Part 4 out of 5
"Late last night, Mr. Brown, of Smither's Farm, to the
east of Hastings, perceived what he imagined to be an enormous
dog worrying one of his sheep. He shot the creature, which
proves to be a grey Siberian wolf of the variety known as
_Lupus Giganticus_. It is supposed to have escaped from some
"That's the story, gentlemen, and Wat Danbury stuck to his good
resolutions, for the fright which he had cured him of all wish to run
such a risk again; and he never touches anything stronger than
lime-juice--at least, he hadn't before he left this part of the country,
five years ago next Lady Day."
THE THREE CORRESPONDENTS
There was only the one little feathery clump of dom palms in all that
great wilderness of black rocks and orange sand. It stood high on the
bank, and below it the brown Nile swirled swiftly towards the Ambigole
Cataract, fitting a little frill of foam round each of the boulders
which studded its surface. Above, out of a naked blue sky, the sun was
beating down upon the sand, and up again from the sand under the brims
of the pith-hats of the horsemen with the scorching glare of a
blast-furnace. It had risen so high that the shadows of the horses were
no larger than themselves.
"Whew!" cried Mortimer, mopping his forehead, "you'd pay five shillings
for this at the hummums."
"Precisely," said Scott. "But you are not asked to ride twenty miles in
a Turkish bath with a field-glass and a revolver, and a water-bottle and
a whole Christmas-treeful of things dangling from you. The hot-house at
Kew is excellent as a conservatory, but not adapted for exhibitions upon
the horizontal bar. I vote for a camp in the palm-grove and a halt
Mortimer rose on his stirrups and looked hard to the southward.
Everywhere were the same black burned rocks and deep orange sand.
At one spot only an intermittent line appeared to have been cut through
the rugged spurs which ran down to the river. It was the bed of the old
railway, long destroyed by the Arabs, but now in process of
reconstruction by the advancing Egyptians. There was no other sign of
man's handiwork in all that desolate scene.
"It's palm trees or nothing," said Scott.
"Well, I suppose we must; and yet I grudge every hour until we catch the
force up. What _would_ our editors say if we were late for the action?"
"My dear chap, an old bird like you doesn't need to be told that no sane
modern general would ever attack until the Press is up."
"You don't mean that?" said young Anerley. "I thought we were looked
upon as an unmitigated nuisance."
"'Newspaper correspondents and travelling gentlemen, and all that tribe
of useless drones'--being an extract from Lord Wolseley's 'Soldier's
Pocket-Book,'" cried Scott. "We know all about _that_, Anerley;" and he
winked behind his blue spectacles. "If there was going to be a battle
we should very soon have an escort of cavalry to hurry us up. I've been
in fifteen, and I never saw one where they had not arranged for a
"That's very well; but the enemy may be less considerate," said
"They are not strong enough to force a battle."
"A skirmish, then?"
"Much more likely to be a raid upon the rear. In that case we are just
where we should be."
"So we are! What a score over Reuter's man up with the advance!
Well, we'll outspan and have our tiffin under the palms."
There were three of them, and they stood for three great London dailies.
Reuter's was thirty miles ahead; two evening pennies upon camels were
twenty miles behind. And among them they represented the eyes and ears
of the public--the great silent millions and millions who had paid for
everything, and who waited so patiently to know the result of their
They were remarkable men these body-servants of the Press; two of them
already veterans in camps, the other setting out upon his first
campaign, and full of deference for his famous comrades.
This first one, who had just dismounted from his bay polo-pony, was
Mortimer, of the _Intelligence_--tall, straight, and hawk-faced, with
khaki tunic and riding-breeches, drab putties, a scarlet cummerbund, and
a skin tanned to the red of a Scotch fir by sun and wind, and mottled by
the mosquito and the sand-fly. The other--small, quick, mercurial, with
blue-black, curling beard and hair, a fly-switch for ever flicking in
his left hand--was Scott, of the _Courier_, who had come through more
dangers and brought off more brilliant _coups_ than any man in the
profession, save the eminent Chandler, now no longer in a condition to
take the field. They were a singular contrast, Mortimer and Scott, and
it was in their differences that the secret of their close friendship
lay. Each dovetailed into the other. The strength of each was in the
other's weakness. Together they formed a perfect unit. Mortimer was
Saxon--slow, conscientious, and deliberate; Scott was Celtic--quick,
happy-go-lucky, and brilliant. Mortimer was the more solid, Scott the
more attractive. Mortimer was the deeper thinker, Scott the brighter
talker. By a curious coincidence, though each had seen much of warfare,
their campaigns had never coincided. Together they covered all recent
military history. Scott had done Plevna, the Shipka, the Zulus, Egypt,
Suakim; Mortimer had seen the Boer War, the Chilian, the Bulgaria and
Servian, the Gordon relief, the Indian frontier, Brazilian rebellion,
and Madagascar. This intimate personal knowledge gave a peculiar
flavour to their talk. There was none of the second-hand surmise and
conjecture which form so much of our conversation; it was all concrete
and final. The speaker had been there, had seen it, and there was an
end of it.
In spite of their friendship there was the keenest professional rivalry
between the two men. Either would have sacrificed himself to help his
companion, but either would also have sacrificed his companion to help
his paper. Never did a jockey yearn for a winning mount as keenly as
each of them longed to have a full column in a morning edition whilst
every other daily was blank. They were perfectly frank about the
matter. Each professed himself ready to steal a march on his neighbour,
and each recognised that the other's duty to his employer was far higher
than any personal consideration.
The third man was Anerley, of the _Gazette_--young, inexperienced, and
rather simple-looking. He had a droop of the lip, which some of his
more intimate friends regarded as a libel upon his character, and his
eyes were so slow and so sleepy that they suggested an affectation.
A leaning towards soldiering had sent him twice to autumn manoeuvres,
and a touch of colour in his descriptions had induced the proprietors of
the _Gazette_ to give him a trial as a war-special. There was a
pleasing diffidence about his bearing which recommended him to his
experienced companions, and if they had a smile sometimes at his
guileless ways, it was soothing to them to have a comrade from whom
nothing was to be feared. From the day that they left the
telegraph-wire behind them at Sarras, the man who was mounted upon a
15-guinea 13-4 Syrian was delivered over into the hands of the owners of
the two fastest polo-ponies that ever shot down the Ghezireh ground.
The three had dismounted and led their beasts under the welcome shade.
In the brassy, yellow glare every branch above threw so black and solid
a shadow that the men involuntarily raised their feet to step over
"The palm makes an excellent hat-rack," said Scott, slinging his
revolver and his water-bottle over the little upward-pointing pegs which
bristle from the trunk. "As a shade tree, however, it isn't an
unqualified success. Curious that in the universal adaptation of means
to ends something a little less flimsy could not have been devised for
"Like the banyan in India."
"Or the fine hardwood trees in Ashantee, where a whole regiment could
picnic under the shade."
"The teak tree isn't bad in Burmah, either. By Jove, the baccy has all
come loose in the saddle-bag! That long-cut mixture smokes rather hot
for this climate. How about the baggles, Anerley?"
"They'll be here in five minutes."
Down the winding path which curved among the rocks the little train of
baggage-camels was daintily picking its way. They came mincing and
undulating along, turning their heads slowly from side to side with the
air of a self-conscious woman. In front rode the three Berberee
body-servants upon donkeys, and behind walked the Arab camel-boys.
They had been travelling for nine long hours, ever since the first
rising of the moon, at the weary camel-drag of two and a half miles an
hour, but now they brightened, both beasts and men, at the sight of the
grove and the riderless horses. In a few minutes the loads were
unstrapped, the animals tethered, a fire lighted, fresh water carried up
from the river, and each camel-boy provided with his own little heap of
tibbin laid in the centre of the table-cloth, without which no well-bred
Arabian will condescend to feed. The dazzling light without, the
subdued half-tones within, the green palm-fronds outlined against the
deep blue sky, the flitting, silent-footed Arab servants, the crackling
of sticks, the reek of a lighting fire, the placid supercilious heads of
the camels, they all come back in their dreams to those who have known
Scott was breaking eggs into a pan and rolling out a love-song in his
rich, deep voice. Anerley, with his head and arms buried in a deal
packing-case, was working his way through strata of tinned soups, bully
beef, potted chicken, and sardines to reach the jams which lay beneath.
The conscientious Mortimer, with his notebook upon his knee, was jotting
down what the railway engineer had told him at the line-end the day
before. Suddenly he raised his eyes and saw the man himself on his
chestnut pony, dipping and rising over the broken ground.
"Hullo! Here's Merryweather!"
"A pretty lather his pony is in! He's had her at that hand-gallop for
hours, by the look of her. Hullo, Merryweather, hullo!"
The engineer, a small, compact man with a pointed red beard, had made as
though he would ride past their camp without word or halt. Now he
swerved, and easing his pony down to a canter, he headed her to-wards
"For God's sake, a drink!" he croaked. "My tongue is stuck to the roof
of my mouth."
Mortimer ran with the water-bottle, Scott with the whisky-flask, and
Anerley with the tin pannikin. The engineer drank until his breath
"Well, I must be off," said he, striking the drops from his red
"A hitch in the railway construction. I must see the general.
It's the devil not having a telegraph."
"Anything we can report?" Out came three notebooks.
"I'll tell you after I've seen the general."
"The usual shaves. Hud-up, Jinny! Good-bye!"
With a soft thudding upon the sand, and a clatter among the stones the
weary pony was off upon her journey once more.
"Nothing serious, I suppose?" said Mortimer, staring after him.
"Deuced serious," cried Scott. "The ham and eggs are burned! No--it's
all right--saved, and done to a turn! Pull the box up, Anerley.
Come on, Mortimer, stow that notebook! The fork is mightier than the
pen just at present. What's the matter with you, Anerley?"
"I was wondering whether what we have just seen was worth a telegram."
"Well, it's for the proprietors to say if it's worth it. Sordid money
considerations are not for us. We must wire about something just to
justify our khaki coats and our putties."
"But what is there to say?"
Mortimer's long, austere face broke into a smile over the youngster's
innocence. "It's not quite usual in our profession to give each other
tips," said he. "However, as my telegram is written, I've no objection
to your reading it. You may be sure that I would not show it to you if
it were of the slightest importance."
Anerley took up the slip of paper and read:--
Merryweather obstacles stop journey confer general stop nature
difficulties later stop rumours dervishes.
"This is very condensed," said Anerley, with wrinkled brows.
"Condensed!" cried Scott. "Why, it's sinfully garrulous. If my old man
got a wire like that his language would crack the lamp-shades. I'd cut
out half this; for example, I'd have out 'journey,' and 'nature,' and
'rumours.' But my old man would make a ten-line paragraph of it for all
"Well, I'll do it myself just to show you. Lend me that stylo." He
scribbled for a minute in his notebook. "It works out somewhat on these
Mr. Charles H. Merryweather, the eminent railway engineer,
who is at present engaged in superintending the construction
of the line from Sarras to the front, has met with considerable
obstacles to the rapid completion of his important task--
"Of course the old man knows who Merryweather is, and what he is about,
so the word 'obstacles' would suggest all that to him."
He has to-day been compelled to make a journey of forty
miles to the front, in order to confer with the general upon
the steps which are necessary in order to facilitate the work.
Further particulars of the exact nature of the difficulties
met with will be made public at a later date. All is quiet
upon the line of communications, though the usual persistent
rumours of the presence of dervishes in the Eastern desert
continue to circulate.--_Our own correspondent_.
"How's that?" cried Scott, triumphantly, and his white teeth gleamed
suddenly through his black beard. "That's the sort of flapdoodle for
the dear old public."
"Will it interest them?"
"Oh, everything interests them. They want to know all about it; and
they like to think that there is a man who is getting a hundred a month
simply in order to tell it to them."
"It's very kind of you to teach me all this."
"Well, it is a little unconventional, for, after all, we are here to
score over each other if we can. There are no more eggs, and you must
take it out in jam. Of course, as Mortimer says, such a telegram as
this is of no importance one way or another, except to prove to the
office that we _are_ in the Soudan, and not at Monte Carlo. But when it
comes to serious work it must be every man for himself."
"Is that quite necessary?"
"Why, of course it is."
"I should have thought if three men were to combine and to share their
news, they would do better than if they were each to act for himself,
and they would have a much pleasanter time of it."
The two older men sat with their bread-and-jam in their hands, and an
expression of genuine disgust upon their faces.
"We are not here to have a pleasant time," said Mortimer, with a flash
through his glasses. "We are here to do our best for our papers.
How can they score over each other if we do not do the same? If we all
combine we might as well amalgamate with Reuter at once."
"Why, it would take away the whole glory of the profession!" cried
Scott. "At present the smartest man gets his stuff first on the wires.
What inducement is there to be smart if we all share and share alike?"
"And at present the man with the best equipment has the best chance,"
remarked Mortimer, glancing across at the shot-silk polo ponies and the
cheap little Syrian grey. "That is the fair reward of foresight and
enterprise. Every man for himself, and let the best man win."
"That's the way to find who the best man is. Look at Chandler.
He would never have got his chance if he had not played always off his
own bat. You've heard how he pretended to break his leg, sent his
fellow-correspondent off for the doctor, and so got a fair start for the
"Do you mean to say that was legitimate?"
"Everything is legitimate. It's your wits against my wits."
"I should call it dishonourable."
"You may call it what you like. Chandler's paper got the battle and the
other's didn't. It made Chandler's name."
"Or take Westlake," said Mortimer, cramming the tobacco into his pipe.
"Hi, Abdul, you may have the dishes! Westlake brought his stuff down by
pretending to be the Government courier, and using the relays of
Government horses. Westlake's paper sold half a million."
"Is that legitimate also?" asked Anerley, thoughtfully.
"Well, it looks a little like horse-stealing and lying."
"Well, _I_ think I should do a little horse-stealing and lying if I
could have a column to myself in a London daily. What do you say,
"Anything short of manslaughter."
"And I'm not sure that I'd trust you there."
"Well, I don't think I should be guilty of newspaper-man-slaughter.
That I regard as a distinct breach of professional etiquette. But if
any outsider comes between a highly charged correspondent and an
electric wire, he does it at his peril. My dear Anerley, I tell you
frankly that if you are going to handicap yourself with scruple you may
just as well be in Fleet Street as in the Soudan. Our life is
irregular. Our work has never been systematised. No doubt it will be
some day, but the time is not yet. Do what you can and how you can, and
be first on the wires; that's my advice to you; and also, that when next
you come upon a campaign you bring with you the best horse that money
can buy. Mortimer may beat me or I may beat Mortimer, but at least we
know that between us we have the fastest ponies in the country. We have
neglected no chance."
"I am not so certain of that," said Mortimer, slowly. "You are aware,
of course, that though a horse beats a camel on twenty miles, a camel
beats a horse on thirty."
"What, one of those camels?" cried Anerley in astonishment. The two
seniors burst out laughing.
"No, no, the real high-bred trotter--the kind of beast the dervishes
ride when they make their lightning raids."
"Faster than a galloping horse?" "Well, it tires a horse down. It goes
the same gait all the way, and it wants neither halt nor drink, and it
takes rough ground much better than a horse. They used to have long
distance races at Haifa, and the camel always won at thirty."
"Still, we need not reproach ourselves, Scott, for we are not very
likely to have to carry a thirty-mile message, they will have the field
telegraph next week."
"Quite so. But at the present moment--"
"I know, my dear chap; but there is no motion of urgency before the
house. Load baggles at five o'clock; so you have Just three hours
clear. Any sign of the evening pennies?"
Mortimer swept the northern horizon with his binoculars. "Not in sight
"They are quite capable of travelling during the heat of the day.
Just the sort of thing evening pennies _would_ do. Take care of your
match, Anerley. These palm groves go up like a powder magazine if you
set them alight. Bye-bye." The two men crawled under their
mosquito-nets and sank instantly into the easy sleep of those whose
lives are spent in the open.
Young Anerley stood with his back against a palm tree and his briar
between his lips, thinking over the advice which he had received.
After all, they were the heads of the profession, these men, and it was
not for him, the newcomer, to reform their methods. If they served
their papers in this fashion, then he must do the same. They had at
least been frank and generous in teaching him the rules of the game.
If it was good enough for them it was good enough for him.
It was a broiling afternoon, and those thin frills of foam round the
black, glistening necks of the Nile boulders looked delightfully cool
and alluring. But it would not be safe to bathe for some hours to come.
The air shimmered and vibrated over the baking stretch of sand and rock.
There was not a breath of wind, and the droning and piping of the
insects inclined one for sleep. Somewhere above a hoopoe was calling.
Anerley knocked out his ashes, and was turning towards his couch, when
his eye caught something moving in the desert to the south. It was a
horseman riding towards them as swiftly as the broken ground would
permit. A messenger from the army, thought Anerley; and then, as he
watched, the sun suddenly struck the man on the side of the head, and
his chin flamed into gold. There could not be two horsemen with beards
of such a colour. It was Merryweather, the engineer, and he was
returning. What on earth was he returning for? He had been so keen to
see the general, and yet he was coming back with his mission
unaccomplished. Was it that his pony was hopelessly foundered?
It seemed to be moving well. Anerley picked up Mortimer's binoculars,
and a foam-bespattered horse and a weary koorbash-cracking man came
cantering up the centre of the field. But there was nothing in his
appearance to explain the mystery of his return. Then as he watched
them they dipped into a hollow and disappeared. He could see that it
was one of those narrow khors which led to the river, and he waited,
glass in hand, for their immediate reappearance. But minute passed
after minute and there was no sign of them. That narrow gully appeared
to have swallowed them up. And then with a curious gulp and start he
saw a little grey cloud wreathe itself slowly from among the rocks and
drift in a long, hazy shred over the desert. In an instant he had torn
Scott and Mortimer from their slumbers.
"Get up, you chaps!" he cried. "I believe Merryweather has been shot by
"And Reuter not here!" cried the two veterans, exultantly clutching at
their notebooks. "Merryweather shot! Where? When? How?"
In a few words Anerley explained what he had seen.
"You heard nothing?"
"Well, a shot loses itself very easily among rocks. By George, look at
Two large brown birds were soaring in the deep blue heaven. As Scott
spoke they circled down and dropped into the little khor.
"That's good enough," said Mortimer, with his nose between the leaves of
his book. "'Merryweather headed dervishes stop return stop shot
mutilated stop raid communications.' How's that?"
"You think he was headed off?"
"Why else should he return?"
"In that case, if they were out in front of him and others cut him off,
there must be several small raiding parties."
"I should judge so."
"How about the 'mutilated'?"
"I've fought against Arabs before."
"Where are you off to?"
"I think I'll race you in," said Scott.
Anerley stared in astonishment at the absolutely impersonal way in which
these men regarded the situation. In their zeal for news it had
apparently never struck them that they, their camp, and their servants
were all in the lion's mouth. But even as they talked there came the
harsh, importunate rat-tat-tat of an irregular volley from among the
rocks, and the high, keening whistle of bullets over their heads.
A palm spray fluttered down amongst them. At the same instant the six
frightened servants came running wildly in for protection.
It was the cool-headed Mortimer who organised the defence, for Scott's
Celtic soul was so aflame at all this "copy" in hand and more to come
that he was too exuberantly boisterous for a commander. The other, with
his spectacles and his stern face, soon had the servants in hand.
"_Tali henna! Egri!_ What the deuce are you frightened about? Put the
camels between the palm trunks. That's right. Now get the knee-tethers
on them. _Quies_! Did you never hear bullets before? Now put the
donkeys here. Not much--you don't get my polo-pony to make a zareba
with. Picket the ponies between the grove and the river out of danger's
way. These fellows seem to fire even higher than they did in '85."
"That's got home, anyhow," said Scott, as they heard a soft, splashing
thud like a stone in a mud-bank.
"Who's hit, then?"
"The brown camel that's chewing the cud." As he spoke the creature, its
jaw still working, laid its long neck along the ground and closed its
large dark eyes.
"That shot cost me 15 pounds," said Mortimer, ruefully. "How many of
them do you make?"
"Four, I think."
"Only four Bezingers, at any rate; there may be some spearmen."
"I think not; it is a little raiding-party of rifle-men. By the way,
Anerley, you've never been under fire before, have you?"
"Never," said the young pressman, who was conscious of a curious feeling
of nervous elation.
"Love and poverty and war, they are all experiences necessary to make a
complete life. Pass over those cartridges. This is a very mild baptism
that you are undergoing, for behind these camels you are as safe as if
you were sitting in the back room of the Authors' Club."
"As safe, but hardly as comfortable," said Scott. "A long glass of hock
and seltzer would be exceedingly acceptable. But oh, Mortimer, what a
chance! Think of the general's feelings when he hears that the first
action of the war has been fought by the Press column. Think of Reuter,
who has been stewing at the front for a week! Think of the evening
pennies just too late for the fun. By George, that slug brushed a
mosquito off me!"
"And one of the donkeys is hit."
"This is sinful. It will end in our having to carry our own kits to
"Never mind, my boy, it all goes to make copy. I can see the
headlines--'Raid on Communications'; 'Murder of British Engineer':
'Press Column Attacked.' Won't it be ripping?"
"I wonder what the next line will be," said Anerley.
"'Our Special Wounded'!" cried Scott, rolling over on to his back.
"No harm done," he added, gathering himself up again; "only a chip off
my knee. This is getting sultry. I confess that the idea of that back
room at the Authors' Club begins to grow upon me."
"I have some diachylon."
"Afterwards will do. We're having a 'appy day with Fuzzy on the rush.
I wish he _would_ rush."
"They're coming nearer."
"This is an excellent revolver of mine if it didn't throw so devilish
high. I always aim at a man's toes if I want to stimulate his
digestion. O Lord, there's our kettle gone!" With a boom like a
dinner-gong a Remington bullet had passed through the kettle, and a
cloud of steam hissed up from the fire. A wild shout came from the
"The idiots think that they have blown us up. They'll rush us now, as
sure as fate; then it will be our turn to lead. Got your revolver,
"I have this double-barrelled fowling-piece."
"Sensible man! It's the best weapon in the world at this sort of
rough-and-tumble work. What cartridges?"
"That will do all right. I carry this big bore double-barrelled pistol
loaded with slugs. You might as well try to stop one of these fellows
with a pea-shooter as with a service revolver."
"There are ways and means," said Scott. "The Geneva Convention does not
hold south of the first cataract. It's easy to make a bullet mushroom
by a little manipulation of the tip of it. When I was in the broken
square at Tamai--"
"Wait a bit," cried Mortimer, adjusting his glasses. "I think they are
"The time," said Scott, snapping up his watch, "being exactly seventeen
minutes past four."
Anerley had been lying behind a camel staring with an interest which
bordered upon fascination at the rocks opposite. Here was a little
woolly puff of smoke, and there was another one, but never once had they
caught a glimpse of the attackers. To him there was something weird and
awesome in these unseen, persistent men who, minute by minute, were
drawing closer to them. He had heard them cry out when the kettle was
broken, and once, immediately afterwards, an enormously strong voice had
roared something which had set Scott shrugging his shoulders.
"They've got to take us first," said he, and Anerley thought his nerve
might be better if he did not ask for a translation.
The firing had begun at a distance of some 100 yards, which put it out
of the question for them, with their lighter weapons, to make any reply
to it. Had their antagonists continued to keep that range the defenders
must either have made a hopeless sally or tried to shelter themselves
behind their zareba as best they might on the chance that the sound
might bring up help. But, luckily for them, the African has never taken
kindly to the rifle, and his primitive instinct to close with his enemy
is always too strong for his sense of strategy. They were drawing in,
therefore, and now, for the first time, Anerley caught sight of a face
looking at them from over a rock. It was a huge, virile, strong-jawed
head of a pure negro type, with silver trinkets gleaming in the ears.
The man raised a great arm from behind the rock, and shook his Remington
"Shall I fire?" asked Anerley.
"No, no; it is too far. Your shot would scatter all over the place."
"It's a picturesque ruffian," said Scott. "Couldn't you kodak him,
Mortimer? There's another!" A fine-featured brown Arab, with a black,
pointed beard, was peeping from behind another boulder. He wore the
green turban which proclaimed him hadji, and his face showed the keen,
nervous exultation of the religious fanatic.
"They seem a piebald crowd," said Scott.
"That last is one of the real fighting Baggara," remarked Mortimer.
"He's a dangerous man."
"He looks pretty vicious. There's another negro!"
"Two more! Dingas, by the look of them. Just the same chaps we get our
own black battalions from. As long as they get a fight they don't mind
who it's for; but if the idiots had only sense enough to understand,
they would know that the Arab is their hereditary enemy, and we their
hereditary friends. Look at the silly juggins, gnashing his teeth at
the very men who put down the slave trade!"
"Couldn't you explain?"
"I'll explain with this pistol when he comes a little nearer. Now sit
tight, Anerley. They're off!"
They were indeed. It was the brown man with the green turban who headed
the rush. Close at his heels was the negro with the silver ear-rings--
a giant of a man, and the other two were only a little behind. As they
sprang over the rocks one after the other, it took Anerley back to the
school sports when he held the tape for the hurdle-race. It was
magnificent, the wild spirit and abandon of it, the flutter of the
chequered galabeeahs, the gleam of steel, the wave of black arms, the
frenzied faces, the quick pitter-patter of the rushing feet. The
law-abiding Briton is so imbued with the idea of the sanctity of human
life that it was hard for the young pressman to realise that these men
had every intention of killing him, and that he was at perfect liberty
to do as much for them. He lay staring as if this were a show and he a
"Now, Anerley, now! Take the Arab!" cried somebody.
He put up the gun and saw the brown fierce face at the other end of the
barrel. He tugged at the trigger, but the face grew larger and fiercer
with every stride. Again and again he tugged. A revolver-shot rang out
at his elbow, then another one, and he saw a red spot spring out on the
Arab's brown breast. But he was still coming on.
"Shoot, you ass, shoot!" screamed Scott.
Again he strained unavailingly at the trigger. There were two more
pistol-shots, and the big negro had fallen and risen and fallen again.
"Cock it, you fool!" shouted a furious voice; and at the same instant,
with a rush and flutter, the Arab bounded over the prostrate camel and
came down with his bare feet upon Anerley's chest. In a dream he seemed
to be struggling frantically with someone upon the ground, then he was
conscious of a tremendous explosion in his very face, and so ended for
him the first action of the war.
"Good-bye, old chap. You'll be all right. Give yourself time." It was
Mortimer's voice, and he became dimly conscious of a long, spectacled
face, and of a heavy hand upon his shoulder.
"Sorry to leave you. We'll be lucky now if we are in time for the
morning editions." Scott was tightening his girth as he spoke.
"We'll put in our wire that you have been hurt, so your people will know
why they don't hear from you. If Reuter or the evening pennies come up,
don't give the thing away. Abbas will look after you, and we'll be back
to-morrow afternoon. Bye-bye!"
Anerley heard it all, though he did not feel energy enough to answer.
Then, as he watched two sleek, brown ponies with their yellow-clad
riders dwindling among the rocks, his memory cleared suddenly, and he
realised that the first great journalistic chance of his life was
slipping away from him. It was a small fight, but it was the first of
the war, and the great public at home were all athirst for news.
They would have it in the _Courier_; they would have it in the
_Intelligence_, and not a word in the _Gazette_. The thought brought
him to his feet, though he had to throw his arm round the stem of the
palm tree to steady his swimming head. There was a big black man lying
where he had fallen, his huge chest pocked with bullet-marks, every
wound rosetted with its circle of flies. The Arab was stretched out
within a few yards of him, with two hands clasped over the dreadful
thing which had been his head. Across him was lying Anerley's
fowling-piece, one barrel discharged, the other at half cock.
"Scott effendi shoot him your gun," said a voice. It was Abbas, his
Anerley groaned at the disgrace of it. He had lost his head so
completely that he had forgotten to cock his gun; and yet he knew that
it was not fear but interest which had so absorbed him. He put his hand
up to his head and felt that a wet handkerchief was bound round his
"Where are the two other dervishes?"
"They ran away. One got shot in arm."
"What's happened to me?"
"Effendi got cut on head. Effendi catch bad man by arms, and Scott
effendi shot him. Face burn very bad."
Anerley became conscious suddenly that there was a pringling about his
skin and an overpowering smell of burned hair under his nostrils. He
put his hand to his moustache. It was gone. His eyebrows too?
He could not find them. His head, no doubt, was very near to the
dervish's when they were rolling upon the ground together, and this was
the effect of the explosion of his own gun. Well, he would have time to
grow some more hair before he saw Fleet Street again. But the cut,
perhaps, was a more serious matter. Was it enough to prevent him
getting to the telegraph-office at Sarras? The only way was to try and
see. But there was only that poor little Syrian grey of his. There it
stood in the evening sunshine, with a sunk head and a bent knee, as if
its morning's work was still heavy upon it. What hope was there of
being able to do thirty-five miles of heavy going upon that? It would
be a strain upon the splendid ponies of his companions--and they were
the swiftest and most enduring in the country. The most enduring?
There was one creature more enduring, and that was a real trotting
camel. If he had had one he might have got to the wires first after
all, for Mortimer had said that over thirty miles they have the better
of any horse. Yes, if he had only had a real trotting camel! And then
like a flash came Mortimer's words, "It is the kind of beast that the
dervishes ride when they make their lightning raids."
The beasts the dervishes ride! What had these dead dervishes ridden?
In an instant he was clambering up the rocks, with Abbas protesting at
his heels. Had the two fugitives carried away all the camels, or had
they been content to save themselves? The brass gleam from a litter of
empty Remington cases caught his eye, and showed where the enemy had
been crouching. And then he could have shouted for joy, for there, in
the hollow, some little distance off, rose the high, graceful white neck
and the elegant head of such a camel as he had never set eyes upon
before--a swanlike, beautiful creature, as far from the rough, clumsy
baggles as the cart-horse is from the racer.
The beast was kneeling under the shelter of the rocks with its waterskin
and bag of doora slung over its shoulders, and its forelegs tethered
Arab fashion with a rope around the knees. Anerley threw his leg over
the front pommel while Abbas slipped off the cord. Forward flew
Anerley towards the creature's neck, then violently backwards, clawing
madly at anything which might save him, and then, with a jerk which
nearly snapped his loins, he was thrown forward again. But the camel
was on its legs now, and the young pressman was safely seated upon one
of the fliers of the desert. It was as gentle as it was swift, and it
stood oscillating its long neck and gazing round with its large brown
eyes, whilst Anerley coiled his legs round the peg and grasped the
curved camel-stick which Abbas had handed up to him. There were two
bridle-cords, one from the nostril and one from the neck, but he
remembered that Scott had said that it was the servant's and not the
house-bell which had to be pulled, so he kept his grasp upon the lower.
Then he touched the long, vibrating neck with his stick, and in an
instant Abbas' farewell seemed to come from far behind him, and the
black rocks and yellow sand were dancing past on either side.
It was his first experience of a trotting camel, and at first the
motion, although irregular and abrupt, was not unpleasant. Having no
stirrup or fixed point of any kind, he could not rise to it, but he
gripped as tightly as be could with his knee, and he tried to sway
backwards and forwards as he had seen the Arabs do. It was a large,
very concave Makloofa saddle, and he was conscious that he was bouncing
about on it with as little power of adhesion as a billiard-ball upon a
tea-tray. He gripped the two sides with his hands to hold himself
steady. The creature had got into its long, swinging, stealthy trot,
its sponge-like feet making no sound upon the hard sand. Anerley leaned
back with his two hands gripping hard behind him, and he whooped the
creature on. The sun had already sunk behind the line of black volcanic
peaks, which look like huge slag-heaps at the mouth of a mine.
The western sky had taken that lovely light green and pale pink tint
which makes evening beautiful upon the Nile, and the old brown river
itself, swirling down amongst the black rocks, caught some shimmer of
the colours above. The glare, the heat, and the piping of the insects
had all ceased together. In spite of his aching head, Anerley could
have cried out for pure physical joy as the swift creature beneath him
flew along with him through that cool, invigorating air, with the virile
north wind soothing his pringling face.
He had looked at his watch, and now he made a swift calculation of times
and distances. It was past six when he had left the camp. Over broken
ground it was impossible that he could hope to do more than seven miles
an hour--less on bad parts, more on the smooth. His recollection of the
track was that there were few smooth and many bad. He would be lucky,
then, if he reached Sarras anywhere from twelve to one. Then the
messages took a good two hours to go through, for they had to be
transcribed at Cairo. At the best he could only hope to have told his
story in Fleet Street at two or three in the morning. It was possible
that he might manage it, but the chances seemed enormously against him.
About three the morning edition would be made up, and his chance gone
for ever. The one thing clear was that only the first man at the wires
would have any chance at all, and Anerley meant to be first if hard
riding could do it. So he tapped away at the bird-like neck, and the
creature's long, loose limbs went faster and faster at every tap.
Where the rocky spurs ran down to the river, horses would have to go
round, while camels might get across, so that Anerley felt that he was
always gaining upon his companions.
But there was a price to be paid for the feeling. He had heard of men
who had burst when on camel journeys, and he knew that the Arabs swathe
their bodies tightly in broad cloth bandages when they prepare for a
long march. It had seemed unnecessary and ridiculous when he first
began to speed over the level track, but now, when he got on the rocky
paths, he understood what it meant. Never for an instant was he at the
same angle. Backwards, forwards he swung, with a tingling jar at the
end of each sway, until he ached from his neck to his knees. It caught
him across the shoulders, it caught him down the spine, it gripped him
over the loins, it marked the lower line of his ribs with one heavy,
dull throb. He clutched here and there with his hand to try and ease
the strain upon his muscles. He drew up his knees, altered his seat,
and set his teeth with a grim determination to go through with it should
it kill him. His head was splitting, his flayed face smarting, and
every joint in his body aching as if it were dislocated. But he forgot
all that when, with the rising of the moon, he heard the clinking of
horses' hoofs down upon the track by the river, and knew that, unseen by
them, he had already got well abreast of his companions. But he was
hardly halfway, and the time already eleven.
All day the needles had been ticking away without intermission in the
little corrugated iron hut which served as a telegraph station at
Sarras. With its bare walls and its packing-case seats, it was none the
less for the moment one of the vital spots upon the earth's surface, and
the crisp, importunate ticking might have come from the world-old clock
of Destiny. Many august people had been at the other end of those
wires, and had communed with the moist-faced military clerk. A French
Premier had demanded a pledge, and an English marquis had passed on the
request to the General in command, with a question as to how it would
affect the situation. Cipher telegrams had nearly driven the clerk out
of his wits, for of all crazy occupations the taking of a cipher
message, when you are without the key to the cipher, is the worst.
Much high diplomacy had been going on all day in the innermost chambers
of European chancellories, and the results of it had been whispered into
this little corrugated-iron hut. About two in the morning an enormous
despatch had come at last to an end, and the weary operator had opened
the door, and was lighting his pipe in the cool, fresh air, when he saw
a camel plump down in the dust, and a man, who seemed to be in the last
stage of drunkenness, come rolling towards him.
"What's the time?" he cried, in a voice which appeared to be the only
sober thing about him.
It was on the clerk's lips to say that it was time that the questioner
was in his bed, but it is not safe upon a campaign to be ironical at the
expense of khaki-clad men. He contented himself, therefore, with the
bald statement that it was after two. But no retort that he could have
devised could have had a more crushing effect. The voice turned drunken
also, and the man caught at the door-post to uphold him.
"Two o'clock! I'm done after all!" said he. His head was tied up in a
bloody handkerchief, his face was crimson, and he stood with his legs
crooked as if the pith had all gone out of his back. The clerk began to
realise that something out of the ordinary was in the wind.
"How long does it take to get a wire to London?"
"About two hours."
"And it's two now. I could not get it there before four."
"But you said two hours."
"Yes, but there's more than an hour's difference in longitude."
"By Heaven, I'll do it yet!" cried Anerley, and staggering to a
packing-case, he began the dictation of his famous despatch.
And so it came about that the _Gazette_ had a long column, with
headlines like an epitaph, when the sheets of the _Intelligence_ and the
_Courier_ were as blank as the faces of their editors. And so, too, it
happened that when two weary men, upon two foundered horses, arrived
about four in the morning at the Sarras post-office, they looked at each
other in silence and departed noiselessly, with the conviction that
there are some situations with which the English language is not capable
The New Catacomb
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, "I do wish that you would confide in
The two famous students of Roman remains sat together in Kennedy's
comfortable room overlooking the Corso. The night was cold, and they
had both pulled up their chairs to the unsatisfactory Italian stove
which threw out a zone of stuffiness rather than of warmth.
Outside under the bright winter stars lay the modern Rome, the long,
double chain of the electric lamps, the brilliantly lighted _cafes_, the
rushing carriages, and the dense throng upon the footpaths. But inside,
in the sumptuous chamber of the rich young English archaeologist, there
was only old Rome to be seen. Cracked and time-worn friezes hung upon
the walls, grey old busts of senators and soldiers with their fighting
heads and their hard, cruel faces peered out from the corners. On the
centre table, amidst a litter of inscriptions, fragments, and ornaments,
there stood the famous reconstruction by Kennedy of the Baths of
Caracalla, which excited such interest and admiration when it was
exhibited in Berlin.
Amphorae hung from the ceiling, and a litter of curiosities strewed the
rich red Turkey carpet. And of them all there was not one which was not
of the most unimpeachable authenticity, and of the utmost rarity and
value; for Kennedy, though little more than thirty, had a European
reputation in this particular branch of research, and was, moreover,
provided with that long purse which either proves to be a fatal handicap
to the student's energies, or, if his mind is still true to its purpose,
gives him an enormous advantage in the race for fame. Kennedy had often
been seduced by whim and pleasure from his studies, but his mind was an
incisive one, capable of long and concentrated efforts which ended in
sharp reactions of sensuous languor. His handsome face, with its high,
white forehead, its aggressive nose, and its somewhat loose and sensuous
mouth, was a fair index of the compromise between strength and weakness
in his nature.
Of a very different type was his companion, Julius Burger. He came of a
curious blend, a German father and an Italian mother, with the robust
qualities of the North mingling strangely with the softer graces of the
South. Blue Teutonic eyes lightened his sun-browned face, and above
them rose a square, massive forehead, with a fringe of close yellow
curls lying round it. His strong, firm jaw was clean-shaven, and his
companion had frequently remarked how much it suggested those old Roman
busts which peered out from the shadows in the corners of his chamber.
Under its bluff German strength there lay always a suggestion of Italian
subtlety, but the smile was so honest, and the eyes so frank, that one
understood that this was only an indication of his ancestry, with no
actual bearing upon his character.
In age and in reputation he was on the same level as his English
companion, but his life and his work had both been far more arduous.
Twelve years before he had come as a poor student to Rome, and had lived
ever since upon some small endowment for research which had been awarded
to him by the University of Bonn.
Painfully, slowly, and doggedly, with extraordinary tenacity and
singlemindedness, he had climbed from rung to rung of the ladder of
fame, until now he was a member of the Berlin Academy, and there was
every reason to believe that he would shortly be promoted to the Chair
of the greatest of German Universities. But the singleness of purpose
which had brought him to the same high level as the rich and brilliant
Englishman, had caused him in everything outside their work to stand
infinitely below him. He had never found a pause in his studies in
which to cultivate the social graces. It was only when he spoke of his
own subject that his face was filled with life and soul. At other times
he was silent and embarrassed, too conscious of his own limitations in
larger subjects, and impatient of that small talk which is the
conventional refuge of those who have no thoughts to express.
And yet for some years there had been an acquaintanceship which appeared
to be slowly ripening into a friendship between these two very different
rivals. The base and origin of this lay in the fact that in their own
studies each was the only one of the younger men who had knowledge and
enthusiasm enough to properly appreciate the other. Their common
interests and pursuits had brought them together, and each had been
attracted by the other's knowledge. And then gradually something had
been added to this. Kennedy had been amused by the frankness and
simplicity of his rival, while Burger in turn had been fascinated by the
brilliancy and vivacity which had made Kennedy such a favourite in Roman
society. I say "had," because just at the moment the young Englishman
was somewhat under a cloud.
A love affair, the details of which had never quite come out, had
indicated a heartlessness and callousness upon his part which shocked
many of his friends. But in the bachelor circles of students and
artists in which he preferred to move there is no very rigid code of
honour in such matters, and though a head might be shaken or a pair of
shoulders shrugged over the flight of two and the return of one, the
general sentiment was probably one of curiosity and perhaps of envy
rather than of reprobation.
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, looking hard at the placid face of
his companion, "I do wish that you would confide in me."
As he spoke he waved his hand in the direction of a rug which
lay upon the floor.
On the rug stood a long, shallow fruit-basket of the light wicker-work
which is used in the Campagna, and this was heaped with a litter of
objects, inscribed tiles, broken inscriptions, cracked mosaics, torn
papyri, rusty metal ornaments, which to the uninitiated might have
seemed to have come straight from a dustman's bin, but which a
specialist would have speedily recognized as unique of their kind.
The pile of odds and ends in the flat wicker-work basket supplied
exactly one of those missing links of social development which are of
such interest to the student. It was the German who had brought them
in, and the Englishman's eyes were hungry as he looked at them.
"I won't interfere with your treasure-trove, but I should very much like
to hear about it," he continued, while Burger very deliberately lit a
cigar. "It is evidently a discovery of the first importance. These
inscriptions will make a sensation throughout Europe."
"For every one here there are a million there!" said the German. "There
are so many that a dozen savants might spend a lifetime over them, and
build up a reputation as solid as the Castle of St. Angelo."
Kennedy was thinking with his fine forehead wrinkled and his fingers
playing with his long, fair moustache.
"You have given yourself away, Burger!" said he at last. "Your words
can only apply to one thing. You have discovered a new catacomb."
"I had no doubt that you had already come to that conclusion from an
examination of these objects."
"Well, they certainly appeared to indicate it, but your last remarks
make it certain. There is no place except a catacomb which could
contain so vast a store of relics as you describe."
"Quite so. There is no mystery about that. I _have_ discovered a new
"Ah, that is my secret, my dear Kennedy! Suffice it that it is so
situated that there is not one chance in a million of anyone else coming
upon it. Its date is different from that of any known catacomb, and it
has been reserved for the burial of the highest Christians, so that the
remains and the relics are quite different from anything which has ever
been seen before. If I was not aware of your knowledge and of your
energy, my friend, I would not hesitate, under the pledge of secrecy, to
tell you everything about it. But as it is I think that I must
certainly prepare my own report of the matter before I expose myself to
such formidable competition."
Kennedy loved his subject with a love which was almost a mania--a love
which held him true to it, amidst all the distractions which come to a
wealthy and dissipated young man. He had ambition, but his ambition was
secondary to his mere abstract joy and interest in everything which
concerned the old life and history of the city. He yearned to see this
new underworld which his companion had discovered.
"Look here, Burger," said he, earnestly, "I assure you that you can
trust me most implicitly in the matter. Nothing would induce me to put
pen to paper about anything which I see until I have your express
permission. I quite understand your feeling, and I think it is most
natural, but you have really nothing whatever to fear from me. On the
other hand, if you don't tell me I shall make a systematic search, and I
shall most certainly discover it. In that case, of course, I should
make what use I liked of it, since I should be under no obligation to
Burger smiled thoughtfully over his cigar.
"I have noticed, friend Kennedy," said he, "that when I want information
over any point you are not always so ready to supply it."
"When did you ever ask me anything that I did not tell you? You
remember, for example, my giving you the material for your paper about
the temple of the Vestals."
"Ah, well, that was not a matter of much importance. If I were to
question you upon some intimate thing, would you give me an answer, I
wonder! This new catacomb is a very intimate thing to me, and I should
certainly expect some sign of confidence in return."
"What you are driving at I cannot imagine," said the Englishman, "but if
you mean that you will answer my question about the catacomb if I answer
any question which you may put to me, I can assure you that I will
certainly do so."
"Well, then," said Burger, leaning luxuriously back in his settee, and
puffing a blue tree of cigar-smoke into the air, "tell me all about your
relations with Miss Mary Saunderson."
Kennedy sprang up in his chair and glared angrily at his impassive
"What the devil do you mean?" he cried. "What sort of a question is
this? You may mean it as a joke, but you never made a worse one."
"No, I don't mean it as a joke," said Burger, simply. "I am really
rather interested in the details of the matter. I don't know much about
the world and women and social life and that sort of thing, and such an
incident has the fascination of the unknown for me. I know you, and I
knew her by sight--I had even spoken to her once or twice. I should
very much like to hear from your own lips exactly what it was which
occurred between you."
"I won't tell you a word."
"That's all right. It was only my whim to see if you would give up a
secret as easily as you expected me to give up my secret of the new
catacomb. You wouldn't, and I didn't expect you to. But why should you
expect otherwise of me? There's St. John's clock striking ten. It is
quite time that I was going home."
"No, wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy; "this is really a ridiculous
caprice of yours to wish to know about an old love affair which has
burned out months ago. You know we look upon a man who kisses and tells
as the greatest coward and villain possible."
"Certainly," said the German, gathering up his basket of curiosities,
"when he tells anything about a girl which is previously unknown, he
must be so. But in this case, as you must be aware, it was a public
matter which was the common talk of Rome, so that you are not really
doing Miss Mary Saunderson any injury by discussing her case with me.
But still, I respect your scruples; and so good night!"
"Wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy, laying his hand upon the other's
arm; "I am very keen upon this catacomb business, and I can't let it
drop quite so easily. Would you mind asking me something else in
return--something not quite so eccentric this time?"
"No, no; you have refused, and there is an end of it," said Burger, with
his basket on his arm. "No doubt you are quite right not to answer, and
no doubt I am quite right also--and so again, my dear Kennedy, good
The Englishman watched Burger cross the room, and he had his hand on the
handle of the door before his host sprang up with the air of a man who
is making the best of that which cannot be helped. "Hold on, old
fellow," said he. "I think you are behaving in a most ridiculous
fashion, but still, if this is your condition, I suppose that I must
submit to it. I hate saying anything about a girl, but, as you say, it
is all over Rome, and I don't suppose I can tell you anything which you
do not know already. What was it you wanted to know?"
The German came back to the stove, and, laying down his basket, he sank
into his chair once more. "May I have another cigar?" said he. "Thank
you very much! I never smoke when I work, but I enjoy a chat much more
when I am under the influence of tobacco. Now, as regards this young
lady, with whom you had this little adventure. What in the world has
become of her?"
"She is at home with her own people."
"Oh, really--in England?"
"What part of England--London?"
"You must excuse my curiosity, my dear Kennedy, and you must put it down
to my ignorance of the world. No doubt it is quite a simple thing to
persuade a young lady to go off with you for three weeks or so, and then
to hand her over to her own family at--what did you call the place?"
"Quite so--at Twickenham. But it is something so entirely outside my
own experience that I cannot even imagine how you set about it. For
example, if you had loved this girl your love could hardly disappear in
three weeks, so I presume that you could not have loved her at all. But
if you did not love her why should you make this great scandal which has
damaged you and ruined her?"
Kennedy looked moodily into the red eye of the stove. "That's a logical
way of looking at it, certainly," said he. "Love is a big word, and it
represents a good many different shades of feeling. I liked her, and--
well, you say you've seen her--you know how charming she can look.
But still I am willing to admit, looking back, that I could never have
really loved her."
"Then, my dear Kennedy, why did you do it?"
"The adventure of the thing had a great deal to do with it."
"What! You are so fond of adventures!"
"Where would the variety of life be without them? It was for an
adventure that I first began to pay my attentions to her. I've chased a
good deal of game in my time, but there's no chase like that of a pretty
woman. There was the piquant difficulty of it also, for, as she was the
companion of Lady Emily Rood it was almost impossible to see her alone.
On the top of all the other obstacles which attracted me, I learned from
her own lips very early in the proceedings that she was engaged."
"Mein Gott! To whom?"
"She mentioned no names."
"I do not think that anyone knows that. So that made the adventure more
alluring, did it?"
"Well, it did certainly give a spice to it. Don't you think so?"
"I tell you that I am very ignorant about these things."
"My dear fellow, you can remember that the apple you stole from your
neighbour's tree was always sweeter than that which fell from your own.
And then I found that she cared for me."
"Oh, no, it took about three months of sapping and mining. But at last
I won her over. She understood that my judicial separation from my wife
made it impossible for me to do the right thing by her--but she came all
the same, and we had a delightful time, as long as it lasted."
"But how about the other man?"
Kennedy shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose it is the survival of the
fittest," said he. "If he had been the better man she would not have
deserted him. Let's drop the subject, for I have had enough of it!"
"Only one other thing. How did you get rid of her in three weeks?"
"Well, we had both cooled down a bit, you understand. She absolutely
refused, under any circumstances, to come back to face the people she
had known in Rome. Now, of course, Rome is necessary to me, and I was
already pining to be back at my work--so there was one obvious cause of
separation. Then, again, her old father turned up at the hotel in
London, and there was a scene, and the whole thing became so unpleasant
that really--though I missed her dreadfully at first--I was very glad to
slip out of it. Now, I rely upon you not to repeat anything of what I
"My dear Kennedy, I should not dream of repeating it. But all that you
say interests me very much, for it gives me an insight into your way of
looking at things, which is entirely different from mine, for I have
seen so little of life. And now you want to know about my new catacomb.
There's no use my trying to describe it, for you would never find it by
that. There is only one thing, and that is for me to take you there."
"That would be splendid."
"When would you like to come?"
"The sooner the better. I am all impatience to see it."
"Well, it is a beautiful night--though a trifle cold. Suppose we start
in an hour. We must be very careful to keep the matter to ourselves.
If anyone saw us hunting in couples they would suspect that there was
something going on."
"We can't be too cautious," said Kennedy. "Is it far?"
"Not too far to walk?"
"Oh, no, we could walk there easily."
"We had better do so, then. A cabman's suspicions would be aroused if
he dropped us both at some lonely spot in the dead of the night."
"Quite so. I think it would be best for us to meet at the Gate of the
Appian Way at midnight. I must go back to my lodgings for the matches
and candles and things."
"All right, Burger! I think it is very kind of you to let me into this
secret, and I promise you that I will write nothing about it until you
have published your report. Good-bye for the present! You will find me
at the Gate at twelve."
The cold, clear air was filled with the musical chimes from that city of
clocks as Burger, wrapped in an Italian overcoat, with a lantern hanging
from his hand, walked up to the rendezvous. Kennedy stepped out of the
shadow to meet him.
"You are ardent in work as well as in love!" said the German, laughing.
"Yes; I have been waiting here for nearly half an hour."
"I hope you left no clue as to where we were going."
"Not such a fool! By Jove, I am chilled to the bone! Come on, Burger,
let us warm ourselves by a spurt of hard walking."
Their footsteps sounded loud and crisp upon the rough stone paving of
the disappointing road which is all that is left of the most famous
highway of the world. A peasant or two going home from the wine-shop,
and a few carts of country produce coming up to Rome, were the only
things which they met. They swung along, with the huge tombs looming up
through the darkness upon each side of them, until they had come as far
as the Catacombs of St. Calixtus, and saw against a rising moon the
great circular bastion of Cecilia Metella in front of them. Then Burger
stopped with his hand to his side. "Your legs are longer than mine, and
you are more accustomed to walking," said he, laughing. "I think that
the place where we turn off is somewhere here. Yes, this is it, round
the corner of the trattoria. Now, it is a very narrow path, so perhaps
I had better go in front, and you can follow." He had lit his lantern,
and by its light they were enabled to follow a narrow and devious track
which wound across the marshes of the Campagna. The great Aqueduct of
old Rome lay like a monstrous caterpillar across the moonlit landscape,
and their road led them under one of its huge arches, and past the
circle of crumbling bricks which marks the old arena. At last Burger
stopped at a solitary wooden cowhouse, and he drew a key from his
"Surely your catacomb is not inside a house!" cried Kennedy.
"The entrance to it is. That is just the safeguard which we have
against anyone else discovering it."
"Does the proprietor know of it?"
"Not he. He had found one or two objects which made me almost certain
that his house was built on the entrance to such a place. So I rented
it from him, and did my excavations for myself. Come in, and shut the
door behind you."
It was a long, empty building, with the mangers of the cows along one
wall. Burger put his lantern down on the ground, and shaded its light
in all directions save one by draping his overcoat round it. "It might
excite remark if anyone saw a light in this lonely place," said he.
"Just help me to move this boarding." The flooring was loose in the
corner, and plank by plank the two savants raised it and leaned it
against the wall. Below there was a square aperture and a stair of old
stone steps which led away down into the bowels of the earth.
"Be careful!" cried Burger, as Kennedy, in his impatience,
hurried down them. "It is a perfect rabbits'-warren below, and if
you were once to lose your way there, the chances would be a hundred
to one against your ever coming out again. Wait until I bring the
"How do you find your own way if it is so complicated?"
"I had some very narrow escapes at first, but I have gradually learned
to go about. There is a certain system to it, but it is one which a
lost man, if he were in the dark, could not possibly find out. Even now
I always spin out a ball of string behind me when I am going far into
the catacomb. You can see for yourself that it is difficult, but every
one of these passages divides and subdivides a dozen times before you go
a hundred yards." They had descended some twenty feet from the level of
the byre, and they were standing now in a square chamber cut out of the
soft tufa. The lantern cast a flickering light, bright below and dim
above, over the cracked brown walls. In every direction were the black
openings of passages which radiated from this common centre.
"I want you to follow me closely, my friend," said Burger. "Do not
loiter to look at anything upon the way, for the place to which I will
take you contains all that you can see, and more. It will save time for
us to go there direct." He led the way down one of the corridors, and
the Englishman followed closely at his heels. Every now and then the
passage bifurcated, but Burger was evidently following some secret marks
of his own, for he neither stopped nor hesitated. Everywhere along the
walls, packed like the berths upon an emigrant ship, lay the Christians
of old Rome. The yellow light flickered over the shrivelled features of
the mummies, and gleamed upon rounded skulls and long, white arm-bones
crossed over fleshless chests. And everywhere as he passed Kennedy
looked with wistful eyes upon inscriptions, funeral vessels, pictures,
vestments, utensils, all lying as pious hands had placed them so many
centuries ago. It was apparent to him, even in those hurried, passing
glances, that this was the earliest and finest of the catacombs,
containing such a storehouse of Roman remains as had never before come
at one time under the observation of the student. "What would happen if
the light went out?" he asked, as they hurried on.
"I have a spare candle and a box of matches in my pocket. By the way,
Kennedy, have you any matches?"
"No; you had better give me some."
"Oh, that is all right. There is no chance of our separating."
"How far are we going? It seems to me that we have walked at least a
quarter of a mile."
"More than that, I think. There is really no limit to the tombs--at
least, I have never been able to find any. This is a very difficult
place, so I think that I will use our ball of string." He fastened one
end of it to a projecting stone and he carried the coil in the breast of
his coat, paying it out as he advanced. Kennedy saw that it was no
unnecessary precaution, for the passages had become more complexed and
tortuous than ever, with a perfect network of intersecting corridors.
But these all ended in one large circular hall with a square pedestal of
tufa topped with a slab of marble at one end of it. "By Jove!" cried
Kennedy in an ecstasy, as Burger swung his lantern over the marble. "It
is a Christian altar--probably the first one in existence. Here is the
little consecration cross cut upon the corner of it. No doubt this
circular space was used as a church."
"Precisely," said Burger. "If I had more time I should like to show you
all the bodies which are buried in these niches upon the walls, for they
are the early popes and bishops of the Church, with their mitres, their
croziers, and full canonicals. Go over to that one and look at it!"
Kennedy went across, and stared at the ghastly head which lay loosely on
the shredded and mouldering mitre.
"This is most interesting," said he, and his voice seemed to boom
against the concave vault. "As far as my experience goes, it is unique.
Bring the lantern over, Burger, for I want to see them all." But the
German had strolled away, and was standing in the middle of a yellow
circle of light at the other side of the hall.
"Do you know how many wrong turnings there are between this and the
stairs?" he asked. "There are over two thousand. No doubt it was one
of the means of protection which the Christians adopted. The odds are
two thousand to one against a man getting out, even if he had a light;
but if he were in the dark it would, of course, be far more difficult."
"So I should think."
"And the darkness is something dreadful. I tried it once for an
experiment. Let us try it again!" He stooped to the lantern, and in an
instant it was as if an invisible hand was squeezed tightly over each of
Kennedy's eyes. Never had he known what such darkness was. It seemed
to press upon him and to smother him. It was a solid obstacle against
which the body shrank from advancing. He put his hands out to push it
back from him. "That will do, Burger," said he, "let's have the light
But his companion began to laugh, and in that circular room the sound
seemed to come from every side at once. "You seem uneasy, friend
Kennedy," said he.
"Go on, man, light the candle!" said Kennedy, impatiently.
"It's very strange, Kennedy, but I could not in the least tell by the
sound in which direction you stand. Could you tell where I am?"
"No; you seem to be on every side of me."
"If it were not for this string which I hold in my hand I should not
have a notion which way to go."
"I dare say not. Strike a light, man, and have an end of this
"Well, Kennedy, there are two things which I understand that you are
very fond of. The one is adventure, and the other is an obstacle to
surmount. The adventure must be the finding of your way out of this
catacomb. The obstacle will be the darkness and the two thousand wrong
turns which make the way a little difficult to find. But you need not
hurry, for you have plenty of time, and when you halt for a rest now and
then, I should like you just to think of Miss Mary Saunderson, and
whether you treated her quite fairly."
"You devil, what do you mean?" roared Kennedy. He was running
about in little circles and clasping at the solid blackness with
"Good-bye," said the mocking voice, and it was already at some distance.
"I really do not think, Kennedy, even by your own showing that you did
the right thing by that girl. There was only one little thing which you
appeared not to know, and I can supply it. Miss Saunderson was engaged
to a poor, ungainly devil of a student, and his name was Julius Burger."
There was a rustle somewhere--the vague sound of a foot striking a
stone--and then there fell silence upon that old Christian church--a
stagnant heavy silence which closed round Kennedy and shut him in like
water round a drowning man.
Some two months afterwards the following paragraph made the round of the
One of the most interesting discoveries of recent years is
that of the new catacomb in Rome, which lies some distance to the
east of the well-known vaults of St. Calixtus. The finding of this
important burial-place, which is exceedingly rich in most
interesting early Christian remains, is due to the energy and
sagacity of Dr. Julius Burger, the young German specialist, who is
rapidly taking the first place as an authority upon ancient Rome.
Although the first to publish his discovery, it appears that a less
fortunate adventurer had anticipated Dr. Burger. Some months ago
Mr. Kennedy, the well-known English student, disappeared suddenly
from his rooms in the "Corso", and it was conjectured that his
association with a recent scandal had driven him to leave Rome. It
appears now that he had in reality fallen a victim to that fervid
love of archaeology which had raised him to a distinguished place
among living scholars. His body was discovered in the heart of the
new catacomb, and it was evident from the condition of his feet and
boots that he had tramped for days through the tortuous corridors
which make these subterranean tombs so dangerous to explorers. The
deceased gentleman had, with inexplicable rashness, made his way
into this labyrinth without, as far as can be discovered, taking
with him either candles or matches, so that his sad fate was the
natural result of his own temerity. What makes the matter more
painful is that Dr. Julius Burger was an intimate friend of the
deceased. His joy at the extraordinary find which he has been so
fortunate as to make has been greatly marred by the terrible fate
of his comrade and fellow-worker.
THE DEBUT OF BIMBASHI JOYCE
It was in the days when the tide of Mahdism, which had swept in such a
flood from the great Lakes and Darfur to the confines of Egypt, had at
last come to its full, and even begun, as some hoped, to show signs of a
turn. At its outset it had been terrible. It had engulfed Hicks's
army, swept over Gordon and Khartoum, rolled behind the British forces
as they retired down the river, and finally cast up a spray of raiding
parties as far north as Assouan. Then it found other channels to east
and west, to Central Africa and to Abyssinia, and retired a little on
the side of Egypt. For ten years there ensued a lull, during which the
frontier garrisons looked out upon those distant blue hills of Dongola.
Behind the violet mists which draped them lay a land of blood and
horror. From time to time some adventurer went south towards those
haze-girt mountains, tempted by stories of gum and ivory, but none ever
returned. Once a mutilated Egyptian and once a Greek woman, mad with
thirst and fear, made their way to the lines. They were the only
exports of that country of darkness. Sometimes the sunset would turn
those distant mists into a bank of crimson, and the dark mountains would
rise from that sinister reek like islands in a sea of blood. It seemed
a grim symbol in the southern heaven when seen from the fort-capped
hills by Wady Halfa. Ten years of lust in Khartoum, ten years of silent
work in Cairo, and then all was ready, and it was time for civilisation
to take a trip south once more, travelling as her wont is in an armoured
train. Everything was ready, down to the last pack-saddle of the last
camel, and yet no one suspected it, for an unconstitutional Government
has its advantage. A great administrator had argued, and managed, and
cajoled; a great soldier had organised and planned, and made piastres do
the work of pounds. And then one night these two master spirits met and
clasped hands, and the soldier vanished away upon some business of his
own. And just at that very time, Bimbashi Hilary Joyce, seconded from
the Royal Mallow Fusiliers, and temporarily attached to the Ninth
Soudanese, made his first appearance in Cairo.
Napoleon had said, and Hilary Joyce had noted, that great reputations
are only to be made in the East. Here he was in the East with four tin
cases of baggage, a Wilkinson sword, a Bond's slug-throwing pistol, and
a copy of "Green's Introduction to the Study of Arabic." With such a
start, and the blood of youth running hot in his veins, everything
seemed easy. He was a little frightened of the general; he had heard
stories of his sternness to young officers, but with tact and suavity he
hoped for the best. So, leaving his effects at "Shepherd's Hotel," he
reported himself at headquarters. It was not the general, but the head
of the Intelligence Department who received him, the chief being still
absent upon that business which had called him. Hilary Joyce found
himself in the presence of a short, thick-set officer, with a gentle
voice and a placid expression which covered a remarkably acute and
energetic spirit. With that quiet smile and guileless manner he had
undercut and outwitted the most cunning of Orientals. He stood, a
cigarette between his fingers, looking at the newcomer. "I heard that
you had come. Sorry the chief isn't here to see you. Gone up to the
frontier, you know."
"My regiment is at Wady Halfa. I suppose, sir, that I should report
myself there at once?"
"No; I was to give you your orders." He led the way to a map upon the
wall, and pointed with the end of his cigarette. "You see this place.
It's the Oasis of Kurkur--a little quiet, I am afraid, but excellent
air. You are to get out there as quick as possible. You'll find a
company of the Ninth, and half a squadron of cavalry. You will be in
Hilary Joyce looked at the name, printed at the intersection of two
black lines without another dot upon the map for several inches around
it. "A village, sir?"
"No, a well. Not very good water, I'm afraid, but you soon get
accustomed to natron. It's an important post, as being at the junction
of two caravan routes. All routes are closed now, of course, but still
you never know who _might_ come along them."
"We are there, I presume, to prevent raiding?"
"Well, between you and me, there's really nothing to raid. You are
there to intercept messengers. They must call at the wells. Of course
you have only just come out, but you probably understand already enough
about the conditions of this country to know that there is a great deal
of disaffection about, and that the Khalifa is likely to try and keep in
touch with his adherents. Then, again, Senoussi lives up that way"--he
waved his cigarette to the westward--"the Khalifa might send a message
to him along that route. Anyhow, your duty is to arrest everyone coming
along, and get some account of him before you let him go. You don't
talk Arabic, I suppose?"
"I am learning, sir."
"Well, well, you'll have time enough for study there. And you'll have a
native officer, Ali something or other, who speaks English, and can
interpret for you. Well, good-bye--I'll tell the chief that you
reported yourself. Get on to your post now as quickly as you can."
Railway to Baliani, the post-boat to Assouan, and then two days on a
camel in the Libyan desert, with an Ababdeh guide, and three
baggage-camels to tie one down to their own exasperating pace.
However, even two and a half miles an hour mount up in time, and at
last, on the third evening, from the blackened slag-heap of a hill which
is called the Jebel Kurkur, Hilary Joyce looked down upon a distant
clump of palms, and thought that this cool patch of green in the midst
of the merciless blacks and yellows was the fairest colour effect that
he had ever seen. An hour later he had ridden into the little camp, the
guard had turned out to salute him, his native subordinate had greeted
him in excellent English, and he had fairly entered into his own.
It was not an exhilarating place for a lengthy residence. There was one
large, bowl-shaped, grassy depression sloping down to the three pits of
brown and brackish water. There was the grove of palm trees also,
beautiful to look upon, but exasperating in view of the fact that Nature
has provided her least shady trees on the very spot where shade is
needed most. A single wide-spread acacia did something to restore the
balance. Here Hilary Joyce slumbered in the heat, and in the cool he
inspected his square-shouldered, spindle-shanked Soudanese, with their
cheery black faces and their funny little pork-pie forage caps.
Joyce was a martinet at drill, and the blacks loved being drilled, so
the Bimbashi was soon popular among them. But one day was exactly like
another. The weather, the view, the employment, the food--everything
was the same. At the end of three weeks he felt that he had been there
for interminable years. And then at last there came something to break
One evening, as the sun was sinking, Hilary Joyce rode slowly down the
old caravan road. It had a fascination for him, this narrow track,
winding among the boulders and curving up the nullahs, for he
remembered how in the map it had gone on and on, stretching away into
the unknown heart of Africa. The countless pads of innumerable camels
through many centuries had beaten it smooth, so that now, unused and
deserted, it still wound away, the strangest of roads, a foot broad, and
perhaps two thousand miles in length. Joyce wondered as he rode how
long it was since any traveller had journeyed up it from the south, and
then he raised his eyes, and there was a man coming along the path.
For an instant Joyce thought that it might be one of his own men, but a
second glance assured him that this could not be so. The stranger was
dressed in the flowing robes of an Arab, and not in the close-fitting
khaki of a soldier. He was very tall, and a high turban made him seem
gigantic. He strode swiftly along, with head erect, and the bearing of
a man who knows no fear.
Who could he be, this formidable giant coming out of the unknown?
The precursor possibly of a horde of savage spearmen. And where could
he have walked from? The nearest well was a long hundred miles down the
track. At any rate the frontier post of Kurkur could not afford to
receive casual visitors. Hilary Joyce whisked round his horse, galloped
into camp, and gave the alarm. Then, with twenty horsemen at his back,
he rode out again to reconnoitre. The man was still coming on in spite
of these hostile preparations. For an instant he hesitated when first
he saw the cavalry, but escape was out of the question, and he advanced
with the air of one who makes the best of a bad job. He made no
resistance, and said nothing when the hands of two troopers clutched at
his shoulders, but walked quietly between their horses into camp.
Shortly afterwards the patrol came in again. There were no signs of any
dervishes. The man was alone. A splendid trotting camel had been found
lying dead a little way down the track. The mystery of the stranger's
arrival was explained. But why, and whence, and whither?--these were
questions for which a zealous officer must find an answer.
Hilary Joyce was disappointed that there were no dervishes. It would
have been a great start for him in the Egyptian army had he fought a
little action on his own account. But even as it was, he had a rare
chance of impressing the authorities. He would love to show his
capacity to the head of the Intelligence, and even more to that grim
Chief who never forgot what was smart, or forgave what was slack.
The prisoner's dress and bearing showed that he was of importance.
Mean men do not ride pure-bred trotting camels. Joyce sponged his head
with cold water, drank a cup of strong coffee, put on an imposing
official tarboosh instead of his sun-helmet, and formed himself into a
court of inquiry and judgment under the acacia tree. He would have
liked his people to have seen him now, with his two black orderlies in
waiting, and his Egyptian native officer at his side. He sat behind a
camp-table, and the prisoner, strongly guarded, was led up to him.
The man was a handsome fellow, with bold grey eyes and a long black
"Why!" cried Joyce, "the rascal is making faces at me." A curious
contraction had passed over the man's features, but so swiftly that it
might have been a nervous twitch. He was now a model of Oriental
gravity. "Ask him who he is, and what he wants?" The native officer
did so, but the stranger made no reply, save that the same sharp spasm
passed once more over his face. "Well, I'm blessed!" cried Hilary
Joyce. "Of all the impudent scoundrels! He keeps on winking at me.
Who are you, you rascal? Give an account of yourself! D'ye hear?"
But the tall Arab was as impervious to English as to Arabic.
The Egyptian tried again and again. The prisoner looked at Joyce with
his inscrutable eyes, and occasionally twitched his face at him, but
never opened his mouth. The Bimbashi scratched his head in
"Look here, Mahomet Ali, we've got to get some sense out of this fellow.
You say there are no papers on him?"
"No, sir; we found no papers."
"No clue of any kind?"
"He has come far, sir. A trotting camel does not die easily. He has
come from Dongola, at least."
"Well, we must get him to talk."
"It is possible that he is deaf and dumb."
"Not he. I never saw a man look more all there in my life."
"You might send him across to Assouan."
"And give someone else the credit? No, thank you. This is my bird.
But how are we going to get him to find his tongue?"
The Egyptian's dark eyes skirted the encampment and rested on the cook's
fire. "Perhaps," said he, "if the Bimbashi thought fit--" He looked at
the prisoner and then at the burning wood.
"No, no; it wouldn't do. No, by Jove, that's going too far."
"A very little might do it."
"No, no. It's all very well here, but it would sound just awful if ever
it got as far as Fleet Street. But, I say," he whispered, "we might
frighten him a bit. There's no harm in that."
"Tell them to undo the man's galabeeah. Order them to put a horseshoe
in the fire and make it red-hot." The prisoner watched the proceedings
with an air which had more of amusement than of uneasiness. He never
winced as the black sergeant approached with the glowing shoe held upon
"Will you speak now?" asked the Bimbashi, savagely. The prisoner smiled
gently and stroked his beard.
"Oh, chuck the infernal thing away!" cried Joyce, jumping up in a
passion. "There's no use trying to bluff the fellow. He knows we won't
do it. But I _can_ and I _will_ flog him, and you can tell him from me
that if he hasn't found his tongue by to-morrow morning I'll take the
skin off his back as sure as my name's Joyce. Have you said all that?"
"Well, you can sleep upon it, you beauty, and a good night's rest may it
give you!" He adjourned the Court, and the prisoner, as imperturbable
as ever, was led away by the guard to his supper of rice and water.
Hilary Joyce was a kind-hearted man, and his own sleep was considerably
disturbed by the prospect of the punishment which he must inflict next
day. He had hopes that the mere sight of the koorbash and the thongs
might prevail over his prisoner's obstinacy. And then, again, he
thought how shocking it would be if the man proved to be really dumb
after all. The possibility shook him so that he had almost determined
by daybreak that he would send the stranger on unhurt to Assouan.
And yet what a tame conclusion it would be to the incident! He lay upon
his angareeb still debating it when the question suddenly and
effectively settled itself. Ali Mahomet rushed into his tent.
"Sir," he cried, "the prisoner is gone!"
"Yes, sir, and your own best riding camel as well. There is a slit cut
in the tent, and he got away unseen in the early morning."
The Bimbashi acted with all energy. Cavalry rode along every track;
scouts examined the soft sand of the wadys for signs of the fugitive,
but no trace was discovered. The man had utterly disappeared. With a
heavy heart, Hilary Joyce wrote an official report of the matter and
forwarded it to Assouan. Five days later there came a curt order from
the chief that he should report himself there. He feared the worst from
the stern soldier, who spared others as little as he spared himself.
And his worst forebodings were realised. Travel-stained and weary, he
reported himself one night at the general's quarters. Behind a table
piled with papers and strewn with maps the famous soldier and his Chief
of Intelligence were deep in plans and figures. Their greeting was a
"I understand, Captain Joyce," said the general, "that you have allowed
a very important prisoner to slip through your fingers."
"I am sorry, sir."
"No doubt. But that will not mend matters. Did you ascertain anything
about him before you lost him?"
"How was that?"
"I could get nothing out of him, sir."
"Did you try?"
"Yes, sir; I did what I could."
"What did you do?"
"Well, sir, I threatened to use physical force."
"What did he say?"
"He said nothing."
"What was he like?"
"A tall man, sir. Rather a desperate character, I should think."
"Any way by which we could identify him?"
"A long black beard, sir. Grey eyes. And a nervous way of twitching
"Well, Captain Joyce," said the general, in his stern, inflexible voice,
"I cannot congratulate you upon your first exploit in the Egyptian army.
You are aware that every English officer in this force is a picked man.
I have the whole British army from which to draw. It is necessary,
therefore, that I should insist upon the very highest efficiency.
It would be unfair upon the others to pass over any obvious want of zeal
or intelligence. You are seconded from the Royal Mallows, I
"I have no doubt that your colonel will be glad to see you fulfilling
your regimental duties again." Hilary Joyce's heart was too heavy for
words. He was silent. "I will let you know my final decision to-morrow
morning." Joyce saluted and turned upon his heel."
"You can sleep upon that, you beauty, and a good night's rest may it
Joyce turned in bewilderment. Where had those words been used before?
Who was it who had used them? The general was standing erect. Both he
and the Chief of the Intelligence were laughing. Joyce stared at the
tall figure, the erect bearing, the inscrutable grey eyes.
"Good Lord!" he gasped.
"Well, well, Captain Joyce, we are quits!" said the general, holding out
his hand. "You gave me a bad ten minutes with that infernal red-hot
horseshoe of yours. I've done as much for you. I don't think we can
spare you for the Royal Mallows just yet awhile."
"But, sir; but--!"
"The fewer questions the better, perhaps. But of course it must seem
rather amazing. I had a little private business with the Kabbabish.
It must be done in person. I did it, and came to your post in my
return. I kept on winking at you as a sign that I wanted a word with
"Yes, yes. I begin to understand."
"I couldn't give it away before all those blacks, or where should I have
been the next time I used my false beard and Arab dress? You put me in
a very awkward position. But at last I had a word alone with your
Egyptian officer, who managed my escape all right."
"He! Mahomet Ali!"
"I ordered him to say nothing. I had a score to settle with you.
But we dine at eight, Captain Joyce. We live plainly here, but I think
I can do you a little better than you did me at Kurkur."
A FOREIGN OFFICE ROMANCE
There are many folk who knew Alphonse Lacour in his old age. From about
the time of the Revolution of '48 until he died in the second year of
the Crimean War he was always to be found in the same corner of the Cafe
de Provence, at the end of the Rue St. Honore, coming down about nine in
the evening, and going when he could find no one to talk with. It took
some self-restraint to listen to the old diplomatist, for his stories
were beyond all belief, and yet he was quick at detecting the shadow of
a smile or the slightest little raising of the eyebrows. Then his huge,
rounded back would straighten itself, his bull-dog chin would project,
and his r's would burr like a kettledrum. When he got as far as, "Ah,
monsieur r-r-r-rit!" or "Vous ne me cr-r-r-royez pas donc!" it was quite
time to remember that you had a ticket for the opera.
There was his story of Talleyrand and the five oyster-shells, and there
was his utterly absurd account of Napoleon's second visit to Ajaccio.
Then there was that most circumstantial romance (which he never ventured
upon until his second bottle had been uncorked) of the Emperor's escape
from St. Helena--how he lived for a whole year in Philadelphia, while
Count Herbert de Bertrand, who was his living image, personated him at
Longwood. But of all his stories there was none which was more
notorious than that of the Koran and the Foreign Office messenger. And
yet when Monsieur Otto's memoirs were written it was found that there
really was some foundation for old Lacour's incredible statement.
"You must know, monsieur," he would say, "that I left Egypt after
Kleber's assassination. I would gladly have stayed on, for I was
engaged in a translation of the Koran, and between ourselves I had
thoughts at the time of embracing Mahometanism, for I was deeply struck
by the wisdom of their views about marriage. They had made an
incredible mistake, however, upon the subject of wine, and this was what
the Mufti who attempted to convert me could never get over. Then when
old Kleber died and Menou came to the top, I felt that it was time for
me to go. It is not for me to speak of my own capacities, monsieur, but
you will readily understand that the man does not care to be ridden by
the mule. I carried my Koran and my papers to London, where Monsieur
Otto had been sent by the First Consul to arrange a treaty of peace; for
both nations were very weary of the war, which had already lasted ten
years. Here I was most useful to Monsieur Otto on account of my
knowledge of the English tongue, and also, if I may say so, on account
of my natural capacity. They were happy days during which I lived in
the square of Bloomsbury. The climate of monsieur's country is, it must
be confessed, detestable. But then what would you have? Flowers grow
best in the rain. One has but to point to monsieur's fellow
country-women to prove it.
"Well, Monsieur Otto, our Ambassador, was kept terribly busy over that
treaty, and all of his staff were worked to death. We had not Pitt to
deal with, which was, perhaps, as well for us. He was a terrible man
that Pitt, and wherever half a dozen enemies of France were plotting
together, there was his sharp-pointed nose right in the middle of them.
The nation, however, had been thoughtful enough to put him out of
office, and we had to do with Monsieur Addington. But Milord Hawkesbury
was the Foreign Minister, and it was with him that we were obliged to do
"You can understand that it was no child's play. After ten years of war
each nation had got hold of a great deal which had belonged to the
other, or to the other's allies. What was to be given back, and what
was to be kept? Is this island worth that peninsula? If we do this at
Venice, will you do that at Sierra Leone? If we give up Egypt to the
Sultan, will you restore the Cape of Good Hope, which you have taken
from our allies the Dutch? So we wrangled and wrestled, and I have seen
Monsieur Otto come back to the Embassy so exhausted that his secretary
and I had to help him from his carriage to his sofa. But at last things
adjusted themselves, and the night came round when the treaty was to be
finally signed. Now, you must know that the one great card which we
held, and which we played, played, played at every point of the game,
was that we had Egypt. The English were very nervous about our being
there. It gave us a foot at each end of the Mediterranean, you see.
And they were not sure that that wonderful little Napoleon of ours might
not make it the base of an advance against India. So whenever Lord
Hawkesbury proposed to retain anything, we had only to reply, 'In _that_
case, of course, we cannot consent to evacuate Egypt,' and in this way
we quickly brought him to reason. It was by the help of Egypt that we
gained terms which were remarkably favourable, and especially that we
caused the English to consent to give up the Cape of Good Hope. We did
not wish your people, monsieur, to have any foothold in South Africa,
for history has taught us that the British foothold of one half-century
is the British Empire of the next. It is not your army or your navy
against which we have to guard, but it is your terrible younger son and
your man in search of a career. When we French have a possession across
the seas, we like to sit in Paris and to felicitate ourselves upon it.
With you it is different. You take your wives and your children, and
you run away to see what kind of place this may be, and after that we
might as well try to take that old Square of Bloomsbury away from you.
"Well, it was upon the first of October that the treaty was finally to
be signed. In the morning I was congratulating Monsieur Otto upon the
happy conclusion of his labours. He was a little pale shrimp of a man,
very quick and nervous, and he was so delighted now at his own success
that he could not sit still, but ran about the room chattering and
laughing, while I sat on a cushion in the corner, as I had learned to do
in the East. Suddenly, in came a messenger with a letter which had been
forwarded from Paris. Monsieur Otto cast his eye upon it, and then,
without a word, his knees gave way, and he fell senseless upon the
floor. I ran to him, as did the courier, and between us we carried him
to the sofa. He might have been dead from his appearance, but I could
still feel his heart thrilling beneath my palm. 'What is this, then?' I
"'I do not know,' answered the messenger. 'Monsieur Talleyrand told me
to hurry as never man hurried before, and to put this letter into the
hands of Monsieur Otto. I was in Paris at midday yesterday.'
"I know that I am to blame, but I could not help glancing at the letter,
picking it out of the senseless hand of Monsieur Otto. My God! the
thunderbolt that it was! I did not faint, but I sat down beside my
chief and I burst into tears. It was but a few words, but they told us
that Egypt had been evacuated by our troops a month before. All our
treaty was undone then, and the one consideration which had induced our
enemies to give us good terms had vanished. In twelve hours it would
not have mattered. But now the treaty was not yet signed. We should
have to give up the Cape. We should have to let England have Malta.
Now that Egypt was gone we had nothing left to offer in exchange.
"But we are not so easily beaten, we Frenchmen. You English misjudge us
when you think that because we show emotions which you conceal, that we
are therefore of a weak and womanly nature. You cannot read your
histories and believe that. Monsieur Otto recovered his senses
presently, and we took counsel what we should do.
"'It is useless to go on, Alphonse,' said he. 'This Englishman will
laugh at me when I ask him to sign.'
"'Courage!' I cried; and then a sudden thought coming into my head--'How
do we know that the English will have news of this? Perhaps they may