Part 1 out of 3
THE TRAGEDY OF THE KOROSKO
SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
The public may possibly wonder why it is that they have never heard in
the papers of the fate of the passengers of the _Korosko_. In these
days of universal press agencies, responsive to the slightest stimulus,
it may well seem incredible that an international incident of such
importance should remain so long unchronicled. Suffice it that there
were very valid reasons, both of a personal and of a political nature,
for holding it back. The facts were well known to a good number of
people at the time, and some version of them did actually appear in a
provincial paper, but was generally discredited. They have now been
thrown into narrative form, the incidents having been collated from the
sworn statements of Colonel Cochrane Cochrane, of the Army and Navy
Club, and from the letters of Miss Adams, of Boston, Mass.
These have been supplemented by the evidence of Captain Archer, of the
Egyptian Camel Corps, as given before the secret Government inquiry at
Cairo. Mr. James Stephens has refused to put his version of the matter
into writing, but as these proofs have been submitted to him, and no
correction or deletion has been made in them, it may be supposed that he
has not succeeded in detecting any grave misstatement of fact, and that
any objection which he may have to their publication depends rather upon
private and personal scruples.
The _Korosko_, a turtle-bottomed, round-bowed stern-wheeler, with a
30-inch draught and the lines of a flat-iron, started upon the 13th of
February in the year 1895, from Shellal, at the head of the first
cataract, bound for Wady Halfa. I have a passenger card for the trip,
which I here reproduce:
S.W. "KOROSKO," FEBRUARY 13TH.
Colonel Cochrane Cochrane London.
Mr. Cecil Brown London.
John H. Headingly Boston, U.S.A.
Miss Adams Boston, U.S.A.
Miss S. Adams Worcester, Mass., U.S.A.
Mons. Fardet Paris.
Mr. and Mrs. Belmont Dublin.
James Stephens Manchester.
Rev. John Stuart Birmingham.
Mrs. Shlesinger, nurse and child Florence.
This was the party as it started from Shellal, with the intention of
travelling up the two hundred miles of Nubian Nile which lie between the
first and the second cataract.
It is a singular country, this Nubia. Varying in breadth from a few
miles to as many yards (for the name is only applied to the narrow
portion which is capable of cultivation), it extends in a thin, green,
palm-fringed strip upon either side of the broad coffee-coloured river.
Beyond it there stretches on the Libyan bank a savage and illimitable
desert, extending to the whole breadth of Africa. On the other side an
equally desolate wilderness is bounded only by the distant Red Sea.
Between these two huge and barren expanses Nubia writhes like a green
sandworm along the course of the river. Here and there it disappears
altogether, and the Nile runs between black and sun-cracked hills, with
the orange drift-sand lying like glaciers in their valleys. Everywhere
one sees traces of vanished races and submerged civilisations.
Grotesque graves dot the hills or stand up against the sky-line:
pyramidal graves, tumulus graves, rock graves--everywhere, graves.
And, occasionally, as the boat rounds a rocky point, one sees a deserted
city up above--houses, walls, battlements, with the sun shining through
the empty window squares. Sometimes you learn that it has been Roman,
sometimes Egyptian, sometimes all record of its name or origin has been
absolutely lost. You ask yourself in amazement why any race should
build in so uncouth a solitude, and you find it difficult to accept the
theory that this has only been of value as a guard-house to the richer
country down below, and that these frequent cities have been so many
fortresses to hold off the wild and predatory men of the south.
But whatever be their explanation, be it a fierce neighbour, or be it a
climatic change, there they stand, these grim and silent cities, and up
on the hills you can see the graves of their people, like the port-holes
of a man-of-war. It is through this weird, dead country that the
tourists smoke and gossip and flirt as they pass up to the Egyptian
The passengers of the _Korosko_ formed a merry party, for most of them
had travelled up together from Cairo to Assouan, and even Anglo-Saxon
ice thaws rapidly upon the Nile. They were fortunate in being without
the single disagreeable person who, in these small boats, is sufficient
to mar the enjoyment of the whole party. On a vessel which is little
more than a large steam launch, the bore, the cynic, or the grumbler
holds the company at his mercy. But the _Korosko_ was free from
anything of the kind. Colonel Cochrane Cochrane was one of those
officers whom the British Government, acting upon a large system of
averages, declares at a certain age to be incapable of further service,
and who demonstrate the worth of such a system by spending their
declining years in exploring Morocco, or shooting lions in Somaliland.
He was a dark, straight, aquiline man, with a courteously deferential
manner, but a steady, questioning eye; very neat in his dress and
precise in his habits, a gentleman to the tips of his trim finger-nails.
In his Anglo-Saxon dislike to effusiveness he had cultivated a
self-contained manner which was apt at first acquaintance to be
repellent, and he seemed to those who really knew him to be at some
pains to conceal the kind heart and human emotions which influenced his
actions. It was respect rather than affection which he inspired among
his fellow-travellers, for they felt, like all who had ever met him,
that he was a man with whom acquaintance was unlikely to ripen into a
friendship, though a friendship, when once attained, would be an
unchanging and inseparable part of himself. He wore a grizzled military
moustache, but his hair was singularly black for a man of his years.
He made no allusion in his conversation to the numerous campaigns in
which he had distinguished himself, and the reason usually given for his
reticence was that they dated back to such early Victorian days that he
had to sacrifice his military glory at the shrine of his perennial
Mr. Cecil Brown--to take the names in the chance order in which they
appear upon the passenger list--was a young diplomatist from a
Continental Embassy, a man slightly tainted with the Oxford manner, and
erring upon the side of unnatural and inhuman refinement, but full of
interesting talk and cultured thought. He had a sad, handsome face, a
small wax-tipped moustache, a low voice and a listless manner, which was
relieved by a charming habit of suddenly lighting up into a rapid smile
and gleam when anything caught his fancy. An acquired cynicism was
eternally crushing and overlying his natural youthful enthusiasms, and
he ignored what was obvious while expressing keen appreciation for what
seemed to the average man to be either trivial or unhealthy. He chose
Walter Pater for his travelling author, and sat all day, reserved but
affable, under the awning, with his novel and his sketch-book upon a
camp-stool beside him. His personal dignity prevented him from making
advances to others, but if they chose to address him they found a
courteous and amiable companion.
The Americans formed a group by themselves. John H. Headingly was a
New Englander, a graduate of Harvard, who was completing his education
by a tour round the world. He stood for the best type of young
American--quick, observant, serious, eager for knowledge and fairly
free from prejudice, with a fine balance of unsectarian but earnest
religious feeling which held him steady amid all the sudden gusts of
youth. He had less of the appearance and more of the reality of culture
than the young Oxford diplomatist, for he had keener emotions though
less exact knowledge. Miss Adams and Miss Sadie Adams were aunt and
niece, the former a little, energetic, hard-featured Bostonian old-maid,
with a huge surplus of unused love behind her stern and swarthy
features. She had never been from home before, and she was now busy
upon the self-imposed task of bringing the East up to the standard of
Massachusetts. She had hardly landed in Egypt before she realised that
the country needed putting to rights, and since the conviction struck
her she had been very fully occupied. The saddle-galled donkeys, the
starved pariah dogs, the flies round the eyes of the babies, the naked
children, the importunate beggars, the ragged, untidy women--they were
all challenges to her conscience, and she plunged in bravely at her work
of reformation. As she could not speak a word of the language, however,
and was unable to make any of the delinquents understand what it was
that she wanted, her passage up the Nile left the immemorial East very
much as she had found it, but afforded a good deal of sympathetic
amusement to her fellow-travellers. No one enjoyed her efforts more
than her niece, Sadie, who shared with Mrs. Belmont the distinction of
being the most popular person upon the boat. She was very young--fresh
from Smith College--and she still possessed many both of the virtues and
of the faults of a child. She had the frankness, the trusting
confidence, the innocent straightforwardness, the high spirits, and also
the loquacity and the want of reverence. But even her faults caused
amusement, and if she had preserved many of the characteristics of a
clever child, she was none the less a tall and handsome woman, who
looked older than her years on account of that low curve of the hair
over the ears, and that fullness of bodice and skirt which Mr. Gibson
has either initiated or imitated. The whisk of those skirts, and the
frank, incisive voice and pleasant, catching laugh were familiar and
welcome sounds on board of the _Korosko_. Even the rigid Colonel
softened into geniality, and the Oxford-bred diplomatist forgot to be
unnatural with Miss Sadie Adams as a companion.
The other passengers may be dismissed more briefly. Some were
interesting, some neutral, and all amiable. Monsieur Fardet was a
good-natured but argumentative Frenchman, who held the most decided
views as to the deep machinations of Great Britain, and the illegality
of her position in Egypt. Mr. Belmont was an iron-grey, sturdy
Irishman, famous as an astonishingly good long-range rifle-shot, who had
carried off nearly every prize which Wimbledon or Bisley had to offer.
With him was his wife, a very charming and refined woman, full of the
pleasant playfulness of her country. Mrs. Shlesinger was a middle-aged
widow, quiet and soothing, with her thoughts all taken up by her
six-year-old child, as a mother's thoughts are likely to be in a boat
which has an open rail for a bulwark. The Reverend John Stuart was a
Nonconformist minister from Birmingham--either a Presbyterian or a
Congregationalist--a man of immense stoutness, slow and torpid in his
ways, but blessed with a considerable fund of homely humour, which made
him, I am told, a very favourite preacher, and an effective speaker from
advanced Radical platforms.
Finally, there was Mr. James Stephens, a Manchester solicitor (junior
partner of Hickson, Ward, and Stephens), who was travelling to shake off
the effects of an attack of influenza. Stephens was a man who, in the
course of thirty years, had worked himself up from cleaning the firm's
windows to managing its business. For most of that long time he had
been absolutely immersed in dry, technical work, living with the one
idea of satisfying old clients and attracting new ones, until his mind
and soul had become as formal and precise as the laws which he
expounded. A fine and sensitive nature was in danger of being as warped
as a busy city man's is liable to become. His work had become an
engrained habit, and, being a bachelor, he had hardly an interest in
life to draw him away from it, so that his soul was being gradually
bricked up like the body of a mediaeval nun. But at last there came
this kindly illness, and Nature hustled James Stephens out of his
groove, and sent him into the broad world far away from roaring
Manchester and his shelves full of calf-skin authorities. At first he
resented it deeply. Everything seemed trivial to him compared to his
own petty routine. But gradually his eyes were opened, and he began
dimly to see that it was his work which was trivial when compared to
this wonderful, varied, inexplicable world of which he was so ignorant.
Vaguely he realised that the interruption to his career might be more
important than the career itself. All sorts of new interests took
possession of him; and the middle-aged lawyer developed an after-glow of
that youth which had been wasted among his books. His character was
too formed to admit of his being anything but dry and precise in his
ways, and a trifle pedantic in his mode of speech; but he read and
thought and observed, scoring his "Baedeker" with underlinings and
annotations as he had once done his "Prideaux's Commentaries." He had
travelled up from Cairo with the party, and had contracted a friendship
with Miss Adams and her niece. The young American girl, with her
chatter, her audacity, and her constant flow of high spirits, amused and
interested him, and she in turn felt a mixture of respect and of pity
for his knowledge and his limitations. So they became good friends, and
people smiled to see his clouded face and her sunny one bending over the
The little _Korosko_ puffed and spluttered her way up the river, kicking
up the white water behind her, and making more noise and fuss over her
five knots an hour than an Atlantic liner on a record voyage. On deck,
under the thick awning, sat her little family of passengers, and every
few hours she eased down and sidled up to the bank to allow them to
visit one more of that innumerable succession of temples. The remains,
however, grow more modern as one ascends from Cairo, and travellers who
have sated themselves at Gizeh and Sakara with the contemplation of the
very oldest buildings which the hands of man have constructed, become
impatient of temples which are hardly older than the Christian era.
Ruins which would be gazed upon with wonder and veneration in any other
country are hardly noticed in Egypt. The tourists viewed with languid
interest the half-Greek art of the Nubian bas-reliefs; they climbed the
hill of Korosko to see the sun rise over the savage Eastern desert; they
were moved to wonder by the great shrine of Abou-Simbel, where some old
race has hollowed out a mountain as if it were a cheese; and, finally,
upon the evening of the fourth day of their travels they arrived at Wady
Halfa, the frontier garrison town, some few hours after they were due,
on account of a small mishap in the engine-room. The next morning was
to be devoted to an expedition to the famous rock of Abousir, from which
a great view may be obtained of the second cataract. At eight-thirty,
as the passengers sat on deck after dinner, Mansoor, the dragoman, half
Copt, half Syrian, came forward, according to the nightly custom, to
announce the programme for the morrow.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said he, plunging boldly into the rapid but
broken stream of his English, "to-morrow you will remember not to forget
to rise when the gong strikes you for to compress the journey before
twelve o'clock. Having arrived at the place where the donkeys expect
us, we shall ride five miles over the desert, passing a temple of
Ammon-ra, which dates itself from the eighteenth dynasty, upon the way,
and so reach the celebrated pulpit rock of Abousir. The pulpit rock is
supposed to have been called so, because it is a rock like a pulpit.
When you have reached it you will know that you are on the very edge of
civilisation, and that very little more will take you into the country
of the Dervishes, which will be obvious to you at the top.
Having passed the summit, you will perceive the full extremity of the
second cataract, embracing wild natural beauties of the most dreadful
variety. Here all very famous people carve their names--and so you will
carve your names also." Mansoor waited expectantly for a titter, and
bowed to it when it arrived. "You will then return to Wady Halfa, and
there remain two hours to suspect the Camel Corps, including the
grooming of the beasts, and the bazaar before returning, so I wish you a
very happy good-night."
There was a gleam of his white teeth in the lamplight, and then his
long, dark petticoats, his short English cover-coat, and his red
tarboosh vanished successively down the ladder. The low buzz of
conversation which had been suspended by his coming broke out anew.
"I'm relying on you, Mr. Stephens, to tell me all about Abousir," said
Miss Sadie Adams. "I do like to know what I am looking at right there
at the time, and not six hours afterwards in my state-room. I haven't
got Abou-Simbel and the wall pictures straight in my mind yet, though I
saw them yesterday."
"I never hope to keep up with it," said her aunt. "When I am safe back
in Commonwealth Avenue, and there's no dragoman to hustle me around,
I'll have time to read about it all, and then I expect I shall begin to
enthuse, and want to come right back again. But it's just too good of
you, Mr. Stephens, to try and keep us informed."
"I thought that you might wish precise information, and so I prepared a
small digest of the matter," said Stephens, handing a slip of paper to
Miss Sadie. She looked at it in the light of the deck lamp, and broke
into her low, hearty laugh.
"_Re_ Abousir," she read; "now, what _do_ you mean by '_re_,' Mr.
Stephens? You put '_re_ Rameses the Second' on the last paper you gave
"It is a habit I have acquired, Miss Sadie," said Stephens; "it is the
custom in the legal profession when they make a memo."
"Make what, Mr. Stephens?"
"A memo--a memorandum, you know. We put _re_ so-and-so to show what it
"I suppose it's a good short way," said Miss Sadie, "but it feels queer
somehow when applied to scenery or to dead Egyptian kings.
'_Re_ Cheops'--doesn't that strike you as funny?"
"No, I can't say that it does," said Stephens.
"I wonder if it is true that the English have less humour than the
Americans, or whether it's just another kind of humour," said the girl.
She had a quiet, abstracted way of talking as if she were thinking
aloud. "I used to imagine they had less, and yet, when you come to
think of it, Dickens and Thackeray and Barrie, and so many other of the
humourists we admire most are Britishers. Besides, I never in all my
days heard people laugh so hard as in that London theatre. There was a
man behind us, and every time he laughed Auntie looked round to see if a
door had opened, he made such a draught. But you have some funny
expressions, Mr. Stephens!"
"What else strikes you as funny, Miss Sadie?"
"Well, when you sent me the temple ticket and the little map, you began
your letter, 'Enclosed, please find,' and then at the bottom, in
brackets, you had '2 enclo.'"
"That is the usual form in business."
"Yes, in business," said Sadie demurely, and there was a silence.
"There's one thing I wish," remarked Miss Adams, in the hard, metallic
voice with which she disguised her softness of heart, "and that is, that
I could see the Legislature of this country and lay a few cold-drawn
facts in front of them. I'd make a platform of my own, Mr. Stephens,
and run a party on my ticket. A Bill for the compulsory use of eyewash
would be one of my planks, and another would be for the abolition of
those Yashmak veil things which turn a woman into a bale of cotton goods
with a pair of eyes looking out of it."
"I never could think why they wore them," said Sadie; "until one day I
saw one with her veil lifted. Then I knew."
"They make me tired, those women," cried Miss Adams wrathfully.
"One might as well try to preach duty and decency and cleanliness to a
line of bolsters. Why, good land, it was only yesterday at Abou-Simbel,
Mr. Stephens, I was passing one of their houses--if you can call a
mud-pie like that a house--and I saw two of the children at the door
with the usual crust of flies round their eyes, and great holes in their
poor little blue gowns! So I got off my donkey, and I turned up my
sleeves, and I washed their faces well with my handkerchief, and sewed
up the rents--for in this country I would as soon think of going ashore
without my needle-case as without my white umbrella, Mr. Stephens.
Then as I warmed on the job I got into the room--such a room!--and I
packed the folks out of it, and I fairly did the chores as if I had been
the hired help. I've seen no more of that temple of Abou-Simbel than if
I had never left Boston; but, my sakes, I saw more dust and mess than
you would think they could crowd into a house the size of a Newport
bathing-hut. From the time I pinned up my skirt until I came out with
my face the colour of that smoke-stack, wasn't more than an hour, or
maybe an hour and a half, but I had that house as clean and fresh as a
new pine-wood box. I had a _New York Herald_ with me, and I lined their
shelf with paper for them. Well, Mr. Stephens, when I had done washing
my hands outside, I came past the door again, and there were those two
children sitting on the stoop with their eyes full of flies, and all
just the same as ever, except that each had a little paper cap made out
of the _New York Herald_ upon his head. But, say, Sadie, it's going on
to ten o'clock, and to-morrow an early excursion."
"It's just too beautiful, this purple sky and the great silver stars,"
said Sadie. "Look at the silent desert and the black shadows of the
hills. It's grand, but it's terrible too; and then when you think that
we really _are_, as that dragoman said just now, on the very end of
civilisation, and with nothing but savagery and bloodshed down there
where the Southern Cross is twinkling so prettily, why, it's like
standing on the beautiful edge of a live volcano."
"Shucks, Sadie, don't talk like that, child," said the older woman
nervously. "It's enough to scare any one to listen to you."
"Well, but don't you feel it yourself, Auntie? Look at that great
desert stretching away and away until it is lost in the shadows.
Hear the sad whisper of the wind across it! It's just the most solemn
thing that ever I saw in my life."
"I'm glad we've found something that will make you solemn, my dear,"
said her Aunt. "I've sometimes thought--Sakes alive, what's that?"
From somewhere amongst the hill shadows upon the other side of the river
there had risen a high shrill whimpering, rising and swelling, to end in
a long weary wail.
"It's only a jackal, Miss Adams," said Stephens. "I heard one when we
went out to see the Sphinx by moonlight."
But the American lady had risen, and her face showed that her nerves had
"If I had my time over again I wouldn't have come past Assouan," said
she. "I can't think what possessed me to bring you all the way up here,
Sadie. Your mother will think that I am clean crazy, and I'd never dare
to look her in the eye if anything went wrong with us. I've seen all I
want to see of this river, and all I ask now is to be back at Cairo
"Why, Auntie," cried the girl, "it isn't like you to be faint-hearted."
"Well, I don't know how it is, Sadie, but I feel a bit unstrung, and
that beast caterwauling over yonder was just more than I could put up
with. There's one consolation, we are scheduled to be on our way home
to-morrow, after we've seen this one rock or temple, or whatever it is.
I'm full up of rocks and temples, Mr. Stephens. I shouldn't mope if I
never saw another. Come, Sadie! Good-night!"
"Good-night! Good-night, Miss Adams!"
And the two ladies passed down to their cabins.
Monsieur Fardet was chatting, in a subdued voice, with Headingly, the
young Harvard graduate, bending forward confidentially between the
whiffs of his cigarette.
"Dervishes, Mister Headingly!" said he, speaking excellent English, but
separating his syllables as d Frenchman will. "There are no Dervishes.
They do not exist."
"Why, I thought the woods were full of them," said the American.
Monsieur Fardet glanced across to where the red core of Colonel
Cochrane's cigar was glowing through the darkness.
"You are an American, and you do not like the English," he whispered.
"It is perfectly comprehended upon the Continent that the Americans are
opposed to the English."
"Well," said Headingly, with his slow, deliberate manner, "I won't say
that we have not our tiffs, and there are some of our people--mostly of
Irish stock--who are always mad with England; but the most of us have a
kindly thought for the mother country. You see they may be aggravating
folk sometimes, but after all they are our _own_ folk, and we can't wipe
that off the slate."
"_Eh bien!_" said the Frenchman. "At least I can say to you what I
could not without offence say to these others. And I repeat that there
_are_ no Dervishes. They were an invention of Lord Cromer in the year
"You don't say!" cried Headingly.
"It is well known in Paris, and has been exposed in _La Patrie_ and
other of our so well-informed papers."
"Hut this is colossal," said Headingly. "Do you mean to tell me,
Monsieur Fardet, that the siege of Khartoum and the death of Gordon and
the rest of it was just one great bluff?"
"I will not deny that there was an emeute, but it was local, you
understand, and now long forgotten. Since then there has been profound
peace in the Soudan."
"But I have heard of raids, Monsieur Fardet, and I've read of battles,
too, when the Arabs tried to invade Egypt. It was only Two days ago
that we passed Toski, where the dragoman said there had been a fight.
Is that all bluff also?"
"Pah, my friend, you do not know the English. You look at them as you
see them with their pipes and their contented faces, and you say, 'Now,
these are good, simple folk, who will never hurt any one.' But all the
time they are thinking and watching and planning. 'Here is Egypt weak,'
they cry. '_Allons!_' and down they swoop like a gull upon a crust.
'You have no right there,' says the world. 'Come out of it!'
But England has already begun to tidy everything, just like the good
Miss Adams when she forces her way into the house of an Arab.
'Come out,' says the world. 'Certainly,' says England; 'just wait one
little minute until I have made everything nice and proper.' So the
world waits for a year or so, and then it says once again, 'Come out.'
'Just wait a little,' says England; 'there is trouble at Khartoum, and
when I have set that all right I shall be very glad to come out.'
So they wait until it is all over, and then again they say, 'Come out.'
'How can I come out,' says England, 'when there are still raids and
battles going on? If we were to leave, Egypt would be run over.'
'But there are no raids,' says the world. 'Oh, are there not?' says
England, and then within a week sure enough the papers are full of some
new raid of Dervishes. We are not all blind, Mister Headingly.
We understand very well how such things can be done. A few Bedouins, a
little backsheesh, some blank cartridges, and, behold--a raid!"
"Well, well," said the American, "I'm glad to know the rights of this
business, for it has often puzzled me. But what does England get out of
"She gets the country, monsieur."
"I see. You mean, for example, that there is a favourable tariff for
"No, monsieur; it is the same for all."
"Well, then, she gives the contracts to Britishers?"
"For example, the railroad that they are building right through the
country, the one that runs alongside the river, that would be a valuable
contract for the British?"
Monsieur Fardet was an honest man, if an imaginative one.
"It is a French company, monsieur, which holds the railway contract,"
The American was puzzled.
"They don't seem to get much for their trouble," said he. "Still, of
course, there must be some indirect pull somewhere. For example, Egypt
no doubt has to pay and keep all those red-coats in Cairo."
"Egypt, monsieur! No, they are paid by England."
"Well, I suppose they know their own business best, but they seem to me
to take a great deal of trouble, and to get mighty little in exchange.
If they don't mind keeping order and guarding the frontier, with a
constant war against the Dervishes on their hands, I don't know why any
one should object. I suppose no one denies that the prosperity of the
country has increased enormously since they came. The revenue returns
show that. They tell me also that the poorer folks have justice, which
they never had before."
"What are they doing here at all?" cried the Frenchman angrily.
"Let them go back to their island. We cannot have them all over the
"Well, certainly, to us Americans, who live all in our own land, it does
seem strange how you European nations are for ever slopping over into
some other country which was not meant for you. It's easy for us to
talk, of course, for we have still got room and to spare for all our
people. When we begin pushing each other over the edge we shall have to
start annexing also. But at present just here in North Africa there is
Italy in Abyssinia, and England in Egypt, and France in Algiers--"
"France!" cried Monsieur Fardet. "Algiers belongs to France.
You laugh, monsieur. I have the honour to wish you a very good-night."
He rose from his seat, and walked off, rigid with outraged patriotism,
to his cabin.
The young American hesitated for a little, debating in his mind whether
he should not go down and post up the daily record of his impressions
which he kept for his home-staying sister. But the cigars of Colonel
Cochrane and of Cecil Brown were still twinkling in the far corner of
the deck, and the student was acquisitive in the search of information.
He did not quite know how to lead up to the matter, but the Colonel very
soon did it for him.
"Come on, Headingly," said he, pushing a camp-stool in his direction.
"This is the place for an antidote. I see that Fardet has been pouring
politics into your ear."
"I can always recognise the confidential stoop of his shoulders when he
discusses _la haute politique_," said the dandy diplomatist. "But what
a sacrilege upon a night like this! What a nocturne in blue and silver
might be suggested by that moon rising above the desert. There is a
movement in one of Mendelssohn's songs which seems to embody it all--
a sense of vastness, of repetition, the cry of the wind over an
interminable expanse. The subtler emotions which cannot be translated
into words are still to be hinted at by chords and harmonies."
"It seems wilder and more savage than ever to-night," remarked the
American. "It gives me the same feeling of pitiless force that the
Atlantic does upon a cold, dark, winter day. Perhaps it is the
knowledge that we are right there on the very edge of any kind of law
and order. How far do you suppose that we are from any Dervishes,
"Well, on the Arabian side," said the Colonel, "we have the Egyptian
fortified camp of Sarras about forty miles to the south of us. Beyond
that are sixty miles of very wild country before you would come to the
Dervish post at Akasheh. On this other side, however, there is nothing
between us and them."
"Abousir is on this side, is it not?"
"Yes. That is why the excursion to the Abousir Rock has been forbidden
for the last year. But things are quieter now."
"What is to prevent them from coming down on that side?"
"Absolutely nothing," said Cecil Brown, in his listless voice.
"Nothing, except their fears. The coming of course would be perfectly
simple. The difficulty would lie in the return. They might find it
hard to get back if their camels were spent, and the Halfa garrison with
their beasts fresh got on their track. They know it as well as we do,
and it has kept them from trying."
"It isn't safe to reckon upon a Dervish's fears," remarked Brown.
"We must always bear in mind that they are not amenable to the same
motives as other people. Many of them are anxious to meet death, and
all of them are absolute, uncompromising believers in destiny.
They exist as a _reductio ad absurdum_ of all bigotry--a proof of how
surely it leads towards blank barbarism."
"You think these people are a real menace to Egypt?" asked the American.
"There seems from what I have heard to be some difference of opinion
about it. Monsieur Fardet, for example, does not seem to think that the
danger is a very pressing one."
"I am not a rich man," Colonel Cochrane answered after a little pause,
"but I am prepared to lay all I am worth, that within three years of the
British officers being withdrawn, the Dervishes would be upon the
Mediterranean. Where would the civilisation of Egypt be? Where would
the hundreds of millions which have been invested in this country?
Where the monuments which all nations look upon as most precious
memorials of the past?"
"Come now, Colonel," cried Headingly, laughing, "surely you don't mean
that they would shift the pyramids?"
"You cannot foretell what they would do. There is no iconoclast in the
world like an extreme Mohammedan. Last time they overran this country
they burned the Alexandrian Library. You know that all representations
of the human features are against the letter of the Koran. A statue is
always an irreligious object in their eyes. What do these fellows care
for the sentiment of Europe? The more they could offend it, the more
delighted they would be. Down would go the Sphinx, the Colossi, the
Statues of Abou-Simbel--as the saints went down in England before
"Well now," said Headingly, in his slow, thoughtful fashion, "suppose I
grant you that the Dervishes could overrun Egypt, and suppose also that
you English are holding them out, what I'm never done asking is, what
reason have you for spending all these millions of dollars and the lives
of so many of your men? What do you get out of it, more than France
gets, or Germany, or any other country, that runs no risk and never lays
out a cent?"
"There are a good many Englishmen who are asking themselves that
question," remarked Cecil Brown. "It's my opinion that we have been the
policemen of the world long enough. We policed the seas for pirates and
slavers. Now we police the land for Dervishes and brigands and every
sort of danger to civilisation. There is never a mad priest or a witch
doctor, or a firebrand of any sort on this planet, who does not report
his appearance by sniping the nearest British officer. One tires of it
at last. If a Kurd breaks loose in Asia Minor, the world wants to know
why Great Britain does not keep him in order. If there is a military
mutiny in Egypt, or a Jehad in the Soudan, it is still Great Britain who
has to set it right. And all to an accompaniment of curses such as the
policeman gets when he seizes a ruffian among his pals. We get hard
knocks and no thanks, and why should we do it? Let Europe do its own
"Well," said Colonel Cochrane, crossing his legs and leaning forward
with the decision of n man who has definite opinions, "I don't at all
agree with you, Brown, and I think that to advocate such a course is to
take a very limited view of our national duties. I think that behind
national interests and diplomacy and all that there lies a great guiding
force--a Providence, in fact--which is for ever getting the best out of
each nation and using it for the good of the whole. When a nation
ceases to respond, it is time that she went into hospital for a few
centuries, like Spain or Greece--the virtue has gone out of her. A man
or a nation is not placed upon this earth to do merely what is pleasant
and what is profitable. It is often called upon to carry out what is
both unpleasant and unprofitable, but if it is obviously right it is
mere shirking not to undertake it."
Headingly nodded approvingly.
"Each has its own mission. Germany is predominant in abstract thought;
France in literature, art, and grace. But we and you--for the
English-speakers are all in the same boat, however much the _New York
Sun_ may scream over it--we and you have among our best men a higher
conception of moral sense and public duty than is to be found in any
other people. Now, these are the two qualities which are needed for
directing a weaker race. You can't help them by abstract thought or by
graceful art, but only by that moral sense which will hold the scales of
Justice even, and keep itself free from every taint of corruption.
That is how we rule India. We came there by a kind of natural law, like
air rushing into a vacuum. All over the world, against our direct
interests and our deliberate intentions, we are drawn into the same
thing. And it will happen to you also. The pressure of destiny will
force you to administer the Whole of America from Mexico to the Horn."
"Our Jingoes would be pleased to hear you, Colonel Cochrane," said he.
"They'd vote you into our Senate and make you one of the Committee on
"The world is small, and it grows smaller every day. It's a single
organic body, and one spot of gangrene is enough to vitiate the whole.
There's no room upon it for dishonest, defaulting, tyrannical,
irresponsible Governments. As long as they exist they will always be
sources of trouble and of danger. But there are many races which appear
to be so incapable of improvement that we can never hope to get a good
Government out of them. What is to be done, then? The former device of
Providence in such a case was extermination by some more virile stock--
an Attila or a Tamerlane pruned off the weaker branch. Now, we have a
more merciful substitution of rulers, or even of mere advice from a more
advanced race. That is the case with the Central Asian Khanates and
with the protected States of India. If the work has to be done, and if
we are the best fitted for the work, then I think that it would be a
cowardice and a crime to shirk it."
"But who is to decide whether it is a fitting case for your
interference?" objected the American. "A predatory country could grab
every other land in the world upon such a pretext."
"Events--inexorable, inevitable events--will decide it. Take this
Egyptian business as an example. In 1881 there was nothing in this
world further from the minds of our people than any interference with
Egypt; and yet 1882 left us in possession of the country. There was
never any choice in the chain of events. A massacre in the streets of
Alexandria, and the mounting of guns to drive out our fleet--which was
there, you understand, in fulfilment of solemn treaty obligations--led
to the bombardment. The bombardment led to a landing to save the city
from destruction. The landing caused an extension of operations--and
here we are, with the country upon our hands. At the time of trouble we
begged and implored the French, or any one else, to come and help us to
put the thing to rights, but they all deserted us when there was work to
be done, although they are ready enough to scold and to impede us now.
When we tried to get out of it, up came this wild Dervish movement, and
we had to sit tighter than ever. We never wanted the task; but, now
that it has come, we must put it through in a workmanlike manner.
We've brought justice into the country, and purity of administration,
and protection for the poor man. It has made more advance in the last
twelve years than since the Moslem invasion in the seventh century.
Except the pay of a couple of hundred men, who spend their money in the
country, England has neither directly nor indirectly made a shilling out
of it, and I don't believe you will find in history a more successful
and more disinterested bit of work."
Headingly puffed thoughtfully at his cigarette.
"There is a house near ours, down on the Back Bay at Boston, which just
ruins the whole prospect," said he. "It has old chairs littered about
the stoop, and the shingles are loose, and the garden runs wild; but I
don't know that the neighbours are exactly justified in rushing in, and
stamping around, and running the thing on their own lines."
"Not if it were on fire?" asked the Colonel.
Headingly laughed, and rose from his camp-stool.
"Well, it doesn't come within the provisions of the Monroe Doctrine,
Colonel," said he. "I'm beginning to realise that modern Egypt is every
bit as interesting as ancient, and that Rameses the Second wasn't the
last live man in the country."
The two Englishmen rose and yawned.
"Yes, it's a whimsical freak of fortune which has sent men from a little
island in the Atlantic to administer the land of the Pharaohs," remarked
Cecil Brown. "We shall pass away again, and never leave a trace among
these successive races who have held the country, for it is not an
Anglo-Saxon custom to write their deeds upon rocks. I dare say that the
remains of a Cairo drainage system will be our most permanent record,
unless they prove a thousand years hence that it was the work of the
Hyksos kings. But here is the shore party come back."
Down below they could hear the mellow Irish accents of Mrs. Belmont and
the deep voice of her husband, the iron-grey rifle-shot. Mr. Stuart,
the fat Birmingham clergyman, was thrashing out a question of piastres
with a noisy donkey-boy, and the others were joining in with chaff and
advice. Then the hubbub died away, the party from above came down the
ladder, there were "good-nights," the shutting of doors, and the little
steamer lay silent, dark, and motionless in the shadow of the high Halfa
bank. And beyond this one point of civilisation and of comfort there
lay the limitless, savage, unchangeable desert, straw-coloured and
dream-like in the moonlight, mottled over with the black shadows of the
"Stoppa! Backa!" cried the native pilot to the European engineer.
The bluff bows of the stern-wheeler had squelched into the soft brown
mud, and the current had swept the boat alongside the bank. The long
gangway was thrown across, and the six tall soldiers of the Soudanese
escort filed along it, their light-blue gold-trimmed zouave uniforms,
and their jaunty yellow and red forage-caps, showing up bravely in the
clear morning light. Above them, on the top of the bank, was ranged the
line of donkeys, and the air was full of the clamour of the boys.
In shrill strident voices each was crying out the virtues of his own
beast, and abusing that of his neighbour.
Colonel Cochrane and Mr. Belmont stood together in the bows, each
wearing the broad white puggareed hat of the tourist. Miss Adams and
her niece leaned against the rail beside them.
"Sorry your wife isn't coming, Belmont," said the Colonel.
"I think she had a touch of the sun yesterday. Her head aches very
His voice was strong and thick like his figure.
"I should stay to keep her company, Mr. Belmont," said the little
American old maid; "but I learn that Mrs. Shlesinger finds the ride too
long for her, and has some letters which she must mail to-day, so Mrs.
Belmont will not be lonesome."
"You're very good, Miss Adams. We shall be back, you know, by two
"Is that certain?"
"It must be certain, for we are taking no lunch with us, and we shall be
famished by then."
"Yes, I expect we shall be ready for a hock and seltzer at any rate,"
said the Colonel. "This desert dust gives a flavour to the worst
"Now, ladies and gentlemen!" cried Mansoor, the dragoman, moving forward
with something of the priest in his flowing garments and smooth,
clean-shaven face. "We must start early that we may return before the
meridial heat of the weather." He ran his dark eyes over the little
group of his tourists with a paternal expression. "You take your green
glasses, Miss Adams, for glare very great out in the desert. Ah, Mr.
Stuart, I set aside very fine donkey for you--prize donkey, sir, always
put aside for the gentleman of most weight. Never mind to take your
monument ticket to-day. Now, ladies and gentlemen, if _you_ please!"
Like a grotesque frieze the party moved one by one along the plank
gangway and up the brown crumbling bank. Mr. Stephens led them, a thin,
dry, serious figure, in an English straw hat. His red "Baedeker"
gleamed under his arm, and in one hand he held a little paper of notes,
as if it were a brief. He took Miss Sadie by one arm and her aunt by
the other as they toiled up the bank, and the young girl's laughter rang
frank and clear in the morning air as "Baedeker" came fluttering down at
their feet. Mr. Belmont and Colonel Cochrane followed, the brims of
their sun-hats touching as they discussed the relative advantages of the
Mauser, the Lebel, and the Lee-Metford. Behind them walked Cecil Brown,
listless, cynical, self-contained. The fat clergyman puffed slowly up
the bank, with many gasping witticisms at his own defects. "I'm one of
those men who carry everything before them," said he, glancing ruefully
at his rotundity, and chuckling wheezily at his own little joke.
Last of all came Headingly, slight and tall, with the student stoop
about his shoulders, and Fardet, the good-natured, fussy, argumentative
"You see we have an escort to-day," he whispered to his companion.
"So I observed."
"Pah!" cried the Frenchman, throwing out his arms in derision; "as well
have an escort from Paris to Versailles. This is all part of the play,
Monsieur Headingly. It deceives no one, but it is part of the play.
_Pourquoi ces droles de militaires, dragoman, hein?_"
It was the dragoman's _role_ to be all things to all men, so he looked
cautiously round before he answered, to make sure that the English were
mounted and out of earshot.
"_C'est ridicule, monsieur!_" said he, shrugging his fat shoulders.
"_Mais que voulez-vous? C'est l'ordre official Egyptien._"
"_Egyptien! Pah, Anglais, Anglais--toujours Anglais!_" cried the angry
The frieze now was more grotesque than ever, but had changed suddenly to
an equestrian one, sharply outlined against the deep-blue Egyptian sky.
Those who have never ridden before have to ride in Egypt, and when the
donkeys break into a canter, and the Nile Irregulars are at full charge,
such a scene of flying veils, clutching hands, huddled swaying figures,
and anxious faces is nowhere to be seen. Belmont, his square figure
balanced upon a small white donkey, was waving his hat to his wife, who
had come out upon the saloon-deck of the _Korosko_. Cochrane sat very
erect with a stiff military seat, hands low, head high, and heels down,
while beside him rode the young Oxford man, looking about him with
drooping eyelids as if he thought the desert hardly respectable, and had
his doubts about the Universe. Behind them the whole party was strung
along the bank in varying stages of jolting and discomfort, a
brown-faced, noisy donkey-boy running after each donkey. Looking back,
they could see the little lead-coloured stern-wheeler, with the gleam of
Mrs. Belmont's handkerchief from the deck. Beyond ran the broad, brown
river, winding down in long curves to where, five miles off, the square,
white block-houses upon the black, ragged hills marked the outskirts of
Wady Halfa, which had been their starting-point that morning.
"Isn't it just too lovely for anything?" cried Sadie joyously. "I've
got a donkey that runs on casters, and the saddle is just elegant.
Did you ever see anything so cunning as these beads and things round his
neck? You must make a memo. _re_ donkey, Mr. Stephens. Isn't that
correct legal English?"
Stephens looked at the pretty, animated, boyish face looking up at him
from under the coquettish straw hat, and he wished that he had the
courage to tell her in her own language that she was just too sweet for
anything. But he feared above all things lest he should offend her, and
so put an end to their present pleasant intimacy. So his compliment
dwindled into a smile.
"You look very happy," said he.
"Well, who could help feeling good with this dry, clear air, and the
blue sky, and the crisp yellow sand, and a superb donkey to carry you?
I've just got everything in the world to make me happy."
"Well, everything I have any use for just now."
"I suppose you never know what it is to be sad?"
"Oh, when I _am_ miserable, I am just too miserable for words. I've sat
and cried for days and days at Smith's College, and the other girls were
just crazy to know what I was crying about, and guessing what the reason
was that I wouldn't tell them, when all the time the real true reason
was that I didn't know myself. You know how it comes like a great dark
shadow over you, and you don't know why or wherefore, but you've just
got to settle down to it and be miserable."
"But you never had any real cause?"
"No, Mr. Stephens, I've had such a good time all my life that I really
don't think, when I look back, that I ever had any real cause for
"Well, Miss Sadie, I hope with all my heart that you will be able to say
the same when you are the same age as your aunt. Surely I hear her
"I wish, Mr. Stephens, you would strike my donkey-boy with your whip if
he hits the donkey again," cried Miss Adams, jogging up on a high,
raw-boned beast. "Hi, dragoman, Mansoor, you tell this boy that I won't
have the animals ill used, and that he ought to be ashamed of himself.
Yes, you little rascal, you ought! He's grinning at me like an
advertisement for a tooth paste. Do you think, Mr. Stephens, that if I
were to knit that black soldier a pair of woollen stockings he would be
allowed to wear them? The poor creature has bandages round his legs."
"Those are his putties, Miss Adams," said Colonel Cochrane, looking
back at her. "We have found in India that they are the best support to
the leg in marching. They are very much better than any stocking."
"Well, you don't say! They remind me mostly of a sick horse. But it's
elegant to have the soldiers with us, though Monsieur Fardet tells me
there's nothing for us to be scared about."
"That is only my opinion, Miss Adams," said the Frenchman hastily.
"It may be that Colonel Cochrane thinks otherwise."
"It is Monsieur Fardet's opinion against that of the officers who have
the responsibility of caring for the safety of the frontier," said the
Colonel coldly. "At least we will all agree that they have the effect
of making the scene very much more picturesque."
The desert upon their right lay in long curves of sand, like the dunes
which might have fringed some forgotten primeval sea. Topping them they
could see the black, craggy summits of the curious volcanic hills which
rise upon the Libyan side. On the crest of the low sand-hills they
would catch a glimpse every now and then of a tall, sky-blue soldier,
walking swiftly, his rifle at the trail. For a moment the lank, warlike
figure would be sharply silhouetted against the sky. Then he would dip
into a hollow and disappear, while some hundred yards off another would
show for an instant and vanish.
"Wherever are they raised?" asked Sadie, watching the moving figures.
"They look to me just about the same tint as the hotel boys in the
"I thought some question might arise about them," said Mr. Stephens, who
was never so happy as when he could anticipate some wish of the pretty
American. "I made one or two references this morning in the ship's
library. Here it is--_re_--that's to say, about black soldiers. I have
it on my notes that they are from the 10th Soudanese battalion of the
Egyptian army. They are recruited from the Dinkas and the Shilluks--two
negroid tribes living to the south of the Dervish country, near the
"How can the recruits come through the Dervishes, then?" asked Headingly
"I dare say there is no such very great difficulty over that," said
Monsieur Fardet, with a wink at the American.
"The older men are the remains of the old black battalions. Some of
them served with Gordon at Khartoum, and have his medal to show.
The others are many of them deserters from the Mahdi's army," said the
"Well, so long as they are not wanted, they look right elegant in those
blue jackets," Miss Adams observed. "But if there was any trouble, I
guess we would wish they were less ornamental and a bit whiter."
"I am not so sure of that, Miss Adams," said the Colonel. "I have seen
these fellows in the field, and I assure you that I have the utmost
confidence in their steadiness."
"Well, I'll take your word without trying," said Miss Adams, with a
decision which made every one smile.
So far their road had lain along the side of the river, which was
swirling down upon their left hand deep and strong from the cataracts
above. Here and there the rush of the current was broken by a black
shining boulder over which the foam was spouting. Higher up they could
see the white gleam of the rapids, and the banks grew into rugged
cliffs, which were capped by a peculiar, outstanding semi-circular rock.
It did not require the dragoman's aid to tell the party that this was
the famous landmark to which they were bound. A long, level stretch lay
before them, and the donkeys took it at a canter. At the farther side
were scattered rocks, black upon orange; and in the midst of them rose
some broken shafts of pillars and a length of engraved wall, looking in
its greyness and its solidity more like some work of Nature than of man.
The fat, sleek dragoman had dismounted, and stood waiting in his
petticoats and his cover-coat for the stragglers to gather round him.
"This temple, ladies and gentlemen," he cried, with the air of an
auctioneer who is about to sell it to the highest bidder, "very fine
example from the eighteenth dynasty. Here is the cartouche of Thotmes
the Third," he pointed up with his donkey-whip at the rude, but deep,
hieroglyphics upon the wall above him. "He live sixteen hundred years
before Christ, and this is made to remember his victorious exhibition
into Mesopotamia. Here we have his history from the time that he was
with his mother, until he return with captives tied to his chariot.
In this you see him crowned with Lower Egypt, and with Upper Egypt
offering up sacrifice in honour of his victory to the God Ammon-ra.
Here he bring his captives before him, and he cut off each his right
hand. In this corner you see little pile--all right hands."
"My sakes, I shouldn't have liked to be here in those days," said Miss
"Why, there's nothing altered," remarked Cecil Brown. "The East is
still the East. I've no doubt that within a hundred miles, or perhaps a
good deal less, from where you stand--"
"Shut up!" whispered the Colonel, and the party shuffled on down the
line of the wall with their faces up and their big hats thrown
backwards. The sun behind them struck the old grey masonry with a
brassy glare, and carried on to it the strange black shadows of the
tourists, mixing them up with the grim, high-nosed, square-shouldered
warriors, and the grotesque, rigid deities who lined it. The broad
shadow of the Reverend John Stuart, of Birmingham, smudged out both the
heathen King and the god whom he worshipped.
"What's this?" he was asking in his wheezy voice, pointing up with a
yellow Assouan cane.
"That is a hippopotamus," said the dragoman; and the tourists all
tittered, for there was just a suspicion of Mr. Stuart himself in the
"But it isn't bigger than a little pig," he protested. "You see that
the King is putting his spear through it with ease."
"They make it small to show that it was a very small thing to the King,"
said the dragoman. "So you see that all the King's prisoners do not
exceed his knee--which is not because he was so much taller, but so much
more powerful. You see that he is bigger than his horse, because he is
a king and the other is only a horse. The same way, these small women
whom you see here and there are just his trivial little wives."
"Well, now!" cried Miss Adams indignantly. "If they had sculpted that
King's soul it would have needed a lens to see it. Fancy his allowing
his wives to be put in like that."
"If he did it now, Miss Adams," said the Frenchman, "he would have more
fighting than ever in Mesopotamia. But time brings revenge. Perhaps
the day will soon come when we have the picture of the big strong wife
and the trivial little husband--_hein?_"
Cecil Brown and Headingly had dropped behind, for the glib comments of
the dragoman, and the empty, light-hearted chatter of the tourists
jarred upon their sense of solemnity. They stood in silence watching
the grotesque procession, with its sun-hats and green veils, as it
passed in the vivid sunshine down the front of the old grey wall.
Above them two crested hoopoes were fluttering and calling amid the
ruins of the pylon.
"Isn't it a sacrilege?" said the Oxford man at last.
"Well, now, I'm glad you feel that about it, because it's how it always
strikes me," Headingly answered with feeling. "I'm not quite clear in
my own mind how these things should be approached--if they are to be
approached at all--but I am sure this is not the way. On the whole, I
prefer the ruins that I have not seen to those which I have."
The young diplomatist looked up with his peculiarly bright smile, which
faded away too soon into his languid, _blase_ mask.
"I've got a map," said the American, "and sometimes far away from
anything in the very midst of the waterless, trackless desert, I see
'ruins' marked upon it--or 'remains of a temple,' perhaps. For example,
the temple of Jupiter Ammon, which was one of the most considerable
shrines in the world, was hundreds of miles away back of anywhere.
Those are the ruins, solitary, unseen, unchanging through the centuries,
which appeal to one's imagination. But when I present a check at the
door, and go in as if it were Barnum's show, all the subtle feeling of
romance goes right out of it."
"Absolutely!" said Cecil Brown, looking over the desert with his dark,
intolerant eyes. "If one could come wandering here alone--stumble upon
it by chance, as it were--and find one's self in absolute solitude in
the dim light of the temple, with these grotesque figures all round, it
would be perfectly overwhelming. A man would be prostrated with wonder
and awe. But when Belmont is puffing his bulldog pipe, and Stuart is
wheezing, and Miss Sadie Adams is laughing--"
"And that jay of a dragoman speaking his piece," said Headingly;
"I want to stand and think all the time, and I never seem to get the
chance. I was ripe for manslaughter when I stood before the Great
Pyramid, and couldn't get a quiet moment because they would boost me on
to the top. I took a kick at one man which would have sent _him_ to the
top in one jump if I had hit meat. But fancy travelling all the way
from America to see the pyramid, and then finding nothing better to do
than to kick an Arab in front of it!"
The Oxford man laughed in his gentle, tired fashion. "They are starting
again," said he, and the two hastened forwards to take their places at
the tail of the absurd procession.
Their route ran now among large, scattered boulders, and between stony,
shingly hills. A narrow winding path curved in and out amongst the
rocks. Behind them their view was cut off by similar hills, black and
fantastic, like the slag-heaps at the shaft of a mine. A silence fell
upon the little company, and even Sadie's bright face reflected the
harshness of Nature. The escort had closed in, and marched beside them,
their boots scrunching among the loose black rubble. Colonel Cochrane
and Belmont were still riding together in the van.
"Do you know, Belmont," said the Colonel, in a low voice, "you may think
me a fool, but I don't like this one little bit."
Belmont gave a short gruff laugh.
"It seemed all right in the saloon of the _Korosko_, but now that we are
here we _do_ seem rather up in the air," said he. "Still, you know, a
party comes here every week, and nothing has ever gone wrong."
"I don't mind taking my chances when I am on the war-path," the Colonel
answered. "That's all straightforward and in the way of business.
But when you have women with you, and a helpless crowd like this, it
becomes really dreadful. Of course, the chances are a hundred to one
that we have no trouble; but if we should have--well, it won't bear
thinking about. The wonderful thing is their complete unconsciousness
that there is any danger whatever."
"Well, I like the English tailor-made dresses well enough for walking,
Mr. Stephens," said Miss Sadie from behind them. "But for an afternoon
dress, I think the French have more style than the English. Your
milliners have a more severe cut, and they don't do the cunning little
ribbons and bows and things in the same way."
The Colonel smiled at Belmont.
"_She_ is quite serene in her mind, at any rate," said he. "Of course,
I wouldn't say what I think to any one but you, and I daresay it will
all prove to be quite unfounded."
"Well, I could imagine parties of Dervishes on the prowl," said Belmont.
"But what I cannot imagine is that they should just happen to come to
the pulpit rock on the very morning when we are due there."
"Considering that our movements have been freely advertised, and that
every one knows a week beforehand what our programme is, and where we
are to be found, it does not strike me as being such a wonderful
"It is a very remote chance," said Belmont stoutly, but he was glad in
his heart that his wife was safe and snug on board the steamer.
And now they were clear of the rocks again, with a fine stretch of firm
yellow sand extending to the very base of the conical hill which lay
before them. "Ay-ah! Ay-ah!" cried the boys, whack came their sticks
upon the flanks of the donkeys, which broke into a gallop, and away they
all streamed over the plain. It was not until they had come to the end
of the path which curves up the hill that the dragoman called a halt.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, we are arrived for the so famous pulpit rock
of Abousir. From the summit you will presently enjoy a panorama of
remarkable fertility. But first you will observe that over the rocky
side of the hill are everywhere cut the names of great men who have
passed it in their travels, and some of these names are older than the
time of Christ."
"Got Moses?" asked Miss Adams.
"Auntie, I'm surprised at you!" cried Sadie.
"Well, my dear, he was in Egypt, and he was a great man, and he may have
passed this way."
"Moses's name very likely there, and the same with Herodotus," said the
dragoman gravely. "Both have been long worn away. But there on the
brown rock you will see Belzoni. And up higher is Gordon. There is
hardly a name famous in the Soudan which you will not find, if you like.
And now, with your permission, we shall take good-bye of our donkeys and
walk up the path, and you will see the river and the desert from the
summit of the top."
A minute or two of climbing brought them out upon the semicircular
platform which crowns the rock. Below them on the far side was a
perpendicular black cliff, a hundred and fifty feet high, with the
swirling, foam-streaked river roaring past its base. The swish of the
water and the low roar as it surged over the mid-stream boulders boomed
through the hot, stagnant air. Far up and far down they could see the
course of the river, a quarter of a mile in breadth, and running very
deep and strong, with sleek black eddies and occasional spoutings of
foam. On the other side was a frightful wilderness of black, scattered
rocks, which were the _debris_ carried down by the river at high flood.
In no direction were there any signs of human beings or their dwellings.
"On the far side," said the dragoman, waving his donkey-whip towards the
east, "is the military line which conducts Wady Halfa to Sarras.
Sarras lies to the south, under that black hill. Those two blue
mountains which you see very far away are in Dongola, more than a
hundred miles from Sarras. The railway there is forty miles long, and
has been much annoyed by the Dervishes, who are very glad to turn the
rails into spears. The telegraph wires are also much appreciated
thereby. Now, if you will kindly turn round, I will explain, also, what
we see upon the other side."
It was a view which, when once seen, must always haunt the mind.
Such an expanse of savage and unrelieved desert might be part of some
cold and burned-out planet rather than of this fertile and bountiful
earth. Away and away it stretched to die into a soft, violet haze in
the extremest distance. In the foreground the sand was of a bright
golden yellow, which was quite dazzling in the sunshine. Here and
there, in a scattered cordon, stood the six trusty negro soldiers
leaning motionless upon their rifles, and each throwing a shadow which
looked as solid as himself. But beyond this golden plain lay a low line
of those black slag-heaps, with yellow sand-valleys winding between
them. These in their turn were topped by higher and more fantastic
hills, and these by others, peeping over each other's shoulders until
they blended with that distant violet haze. None of these hills were of
any height--a few hundred feet at the most--but their savage,
saw-toothed crests, and their steep scarps of sun-baked stone, gave them
a fierce character of their own.
"The Libyan Desert," said the dragoman, with a proud wave of his hand.
"The greatest desert in the world. Suppose you travel right west from
here, and turn neither to the north nor to the south, the first houses
you would come to would be in America. That make you home-sick, Miss
Adams, I believe?"
But the American old maid had her attention drawn away by the conduct of
Sadie, who had caught her arm by one hand and was pointing over the
desert with the other.
"Well, now, if that isn't too picturesque for anything!" she cried, with
a flush of excitement upon her pretty face. "Do look, Mr. Stephens!
That's just the one only thing we wanted to make it just perfectly
grand. See the men upon the camels coming out from between those
They all looked at the long string of red-turbaned riders who were
winding out of the ravine, and there fell such a hush that the buzzing
of the flies sounded quite loud upon their ears. Colonel Cochrane had
lit a match, and he stood with it in one hand and the unlit cigarette in
the other until the flame licked round his fingers. Belmont whistled.
The dragoman stood staring with his mouth half-open, and a curious slaty
tint in his full, red lips. The others looked from one to the other
with an uneasy sense that there was something wrong. It was the Colonel
who broke the silence.
"By George, Belmont, I believe the hundred-to-one chance has come off!"
"What's the meaning of this, Mansoor?" cried Belmont harshly. "Who are
these people, and why are you standing staring as if you had lost your
The dragoman made an effort to compose himself, and licked his dry lips
before he answered.
"I do not know who they are," said he in a quavering voice.
"Who they are?" cried the Frenchman. "You can see who they are.
They are armed men upon camels, Ababdeh, Bishareen--Bedouins, in short,
such as are employed by the Government upon the frontier."
"Be Jove, he may be right, Cochrane," said Belmont, looking inquiringly
at the Colonel. "Why shouldn't it be as he says? why shouldn't these
fellows be friendlies?"
"There are no friendlies upon this side of the river," said the Colonel
abruptly; "I am perfectly certain about that. There is no use in
mincing matters. We must prepare for the worst."
But in spite of his words, they stood stock-still, in a huddled group,
staring out over the plain. Their nerves were numbed by the sudden
shock, and to all of them it was like a scene in a dream, vague,
impersonal, and un-real. The men upon the camels had streamed out from
a gorge which lay a mile or so distant on the side of the path along
which they had travelled. Their retreat, therefore, was entirely cut
off. It appeared, from the dust and the length of the line, to be quite
an army which was emerging from the hills, for seventy men upon camels
cover a considerable stretch of ground. Having reached the sandy plain,
they very deliberately formed to the front, and then at the harsh call
of a bugle they trotted forward in line, the parti-coloured figures all
swaying and the sand smoking in a rolling yellow cloud at the heels of
their camels. At the same moment the six black soldiers doubled in from
the front with their Martinis at the trail, and snuggled down like
well-trained skirmishers behind the rocks upon the haunch of the hill.
Their breech blocks all snapped together as their corporal gave them the
order to load.
And now suddenly the first stupor of the excursionists passed away, and
was succeeded by a frantic and impotent energy. They all ran about upon
the plateau of rock in an aimless, foolish flurry, like frightened fowls
in a yard. They could not bring themselves to acknowledge that there
was no possible escape for them. Again and again they rushed to the
edge of the great cliff which rose from the river, but the youngest and
most daring of them could never have descended it. The two women clung
one on each side of the trembling Mansoor, with a feeling that he was
officially responsible for their safety. When he ran up and down in his
desperation, his skirts and theirs all fluttered together. Stephens,
the lawyer, kept close to Sadie Adams, muttering mechanically, "Don't be
alarmed, Miss Sadie; don't be at all alarmed!" though his own limbs were
twitching with agitation. Monsieur Fardet stamped about with a guttural
rolling of r's, glancing angrily at his companions as if they had in
some way betrayed him; while the fat clergyman stood with his umbrella
up, staring stolidly with big, frightened eyes at the camel-men.
Cecil Brown curled his small, prim moustache, and looked white, but
contemptuous. The Colonel, Belmont, and the young Harvard graduate were
the three most cool-headed and resourceful members of the party.
"Better stick together," said the Colonel. "There's no escape for us,
so we may as well remain united."
"They've halted," said Belmont.
"They are reconnoitring us. They know very well that there is no escape
from them, and they are taking their time. I don't see what we can do."
"Suppose we hide the women," Headingly suggested. "They can't know how
many of us are here. When they have taken us, the women can come out of
their hiding-place and make their way back to the boat."
"Admirable!" cried Colonel Cochrane. "Admirable! This way, please, Miss
Adams. Bring the ladies here, Mansoor. There is not an instant to be
There was a part of the plateau which was invisible from the plain, and
here in feverish haste they built a little cairn. Many flaky slabs of
stone were lying about, and it did not take long to prop the largest of
these against a rock, so as to make a lean-to, and then to put two
side-pieces to complete it. The slabs were of the same colour as the
rock, so that to a casual glance the hiding-place was not very visible.
The two ladies were squeezed into this, and they crouched together,
Sadie's arms thrown round her aunt. When they had walled them up, the
men turned with lighter hearts to see what was going on. As they did so
there rang out the sharp, peremptory crack of a rifle-shot from the
escort, followed by another and another, but these isolated shots were
drowned in the long, spattering roll of an irregular volley from the
plain, and the air was full of the phit-phit-phit of the bullets.
The tourists all huddled behind the rocks, with the exception of the
Frenchman, who still stamped angrily about, striking his sun-hat with
his clenched hand. Belmont and Cochrane crawled down to where the
Soudanese soldiers were firing slowly and steadily, resting their rifles
upon the boulders in front of them.
The Arabs had halted about five hundred yards away, and it was evident
from their leisurely movements that they were perfectly aware that there
was no possible escape for the travellers. They had paused to ascertain
their number before closing in upon them. Most of them were firing from
the backs of their camels, but a few had dismounted and were kneeling
here and there--little shimmering white spots against the golden
back-ground. Their shots came sometimes singly in quick, sharp throbs,
and sometimes in a rolling volley, with a sound like a boy's stick drawn
across iron railings. The hill buzzed like a bee-hive, and the bullets
made a sharp crackling as they struck against the rocks.
"You do no good by exposing yourself," said Belmont, drawing Colonel
Cochrane behind a large jagged boulder, which already furnished a
shelter for three of the Soudanese. "A bullet is the best we have to
hope for," said Cochrane grimly. "What an infernal fool I have been,
Belmont, not to protest more energetically against this ridiculous
expedition! I deserve whatever I get, but it _is_ hard on these poor
souls who never knew the danger."
"I suppose there's no help for us?"
"Not the faintest."
"Don't you think this firing might bring the troops up from Halfa?"
"They'll never hear it. It is a good six miles from here to the
steamer. From that to Halfa would be another five."
"Well, when we don't return, the steamer will give the alarm."
"And where shall we be by that time?"
"My poor Norah! My poor little Norah!" muttered Belmont, in the depths
of his grizzled moustache.
"What do you suppose that they will do with us, Cochrane?" he asked
after a pause.
"They may cut our throats, or they may take us as slaves to Khartoum.
I don't know that there is much to choose. There's one of us out of his
The soldier next them had sat down abruptly, and leaned forward over his
knees. His movement and attitude were so natural that it was hard to
realise that he had been shot through the head. He neither stirred nor
groaned. His comrades bent over him for a moment, and then, shrugging
their shoulders, they turned their dark faces to the Arabs once more.
Belmont picked up the dead man's Martini and his ammunition-pouch.
"Only three more rounds, Cochrane," said he, with the little brass
cylinders upon the palm of his hand. "We've let them shoot too soon,
and too often. We should have waited for the rush."
"You're a famous shot, Belmont," cried the Colonel. "I've heard of you
as one of the cracks. Don't you think you could pick off their leader?"
"Which is he?"
"As far as I can make out, it is that one on the white camel on their
right front. I mean the fellow who is peering at us from under his two
Belmont thrust in his cartridge and altered the sights. "It's a
shocking bad light for judging distance," said he. "This is where the
low point-blank trajectory of the Lee-Metford comes in useful. Well,
we'll try him at five hundred." He fired, but there was no change in
the white camel or the peering rider.
"Did you see any sand fly?"
"No, I saw nothing."
"I fancy I took my sight a trifle too full."
"Try him again."
Man and rifle and rock were equally steady, but again the camel and
chief remained un-harmed. The third shot must have been nearer, for he
moved a few paces to the right, as if he were becoming restless.
Belmont threw the empty rifle down, with an exclamation of disgust.
"It's this confounded light," he cried, and his cheeks flushed with
annoyance. "Think of my wasting three cartridges in that fashion!
If I had him at Bisley I'd shoot the turban off him, but this vibrating
glare means refraction. What's the matter with the Frenchman?"
Monsieur Fardet was stamping about the plateau with the gestures of a
man who has been stung by a wasp. "_S'cre nom! S'cre nom!_" he
shouted, showing his strong white teeth under his black waxed moustache.
He wrung his right hand violently, and as he did so he sent a little
spray of blood from his finger-tips. A bullet had chipped his wrist.
Headingly ran out from the cover where be had been crouching, with the
intention of dragging the demented Frenchman into a place of safety, but
he had not taken three paces before he was himself hit in the loins, and
fell with a dreadful crash among the stones. He staggered to his feet,
and then fell again in the same place, floundering up and down like a
horse which has broken its back. "I'm done!" he whispered, as the
Colonel ran to his aid, and then he lay still, with his china-white
cheek against the black stones. When, but a year before, he had
wandered under the elms of Cambridge, surely the last fate upon this
earth which he could have predicted for himself would be that he should
be slain by the bullet of a fanatical Mohammedan in the wilds of the
Meanwhile the fire of the escort had ceased, for they had shot away
their last cartridge. A second man had been killed, and a third--who
was the corporal in charge--had received a bullet in his thigh. He sat
upon a stone, tying up his injury with a grave, preoccupied look upon
his wrinkled black face, like an old woman piecing together a broken
plate. The three others fastened their bayonets with a determined
metallic rasp and snap, and the air of men who intended to sell their
"They're coming!" cried Belmont, looking over the plain.
"Let them come!" the Colonel answered, putting his hands into his
trouser-pockets. Suddenly he pulled one fist out, and shook it
furiously in the air. "Oh, the cads! the confounded cads!" he shouted,
and his eyes were congested with rage.
It was the fate of the poor donkey-boys which had carried the
self-contained soldier out of his usual calm. During the firing they
had remained huddled, a pitiable group, among the rocks at the base of
the hill. Now upon the conviction that the charge of the Dervishes must
come first upon them, they had sprung upon their animals with shrill,
inarticulate cries of fear, and had galloped off across the plain.
A small flanking-party of eight or ten camel-men had worked round while
the firing had been going on, and these dashed in among the flying
donkey-boys, hacking and hewing with a cold-blooded, deliberate
ferocity. One little boy, in a flapping Galabeeah, kept ahead of his
pursuers for a time, but the long stride of the camels ran him down, and
an Arab thrust his spear into the middle of his stooping back. The
small, white-clad corpses looked like a flock of sheep trailing over the
But the people upon the rock had no time to think of the cruel fate of
the donkey-boys. Even the Colonel, after that first indignant outburst,
had forgotten all about them. The advancing camel-men had trotted to
the bottom of the hill, had dismounted, and leaving their camels
kneeling, had rushed furiously onward. Fifty of them were clambering up
the path and over the rocks together, their red turbans appearing and
vanishing again as they scrambled over the boulders. Without a shot or
a pause they surged over the three black soldiers, killing one and
stamping the other two down under their hurrying feet. So they burst on
to the plateau at the top, where an unexpected resistance checked them
for an instant.
The travellers, nestling up against one another, had awaited, each after
his own fashion, the coming of the Arabs. The Colonel, with his hands
back in his trouser-pockets, tried to whistle out of his dry lips.
Belmont folded his arms and leaned against a rock, with a sulky frown
upon his lowering face. So strangely do our minds act that his three
successive misses, and the tarnish to his reputation as a marksman, was
troubling him more than his impending fate. Cecil Brown stood erect,
and plucked nervously at the up-turned points of his little prim
moustache. Monsieur Fardet groaned over his wounded wrist.
Mr. Stephens, in sombre impotence, shook his head slowly, the living
embodiment of prosaic law and order. Mr. Stuart stood, his umbrella
still over him, with no expression upon his heavy face, or in his
staring brown eyes. Headingly lay with that china-white cheek resting
motionless upon the stones. His sun-hat had fallen off, and he looked
quite boyish with his ruffled yellow hair and his un-lined, clean-cut
face. The dragoman sat upon a stone and played nervously with his
donkey-whip. So the Arabs found them when they reached the summit of
And then, just as the foremost rushed to lay hands upon them, a most
unexpected incident arrested them. From the time of the first
appearance of the Dervishes the fat clergyman of Birmingham had looked
like a man in a cataleptic trance. He had neither moved nor spoken.
But now he suddenly woke at a bound into strenuous and heroic energy.
It may have been the mania of fear, or it may have been the blood of
some Berserk ancestor which stirred suddenly in his veins; but he broke
into a wild shout, and, catching up a stick, he struck right and left
among the Arabs with a fury which was more savage than their own.
One who helped to draw up this narrative has left it upon record that,
of all the pictures which have been burned into his brain, there is none
so clear as that of this man, his large face shining with perspiration,
and his great body dancing about with unwieldy agility, as he struck at
the shrinking, snarling savages. Then a spear-head flashed from behind
a rock with a quick, vicious, upward thrust, the clergyman fell upon his
hands and knees, and the horde poured over him to seize their
unresisting victims. Knives glimmered before their eyes, rude hands
clutched at their wrists and at their throats, and then, with brutal and
unreasoning violence, they were hauled and pushed down the steep winding
path to where the camels were waiting below. The Frenchman waved his
unwounded hand as he walked. "_Vive le Khalifa! Vive le Madhi!" he
shouted, until a blow from behind with the butt-end of a Remington beat
him into silence.
And now they were herded in at the base of the Abousir rock, this little
group of modern types who had fallen into the rough clutch of the
seventh century--for in all save the rifles in their hands there was
nothing to distinguish these men from the desert warriors who first
carried the crescent flag out of Arabia. The East does not change, and
the Dervish raiders were not less brave, less cruel, or less fanatical
than their forebears. They stood in a circle, leaning upon their guns
and spears, and looking with exultant eyes at the dishevelled group of
captives. They were clad in some approach to a uniform, red turbans
gathered around the neck as well as the head, so that the fierce face
looked out of a scarlet frame; yellow, untanned shoes, and white tunics
with square brown patches let into them. All carried rifles, and one
had a small discoloured bugle slung over his shoulder. Half of them
were negroes--fine, muscular men, with the limbs of a jet Hercules; and
the other half were Baggara Arabs--small, brown, and wiry, with little,
vicious eyes, and thin, cruel lips. The chief was also a Baggara, but
he was a taller man than the others, with a black beard which came down
over his chest, and a pair of hard, cold eyes, which gleamed like glass
from under his thick, black brows. They were fixed now upon his
captives, and his features were grave with thought. Mr. Stuart had been
brought down, his hat gone, his face still flushed with anger, and his
trousers sticking in one part to his leg. The two surviving Soudanese
soldiers, their black faces and blue coats blotched with crimson, stood
silently at attention upon one side of this forlorn group of castaways.
The chief stood for some minutes, stroking his black beard, while his
fierce eyes glanced from one pale face to another along the miserable
line of his captives. In a harsh, imperious voice he said something
which brought Mansoor, the dragoman, to the front, with bent back and
outstretched supplicating palms. To his employers there had always
seemed to be something comic in that flapping skirt and short cover-coat
above it; but now, under the glare of the mid-day sun, with those faces
gathered round them, it appeared rather to add a grotesque horror to the
scene. The dragoman salaamed and salaamed like some ungainly automatic
doll, and then, as the chief rasped out a curt word or two, he fell
suddenly upon his face, rubbing his forehead into the sand, and flapping
upon it with his hands.
"What's that, Cochrane?" asked Belmont. "Why is he making an exhibition
"As far as I can understand, it is all up with us," the Colonel
"But this is absurd," cried the Frenchman excitedly; "why should these
people wish any harm to me? I have never injured them. On the other
hand, I have always been their friend. If I could but speak to them, I
would make them comprehend. Hola, dragoman, Mansoor!"
The excited gestures of Monsieur Fardet drew the sinister eyes of the
Baggara chief upon him. Again he asked a curt question, and Mansoor,
kneeling in front of him, answered it.
"Tell him that I am a Frenchman, dragoman. Tell him that I am a friend
of the Khalifa. Tell him that my countrymen have never had any quarrel
with him, but that his enemies are also ours."
"The chief asks what religion you call your own," said Mansoor. "The
Khalifa, he says, has no necessity for any friendship from those who are
infidels and unbelievers."
"Tell him that in France we look upon all religions as good."
"The chief says that none but a blaspheming dog and the son of a dog
would say that all religions are one as good as the other. He says that
if you are indeed the friend of the Khalifa, you will accept the Koran
and become a true believer upon the spot. If you will do so he will
promise on his side to send you alive to Khartoum."
"And if not?"
"You will fare in the same way as the others."
"Then you may make my compliments to monsieur the chief, and tell him
that it is not the custom for Frenchmen to change their religion under
The chief said a few words, and then turned to consult with a short,
sturdy Arab at his elbow.
"He says, Monsieur Fardet," said the dragoman, "that if you speak again
he will make a trough out of you for the dogs to feed from. Say nothing
to anger him, sir, for he is now talking what is to be done with us."
"Who is he?" asked the Colonel.
"It is Ali Wad Ibrahim, the same who raided last year, and killed all of
the Nubian village."
"I've heard of him," said the Colonel. "He has the name of being one of
the boldest and the most fanatical of all the Khalifa's leaders. Thank
God that the women are out of his clutches."
The two Arabs had been talking in that stern, restrained fashion which
comes so strangely from a southern race. Now they both turned to the
dragoman, who was still kneeling upon the sand. They plied him with
questions, pointing first to one and then to another of their prisoners.
Then they conferred together once more, and finally said something to
Mansoor, with a contemptuous wave of the hand to indicate that he might
convey it to the others.
"Thank Heaven, gentlemen, I think that we are saved for the present
time," said Mansoor, wiping away the sand which had stuck to his
perspiring forehead. "Ali Wad Ibrahim says that though an unbeliever
should have only the edge of the sword from one of the sons of the
Prophet, yet it might be of more profit to the beit-el-mal at Omdurman
if it had the gold which your people will pay for you. Until it comes
you can work as the slaves of the Khalifa, unless he should decide to
put you to death. You are to mount yourselves upon the spare camels and
to ride with the party."
The chief had waited for the end of the explanation. "Now he gave a
brief order, and a negro stepped forward with a long, dull-coloured
sword in his hand. The dragoman squealed like a rabbit who sees a
ferret, and threw himself frantically down upon the sand once more.
"What is it, Cochrane?" asked Cecil Brown--for the Colonel had served in
the East, and was the only one of the travellers who had a smattering of
"As far as I can make out, he says there is no use keeping the dragoman,
as no one would trouble to pay a ransom for him, and he is too fat to
make a good slave."
"Poor devil!" cried Brown. "Here, Cochrane, tell them to let him go.
We can't let him be butchered like this in front of us. Say that we
will find the money amongst us. I will be answerable for any reasonable
"I'll stand in as far as my means will allow," cried Belmont.
"We will sign a joint bond or indemnity," said the lawyer. "If I had a
paper and pencil I could throw it into shape in an instant, and the
chief could rely upon its being perfectly correct and valid."
But the Colonel's Arabic was insufficient, and Mansoor himself was too
maddened by fear to understand the offer which was being made for him.
The negro looked a question at the chief, and then his long black arm
swung upwards and his sword hissed over his shoulder. But the dragoman
had screamed out something which arrested the blow, and which brought
the chief and the lieutenant to his side with a new interest upon their
swarthy faces. The others crowded in also, and formed a dense circle
around the grovelling, pleading man.
The Colonel had not understood this sudden change, nor had the others
fathomed the reason of it, but some instinct flashed it upon Stephens's
"Oh, you villain!" he cried furiously. "Hold your tongue, you miserable
creature! Be silent! Better die--a thousand times better die!"
But it was too late, and already they could all see the base design by
which the coward hoped to save his own life. He was about to betray the
women. They saw the chief, with a brave man's contempt upon his stern
face, make a sign of haughty assent, and then Mansoor spoke rapidly and
earnestly, pointing up the hill. At a word from the Baggara, a dozen of
the raiders rushed up the path and were lost to view upon the top.
Then came a shrill cry, a horrible strenuous scream of surprise and
terror, and an instant later the party streamed into sight again,
dragging the women in their midst. Sadie, with her young, active limbs,
kept up with them, as they sprang down the slope, encouraging her aunt
all the while over her shoulder. The older lady, struggling amid the
rushing white figures, looked with her thin limbs and open mouth like a
chicken being dragged from a coop.
The chief's dark eyes glanced indifferently at Miss Adams, but gazed
with a smouldering fire at the younger woman. Then he gave an abrupt
order, and the prisoners were hurried in a miserable, hopeless drove to
the cluster of kneeling camels. Their pockets had already been
ransacked, and the contents thrown into one of the camel-food bags, the
neck of which was tied up by Ali Wad Ibrahim's own hands.
"I say, Cochrane," whispered Belmont, looking with smouldering eyes at
the wretched Mansoor, "I've got a little hip revolver which they have
not discovered. Shall I shoot that cursed dragoman for giving away the
The Colonel shook his head.
"You had better keep it," said he, with a sombre face. "The women may
find some other use for it before all is over."
The camels, some brown and some white, were kneeling in a long line,
their champing jaws moving rhythmically from side to side, and their
gracefully poised heads turning to right and left in a mincing,
self-conscious fashion. Most of them were beautiful creatures, true
Arabian trotters, with the slim limbs and finely turned necks which mark
the breed; but among them were a few of the slower, heavier beasts, with
ungroomed skins, disfigured by the black scars of old firings. These
were loaded with the doora and the waterskins of the raiders, but a few
minutes sufficed to redistribute their loads and to make place for the
prisoners. None of these had been bound with the exception of Mr.
Stuart--for the Arabs, understanding that he was a clergyman, and
accustomed to associate religion with violence, had looked upon his
fierce outburst as quite natural, and regarded him now as the most
dangerous and enterprising of their captives. His hands were therefore
tied together with a plaited camel-halter, but the others, including the
dragoman and the two wounded blacks, were allowed to mount without any
precaution against their escape, save that which was afforded by the
slowness of their beasts. Then, with a shouting of men and a roaring of
camels, the creatures were jolted on to their legs, and the long,
straggling procession set off with its back to the homely river, and its
face to the shimmering, violet haze, which hung round the huge sweep of
beautiful, terrible desert, striped tiger-fashion with black rock and
with golden sand.
None of the white prisoners, with the exception of Colonel Cochrane, had
ever been upon a camel before. It seemed an alarming distance to the
ground when they looked down, and the curious swaying motion, with the
insecurity of the saddle, made them sick and frightened. But their
bodily discomfort was forgotten in the turmoil of bitter thoughts
within. What a chasm gaped between their old life and their new! And
yet how short was the time and space which divided them! Less than an
hour ago they had stood upon the summit of that rock, and had laughed
and chattered, or grumbled at the heat and flies, becoming peevish at
small discomforts. Headingly had been hypercritical over the tints of
Nature. They could not forget his own tint as he lay with his cheek
upon the black stone. Sadie had chattered about tailor-made dresses and
Parisian chiffons. Now she was clinging, half-crazy, to the pommel of a
wooden saddle, with suicide rising as a red star of hope in her mind.
Humanity, reason, argument--all were gone, and there remained the brutal
humiliation of force. And all the time, down there by the second rocky
point, their steamer was waiting for them--their saloon, with the white
napery and the glittering glasses, the latest novel, and the London
papers. The least imaginative of them could see it so clearly: the
white awning, Mrs. Shlesinger with her yellow sun-hat, Mrs. Belmont
lying back in the canvas chair. There it lay almost in sight of them,
that little floating chip broken off from home, and every silent,
ungainly step of the camels was carrying them more hopelessly away from
it. That very morning how beneficent Providence had appeared, how
pleasant was life!--a little commonplace, perhaps, but so soothing and
restful. And now!
The red head-gear, patched jibbehs, and yellow boots had already shown
to the Colonel that these men were no wandering party of robbers, but a
troop from the regular army of the Khalifa. Now, as they struck across
the desert, they showed that they possessed the rude discipline which
their work demanded. A mile ahead, and far out on either flank, rode
their scouts, dipping and rising among the yellow sand-hills. Ali Wad
Ibrahim headed the caravan, and his short, sturdy lieutenant brought up
the rear. The main party straggled over a couple of hundred yards, and
in the middle was the little, dejected clump of prisoners. No attempt
was made to keep them apart, and Mr. Stephens soon contrived that his
camel should be between those of the two ladies.
"Don't be down-hearted, Miss Adams," said he. "This is a most
indefensible outrage, but there can be no question that steps will be
taken in the proper quarter to set the matter right. I am convinced
that we shall be subjected to nothing worse than a temporary
inconvenience. If it had not been for that villain Mansoor, you need
not have appeared at all."
It was shocking to see the change in the little Bostonian lady, for she
had shrunk to an old woman in an hour. Her swarthy cheeks had fallen
in, and her eyes shone wildly from sunken, darkened sockets.
Her frightened glances were continually turned upon Sadie. There is
surely some wrecker angel which can only gather her best treasures in
moments of disaster. For here were all these worldlings going to their
doom, and already frivolity and selfishness had passed away from them,
and each was thinking and grieving only for the other. Sadie thought of
her aunt, her aunt thought of Sadie, the men thought of the women,
Belmont thought of his wife--and then he thought of something else also,
and he kicked his camel's shoulder with his heel, until he found himself
upon the near side of Miss Adams.
"I've got something for you here," he whispered. "We may be separated
soon, so it is as well to make our arrangements."
"Separated!" wailed Miss Adams.
"Don't speak loud, for that infernal Mansoor may give us away again.
I hope it won't be so, but it might. We must be prepared for the worst.
For example, they might determine to get rid of us men and to keep you."
Miss Adams shuddered.
"What am I to do? For God's sake tell me what I am to do, Mr. Belmont!
I am an old woman. I have had my day. I could stand it if it was only
myself. But Sadie--I am clean crazed when I think of her. There's her
mother waiting at home, and I--" She clasped her thin hands together in
the agony of her thoughts.
"Put your hand out under your dust-cloak," said Belmont, sidling his
camel up against hers. "Don't miss your grip of it. There! Now hide
it in your dress, and you'll always have a key to unlock any door."
Miss Adams felt what it was which he had slipped into her hand, and she
looked at him for a moment in bewilderment. Then she pursed up her lips
and shook her stern, brown face in disapproval. But she pushed the
little pistol into its hiding-place, all the same, and she rode with her
thoughts in a whirl. Could this indeed be she, Eliza Adams, of Boston,
whose narrow, happy life had oscillated between the comfortable house in
Commonwealth Avenue and the Tremont Presbyterian Church? Here she was,
hunched upon a camel, with her hand upon the butt of a pistol, and her
mind weighing the justifications of murder. Oh, life, sly, sleek,
treacherous life, how are we ever to trust you? Show us your worst and
we can face it, but it is when you are sweetest and smoothest that we
have most to fear from you.
"At the worst, Miss Sadie, it will only be a question of ransom," said
Stephens, arguing against his own convictions. "Besides, we are still
dose to Egypt, far away from the Dervish country. There is sure to be
an energetic pursuit. You must try not to lose your courage, and to
hope for the best."
"No, I am not scared, Mr. Stephens," said Sadie, turning towards him a
blanched face which belied her words. "We're all in God's hands, and
surely He won't be cruel to us. It is easy to talk about trusting Him
when things are going well, but now is the real test. If He's up there
behind that blue heaven--"
"He is," said a voice behind them, and they found that the Birmingham
clergyman had joined the party. His tied hands clutched on to his
Makloofa saddle, and his fat body swayed dangerously from side to side
with every stride of the camel. His wounded leg was oozing with blood
and clotted with flies, and the burning desert sun beat down upon his
bare head, for he had lost both hat and umbrella in the scuffle.
A rising fever flecked his large, white cheeks with a touch of colour,
and brought a light into his brown ox-eyes. He had always seemed a
somewhat gross and vulgar person to his fellow-travellers. Now, this
bitter healing draught of sorrow had transformed him. He was purified,
spiritualised, exalted. He had become so calmly strong that he made the
others feel stronger as they looked upon him. He spoke of life and of
death, of the present, and their hopes of the future; and the black
cloud of their misery began to show a golden rift or two. Cecil Brown
shrugged his shoulders, for he could not change in an hour the
convictions of his life; but the others, even Fardet, the Frenchman,
were touched and strengthened. They all took off their hats when he
prayed. Then the Colonel made a turban out of his red silk cummerbund,
and insisted that Mr. Stuart should wear it. With his homely dress and
gorgeous headgear, he looked like a man who has dressed up to amuse the
And now the dull, ceaseless, insufferable torment of thirst was added to
the aching weariness which came from the motion of the camels. The sun
glared down upon them, and then up again from the yellow sand, and the
great plain shimmered and glowed until they felt as if they were riding
over a cooling sheet of molten metal. Their lips were parched and
dried, and their tongues like tags of leather. They lisped curiously in
their speech, for it was only the vowel sounds which would come without
an effort. Miss Adams's chin had dropped upon her chest, and her great
hat concealed her face.
"Auntie will faint if she does not get water," said Sadie. "Oh, Mr.
Stephens, is there nothing we could do?"
The Dervishes riding near were all Baggara with the exception of one
negro--an uncouth fellow with a face pitted with small-pox.
His expression seemed good-natured when compared with that of his Arab
comrades, and Stephens ventured to touch his elbow and to point to his
water-skin, and then to the exhausted lady. The negro shook his head
brusquely, but at the same time he glanced significantly towards the
Arabs, as if to say that, if it were not for them, he might act
differently. Then he laid his black forefinger upon the breast of his
"Tippy Tilly," said he.
"What's that?" asked Colonel Cochrane.
"Tippy Tilly," repeated the negro, sinking his voice as if he wished
only the prisoners to hear him.
The Colonel shook his head.
"My Arabic won't bear much strain. I don't know what he is saying,"
"Tippy Tilly. Hicks Pasha," the negro repeated.
"I believe the fellow is friendly to us, but I can't quite make him
out," said Cochrane to Belmont. "Do you think that he means that his
name is Tippy Tilly, and that he killed Hicks Pasha?"
The negro showed his great white teeth at hearing his own words coming
back to him. "Aiwa!" said he. "Tippy Tilly--Bimbashi Mormer--Boum!"
"By Jove, I've got it!" cried Belmont. "He's trying to speak English.
Tippy Tilly is as near as he can get to Egyptian Artillery. He has
served in the Egyptian Artillery under Bimbashi Mortimer. He was taken
prisoner when Hicks Pasha was destroyed, and had to turn Dervish to save
his skin. How's that?"
The Colonel said a few words of Arabic and received a reply, but two of
the Arabs closed up, and the negro quickened his pace and left them.
"You are quite right," said the Colonel. "The fellow is friendly to us,
and would rather fight for the Khedive than for the Khalifa. I don't
know that he can do us any good, but I've been in worse holes than this,
and come out right side up. After all, we are not out of reach of
pursuit, and won't be for another forty-eight hours."
Belmont calculated the matter out in his slow, deliberate fashion.
"It was about twelve that we were on the rock," said he. "They would
become alarmed aboard the steamer if we did not appear at two."
"Yes," the Colonel interrupted, "that was to be our lunch hour.
I remember saying that when I came back I would have--O Lord, it's best
not to think of it!"
"The reis was a sleepy old crock," Belmont continued, "but I have
absolute confidence in the promptness and decision of my wife.
She would insist upon an immediate alarm being given. Suppose they
started back at two-thirty, they should be at Halfa by three, since the
journey is down stream. How long did they say that it took to turn out
the Camel Corps?"
"Give them an hour."
"And another hour to get them across the river. They would be at the
Abousir Rock and pick up the tracks by six o'clock. After that it is a
clear race. We are only four hours ahead, and some of these beasts are
very spent. We may be saved yet, Cochrane!"
"Some of us may. I don't expect to see the padre alive to-morrow, nor
Miss Adams either. They are not made for this sort of thing either of
them. Then again we must not forget that these people have a trick of
murdering their prisoners when they see that there is a chance of a
rescue. See here, Belmont, in case you get back and I don't, there's a
matter of a mortgage that I want you to set right for me." They rode on
with their shoulders inclined to each other, deep in the details of
The friendly negro who had talked of himself as Tippy Tilly had managed
to slip a piece of cloth soaked in water into the hand of Mr. Stephens,