
white.' They live by fleecing the _Hujjaj_, by making sale and barter
of relics, by turning the holy places into marts of trade. All this is
well known throughout Islam. Ah, the degenerate breed of the sons of
"That is true, Master. And what then?"
"Is it not a fact that they could not even safeguard the Kaukab el
Durri from the hand of the Great Apostate Sheik? How much less, then,
could they protect their other and more sacred things, if some Shiah
dog should come to rob them of the things they value?
"Would it not be better that such things should be carried far from
danger, to the hidden, inner city? I ask thee this, Rrisa; would it
not be better far?"
"And what is the meaning of my master's strange words?" ventured
Rrisa, a sort of dazed horror dawning in his eyes. "The other and more
sacred things of Islam--are they there under that cloth, O Master?"
"Thou hast said it, Rrisa! Now, behold them!"
With a quick, dramatic gesture, well-calculated to strike at the roots
of the superstitious Arab's nature, he flung away the blanket. To
Rrisa's horrified gaze appeared the Myzab and the sacred Black Stone.
"_Ya Allah!_" gulped the orderly, in a choking whisper. His face
became a dull gray. His eyes, rimmed with white, stared in terror. His
teeth began to chatter; and on his forehead appeared little glistening
"O Master, that is not--."
"Truly, yea! The Golden Waterspout, Rrisa, and the Black Stone
itself! I am carrying them to the Very Heavenly City, far in the Iron
Mountains! They shall be given to the Great Olema, there, who is more
fit to guard and keep them than the Sheriff of Mecca or than his sons
Feisal and the two Alis. No harm shall befall them, and--"
"And your hand--the hands of other Feringi who are not my
masters--have touched these things?" stammered Rrisa. "O my calamity!
O my grief!"
"Thou canst go now, Rrisa," the Master said. "Go, and think well of
what I have told thee, and--"
But Rrisa, falling prone to the metal of the cabin floor, facing the
Black Stone, gave vent to his feelings and burst into a wild cry of
"_La Illaha_--" and the rest of the immemorial formula.
The Master smiled down at him, quizzical and amused yet still more
than a little affected by the terror and devotion of his orderly.
Wise, he waited till Rrisa had made the compulsory prayers of
_Labbayk, Takbir_, and _Tahiti_, as all Moslems must do when coming
near the Black Stone. Then, as the orderly's voice suddenly died away,
he bent and laid a hand on the quivering Arab's shoulder.
"Come, come, Rrisa," said he, not unkindly. "Be thou not so
distressed. Is it not better that these very precious things be kept
in greater safety at the Jannati Shahr? Come, Rrisa! Arise!"
The orderly made no move, uttered no sound. The Master dragged him
up, held him, peered into his face that had gone quite ashen under its
"Why, Lord! the man has fainted dead away!" exclaimed the Master. He
gathered Rrisa in his powerful arms, carried him to his own cabin and
laid him in the berth, there; then he bathed his face with water and
chafed his hands and throat.
In a few minutes, Rrisa's eyes vaguely opened. He gulped, gasped, made
shift to speak a few feeble words.
"Master!" he whispered.
"Well, what dost thou wish?"
"One favor, only!"
"And what is that?"
"Leave me, a little while. I must be alone, all alone with Allah--to
The Master nodded.
"It shall be as thou wishest," said he. "Think, yes. And understand
that what I do is best for all of Sunnite Islam! As for the Shiah
dogs, what hast thou to trouble about them?"
Saying no more, he withdrew to his own cabin, wrapped the Myzab and
the Stone in the blanket and laid them carefully under his berth.
Opening his desk-drawer, he assured himself the Pearl Star was still
there. This done, he turned again to the map, carefully studied
the location of the point Rrisa had designated, and--going to the
pilot-house--gave directions for a new course to "Captain Alden," now
at the wheel.
This course, he calculated by allowing for wind and lateral
drift, would carry _Nissr_ directly toward the site of the still
half-mythical Iron Mountains and the Bara Jannati Shahr.
He now returned to his cabin, locked himself in and--pondering over
a few khat leaves--passed the remainder of the afternoon sunk in deep
Evening and night still found him in profound thought, while the giant
air-liner steadily rushed into the south-east, bearing him and the
Legion onward toward dim regions now veiled in purple darkness under
At nine o'clock he ordered _Nissr_ stopped, and had the body of Dr.
Lombardo sent down with six men in the nacelle, for burial. No purpose
could be served by keeping the body, and all unnecessary complications
had to be dispensed with before the morrow. Lombardo, who had fully
atoned for his fault by having given his life in the service of the
now depleted Legion, was buried in his service-uniform, in a fairly
deep grave on which the Legionaries heaped a great tumulus of sand.
The only witnesses were the Arabian Desert stars; the only requiem
the droning of the helicopters far above, where _Nissr_ hung with her
gleaming lights like other, nearer stars in the dense black sky.
By ten o'clock, the air-liner had resumed her course, leaving still
another brave man to his last sleep, alone. The routine of travel
settled down again on the ship and its crew of adventurers.
At half-past eleven, the Master issued from his cabin. All alone, and
speaking with no man, he took a quarter-hour constitutional up and
down the narrow gallery along the side of the fuselage--the gallery
on which his cabin window opened. His face, by the vague light of the
glows in this gallery, looked pale and worn; but a certain gleam of
triumph and proud joy was visible in his dark eyes.
All about him, stretched night unbroken. Far behind, lay vast
confusions involving hundreds of millions of human beings violently
wrenched from their accustomed routines of faith and prayer, with
potential effects beyond all calculation. Ahead lay--what?
"It may be glory and power, wealth past reckoning, incredible
splendor," thought the Master, "and it may be ignominy, torture,
death. 'Allah knows best and time will show.' But whatever it may
be--is it completion? The human heart, alone--can that ever be
complete in this world?"
He bent at the rail, gazing far out into the vague emptiness through
which the air-liner was pushing.
"Come what may," he murmured, "for tonight, at any rate, it is peace.
'It is peace, till the rising of the dawn!'"
In a strange mood, still holding no converse with any man, he returned
to the main corridor and went toward his cabin. His way led past the
door of "Captain Alden." There he paused a moment, all alone in the
corridor. The lights in the ceiling showed a strange look in his eyes.
His face softened, as he laid a hand on the metal panels of the door,
silently almost caressingly.
To himself he whispered:
"I wonder who she really is? What can her name be--who can she be,
He checked himself, impatiently:
"What thoughts are these? What nonsense? Such things are not for me!"
Silently he returned to his cabin, undressed, switched off the light
and turned into his berth, under which lay the incalculable treasures
of Islam. For a long time he lay there, thinking, wondering, angry
with himself for having seemed to give way for a single moment to
softer thoughts than those of conquest and adventure.
Gradually the cradling swing, the quivering power of the airship,
lulled his fevered spirit. Sleep won upon him, dulled the excitements
of the past twenty-four hours, sank him into oblivion. His deep,
regular breathing sounded in the gloom of the cabin that contained
the Great Pearl Star, the Myzab, the sacred Black Stone of infinite
An hour he slept. On, on roared _Nissr_, swaying, rising, falling
a little as she hurled herself through the Arabian night toward
the unknown Bara Jannati Shahr, hidden behind the Iron Mountains of
mystery as yet unseen by any unbelieving eye.
Peace, all seemed peace, for one dark hour.
But as the hour ended, a shadow fell along the narrow gallery outside
the cabin window. A silent shadow it was, that crept, paused, came on
again. And now in the dark, had there been any eye to see, the shadow
would have been identified as a barefoot man, lithe, alert, moving
silently forward with the soundless stealth of an Arab versed in the
art of _asar_, or man-stalking.
To the Master's window this shadow crept, a half-invisible thing in
the gloom. It paused there, listening to the deep, regular breathing
within. Then a lean, brown hand was laid on the sill. It still seemed
Something gleamed vaguely in that hand--a crooked _jambiyeh_,
needle-sharp at the point, keen-edged and balanced for the stroke that
Motionless, unbreathing even, the shadow waited a long minute. Then
all at once over the sill it writhed, quick, lithe as a starved
Dagger in hand, the shadow slid to the berth where lay the Master of
the Legionaries. There Rrisa paused, listening to the slow respiration
of the White Sheik with whom he had shared the inviolable salt, to
whom he owed life itself.
Up, in the gloom, came the dagger-blade.
Over the unconscious Master it poised, keen, cold, avenging in the
dark of the cabin where lay the three supreme treasures of all Islam.
INTO THE VALLEY OF MYSTERY
The upraised blade, poised for swift murder, did not descend. With a
groan from the heart's core, Rrisa let fall his trembling hand, as
he recoiled toward the vague patch of starlight that marked the cabin
"_Bismillah_!" he whispered hoarsely. "I cannot! This is my
sheik--'and thrice cursed is the hand that slays the sheik.' I cannot
For a moment he remained there, pondering. Swift, passionate thoughts
surged through his brain, which burned with fever. In Rrisa's
fighting-blood the supreme battle of his whole existence was
aflame--duty of annihilating the violator of his Faith combating duty
of loyalty absolute to one whose salt he had eaten, to one who had
preserved his life.
So, in the dark he stood there, a shadow among shadows. He peered
about with white-rimmed eyes, striving to discover where now the Myzab
and the sacred Black Stone might be. The dim bulk of the blanket under
the berth came to his senses. He knelt, touched the blanket, felt the
hard solidity within.
Torn with anguish of a great conflict, he pondered, smearing the sweat
of agony from his hard-wrinkled forehead. Better was it to fling these
holy things from the cabin window, out into the night? Better the
certainty that the desert sands, far below, would inevitably drift
over them, forever burying them from the sight of his people; or
better the chance that the Master, after all, really intended to
deliver them back into Moslem hands at Bara Jannati Shahr?
"Allah, oh, guide thy servant now!" the orderly prayed with trembling
lips. "Allah, show thou me the way!"
The Master, stirring in his sleep, sighed deeply and let his right
hand fall outside the berth. Rrisa, fearful of imminent discovery,
made up his mind with simple directness. He salaamed in silence, all
but brushing the Master's hand with his lips.
"_Wa'salem!_" (Farewell!) he breathed. Then he got up, turned, laid
his dagger on the table and slid out through the window as soundlessly
as he had come. He crossed the marrow gallery in the gloom, and
mounted the rail beyond which yawned black vacancy.
For a moment he stayed there, peering down first at the impenetrable
abysses below, then up at the unmoved stars above. The ghostly aura
of light in the gallery showed his face wan, deep-graven with lines,
agonized, ennobled by strong decisions of self-sacrifice.
"Thou, Allah," he whispered, "dost know life cannot be for both my
Master and thy servant, after what thy servant hath seen. I offer thee
my life for his! Thou wilt judge aright, for thou knowest the hearts
of men and wilt wrong no man by the weight of a grain of sand. Thou
art easy to be reconciled, and merciful! There is no God but Allah,
and M'hamed is his Prophet!"
With no further word, he leaped.
Just a fraction of a second, a dim-whirling object plummeted into
space. It vanished.
As best he understood, Rrisa had solved his problem and had paid his
The Master wakened early, with the late May sun already Slanting in
from far, dun and orange desert-levels, gilding the metal walls of his
cabin. For a few moments he lay there, half dreamily listening to
the deep bass hum of the propellers, the slight give and play of
the air-liner as she shuddered under the powerful drive of her
His thoughts first dwelt a little on yesterday's battle and on the
wondrous treasure now in his hands. Then they touched the approaching
campaign beyond the Iron Mountains in regions never yet seen by any
white man's eye, and for a while enveloped some of the potentialities
of that campaign.
But "Captain Alden" recurring to his mind, drove away such stern
imaginings. The Master's lips smiled, a little; his black eyes
softened, and for a moment his face assumed something that might
almost have made it akin to those of men who feel the natural passions
of the heart. Never before, in all his stern, hard life, had the
Master's expression been quite as now.
"Who can she be, I wonder?" he mused. "A woman like that, possessed of
that extraordinary beauty; a woman with education, languages, medical
skill; a woman with courage, loyalty, and devotion beyond compare,
and with all the ardor for service and adventure that any man could
have--who can she be? And--damn it, now! Who am I, to be thinking of
such nonsense, after all?"
His eyes fell on the table. Something lay there, agleam with the
sunlight flicking blood-red spots from a polished metal surface. What
could this thing be? Surely, it had not lain there, the night before.
The Master wrinkled heavy brows, focussing his sight on this metal
object. Puzzled, not yet able to make it out clearly, he raised
himself on his elbow and looked with close attention at the mysterious
Suddenly he leaped from the berth, strode to the table and caught
"Allah! What's this?" he exclaimed. "Rrisa--he's been here--and with a
For a second or two he stood there, staring at the _jambiyeh_ in his
grip. His powerful frame tautened; his thick, corded neck swelled with
the intensity of his emotion as his head went forward, staring.
His jaw set hard. Then with a kind of half-comprehension, he turned
quickly toward the window.
Yes, there were traces on the sill, that could not be mistaken. The
Master's keen eyes detected them, under the morning sun. He stepped to
his desk, dropped the dagger into a drawer, and pressed the button for
No one appeared. The Master rang again. Quite in vain. With more
precipitation than was customary with him, he dressed and went to
Its emptiness confirmed his suspicions. Returning along the outer
gallery, a little pale, he reached the railing opposite his own
window. Here a scratch on the metal drew his attention. Closely he
scrutinized this scratch. A hint of whitish metal told the tale--metal
the Master recognized as having been abraded from a ring the Master
himself had given him; a ring of aluminum alloy, fashioned from part
of a Turkish grenade at Gallipoli.
The Master's face contracted painfully. In his mind he could
reconstitute the scene--Rrisa's hands gripping the rail, his climb
over it, his leap. For a moment the Master stood there with blank
eyes, peering out over the burning, tawny desolation of the great
sand-barrens that stretched away, away, to boundless immensity.
"Yes, he is surely gone," he whispered. "_Shal'lah! Razi Allahu
anhu!_" (It is Allah's will; may Allah be satisfied with him!) "What
would I not give to have him back!"
The trilling of his cabin phone startled him to attention. He entered,
took the receiver and heard Leclair's voice from the pilot-house:
"Clouds on the horizon, my Captain. And I think there is a mountain
range coming in sight. Would you care to look?"
The Master, very grim and silent, went into the pilot-house. He had
decided to make no mention of what had happened. The suicide must
pass as an accident. He himself must seem to have no knowledge of it.
Morale forbade the admission either of treachery or self-destruction,
for any member of the Legion.
The sight of vague, pearl-gray clouds on the far south-east horizon,
and of a dim, violet line of peaks notched across the heat-quivering
sky in remotest distances, struck him like a blow in the face. Clouds
must mean moisture; some inner, watered plain wholly foreign to the
general character of the Arabian Peninsula. And the peaks must be the
Iron Mountains that Rrisa had told him about. They seemed to rebuff
him, to be pointing fingers of accusation at him. Had it not been for
"But that is all nonsense!" he tried to assure himself, as he took
his binoculars from the rack and sighted at the forbidding, mysterious
range. "Am I responsible for a Moslem's superstitions, or his fanatic
The Master's own narrow escape from death disturbed him not at all.
He hardly even thought of it. All he strove for, now, was to exculpate
himself for Rrisa's death. But this he could not do.
A sense of blood-guiltiness clung about him like a garment--the first
that he had felt on this expedition. His soul, unemotional, practical,
hard, was at last touched and wounded by the realization that Rrisa,
pushed beyond all limits of endurance, had chosen death rather than
inflict it on his sheik. And the thought that the faithful orderly's
body was now lying on the flaming sands, hundreds of miles away--that
it was already a prey to jackals, kites, and buzzards--sickened his
shuddering heart and filled him with remorse.
"Allah send a storm of sand--_jinnee_ to bury the poor chap, that's
all I can wish now!" he pondered, as he studied the strange yellowish
and orange tints in utmost horizon distances. The air, over the
shimmering peaks, seemed of a different quality from that elsewhere.
To north, to west, the desert rim of the world veiled itself in magic
blue, mysteriously dim. But there, it glowed in golden hues. What,
thought the Master, might be the meaning of all this?
The Master had no time for speculation. The urgent problem of locating
the Bara Jannati Shahr, beyond that inhospitable sierra, banished
thoughts of all else. He inspected his charts, together with the
air-liner's record of course and position. He slightly corrected the
direction of flight. "Captain Alden" was already in the pilot-house,
with Leclair. The Master summoned Bohannan tersely, and briefly
"You understand, of course, that we may now be facing perils beyond
any yet encountered. We have already upset all Islam, and changed the
_kiblah_--the direction of prayer--for more than two hundred million
human beings. The 'fronting-place' is now aboard _Nissr_."
[Footnote 1: So long as the Black Stone was at the Ka'aba, this
building was the only spot in the world where the _kiblah_ was
circular, that is, where Moslems could pray all around it. The
Legion's theft of the stone had completely dislocated all the most
important beliefs and customs of Islam.]
"The most intense animosity of religious fanaticism will pursue us.
If the news of our exploit has, in any unaccountable way such as
the Arabs know how to employ, reached Jannati Shahr, we are in for a
battle royal. If not, we still have a chance to use diplomacy. A few
hours now will determine the issue.
"We are approaching what will probably be the final goal of this
expedition; a city beyond unknown mountains; a city that no white man
has ever yet seen and that few have even heard of. What the conditions
will be there no one can tell; but--"
"Not even Rrisa?" put in the major. "Faith, now's the time, if ever,
to consult that lad!"
"Correct, for once," assented the Master. With purpose to deceive,
he phoned for Rrisa. No answer coming, he got Simonds on the wire and
ordered him to find the orderly. The investigation thus started would,
he knew, soon bring out the fact of the orderly's disappearance. This
line of action fairly started, he went on formulating his plans:
"Major, look well to your guns. For once you may have a chance to use
them. I have put my various pieces of apparatus in good condition,
and have improvised some new features. In addition, we have the second
"But I trust we shall not be driven to a fight. If diplomacy can win,
there will be no bloodshed. Otherwise, our only limit will be the
total destruction of these unknown people, or our own annihilation.
It's a case, now, of win what we are after, or end everything right
there, beyond those mountains!"
He ascended to the upper port gallery, and concentrated himself on
observation. A certain change in the desert was becoming noticeable,
as the air-liner flung herself at high speed into the south-east. At
times there must be a little rainfall here, or else some hidden source
of water, for a scrub, of dwarf acacia, of camel-grass, and tamarisk
had begun to show.
But as the black, naked mountains drew near, this gave place to flats
white with salt, to jagged upcroppings of dull, yellowish rock--how
little they then suspected its true nature!--and to detached cliffs
sharp as a wolf's teeth, with strata of greenish schist.
It was at 9:30 a.m. of May 28, that _Nissr_ tilted her planes and
soared abruptly over the first crags of the Iron Mountains. At a
height of forty-five hundred feet she sped above them, the heat of
their sun-baked blackness radiating up against her wings and body. No
more terrible desolation could be imagined than this rock fortress,
split with chasms and unsounded gorges, where here and there more of
the yellow outcrops showed. No life appeared, not even vultures. For
more than an hour, _Nissr's_ shadow leaped across this utter solitude
The Master summoned Leclair, Bohannan, and "Captain Alden," and for
some time gave them careful instructions which none but they were
allowed to hear.
All this time, the strange, yellowish sheen against the heavens was
increasing. What might lie beyond the mountains--who could tell? But
that its nature was wholly different from anything any white man ever
had beheld seemed obvious.
Quite suddenly, at 10:05, the Master's binoculars detected a break far
to southward, in the craggy wall of rock. He ordered _Nissr's_ beak
turned directly thither. Swiftly the Eagle of the Sky held her course,
speeding like an arrow. And now a vast, open plain was seen to be
spreading away, away to indeterminable distances; a plain the further
limits of which veiled themselves in bister and dull ocher vapors.
The aureate shimmer on the sky kept steadily increasing, from a point
somewhat to the left of _Nissr's_ line of flight. What this might be,
none could guess. None save the Master. More agitated than any had
ever seen him, he stood there at the rail, lips tight, hands clutching
the binoculars at his eyes.
"By Allah!" the major heard him mutter. "It can't be true--the thing
I've heard. Only a fable, surely! And yet--"
Now the vast plain was coming clearly to view. It appeared fully
under cultivation with patches of greenery that denoted gardens,
palm-groves, fruit-orchards; all signs of a well-watered region here
at the center of the world's most appalling desert.
This in itself was a thing of astonishment. But it faded to
insignificance as all at once a far, dazzling sheen burst on the
watchers. Up against the sky a wondrous, yellow blaze seemed to be
burning. Enormously far away as it still was, it filled the heart
of every observer with a strange, quick thrill of wonder, of hope.
Something of wild exultation seemed to leap through the Legionaries'
veins, at sight of that strange fire.
Leclair glanced at the Master. The dark, taciturn man, for all his
self-control, had set teeth into his lip till the blood was all but
On, on swooped _Nissr._ Now the plain was widening. Now, off at the
left, behind the shimmer of the wondrous sight that seemed a fantastic
city of dreams, long black cliffs had become visible--surely some spur
of the Iron Mountains, making to southward at the eastern edge of the
plain. This line of crags faded, in remote distance, into the brown
vapors that ringed the mystic horizon.
"The city?" asked Bohannan. "That--can't be the city, can it, now?
Faith, if it _is_, we're too late. Damn me, sir, but the whole
infernal place is on fire! Just our rotten luck, eh?"
The Master made no reply. As if he would devour the place with his
eyes, he was leaning over the rail, boring through those powerful
glasses at the dazzle and bright sheen of the wonder-city now every
moment becoming more clearly visible.
That it was in truth a city could no longer be doubted. Long walls
came to view, pierced by gates with fantastic arches. Domes rose to
heaven. Delicate minarets, carved into a fretwork of amazing fineness,
pointed their fingers at the yellow shimmering sky. The contrast of
that brilliance, with the soft green gardens and feathery palm-groves
before, the grim black cliffs behind, filled the Legionaries with a
kind of silent awe.
But most wonderful of all was the metallic shimmer of those walls,
domes, minarets, under the high sun of this lost Arabian paradise. So
amazing was the prospect that, as _Nissr_ hurled herself in over
the last ranges of the mountains and shot out across the open plain
itself, only one man found words.
This man was Leclair. Close beside the Master, he said in Arabic:
"I too have heard, my Captain. I too know the story of the Bara
Jannati Shahr--but I have always thought it fable. Now, now--."
"Faith!" interrupted the major, with sudden excitement. He smote the
rail a blow with an agitated fist. "If that doesn't look like gold,
"Gold?" burst out the Master, unable longer to control himself. "Of
course it's gold! And we--are the first white men in all the world to
look on it--the Golden City of Jannati Shahr!"
Stupefaction overcame the Flying Legion. The sight of this perfectly
incredible city, which even yet--despite its obvious character--they
could not believe as reality, for a little while deprived all the
observers of coherent thought.
Like men in a daze, they stood watching the far-distant mass of walls,
buildings, towers, battlements all agleam with the unmistakable sheen
of pure metal. The human mind, confronted by such a phenomenon, fails
to react, and for a while lies inert, stunned, prostrate.
"Gold?" stammered the major, and fell to gnawing his mustache, as
he stared at the incredible sight. "By God--gold? Sure, it can't be
"It not only can be, but is!" the Master answered. "The old legend is
coming true, that's all. Have you no eyes in your head, Major? If that
shine isn't the shine of gold, what is it?"
"Yes, but the thing's impossible, sir!" cried Bohannan. "Why, man
alive! If that's gold, the whole of Arabia would be here after it!
There'd be caravans, miners, swarms of--"
"It's obvious you know nothing of Moslem severity or superstition,"
the Master interrupted. "There is no Mohammedan beggar, even starving,
who would touch a grain of that metal. Not even if it were given him.
There's not one would carry an ounce away from the Iron Mountains.
This whole region is under the ban of a most terrific _tabu_, that
loads unthinkable curses on any human being who removes a single atom
of any metal from it!"
"Ah, that's it, eh?"
"Yes, that's very much it! And what is more, Major, no word of this
ever gets out to the white races--or hardly any. Nothing more than
vague rumors that barely amount to fairy stories. Even though I forced
Rrisa to tell me the location of this city, he wouldn't mention its
being gold, and I knew too much to ask him or try to make him. Why,
he'd have been torn to bits before he'd have betrayed _that_ Inner
Secret. So now you understand!"
"I see, I see," the major answered, mechanically. It was plain,
however, that his mind had received a shock from which it had not yet
fully recovered. He remained staring and blinking, first chewing at
his mustache and then tugging it with blunt, trembling fingers. Now
and then he shook his head, like a man just waking from a dream and
trying to make himself realize that he is indeed awake.
The others, some to a greater degree, some to a less, shared the
major's perturbation. A daze, a numb stupefaction had fallen on them.
The Master, however, soon recalled them to activity. Not much time now
remained before _Nissr_ must make her landing on the plain near the
Golden City. None was to be wasted.
Vigorous orders set the Legionaries to work. The machine-guns were
loaded and fully manned; several pieces of apparatus that the Master
had been perfecting in his cabin were brought into the lower gallery;
everyone was commanded to smarten his personal appearance. The
psychology of the Oriental was such, well the Master knew, that the
impression the Legion should make upon the people of this wonder-city
could not fail to be of the very highest importance.
The plain over which _Nissr_ was now sweeping, with the black
mountains left far behind, seemed a fairyland of beauty compared with
the desolation of the Central Arabian Desert.
"This is surely a fitting spot for the exact geometrical center of
Islam," the Master said to Leclair, as they stood looking down. "My
measurements show this secret valley to be that center. Mecca, of
course, has only been a blind, to keep the world from knowing anything
about this, the true heart of the Faith. The Meccans have been
usurping the Black Stone, all these centuries, and these Jannati Shahr
people have submitted because any conflict would have betrayed their
existence to the world. That is my theory. Good, eh?"
"Excellent!" the lieutenant replied. "There must be millions of
Mohammedans, themselves, who have hardly learned of this valley.
Certainly, very few from the outside world ever have been able to
cross the Empty Abodes, and reach it.
"These people here evidently represent a far higher culture than
any other Moslems ever known. Who ever saw a finer city--even not
considering its material--or more wonderful cultivation of land?"
His eyes wandered out over the plain, which lost itself to sight in
the remote south. Roads in various directions, with here and there
a few white dromedaries bearing bright-colored _shugdufs_ (litters),
showed there was travel to some other inhabited spots inside the
forbidding mountain girdle.
Here, there, herds of antelope and flocks of sheep were grazing on
broad meadows, through which trickled sparkling threads of water,
half glimpsed among feathery-tufted date-palms. Plantations of fig and
pomegranate, lime, apricot, and orange trees, with other fruits not
recognized, slid beneath the giant liner as she slowed her pace. And
broad fields of wheat, barley, tobacco, and sugar-cane showed that the
people of the city had no fear of any lack.
Birds were here--pelicans, cranes, and water-fowl along the brooks
and gleaming pools; swift little yellow birds with crownlike crests;
doves, falcons, and hawks of unknown species. Here was life abundant,
after the death of the Empty Abodes. Here was rich color; here arose
a softly perfumed air, balmy, incensed as with strange aromatics. Here
was peace--eternal _kayf_--blessed rest--here indeed lay a scene that
gave full explanation of the ancient name "Arabia Felix."
And at the left, dominating all this beauty, shone and glimmered in
the ardent sun the wondrous Golden City of Jannati Shahr.
_Nissr_ had already begun to slant to lower levels. Now at no more
than twenty-five hundred feet, with greatly reduced speed, she was
drifting down the valley toward the city, the details of which
were every moment becoming more apparent. Its size, the wondering
Legionaries saw, must be very considerable; it might have contained
three or four hundred thousand inhabitants. Its frontage along the
black mountains could not have been less than two and a half miles;
and, as it seemed to lose itself up a defile in those crags, no way at
present existed of judging its depth.
The general appearance was that of stern simplicity. A long wall
of gleaming yellow bounded it, from north to south; this wall being
pierced by seven gates, each flanked by minarets. Behind the wall,
terraces arose, with _mesjid_ (temple) domes, innumerable houses, and
some larger buildings of unknown purpose.
The powerful glasses on _Nissr_ showed fretwork carving everywhere;
but the main outlines of the city, none the less, gave an impression
of almost primitive severity. No touch of modernity affected it.
Everything appeared immensely archaic.
"The Jerusalem of Solomon's day," thought the Master, "must have
looked like that--barring only that this is solid gold."
Out from the city, a little less than two-thirds of the way down,
issued a rather considerable stream. It seemed to come from under the
wall fronting the plain. Its course, straight rather than sinuous,
lay toward the south-west, and was marked by long lines of giant
date-palms and pale-stemmed eucalyptus trees, till it lost itself in
"Faith, but that looks like lotus-eating, all right," said the major,
notching up his cartridge-belt another hole. "That looks like 'A book
of verses underneath the bough,' with Fatima or Lalla Rookh, or the
like, eh?" He drew at a cigarette, and smiled with sweet visionings of
Celtic exuberance. "A golden city! Lord!"
"You'll do no dallying 'with Amaryllis in the shade,' in _this_
valley!" the Master flung at him. "Nor any lotus-eating, either. To
your stations, men! Wake up! Forget all about this gold, now--remember
my orders! That's all you've got to do. The gold will take care of
itself, later. For now, there's stern work ahead!"
The Legionaries assumed their posts, ready for whatever attack might
come. They still moved like men in a trance. Whether they could quite
even realize the true character of Jannati Shahr seemed doubtful. The
Inca's room of gold stunned Pizarro and his men. How much more, then,
must a whole city of gold numb any concrete thought?
Down, still down sank _Nissr_, now beginning to circle in broad,
descending spirals, seeking where she might land. The roar of the
propellers lessened; and at the same time, the increasing hum of the
helicopters made itself heard, counterbalancing the loss of lifting
power of the planes, yet gradually letting the air-liner sink. Came,
too, a sighing hiss of the air-intakes as the vacuum-floats filled.
High noon was now at hand. The sun burned, a copper ball, in the very
forehead of a turquoise sky. A light breeze, lazying over the plain,
stirred the fronded tufts of the date-palms' thick plantations.
Beyond a massy grove, stretching for nearly two miles out from
the northernmost gate of the city, a grassy level quite like a
parade-ground invited the liner to rest.
As she sank still lower, the Master's glass again picked up the city
wall and ran along it. Here, there, white dots were visible; human
figures, surely--the figures of men in snowy burnouses, on the
ramparts of heavy metal.
The Master smiled, and nodded.
"My men think they are surprised," he mused. "What will these Jannati
Shahr men think, when I have opened my little box of tricks and shown
them what's inside?"
He pressed a button on the rail. A bell trilled in the pilot-house;
another in the engine-room. The Norcross-Brails died to inactivity.
With a last long swoop, an abandonment of all the furious energies
that for so long had been hurling her over burning sand and black
crag, _Nissr_ slanted to the grassy sward. A sudden, furious hissing
burst out beneath her, as the compressed-air valves were thrown and
the air-cushions formed beneath her thousands of spiracles. Then, with
hardly a shudder, easily as a tired gull slips down into the quiet of
a still lagoon, the vast air-liner took earth.
She slid two hundred yards on her air-cushions, over the close-cropped
turf, slowed, came to rest there fronting the northern gate of Bara
Jannati Shahr. And the shimmer of those golden walls, one mile to east
of her, painted her all a strangely luminous yellow.
Journey's end, at last!
THE GREETING OF WARRIORS
Without delay, everything was put in complete readiness for whatever
eventualities might develop. If these strange people meant peace and
wanted it, the Legion would give them peace. If war, then by no means
was the Legion to be unprepared.
The gangplank was put down from the starboard port in the lower
gallery. The helicopters were cut off. Nothing was left running but
one engine, at half-speed, to furnish current for the apparatus the
Master had decided to use in dealing with the Jannati Shahr folk in
case of need--some of this having been evolved on the run from Mecca.
Four hampers were carried down the gangplank and set on the grass,
about fifty feet ahead of _Nissr's_ huge beak, that towered in air
over the men like an eagle over sparrows. These hampers contained the
chosen apparatus. Wires were attached, and run back to the ship, and
proper connections made at once by Leclair and Menendez, under the
The machine-guns were dismounted and taken "ashore," to borrow a
nautical phrase. These were set up in strategic positions before the
liner, and full supplies of ammunition both blank and ball were served
About a quarter of a mile to north of _Nissr's_ position, one of the
small watercourses or irrigating ditches that cut the plain glimmered
through a grove of Sayhani dates. To this ditch the Master sent two
men in search of the largest stone they could find there. When they
returned with a rock some foot in diameter, he ordered it placed
half-way between _Nissr_ and the palm-grove.
[Footnote 1: Sayhani (the Crier), so called because one of these palms
is fabled to have cried aloud in salutation to Mohammed, when the
Prophet happened to walk beneath it.]
These preparations made, the Master lined up his Legionaries for
inspection and final instructions. Standing there in military array,
fully armed, they made rather a formidable body of fighters despite
their paucity of numbers. Courage, eagerness, and joy--still
unalloyed by all the fatigues and perils of the long trek after
adventure--showed on every face. Even through the eyeholes of "Captain
Alden's" mask, daring exultation glimmered.
The dead, left behind, could not now depress the Legionaries' spirits.
To be on solid earth again, in this wonderland with the Golden City