Part 3 out of 3
"You can keep the women with you also."
"And this dragoman dog?"
"Put him with the others."
"Put them all to death."
As none of the three could understand Arabic, the order of the Emir
would have been unintelligible to them had it not been for the conduct
of Mansoor. The unfortunate dragoman, after all his treachery and all
his subservience and apostasy, found his worst fears realised when the
Dervish leader gave his curt command. With a shriek of fear the poor
wretch threw himself forward upon his face, and clutched at the edge of
the Arab's jibbeh, clawing with his brown fingers at the edge of the
cotton skirt. The Emir tugged to free himself, and then, finding that
he was still held by that convulsive grip, he turned and kicked at
Mansoor with the vicious impatience with which one drives off a
pestering cur. The dragoman's high red tarboosh flew up into the air,
and he lay groaning upon his face where the stunning blow of the Arab's
horny foot had left him.
All was bustle and movement in the camp, for the old Emir had mounted
his camel, and some of his party were already beginning to follow their
companions. The squat lieutenant, the Moolah, and about a dozen
Dervishes surrounded the prisoners. They had not mounted their camels,
for they were told off to be the ministers of death. The three men
understood as they looked upon their faces that the sand was running
very low in the glass of their lives. Their hands were still bound, but
their guards had ceased to hold them. They turned round, all three, and
said good-bye to the women upon the camels.
"All up now, Norah," said Belmont. "It's hard luck when there was a
chance of a rescue, but we've done our best."
For the first time his wife had broken down. She was sobbing
convulsively, with her face between her hands.
"Don't cry, little woman! We've had a good time together. Give my love
to all friends at Bray! Remember me to Amy McCarthy and to the
Blessingtons. You'll find there is enough and to spare, but I would
take Roger's advice about the investments. Mind that!"
"O John, I won't live without you!" Sorrow for her sorrow broke the
strong man down, and he buried his face in the hairy side of her camel.
The two of them sobbed helplessly together.
Stephens meanwhile had pushed his way to Sadie's beast. She saw his
worn earnest face looking up at her through the dim light.
"Don't be afraid for your aunt and for yourself," said he. "I am sure
that you will escape. Colonel Cochrane will look after you.
The Egyptians cannot be far behind. I do hope you will have a good
drink before you leave the wells. I wish I could give your aunt my
jacket, for it will be cold to-night. I'm afraid I can't get it off.
She should keep some of the bread, and eat it in the early morning."
He spoke quite quietly, like a man who is arranging the details of a
picnic. A sudden glow of admiration for this quietly consistent man
warmed her impulsive heart.
"How unselfish you are!" she cried. "I never saw any one like you.
Talk about saints! There you stand in the very presence of death, and
you think only of us."
"I want to say a last word to you, Sadie, if you don't mind. I should
die so much happier. I have often wanted to speak to you, but I thought
that perhaps you would laugh, for you never took anything very
seriously, did you? That was quite natural of course with your high
spirits, but still it was very serious to me. But now I am really a
dead man, so it does not matter very much what I say."
"Oh don't, Mr. Stephens!" cried the girl.
"I won't, if it is very painful to you. As I said, it would make me die
happier, but I don't want to be selfish about it. If I thought it would
darken your life afterwards, or be a sad recollection to you, I would
not say another word."
"What did you wish to say?"
"It was only to tell you how I loved you. I always loved you. From the
first I was a different man when I was with you. But of course it was
absurd, I knew that well enough. I never said anything, but I tried not
to make myself ridiculous. But I just want you to know about it now
that it can't matter one way or the other. You'll understand that I
really do love you when I tell you that, if it were not that I knew you
were frightened and unhappy, these last two days in which we have been
always together would have been infinitely the happiest of my life."
The girl sat pale and silent, looking down with wondering eyes at his
upturned face. She did not know what to do or say in the solemn
presence of this love which burned so brightly under the shadow of
death. To her child's heart it seemed incomprehensible--and yet she
understood that it was sweet and beautiful also.
"I won't say any more," said he; "I can see that it only bothers you.
But I wanted you to know, and now you do know, so it is all right.
Thank you for listening so patiently and gently. Good-bye, little
Sadie! I can't put my hand up. Will you put yours down?"
She did so and Stephens kissed it. Then he turned and took his place
once more between Belmont and Fardet. In his whole life of struggle and
success he had never felt such a glow of quiet contentment as suffused
him at that instant when the grip of death was closing upon him.
There is no arguing about love. It is the innermost fact of life--the
one which obscures and changes all the others, the only one which is
absolutely satisfying and complete. Pain is pleasure, and want is
comfort, and death is sweetness when once that golden mist is round it.
So it was that Stephens could have sung with joy as he faced his
murderers. He really had not time to think about them. The important,
all-engrossing, delightful thing was that she could not look upon him as
a casual acquaintance any more. Through all her life she would think of
him--she would know.
Colonel Cochrane's camel was at one side, and the old soldier, whose
wrists had been freed, had been looking down upon the scene, and
wondering in his tenacious way whether all hope must really be
abandoned. It was evident that the Arabs who were grouped round the
victims were to remain behind with them, while the others who were
mounted would guard the three women and himself. He could not
understand why the throats of his companions had not been already cut,
unless it were that with an Eastern refinement of cruelty this rearguard
would wait until the Egyptians were close to them, so that the warm
bodies of their victims might be an insult to the pursuers. No doubt
that was the right explanation. The Colonel had heard of such a trick
But in that case there would not be more than twelve Arabs with the
prisoners. Were there any of the friendly ones among them? If Tippy
Tilly and six of his men were there, and if Belmont could get his arms
free and his hand upon his revolver, they might come through yet.
The Colonel craned his neck and groaned in his disappointment. He could
see the faces of the guards in the firelight. They were all Baggara
Arabs, men who were beyond either pity or bribery. Tippy Tilly and the
others must have gone on with the advance. For the first time the stiff
old soldier abandoned hope.
"Good-bye, you fellows! God bless you!" he cried, as a negro pulled at
his camel's nose-ring and made him follow the others. The women came
after him, in a misery too deep for words. Their departure was a relief
to the three men who were left.
"I am glad they are gone," said Stephens, from his heart.
"Yes, yes, it is better," cried Fardet. "How long are we to wait?"
"Not very long now," said Belmont grimly, as the Arabs closed in around
The Colonel and the three women gave one backward glance when they came
to the edge of the oasis. Between the straight stems of the palms they
saw the gleam of the fire, and above the group of Arabs they caught a
last glimpse of the three white hats. An instant later, the camels
began to trot, and when they looked back once more the palm grove was
only a black clump with the vague twinkle of a light somewhere in the
heart of it. As with yearning eyes they gazed at that throbbing red
point in the darkness, they passed over the edge of the depression, and
in an instant the huge, silent, moonlit desert was round them without a
sign of the oasis which they had left. On every side the velvet,
blue-black sky, with its blazing stars, sloped downwards to the vast,
dun-coloured plain. The two were blurred into one at their point of
The women had sat in the silence of despair, and the Colonel had been
silent also--for what could he say?--but suddenly all four started in
their saddles, and Sadie gave a sharp cry of dismay. In the hush of the
night there had come from behind them the petulant crack of a rifle,
then another, then several together, with a brisk rat-tat-tat, and then
after an interval, one more.
"It may be the rescuers! It may be the Egyptians!" cried Mrs. Belmont,
with a sudden flicker of hope. "Colonel Cochrane, don't you think it
may be the Egyptians?"
"Yes, yes," Sadie whimpered. "It must be the Egyptians."
The Colonel had listened expectantly, but all was silent again. Then he
took his hat off with a solemn gesture.
"There is no use deceiving ourselves, Mrs. Belmont," said he; "we may as
well face the truth. Our friends are gone from us, but they have met
their end like brave men."
"But why should they fire their guns? They had . . . they had spears."
She shuddered as she said it.
"That is true," said the Colonel. "I would not for the world take away
any real grounds of hope which you may have; but on the other hand,
there is no use in preparing bitter disappointments for ourselves.
If we had been listening to an attack, we should have heard some reply.
Besides, an Egyptian attack would have been an attack in force.
No doubt it _is_, as you say, a little strange that they should have
wasted their cartridges--by Jove, look at that!"
He was pointing over the eastern desert. Two figures were moving across
its expanse, swiftly and stealthily, furtive dark shadows against the
lighter ground. They saw them dimly, dipping and rising over the
rolling desert, now lost, now reappearing in the uncertain light.
They were flying away from the Arabs. And then, suddenly they halted
upon the summit of a sand-hill, and the prisoners could see them
outlined plainly against the sky. They were camel-men, but they sat
their camels astride as a horseman sits his horse.
"Gippy Camel Corps!" cried the Colonel.
"Two men," said Miss Adams, in a voice of despair.
"Only a vedette, ma'am! Throwing feelers out all over the desert.
This is one of them. Main body ten miles off, as likely as not.
There they go giving the alarm! Good old Camel Corps!"
The self-contained, methodical soldier had suddenly turned almost
inarticulate with his excitement. There was a red flash upon the top of
the sand-hill, and then another, followed by the crack of the rifles.
Then with a whisk the two figures were gone, as swiftly and silently as
two trout in a stream.
The Arabs had halted for an instant, as if uncertain whether they should
delay their journey to pursue them or not. There was nothing left to
pursue now, for amid the undulations of the sand-drift the vedettes
might have gone in any direction. The Emir galloped back along the
line, with exhortations and orders. Then the camels began to trot, and
the hopes of the prisoners were dulled by the agonies of the terrible
jolt. Mile after mile, mile after mile, they sped onwards over that
vast expanse, the women clinging as best they might to the pommels, the
Colonel almost as spent as they, but still keenly on the look-out for
any sign of the pursuers.
"I think . . . I think," cried Mrs. Belmont, "that something is moving
in front of us."
The Colonel raised himself upon his saddle, and screened his eyes from
"By Jove, you're right there, ma'am. There are men over yonder."
They could all see them now, a straggling line of riders far ahead of
them in the desert.
"They are going in the same direction as we," cried Mrs. Belmont, whose
eyes were very much better than the Colonel's.
Cochrane muttered an oath into his moustache.
"Look at the tracks there," said he; "of course, it's our own vanguard
who left the palm grove before us. The chief keeps us at this infernal
pace in order to close up with them."
As they drew closer they could see plainly that it was indeed the other
body of Arabs, and presently the Emir Wad Ibrahim came trotting back to
take counsel with the Emir Abderrahman. They pointed in the direction
in which the vedettes had appeared, and shook their heads like men who
have many and grave misgivings. Then the raiders joined into one long,
straggling line, and the whole body moved steadily on towards the
Southern Cross, which was twinkling just over the skyline in front of
them. Hour after hour the dreadful trot continued, while the fainting
ladies clung on convulsively, and Cochrane, worn out but indomitable,
encouraged them to hold out, and peered backwards over the desert for
the first glad signs of their pursuers. The blood throbbed in his
temples, and he cried that he heard the roll of drums coming out of the
darkness. In his feverish delirium he saw clouds of pursuers at their
very heels, and during the long night he was for ever crying glad
tidings which ended in disappointment and heartache. The rise of the
sun showed the desert stretching away around them with nothing moving
upon its monstrous face except themselves. With dull eyes and heavy
hearts they stared round at that huge and empty expanse. Their hopes
thinned away like the light morning mist upon the horizon.
It was shocking to the ladies to look at their companion, and to think
of the spruce, hale old soldier who had been their fellow-passenger from
Cairo. As in the case of Miss Adams, old age seemed to have pounced
upon him in one spring. His hair, which had grizzled hour by hour
during his privations, was now of a silvery white. White stubble, too,
had obscured the firm, clean line of his chin and throat. The veins of
his face were injected, and his features were shot with heavy wrinkles.
He rode with his back arched and his chin sunk upon his breast, for the
old, time-rotted body was worn out, but in his bright, alert eyes there
was always a trace of the gallant tenant who lived in the shattered
house. Delirious, spent, and dying, he preserved his chivalrous,
protecting air as he turned to the ladies, shot little scraps of advice
and encouragement at them, and peered back continually for the help
which never came.
An hour after sunrise the raiders called a halt, and food and water
were served out to all. Then at a more moderate pace they pursued their
southern journey, their long, straggling line trailing out over a
quarter of a mile of desert. From their more careless bearing and the
way in which they chatted as they rode, it was clear that they thought
that they had shaken off their pursuers. Their direction now was east
as well as south, and it was evidently their intention after this long
detour to strike the Nile again at some point far above the Egyptian
outposts. Already the character of the scenery was changing, and they
were losing the long levels of the pebbly desert, and coming once more
upon those fantastic, sunburned, black rocks, and that rich orange sand
through which they had already passed. On every side of them rose the
scaly, conical hills with their loose, slag-like debris, and
jagged-edged khors, with sinuous streams of sand running like
water-courses down their centre. The camels followed each other,
twisting in and out among the boulders, and scrambling with their
adhesive, spongy feet over places which would have been impossible for
horses. Among the broken rocks those behind could sometimes only see
the long, undulating, darting necks of the creatures in front, as if it
were some nightmare procession of serpents. Indeed, it had much the
effect of a dream upon the prisoners, for there was no sound, save the
soft, dull padding and shuffling of the feet. The strange, wild frieze
moved slowly and silently onwards amid a setting of black stone and
yellow sand, with the one arch of vivid blue spanning the rugged edges
of the ravine.
Miss Adams, who had been frozen into silence during the long cold night,
began to thaw now in the cheery warmth of the rising sun. She looked
about her, and rubbed her thin hands together.
"Why, Sadie," she remarked, "I thought I heard you in the night, dear,
and now I see that you have been crying."
"I've been thinking, auntie."
"Well, we must try and think of others, dearie, and not of ourselves."
"It's not of myself, auntie."
"Never fret about me, Sadie."
"No, auntie, I was not thinking of you."
"Was it of any one in particular?"
"Of Mr. Stephens, auntie. How gentle he was, and how brave! To think
of him fixing up every little thing for us, and trying to pull his
jacket over his poor roped-up hands, with those murderers waiting all
round him. He's my saint and hero from now ever after."
"Well, he's out of his troubles anyhow," said Miss Adams, with that
bluntness which the years bring with them.
"Then I wish I was also."
"I don't see how that would help him."
"Well, I think he might feel less lonesome," said Sadie, and drooped her
saucy little chin upon her breast.
The four had been riding in silence for some little time, when the
Colonel clapped his hand to his brow with a gesture of dismay.
"Good God!" he cried, "I am going off my head."
Again and again they had perceived it during the night, but he had
seemed quite rational since daybreak. They were shocked therefore at
this sudden outbreak, and tried to calm him with soothing words.
"Mad as a hatter," he shouted. "Whatever do you think I saw?"
"Don't trouble about it, whatever it was," said Mrs. Belmont, laying
her hand soothingly upon his as the camels closed together. "It is no
wonder that you are overdone. You have thought and worked for all of us
so long. We shall halt presently, and a few hours' sleep will quite
But the Colonel looked up again, and again he cried out in his agitation
"I never saw anything plainer in my life," he groaned. "It is on the
point of rock on our right front--poor old Stuart with my red cummerbund
round his head just the same as we left him."
The ladies had followed the direction of the Colonel's frightened gaze,
and in an instant they were all as amazed as he.
There was a black, bulging ridge like a bastion upon the right side of
the terrible khor up which the camels were winding. At one point it
rose into a small pinnacle. On this pinnacle stood a solitary,
motionless figure, clad entirely in black, save for a brilliant dash of
scarlet upon his head. There could not surely be two such short sturdy
figures, or such large colourless faces, in the Libyan Desert. His
shoulders were stooping forward, and he seemed to be staring intently
down into the ravine. His pose and outline were like a caricature of
the great Napoleon.
"Can it possibly be he?"
"It must be. It is!" cried the ladies. "You see he is looking towards
us and waving his hand."
"Good Heavens! They'll shoot him! Get down, you fool, or you'll be
shot!" roared the Colonel. But his dry throat would only emit a
Several of the Dervishes had seen the singular apparition upon the hill,
and had unslung their Remingtons, but a long arm suddenly shot up behind
the figure of the Birmingham clergyman, a brown hand seized upon his
skirts, and he disappeared with a snap. Higher up the pass, just below
the spot where Mr. Stuart had been standing, appeared the tall figure of
the Emir Abderrahman. He had sprung upon a boulder, and was shouting
and waving his arms, but the shouts were drowned in a long, rippling
roar of musketry from each side of the khor. The bastion-like cliff was
fringed with gun-barrels, with red tarbooshes drooping over the
triggers. From the other lip also came the long spurts of flame and the
angry clatter of the rifles. The raiders were caught in an ambuscade.
The Emir fell, but was up again and waving. There was a splotch of
blood upon his long white beard. He kept pointing and gesticulating,
but his scattered followers could not understand what he wanted.
Some of them came tearing down the pass, and some from behind were
pushing to the front. A few dismounted and tried to climb up sword in
hand to that deadly line of muzzles, but one by one they were hit, and
came rolling from rock to rock to the bottom of the ravine.
The shooting was not very good. One negro made his way unharmed up the
whole side, only to have his brains dashed out with the butt-end of a
Martini at the top. The Emir had fallen off his rock and lay in a
crumpled heap, like a brown and white patchwork quilt, at the bottom of
it. And then when half of them were down it became evident, even to
those exalted fanatical souls, that there was no chance for them, and
that they must get out of these fatal rocks and into the desert again.
They galloped down the pass, and it is a frightful thing to see a camel
galloping over broken ground. The beast's own terror, his ungainly
bounds, the sprawl of his four legs all in the air together, his hideous
cries, and the yells of his rider who is bucked high from his saddle
with every spring, make a picture which is not to be forgotten.
The women screamed as this mad torrent of frenzied creatures came
pouring past them, but the Colonel edged his camel and theirs farther
and farther in among the rocks and away from the retreating Arabs.
The air was full of whistling bullets, and they could hear them smacking
loudly against the stones all round them.
"Keep quiet, and they'll pass us," whispered the Colonel, who was all
himself again now that the hour for action had arrived. "I wish to
Heaven I could see Tippy Tilly or any of his friends. Now is the time
for them to help us." He watched the mad stream of fugitives as they
flew past upon their shambling, squattering, loose-jointed beasts, but
the black face of the Egyptian gunner was not among them.
And now it really did seem as if the whole body of them, in their haste
to get clear of the ravine, had not a thought to spend upon the
prisoners. The rush was past, and only stragglers were running the
gauntlet of the fierce fire which poured upon them from above. The last
of all, a young Baggara with a black moustache and pointed beard, looked
up as he passed and shook his sword in impotent passion at the Egyptian
riflemen. At the same instant a bullet struck his camel, and the
creature collapsed, all neck and legs, upon the ground. The young Arab
sprang off its back, and, seizing its nose-ring, he beat it savagely
with the flat of his sword to make it stand up. But the dim, glazing
eye told its own tale, and in desert warfare the death of the beast is
the death of the rider. The Baggara glared round like a lion at bay,
his dark eyes flashing murderously from under his red turban. A crimson
spot, and then another, sprang out upon his dark skin, but he never
winced at the bullet wounds. His fierce gaze had fallen upon the
prisoners, and with an exultant shout he was dashing towards them, his
broad-bladed sword gleaming above his head. Miss Adams was the nearest
to him, but at the sight of the rushing figure and the maniac face she
threw herself off the camel upon the far side. The Arab bounded on to a
rock and aimed a thrust at Mrs. Belmont, but before the point could
reach her the Colonel leaned forward with his pistol and blew the man's
head in. Yet with a concentrated rage, which was superior even to the
agony of death, the fellow lay kicking and striking, bounding about
among the loose stones like a fish upon the shingle.
"Don't be frightened, ladies," cried the Colonel. "He is quite dead, I
assure you. I am so sorry to have done this in your presence, but the
fellow was dangerous. I had a little score of my own to settle with
him, for he was the man who tried to break my ribs with his Remington.
I hope you are not hurt, Miss Adams! One instant, and I will come down
But the old Boston lady was by no means hurt, for the rocks had been so
high that she had a very short distance to fall from her saddle.
Sadie, Mrs. Belmont, and Colonel Cochrane had all descended by slipping
on to the boulders and climbing down from them. But they found Miss
Adams on her feet, and waving the remains of her green veil in triumph.
"Hurrah, Sadie! Hurrah, my own darling Sadie!" she was shrieking.
"We are saved, my girl, we are saved after all."
"By George, so we are!" cried the Colonel, and they all shouted in an
But Sadie had learned to think more about others during those terrible
days of schooling. Her arms were round Mrs. Belmont, and her cheek
"You dear, sweet angel," she cried, "how can we have the heart to be
glad when you--when you--"
"But I don't believe it is so," cried the brave Irishwoman. "No, I'll
never believe it until I see John's body lying before me. And when I
see that, I don't want to live to see anything more."
The last Dervish had clattered down the khor, and now above them on
either cliff they could see the Egyptians--tall, thin, square shouldered
figures, looking, when outlined against the blue sky, wonderfully like
the warriors in the ancient bas-reliefs. Their camels were in the
background, and they were hurrying to join them. At the same time
others began to ride down from the farther end of the ravine, their dark
faces flushed and their eyes shining with the excitement of victory and
pursuit. A very small Englishman, with a straw-coloured moustache and a
weary manner, was riding at the head of them. He halted his camel
beside the fugitives and saluted the ladies. He wore brown boots and
brown belts with steel buckles, which looked trim and workmanlike
against his khaki uniform.
"Had 'em that time--had 'em proper!" said he. "Very glad to have been
of any assistance, I'm sure. Hope you're none the worse for it all.
What I mean, it's rather rough work for ladies."
"You're from Halfa, I suppose?" asked the Colonel.
"No, we're from the other show. We're the Sarras crowd, you know.
We met in the desert, and we headed 'em off, and the other Johnnies
herded 'em behind. We've got 'em on toast, I tell you. Get up on that
rock and you'll see things happen. It's going to be a knockout in one
round this time."
"We left some of our people at the Wells. We are very uneasy about
them," said the Colonel. "I suppose you haven't heard anything of
The young officer looked serious and shook his head. "Bad job that!"
said he. "They're a poisonous crowd when you put 'em in a corner.
What I mean, we never expected to see you alive, and we're very glad to
pull any of you out of the fire. The most we hoped was that we might
"Any other Englishman with you?"
"Archer is with the flanking party. He'll have to come past, for I
don't think there is any other way down. We've got one of your chaps up
there--a funny old bird with a red top-knot. See you later, I hope!
Good day, ladies!" He touched his helmet, tapped his camel, and trotted
on after his men.
"We can't do better than stay where we are until they are all past,"
said the Colonel, for it was evident now that the men from above would
have to come round. In a broken single file they went past, black men
and brown, Soudanese and fellaheen, but all of the best, for the Camel
Corps is the _corps d'elite_ of the Egyptian army. Each had a brown
bandolier over his chest and his rifle held across his thigh. A large
man with a drooping black moustache and a pair of binoculars in his hand
was riding at the side of them. "Hulloa, Archer!" croaked the Colonel.
The officer looked at him with the vacant, unresponsive eye of a
"I'm Cochrane, you know! We travelled up together."
"Excuse me, sir, but you have the advantage of me," said the officer.
"I knew a Colonel Cochrane Cochrane, but you are not the man. He was
three inches taller than you, with black hair and--"
"That's all right," cried the Colonel testily. "You try a few days with
the Dervishes, and see if your friends will recognise you!"
"Good God, Cochrane, is it really you? I could not have believed it.
Great Scott, what you must have been through! I've heard before of
fellows going grey in a night, but, by Jove--"
"Quite so," said the Colonel, flushing.
"Allow me to hint to you, Archer, that if you could get some food and
drink for these ladies, instead of discussing my personal appearance, it
would be much more practical."
"That's all right," said Captain Archer. "Your friend Stuart knows that
you are here, and he is bringing some stuff round for you. Poor fare,
ladies, but the best we have! You're an old soldier, Cochrane. Get up
on the rocks presently, and you'll see a lovely sight. No time to stop,
for we shall be in action again in five minutes. Anything I can do
before I go?"
"You haven't got such a thing as a cigar?" asked the Colonel wistfully.
Archer drew a thick satisfying partaga from his case, and handed it
down, with half-a-dozen wax vestas. Then he cantered after his men, and
the old soldier leaned back against the rock and drew in the fragrant
smoke. It was then that his jangled nerves knew the full virtue of
tobacco, the gentle anodyne which stays the failing strength and soothes
the worrying brain. He watched the dim blue reek swirling up from him,
and he felt the pleasant aromatic bite upon his palate, while a restful
languor crept over his weary and harassed body. The three ladies sat
together upon a flat rock.
"Good land, what a sight you are, Sadie!" cried Miss Adams suddenly, and
it was the first reappearance of her old self. "What _would_ your
mother say if she saw you? Why, sakes alive, your hair is full of straw
and your frock clean crazy!"
"I guess we all want some setting to rights," said Sadie, in a voice
which was much more subdued than that of the Sadie of old.
"Mrs. Belmont, you look just too perfectly sweet anyhow, but if you'll
allow me I'll fix your dress for you."
But Mrs. Belmont's eyes were far away, and she shook her head sadly as
she gently put the girl's hands aside.
"I do not care how I look. I cannot think of it," said she; "could
_you_, if you had left the man you love behind you, as I have mine?"
"I'm begin--beginning to think I have," sobbed poor Sadie, and buried
her hot face in Mrs. Belmont's motherly bosom.
The Camel Corps had all passed onwards down the khor in pursuit of the
retreating Dervishes, and for a few minutes the escaped prisoners had
been left alone. But now there came a cheery voice calling upon them,
and a red turban bobbed about among the rocks, with the large white face
of the Nonconformist minister smiling from beneath it. He had a thick
lance with which to support his injured leg, and this murderous crutch
combined with his peaceful appearance to give him a most incongruous
aspect--as of a sheep which has suddenly developed claws. Behind him
were two negroes with a basket and a water-skin.
"Not a word! Not a word!" he cried, as he stumped up to them. "I know
exactly how you feel. I've been there myself. Bring the water, Ali!
Only half a cup, Miss Adams; you shall have some more presently.
Now your turn, Mrs. Belmont! Dear me, dear me, you poor souls, how my
heart does bleed for you! There's bread and meat in the basket, but you
must be very moderate at first." He chuckled with joy, and slapped his
fat hands together as he watched them.
"But the others?" he asked, his face turning grave again.
The Colonel shook his head. "We left them behind at the wells. I fear
that it is all over with them."
"Tut, tut!" cried the clergyman, in a boisterous voice, which could not
cover the despondency of his expression; "you thought, no doubt, that it
was all over with me, but here I am in spite of it. Never lose heart,
Mrs. Belmont. Your husband's position could not possibly be as hopeless
as mine was."
"When I saw you standing on that rock up yonder, I put it down to
delirium," said the Colonel. "If the ladies had not seen you, I should
never have ventured to believe it."
"I am afraid that I behaved very badly. Captain Archer says that I
nearly spoiled all their plans, and that I deserved to be tried by a
drumhead court-martial and shot. The fact is that, when I heard the
Arabs beneath me, I forgot myself in my anxiety to know if any of you
"I wonder that you were not shot without any drumhead court-martial,"
said the Colonel. "But how in the world did you get here?"
"The Halfa people were close upon our track at the time when I was
abandoned, and they picked me up in the desert. I must have been
delirious, I suppose, for they tell me that they heard my voice, singing
hymns, a long way off, and it was that, under the providence of God,
which brought them to me. They had a camel ambulance, and I was quite
myself again by next day. I came with the Sarras people after we met
them, because they have the doctor with them. My wound is nothing, and
he says that a man of my habit will be the better for the loss of blood.
And now, my friends"--his big, brown eyes lost their twinkle, and became
very solemn and reverent--"we have all been upon the very confines of
death, and our dear companions may be so at this instant. The same
Power which saved us may save them, and let us pray together that it may
be so, always remembering that if, in spite of our prayers, it should
_not_ be so, then that also must be accepted as the best and wisest
So they knelt together among the black rocks, and prayed as some of them
had never prayed before. It was very well to discuss prayer and treat
it lightly and philosophically upon the deck of the _Korosko_. It was
easy to feel strong and self-confident in the comfortable deck-chair,
with the slippered Arab handing round the coffee and liqueurs. But they
had been swept out of that placid stream of existence, and dashed
against the horrible, jagged facts of life. Battered and shaken, they
must have something to cling to. A blind, inexorable destiny was too
horrible a belief. A chastening power, acting intelligently and for a
purpose--a living, working power, tearing them out of their grooves,
breaking down their small sectarian ways, forcing them into the better
path--that was what they had learned to realise during these days of
horror. Great hands had closed suddenly upon them, and had moulded them
into new shapes, and fitted them for new uses. Could such a power be
deflected by any human supplication? It was that or nothing--the last
court of appeal, left open to injured humanity. And so they all prayed,
as a lover loves, or a poet writes, from the very inside of their souls,
and they rose with that singular, illogical feeling of inward peace and
satisfaction which prayer only can give.
"Hush!" said Cochrane. "Listen!"
The sound of a volley came crackling up the narrow khor, and then
another and another. The Colonel was fidgeting about like an old horse
which hears the bugle of the hunt and the yapping of the pack.
"Where can we see what is going on?"
"Come this way! This way, if you please! There is a path up to the
top. If the ladies will come after me, they will be spared the sight of
The clergyman led them along the side to avoid the bodies which were
littered thickly down the bottom of the khor. It was hard walking over
the shingly, slaggy stones, but they made their way to the summit at
last. Beneath them lay the vast expanse of the rolling desert, and in
the foreground such a scene as none of them are ever likely to forget.
In that perfectly dry and clear light, with the unvarying brown tint of
the hard desert as a background, every detail stood out as clearly as if
these were toy figures arranged upon a table within hand's-touch of
The Dervishes--or what was left of them--were riding slowly some little
distance out in a confused crowd, their patchwork jibbehs and red
turbans swaying with the motion of their camels. They did not present
the appearance of men who were defeated, for their movements were very
deliberate, but they looked about them and changed their formation as if
they were uncertain what their tactics ought to be. It was no wonder
that they were puzzled, for upon their spent camels their situation was
as hopeless as could be conceived. The Sarras men had all emerged from
the khor, and had dismounted, the beasts being held in groups of four,
while the rifle-men knelt in a long line with a woolly, curling fringe
of smoke, sending volley after volley at the Arabs, who shot back in a
desultory fashion from the backs of their camels. But it was not upon
the sullen group of Dervishes, nor yet upon the long line of kneeling
rifle-men, that the eyes of the spectators were fixed. Far out upon the
desert, three squadrons of the Halfa Camel Corps were coming up in a
dense close column, which wheeled beautifully into a widespread
semicircle as it approached. The Arabs were caught between two fires.
"By Jove!" cried the Colonel. "See that!"
The camels of the Dervishes had all knelt down simultaneously, and the
men had sprung from their backs. In front of them was a tall, stately
figure, who could only be the Emir Wad Ibrahim. They saw him kneel for
an instant in prayer. Then he rose, and taking something from his
saddle he placed it very deliberately upon the sand and stood upon it.
"Good man!" cried the Colonel. "He is standing upon his sheepskin."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Stuart.
"Every Arab has a sheepskin upon his saddle. When he recognises that
his position is perfectly hopeless, and yet is determined to fight to
the death, he takes his sheepskin off and stands upon it until he dies.
See, they are all upon their sheepskins. They will neither give nor
take quarter now."
The drama beneath them was rapidly approaching its climax. The Halfa
Corps was well up, and a ring of smoke and flame surrounded the clump of
kneeling Dervishes, who answered it as best they could. Many of them
were already down, but the rest loaded and fired with the unflinching
courage which has always made them worthy antagonists. A dozen
khaki-dressed figures upon the sand showed that it was no bloodless
victory for the Egyptians. But now there was a stirring bugle call from
the Sarras men, and another answered it from the Halfa Corps.
Their camels were down also, and the men had formed up into a single,
long, curved line. One last volley, and they were charging inwards with
the wild inspiriting yell which the blacks had brought with them from
their central African wilds. For a minute there was a mad vortex of
rushing figures, rifle butts rising and falling, spear-heads gleaming
and darting among the rolling dust cloud. Then the bugle rang out once
more, the Egyptians fell back and formed up with the quick precision of
highly disciplined troops, and there in the centre, each upon his
sheepskin, lay the gallant barbarian and his raiders. The nineteenth
century had been revenged upon the seventh.
The three women had stared horror-stricken and yet fascinated at the
stirring scene before them. Now Sadie and her aunt were sobbing
together. The Colonel had turned to them with some cheering words when
his eyes fell upon the face of Mrs. Belmont. It was as white and set as
if it were carved from ivory, and her large grey eyes were fixed as if
she were in a trance.
"Good Heavens, Mrs. Belmont, what _is_ the matter?" he cried.
For answer she pointed out over the desert. Far away, miles on the
other side of the scene of the fight, a small body of men were riding
"By Jove, yes; there's some one there. Who can it be?"
They were all straining their eyes, but the distance was so great that
they could only be sure that they were camel-men and about a dozen in
"It's those devils who were left behind in the palm grove," said
Cochrane. "There's no one else it can be. One consolation, they can't
get away again. They've walked right into the lion's mouth."
But Mrs. Belmont was still gazing with the same fixed intensity, and the
same ivory face. Now, with a wild shriek of joy, she threw her two
hands into the air. "It's they!" she screamed. "They are saved!
It's they, Colonel, it's they! Oh, Miss Adams, Miss Adams, it is they!"
She capered about on the top of the hill with wild eyes like an excited
Her companions would not believe her, for they could see nothing, but
there are moments when our mortal senses are more acute than those who
have never put their whole heart and soul into them can ever realise.
Mrs. Belmont had already run down the rocky path, on the way to her
camel, before they could distinguish that which had long before carried
its glad message to her. In the van of the approaching party, three
white dots shimmered in the sun, and they could only come from the three
European hats. The riders were travelling swiftly, and by the time
their comrades had started to meet them they could plainly see that it
was indeed Belmont, Fardet, and Stephens, with the dragoman Mansoor, and
the wounded Soudanese rifleman. As they came together they saw that
their escort consisted of Tippy Tilly and the other old Egyptian
soldiers. Belmont rushed onwards to meet his wife, but Fardet stopped
to grasp the Colonel's hand.
"_Vive la France! Vivent les Anglais!_" he was yelling. "_Tout va
bien, n'est ce pas_, Colonel? Ah, _canaille! Vivent la croix et
les Chretiens!_" He was incoherent in his delight.
The Colonel, too, was as enthusiastic as his Anglo-Saxon standard would
permit. He could not gesticulate, but he laughed in the nervous
crackling way which was his top-note of emotion.
"My dear boy, I am deuced glad to see you all again. I gave you up for
lost. Never was as pleased at anything in my life! How did you get
"It was all your doing."
"Yes, my friend, and I have been quarrelling with you--ungrateful wretch
that I am!"
"But how did I save you?"
"It was you who arranged with this excellent Tippy Tilly and the others
that they should have so much if they brought us alive into Egypt again.
They slipped away in the darkness and hid themselves in the grove.
Then, when we were left, they crept up with their rifles and shot the
men who were about to murder us. That cursed Moolah, I am sorry they
shot him, for I believe that I could have persuaded him to be a
Christian. And now, with your permission, I will hurry on and embrace
Miss Adams, for Belmont has his wife, and Stephens has Miss Sadie, so I
think it is very evident that the sympathy of Miss Adams is reserved for
A fortnight had passed away, and the special boat which had been placed
at the disposal of the rescued tourists was already far north of
Assiout. Next morning they would find themselves at Baliani, where one
takes the express for Cairo. It was, therefore, their last evening
together. Mrs. Shlesinger and her child, who had escaped unhurt, had
already been sent down from the frontier. Miss Adams had been very ill
after her privations, and this was the first time that she had been
allowed to come upon deck after dinner. She sat now in a lounge chair,
thinner, sterner, and kindlier than ever, while Sadie stood beside her
and tucked the rugs around her shoulders. Mr. Stephens was carrying
over the coffee and placing it on the wicker table beside them. On the
other side of the deck Belmont and his wife were seated together in
silent sympathy and contentment.
Monsieur Fardet was leaning against the rail, and arguing about the
remissness of the British Government in not taking a more complete
control of the Egyptian frontier, while the Colonel stood very erect in
front of him, with the red end of a cigar-stump protruding from under
But what was the matter with the Colonel? Who would have recognised him
who had only seen the broken old man in the Libyan Desert? There might
be some little grizzling about the moustache, but the hair was back once
more at the fine glossy black which had been so much admired upon the
voyage up. With a stony face and an unsympathetic manner he had
received, upon his return to Halfa, all the commiserations about the
dreadful way in which his privations had blanched him, and then diving
into his cabin, he had reappeared within an hour exactly as he had been
before that fatal moment when he had been cut off from the manifold
resources of civilisation. And he looked in such a sternly questioning
manner at every one who stared at him, that no one had the moral
courage to make any remark about this modern miracle. It was observed
from that time forward that, if the Colonel had only to ride a hundred
yards into the desert, he always began his preparations by putting a
small black bottle with a pink label into the side-pocket of his coat.
But those who knew him best at times when a man may best be known, said
that the old soldier had a young man's heart and a young man's spirit--
so that if he wished to keep a young man's colour also it was not very
unreasonable after all.
It was very soothing and restful up there on the saloon deck, with no
sound but the gentle lipping of the water as it rippled against the
sides of the steamer. The red after-glow was in the western sky, and it
mottled the broad, smooth river with crimson. Dimly they could discern
the tall figures of herons standing upon the sand-banks, and farther off
the line of riverside date-palms glided past them in a majestic
procession. Once more the silver stars were twinkling out, the same
clear, placid, inexorable stars to which their weary eyes had been so
often upturned during the long nights of their desert martyrdom.
"Where do you put up in Cairo, Miss Adams?" asked Mrs. Belmont at last.
"Shepheard's, I think."
"And you, Mr. Stephens?"
"Oh, Shepheard's, decidedly."
"We are staying at the Continental. I hope we shall not lose sight of
"I don't want ever to lose sight of you, Mrs. Belmont," cried Sadie.
"Oh, you must come to the States, and we'll give you just a lovely
Mrs. Belmont laughed, in her pleasant, mellow fashion.
"We have our duty to do in Ireland, and we have been too long away from
it already. My husband has his business, and I have my home, and they
are both going to rack and ruin. Besides," she added slyly, "it is just
possible that if we did come to the States we might not find you there."
"We must all meet again," said Belmont, "if only to talk our adventures
over once more. It will be easier in a year or two. We are still too
"And yet how far away and dream-like it all seems!" remarked his wife.
"Providence is very good in softening disagreeable remembrances in our
minds. All this feels to me as if it had happened in some previous
Fardet held up his wrist with a cotton bandage still round it.
"The body does not forget as quickly as the mind. This does not look
very dream-like or far away, Mrs. Belmont."
"How hard it is that some should be spared, and some not! If only Mr.
Brown and Mr. Headingly were with us, then I should not have one care in
the world," cried Sadie. "Why should they have been taken, and we
Mr. Stuart had limped on to the deck with an open book in his hand, a
thick stick supporting his injured leg.
"Why is the ripe fruit picked, and the unripe left?" said he in answer
to the young girl's exclamation. "We know nothing of the spiritual
state of these poor dear young fellows, but the great Master Gardener
plucks His fruit according to His own knowledge. I brought you up a
passage to read to you."
There was a lantern upon the table, and he sat down beside it.
The yellow light shone upon his heavy cheek and the red edges of his
book. The strong, steady voice rose above the wash of the water.
"'Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed and delivered from
the hand of the enemy, and gathered them out of the lands, from the
east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south. They went
astray in the wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in.
Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. So they cried unto the
Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.
He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to the city where
they dwelt. Oh that men would therefore praise the Lord for His
goodness, and declare the wonders that He doeth for the children of
"It sounds as if it were composed for us, and yet it was written two
thousand years ago," said the clergyman, as he closed the book.
"In every age man has been forced to acknowledge the guiding hand which
leads him. For my part I don't believe that inspiration stopped two
thousand years ago. When Tennyson wrote with such fervour and
'Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,'
"He was repeating the message which had been given to him, just as Micah
or Ezekiel, when the world was younger, repeated some cruder and more
"That is all very well, Mr. Stuart," said the Frenchman; "you ask me to
praise God for taking me out of danger and pain, but what I want to know
is why, since He has arranged all things, He ever put me into that pain
and danger. I have, in my opinion, more occasion to blame than to
praise. You would not thank me for pulling you out of that river if it
was also I who pushed you in. The most which you can claim for your
Providence is that it has healed the wound which its own hand
"I don't deny the difficulty," said the clergyman slowly; "no one who is
not self-deceived _can_ deny the difficulty. Look how boldly Tennyson
faced it in that same poem, the grandest and deepest and most obviously
inspired in our language. Remember the effect which it had upon him."
'I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar stairs
Which slope through darkness up to God;
I stretch lame hands of faith and grope
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.'
"It is the central mystery of mysteries--the problem of sin and
suffering, the one huge difficulty which the reasoner has to solve in
order to vindicate the dealings of God with man. But take our own case
as an example. I, for one, am very clear what I have got out of our
experience. I say it with all humility, but I have a clearer view of my
duties than ever I had before. It has taught me to be less remiss in
saying what I think to be true, less indolent in doing what I feel to be
"And I," cried Sadie. "It has taught me more than all my life put
together. I have learned so much and unlearned so much. I am a
"I never understood my own nature before," said Stephens. "I can hardly
say that I had a nature to understand. I lived for what was
unimportant, and I neglected what was vital."
"Oh, a good shake-up does nobody any harm," the Colonel remarked.
"Too much of the feather-bed-and-four-meals-a-day life is not good for
man or woman."
"It is my firm belief," said Mrs. Belmont gravely, "that there was not
one of us who did not rise to a greater height during those days in the
desert than ever before or since. When our sins come to be weighed,
much may be forgiven us for the sake of those unselfish days."
They all sat in thoughtful silence for a little, while the scarlet
streaks turned to carmine, and the grey shadows deepened, and the
wild-fowl flew past in dark straggling V's over the dull metallic
surface of the great smooth-flowing Nile. A cold wind had sprung up
from the eastward, and some of the party rose to leave the deck.
Stephens leaned forward to Sadie.
"Do you remember what you promised when you were in the desert?" he
"What was that?"
"You said that if you escaped you would try in future to make some one
"Then I must do so."
"You have," said he, and their hands met under the shadow of the table.