A hasty consultation decided that we should make a midnight raid on the beasts, and take as many of them as we could capture down to King City with our own bunch. We had been feeling rather sleepy, but this news made us at once very much alive. However, we decided not to undertake the raid until the next night. The wild cattle would be gone with the morning light, but they would return at dark.
We went to bed, which meant simply rolling ourselves up in our blankets on the floor. I lay awake for some time anticipating the excitement of the next evening. It is not all play, this raiding of wild cattle. It is a risky business, and you must have expert lassoers to lead the way, or there will be trouble.
Next day we went up to the old settler's ranche, "Edna's house," as we called it, up the valley, and there we secured the help of some of our neighbour's men. We were there all the evening, waiting for the hour of midnight at which to sally forth. Edna had expressed a desire to come too! She was a fine horsewoman, and fearless, and she loved excitement of this sort. Tom promised to take care of her, so she was permitted to join our party. Lucky Tom!
As the little clock on the settler's mantelpiece struck twelve, we saddled our horses and set off for the corn-brake. I was keen on seeing how these fellows were going to capture the wild cattle, but I was too inexperienced to take a very active part at the time.
The corn-patch was right in the hollow of the valley, on a flat on the eastern bank of the dry bed of the river. We rode down together—never a word being spoken on the way—to where a group of oak-trees raised their stately heads, and there we held our final council of war. Bain, anxious to give a tenderfoot a chance of seeing as much of the proceedings as possible, directed me to get off my horse and climb the bank, from which I should obtain a view of the field and of the cattle as they were feeding. I was very quiet, for the beasts have ears rather sharper than anything. Tom had given me his directions in a whisper.
So I climbed the bank and looked over the cornfield, and there in the centre I could see a small black mass of moving things, about three hundred yards away. I went quietly back to the river-bed, and found that most of the fellows had dismounted and were "cinching" up their saddles.
A moment later I was told off with a vaquero (cowboy) to ride up the bed of a creek that ran at right-angles to the river and parallel with the cornfield. We were to try to "head" the cattle, and so prevent them from breaking out of the field, up the hillside, and getting away into the mountains again, where we should have had to leave them.
The creek-bed was low, and afforded us good cover for three parts of the way. Then it shallowed, and we soon were able to see, from our horses, the cattle in the corn. We thought we had been very quiet indeed, but we noticed a hurried movement among the beasts, and with a cry "They're off!" my companion dug his spurs into his horse and was off like the wind himself. And I after him.
We dashed into the corn, and raced like mad to head the stampeding beasts. It was the strangest sensation in the world, galloping in the moonlight through the waving corn, which was up to our horses' shoulders. It made me quite giddy for a second or two, but I galloped madly on after my companion, who, with his shrill cowboy yells, helped the roaring cattle to wake the midnight silences of the valley. I joined in the yelling, too, and, so soon as our voices were heard, there was a chorus in reply from where we had left the rest of our party.
"We shall never head them," I cried.
"Perhaps not, but we'll try," answered the vaquero, as we tore onward. I thought we had not the slightest hope of heading them. Up the hillside we tore to keep them on the flat ground, and at every leap over a rough incline I thought my horse would break his neck and mine too. But as surefooted as goats are those horses of the hills. At length, for some reason or other, the cattle wheeled and went back down towards the river, and we, of course, followed.
Suddenly, two of them broke away to the right, and I after them. I thought I might be of some little use, even if I were not an expert lassoer. But those two wild cattle knew too much for me. They tore across a gully, dashed up the other side and away at full gallop into the hills. I let them go. If I had pursued them farther most probably I should not be writing this now. As it was, it was a marvel I had not broken my neck. Only my splendid horse had saved me.
So I rode back to the oak-trees, and there—there was not a sign of life. All was as silent and still as if nothing had ever disturbed Nature's quiet. I remember how beautiful was the night. A half-moon shone out in a clear sky, like a semicircle of pure, bright silver, the tops of the mountains were silhouetted against the sky as if they were cut out of cardboard, and all was so calm just then. You don't get such lovely nights elsewhere. The moon has not the sterling brightness; the air not the clearness nor the stillness that it has there.
Where were my companions? I did not know. My panting horse was glad to get breathing-space, so I sat there in the saddle, waiting. I pulled my coat around my shoulders, for the air was chilly. It was then about 2 A.M.
A sharp sound disturbed my reverie—the sound of a horse's hoofs galloping over the rocky river-bed. The rattle was so clear, so distinct, in that atmosphere and at that hour, that I could hear it long before my eyes could detect anything, even in that bright moonlight. Then, in a few moments, there approached a horse at full gallop, with his head low down and neck extended—at first apparently riderless, but as he came nearer I was startled to discover a black shape, hanging over the off-side, and, as the frightened steed tore past me, I saw it was a woman.
It was Edna. Who else could it be? Her left foot, still in the stirrup, had come right over the saddle with her as she fell, and she was clinging desperately with her hands to the horse's long mane, but so low down that, at the pace, it seemed to be impossible for her to recover.
Without a moment's thought of how I should save her, I galloped after her maddened steed as hard as I could go. I was on an English saddle and without a lasso—since to me such a thing would have been of little use on such a risky expedition as we had undertaken; but I urged my horse onwards and galloped him at his utmost in an endeavour to head the other, when perhaps I might be able to clutch a rein and stop the runaway. But Edna's horse was the fleetest of any on the ranche; moreover, her light weight was a comparative advantage, and so I gained not a whit on the horse with his imperilled burden. It was terrible. How long could the poor girl hang on like that? Not much longer, I was sure, yet prayed that she might have strength.
Then, ahead of us, in the distant moonlight, I discerned other galloping figures. A horseman was pursuing at full speed along the bank a huge steer that bellowed as it endeavoured to secure a free run up into the hills, there to be safe from its mortal enemy. I yelled at the top of my voice, with all the breath I had left.
Immediately the horseman pulled his horse back on its haunches and from the bank stared down at pursued and pursuer. In a twinkling he seemed to realise the situation, wheeled, and galloped down the bank at an angle calculated to make it easier for him to get within reach of Edna's horse. Then I saw it was Tom, and he must have guessed that it was Edna ahead of him, in a position of direst peril. How we had all become separated I could not guess, and there was no time to wonder now.
I saw Tom gather his loop in his right hand, holding the coil in his left, and begin to swing the loop round his head. What! was he going to take such a risk? To lasso the horse and check it suddenly when at a mad gallop like that? Surely the animal would come to earth with a fearful crash, most probably on the side on which it was weighed down with its burden.
Then I saw the rope whirl through the air, and though it could have been but a moment, it seemed to hang there for minutes without falling. This was the time for skill. If ever Tom should throw his lariat well, it must be now. With unerring aim the rope was cast, and the loop settled over the head of the runaway, though the maddened animal was galloping with neck stretched full length and head low down.
Gradually the rope tightened round its shoulders, Tom galloping his own horse hard behind. By the most skilful manipulation of the lariat, Edna's horse was compelled to slacken its pace, Tom getting nearer and nearer by degrees and taking in the slack until he was right alongside. He soon brought the runaway to a stand-still, and directed me to release Edna's foot from the stirrup, which I did. She sank to the ground, completely exhausted. And little wonder. Her hands were cut and bleeding with the tenacious grip she had kept on the horse's mane, and it was some time before she recovered sufficient strength to move.
As soon as she was able, she told us that she had become separated from the other riders when galloping through the cornbrake, and a wild steer had gored her horse in the side. This had so startled the animal that he reared, and then dashed off madly up the valley in the way I had seen her coming. She had fallen over, and as her foot had caught in the stirrup, she clutched her horse's long mane, and so saved herself from being dragged along the ground, and, probably, from a horrible death.
We now were able to see that her horse had been badly ripped on the near side, and from loss of blood and as the result of his long, mad gallop, the poor animal was in a bad way. He was led back to the ranche and there cared for.
It appeared that the others had galloped along on the other side of the field until they had found that the cattle had turned. Then they waited until they could get behind them, and, when this was managed, they secured half a dozen of them with their lariats.
One man had let go his lasso. This sometimes happens. In cases of emergency a man has to let go his rope, and that is why the cowboys practise picking up things from the ground at full gallop. It is not done there for show; there is no gallery to play to. It is a necessary accomplishment. A man has lost his rope, the other end of it, perhaps, being round the horns of a steer. He gallops after it, as soon as he is clear of the bunch, and picks up the end at full speed. At the proper time he gives the lasso a turn round the horn of the saddle, pulls up his well-trained horse, and the steer is jerked to his feet. It is neatly done—and it takes doing.
Next day the cattle were all in the corrals, and the wild ones were placed in the bunch to be travelled down to King City. But the newcomers were too unruly. They continually broke away en route, and gave so much trouble that before our destination was reached we shot every one of them.
I left my friend's ranche shortly after this. I had had some experience that was worth winning, and I had gained a little knowledge of ranche life of the West.
Lately I received a delicate little wedding-card, neatly inscribed, and figured with a design representing a coiled lariat. And from out of the coil there peeped the daintily written words—"Tom and Edna."
Engineer Trevannion was annoyed; for the Works Committee at Berthwer, who managed the affairs of the new wharf in course of construction there, had written to announce that they had appointed an assistant engineer, and had added an expression of opinion that "Mr. Garstin would prove of exceptional aid in the theoretical department, leaving Mr. Trevannion more time for the practical work in the execution of which he had given such satisfactory proof of his ability."
Notwithstanding the sop to his feelings, Trevannion had grasped the significance of this communication, and resented it. He had been here, in sole charge, since the beginning; the chief engineer, who lived at the other end of the town, only came round once a fortnight, so trustworthy did he consider his subordinate. He had laboured at the detailed plans, wrestled with measurements to scale, until his eyes ached. He had stood about the works in all weathers, had exercised a personal supervision over the men, and had never made a slip in his weekly reports.
To write the latter correctly, to keep the Committee informed of the amount of cement used, of fresh piles driven, of water pumped out, of concrete put in, to notify casualties, as they occurred, in a manner that might suggest the Committee's obligations under employers' liability, but did not harrow their feelings; to be at the works by nine o'clock every morning and not to leave till five; to be either in the iron shanty called the engineer's office, or supervising the making of concrete, or clambering about the massive beams and piles, or shouting through the telephone, or interviewing the ganger, or doing one of the hundred other things that were in the day's work; surely this was all that was required to be done, and he flattered himself that he had done it very well.
And now the Works Committee were going to foist an assistant on him. Assistant! The very name was a slight upon his capabilities, a slur on his independence. Why had they treated him thus?
He thought he knew the reason, ridiculous as it appeared to him. The new wharf, which was to increase the already considerable importance of Berthwer as a river port, had not proceeded very rapidly during the past few weeks. There had been difficulties—difficulties which Trevannion had attributed to unforeseen circumstances. It was possible that the Committee had attributed the difficulties to circumstances which ought to have been foreseen.
Herein lay the gist of his resentment at the new appointment. The Committee, while recognising his diligence, energy, and pluck, considered that he lacked some of the finer qualities of insight that enable a man to forestall such difficulties and, when they occur, to meet them with as small an expenditure of capital and labour as possible. So they had appointed Garstin to help him; in other words, to supply the brain qualities which they imagined he lacked. It was unfair and humiliating.
"Some puling theoretician!" he muttered to himself, as he walked to the works one winter morning. "Some dandy who can draw cubes and triangles and cannot do anything else except come here—late probably—in an overcoat and comforter. One of those sickly office-desk beggars who are ill half the time and useless the rest. Absolutely sickening!"
He strode along in a temper with which the weather harmonised. It was gusty, bleak, and wet. Great pools of water lay on the rough roads in the poor quarter of the town through which lay his route. In order to reach the works, he had to cross the river by means of a ferry-boat. When he reached the landing-stage on this particular morning, he could see the boat moored against the opposite bank, but there was no ferryman in sight, and there was no response when he shouted.
He shouted again and again. Then he turned up the collar of his jacket—he disdained a greatcoat—and pulled his cap over his eyes, and used strong language to relieve his feelings. He was still blaming the river, the ferryman, and anything else he could think of, when he became conscious of a light footfall, and, turning, saw a young man standing by his side.
"I can't make the ferryman hear," he remarked in an aggrieved tone to the newcomer, as if the latter was in some way responsible for the fact. "It's an awful nuisance—I am already late. I've never known him play this trick before."
"And I've been here ten minutes," was the answer. "The man has either gone away or gone to sleep. Hadn't we better get across some other way? There is a boat a few yards down. We might borrow it and scull ourselves across, that is, if you think——"
"Good idea!" exclaimed Trevannion. Then he hesitated. "You—you are not going to the wharf, are you?" he asked.
"Yes—for the first time in my life."
"Is your name Garstin?"
"That's it. Perhaps you can tell me——"
"I'm Trevannion," briefly. "I didn't expect you quite so soon. Er—I'm glad to meet you."
His eyes went to the heavy coat in which the lad—he was little more—was encased, to the fashionable bowler that contrasted with his own tweed cap, to the umbrella that protected the bowler from the dripping rain—ay, even to the comforter. It was as he had feared. Garstin was an office-desk weakling, and a mere boy into the bargain. The Works Committee had added insult to the injury they did him.
"Oh, you're Mr. Trevannion," said the "insult," shyly holding out a gloved right hand. Trevannion took it limply and quickly let it drop. "Come on," he said. "We will get across first and talk afterwards."
The gruffness of his tone did not tend to encourage expansiveness on the other's part, and little more was said whilst they unmoored the boat and rowed across, so the engineer had good opportunity for taking stock of his companion. The water was rough, and he judged from the clumsy way in which Garstin handled his oar and his apparent powerlessness to impart vigour to the stroke that muscular development had not formed part of his education. Trevannion stood six-foot-one in his stockings, and his frame was well knit with muscles that were supple as well as strong; naturally, he believed that physical fitness was essential to a good engineer, especially to an engineer in charge of a rather rough crew of workmen. He resolved by-and-by to recommend a course of Sandow to the new hand.
"Mind how you get out," he said, when the boat bumped against the slimy ladder that did duty for a stairway. "The steps are greasy, and those togs of yours are hardly suited to this job."
Garstin flushed but made no remark, and Trevannion flattered himself that the hint would not be wasted. He had already decided that the new engineer would have to be taught many things. This was Lesson No. 1.
Hardly had they scrambled on to the wharf when Trevannion's ganger came up.
"'Morning, sir. Can I speak to you a moment? There has been trouble between O'Donnell and Peters. O'Donnell was drunk—leastways so Peters says. Any'ow they got fighting and mauled each other pretty severe; in fact Peters is in hospital. Thought you'd better hear of it, sir."
"Quite right," said Trevannion judicially. It was a common enough story on the wharf, and he had heard it before without paying much attention, but now—he glanced at the slight figure beside him, who evidently required as many object-lessons as could be given—and decided that here lay the opportunity for giving Lesson No. 2. "Pay O'Donnell and sack him," he commanded.
"Very good, sir," said the ganger, moving away.
"That's the way we have to treat our fellows here," said Trevannion. "Summary justice, you know. They're a rough lot. Now come and see the office and the plans."
Whatever Garstin may have thought of these proceedings, he said nothing, but followed submissively along the wharf. Perhaps, without knowing the peculiar authority which had at the contractor's desire been vested in Trevannion, he wondered that any engineer should wield such powers. However, he had not much time for wondering, or indeed for anything except the task of keeping pace with his nimble, long-legged comrade. He kept stumbling over little heaps of granite and sand, over rails, along which the travelling cranes moved ponderously, over bits of tarpaulin and old iron instruments, over every object, in fact, that Trevannion avoided with such apparent ease.
Garstin was rather a distressful youth by the time the shanty was reached, for the pace had been hot, and he had been impeded by the fatal greatcoat and muffler. After divesting himself of these he stood still and breathed hard in front of a cheerful coke fire, while Trevannion unrolled the plans and pinned them to the long, sloping desk occupying one side of the room.
When all was ready the engineer began to explain the plans in detail, elaborating the explanation with simpler explanation, getting through the sections one by one with slow precision, repeating his elucidation of black lines, red lines, and green lines, of the length, breadth, and numbers of the piles, of the soil, subsoil, and sub-subsoil, that received them; all this in the manner of one who is instructing a child in the rudiments of engineering science, for he had made up his mind that Garstin would want a lot of instructing.
Garstin seemed a patient listener, and Trevannion had almost begun to enjoy himself, when the former suddenly laid his finger on a certain spot and asked a question connected with water-pressure and the strength of resisting force. Trevannion was surprised into returning what he thought was the correct answer. He was still more surprised when the other proceeded to prove by figures that that answer was incontestably incorrect.
This was the beginning. Garstin quickly found more questions to put on other points, more criticisms of Trevannion's replies. The latter at first made desperate efforts to crush him by assuming the calm superiority of the older hand. But with Garstin's logic it was useless to be calm. It was worse than useless to try to be superior. The intruder stuck to his guns with respectful pertinacity. Perhaps the fire had warmed his brain into unwonted activity; Trevannion found himself wondering whether this was so, or whether it was a normal state—the last thought was horrible!
At any rate, there was no doubt that within these four stuffy walls Garstin was in his element. Trevannion clearly was not. In half an hour his treasured theories had been picked to pieces and his stock of argument was exhausted, whilst his rival appeared as fresh as the woodwork.
But the climax was reached when Section D came up for discussion. Things had not gone well with Section D in practice. Trevannion incautiously admitted as much when he said that Section D represented a point on the wharf where the river persistently—more persistently than at other points—forced its way into the cavity intended for good concrete. Garstin promptly demonstrated the probable reason why. This was too much. Trevannion shut up the demonstration by opening the door.
"Phew!" he said. "Let's go out and get a little fresh air. We'll have a look at the section itself."
He stepped out, followed by the other—meekly.
It was still raining. Under the leaden sky the works looked more dismal than ever. Lakes of water lay where there had been pools; rails and machinery glistened as if they had been carefully oiled. A thick light-brown river raced past. The echoing wind and the hoarse murmur of the gang at work on Section D mingled with the groaning and clattering of the cranes. Garstin missed the warmth of the fire and shivered; he had forgotten his overcoat; and he experienced only the mildest curiosity in the surroundings. Trevannion walked rapidly and in silence. He was thinking mainly of how he could get his own back from this usurper.
They came to the edge of Section D. Below them yawned a huge pit with uneven walls sheer from top to bottom. Fronting them, on the river side, solid piles went down into an abyss that ended in black water; these were a barrier—a support to the wedge of earth that the mighty river pressed against their backs. From the land side to the tops of the piles stretched transverse beams, two and three yards apart; more beams lower down, constituting stays against the piles buckling; the whole a giant scaffolding embedded in the bowels of the earth. A few rough blocks of concrete peeped from the water below. Fountains spurted from between the piles and splashed into the basin.
Trevannion looked at the fountains and frowned. There would be work for the pumps very shortly; there was always too much work for the pumps in Section D, and so too little time and opportunity for more progressive labour. Then, disregarding the obviously slippery state of the transverse beams, he stepped on to one of them, and stood poised for a moment over sixty feet of hungry voidness.
"Come over to the other side," he said to Garstin. "You cannot see what is going on below from where you are. Why, what——?"
Garstin, after placing one foot on the beam, had drawn back, a leaden pallor showing unmistakably under his skin.
Trevannion stared at him. The laugh, the jeer, that had risen in his heart at this sudden failure of nerve never found expression. There was something in the young fellow's face that spoke of more than a qualm of nervousness. It was a pitiful terror that met Trevannion's eyes—the pleading terror of a dumb, helpless animal before a human tormentor.
For a moment the engineer stood irresolute. Two men, engaged in mixing cement a few yards distant, had laid down their spades, and, having heard Trevannion's invitation to cross the beam, were looking at "the new bloke" in mild wonder as to why he hesitated. A third was slowly trundling a wheelbarrow full of sand towards them. Trevannion took in these details in a flash—and realised their significance. Here was an easy chance of shaming Garstin before the gang, of convicting him of rank and unprofessional cowardice, of getting his own back again from the office-desk theoretician, yet—an uncontrollable impulse of generosity prevented his seizing it. He stepped on to the bank and stood beside the fear-struck figure.
"You must come on," he said in a whisper that was little more than a breath. "Pull yourself together. I'll hold you."
An instant later, and for an instant only, the two stood together on the narrow beam, Garstin a shrinking form, his every limb shaken by something more potent than the gusty wind, his face turned anywhere but downwards. Trevannion did not hold him, but his hand rested reassuringly on the other's quivering arm. For an instant only, and then Garstin was pushed on to the firm bank again and hurried towards the office.
Trevannion talked jerkily as soon as they were out of earshot of the gang. "Sudden attack of funk—rather a bogie place on a slippery day—might happen to anybody—get used to it—dance a jig on top of the king pile one day, and wonder how you could ever have been such a——"
"Coward," finished Garstin quietly.
"No-o, that's not exactly the word," said Trevannion lamely, and waited for explanation or extenuation.
But none came. It was as if the boy was quite aware of the cowardice, and did not wish his companion to consider it anything else. Trevannion's mind marvelled at the seeming abasement.
A few days later Trevannion reported progress to his wife anent the new assistant, whom for some strange reason he had grown positively to like.
"Wonderfully brainy chap, Garstin. He has helped me no end with Section D—you know, where we have had all the trouble. With luck we shall have it finished in a week or two. At the same time"—with conviction—"he will never make a practical engineer. Wouldn't be any good in an emergency. No nerve—no nerve at all. Seems to go to bits directly he gets outside the office. Can't even look down into the section without holding on to something. If a crane starts anywhere near, it makes him jump, and as to being any good with the gang, why, he daren't speak to one of them. Only this afternoon, when O'Donnell came and blustered——"
"O'Donnell?" said his wife.
"Yes—a man I sacked for being drunk and fighting. He came to the office this afternoon and asked to be taken on again. He said he could get no other job, and his wife and children were starving. I told him that the regulations would not admit of his re-employment; besides, I had reported him as dismissed and filled up the vacancy. Then he started cursing and threatening that he would do for the wharf and for me too, unless I relented. Of course I didn't relent. I turned him out—he was half-drunk. And there—what do you think?—there was Garstin with his hands covering his face, shivering and shaking as if he had seen a ghost.
"'I am sure that fellow means mischief, Mr. Trevannion,' he muttered. 'I'm sure he does—I read it in his eyes. Hadn't you better take him back—just for the sake of his wife?'
"Of course I couldn't—wouldn't. But Garstin's a brainy beggar—oh, wonderfully brainy."
* * * * *
There came a certain Friday evening when the two men sat late in their office, compiling the weekly report. Trevannion was in high good-humour; for had not their joint efforts, as he liked to call Garstin's useful suggestions, proved successful in ousting the river finally from Section D? and was not that troublesome part of the wharf ready for good concrete as soon as it could be made? He had to record this gratifying intelligence for the Committee's benefit, and he did it with a relish.
"Nothing to fear now for the old section," he remarked cheerfully.
"Nothing but the unexpected collapse of a pile," said Garstin.
"Oh, that's impossible."
The report was finished and placed in its long envelope, and they prepared to go home. Trevannion began to busy himself with a heavy oil lantern. "I am going to have a look at the section on the way," he said; "just to see that the river has not come over the top," he added jestingly. "It's a whim of mine. But don't come if you'd rather not. I can join you at the steps."
"Oh, I'll come," said Garstin—without enthusiasm.
The pair stepped out into the night, Trevannion locking the door behind him. It was pitch-dark on the wharf. They could feel the presence of, rather than see, the river that flowed silently in front of them, and they could roughly locate the far bank by the myriads of starry lights that showed Berthwer town beyond. A single red lamp glowed dully far to the west; it belonged to a steamer that they had seen come to her moorings in the afternoon. There were no other vessels showing lights. The rest was black with a blackness sentient of vague forms—an impenetrable wall of darkness that seemed to stand between them and the outer world.
Picking their way carefully between debris and other impedimenta, they made their way towards the section, and had covered half the distance when Garstin stopped. "Don't you hear something?" he asked. "I am almost sure I was not mistaken. It was like the sound of blows. There cannot be anybody there now, can there?"
Trevannion halted and listened.
"I don't hear anything," he said presently. "Besides, who could be on the wharf now? You know the regulations, and the watchman is there to enforce them."
"I think—the noise has stopped."
Trevannion flashed the lantern on him suspiciously. "Nerves again" had come into his mind. However, he said nothing, but resumed his march, swinging his lantern this way and that, so as to gain a larger circumference of light. But suddenly he again stopped, as an unexpected sound fell on his ears.
"By jove—water!" he exclaimed, and broke into a run.
Garstin followed as fast as he could, but, deprived of the light, he quickly came to grief over some old metal. When he picked himself up, the other was yards ahead, and after that he had to content himself with keeping the lantern in view.
The engineer reached Section D and stopped breathless on the brink. He had forgotten Garstin—had forgotten everything save that water was again forcing its way into the unhappy section. But how and where? Anxiously examining the opposite side with his lantern, he soon discovered what the matter was, and the discovery caused him a thrill of amazed horror. The "improbable thing" had happened. One of the piles was buckling—bending inwards—and the earth dam was surely, if slowly, giving way at this point. He turned to shout to Garstin.
Then something hit him on the shoulder and he fell backwards into Section D, wildly and vainly clutching at a beam to save himself.
* * * * *
The voice of Garstin, office-desk theoretician, assistant-engineer—Trevannion was clear about that. What he did not realise so clearly was what had happened to himself. He was lying face downwards on something, with his arm under his breast—his left arm, that is—his right seemed to have disappeared. Likewise, though he was conscious of a weight hanging downwards from his middle, he wondered vaguely what had become of his legs. He felt a curious disinclination to stir.
Yet the voice went on calling, and presently he was impelled to answer "Hello, Garstin." Then, while he was still listening to the unfamiliar echo of his own voice, he heard just behind him a splash, splash, splash, and his left arm jerked itself spasmodically from beneath his breast, the hand simultaneously touching a substance that was hard, cold, and slimy.
Then he realised.
He was somewhere near the bottom of Section D. His body lay across one of the lowest beams; his legs dangled in the water. Garstin was somewhere above him, and the river was pouring steadily into the section, splashing now with monotonous regularity. And the water was rising—creeping up towards the level of the beam where he lay.
Trevannion tried to raise himself by his right arm, but the limb gave way with an agonising shoot of pain; it was broken. He remained still and considered. Was the broken arm the extent of his injuries? The cold water had numbed his legs beyond all feeling. They were so much dead weight attached to his body. Both might be fractured for all he knew.
The main fact was that he was incapable of moving, of helping himself, at any rate until assistance came. And the water was rising, of course. Would rescue or the water arrive first?
He looked up painfully through the clammy gloom. Nothing save patches of sky, seen between the black beams, greeted his eyes. There was no sound save that of the water—splash, splash, drip, drip. For an instant the fear of death conquered him, and he almost shrieked.
However, as physical exhaustion renewed its hold upon him, he grew calmer. He began to recall what had happened. He had fallen into the section—no—he had been pushed in. There flashed upon him the vision of a sullen, black-haired labourer, whom he had refused to reinstate; this act was O'Donnell's revenge.
What had happened after that? The man would scarcely have had time to make his escape before Garstin came up. Well, it did not matter—he had heard Garstin's voice since in proof that he had survived any possible encounter. And the absence of Garstin, the oppressive silence now? Garstin had gone for help, of course. A boy like that could do nothing by himself even if he had the nerve; and Garstin had none. However, he would not be long in finding the watchman, and bringing him to the rescue. They ought to be here now. They certainly ought to be here now.
Nervously anxious, he listened for any sound of footfall or voice. Did Garstin realise the danger of the black water that was rising, ever rising? Had he by any evil chance failed to find the watchman at his post?
A smooth wave flowed slowly over the beam, and he shuddered.
Suddenly—after hours, as it seemed—something flickered on the surface of the water in front of him. A shadowy white gleam it was. It danced before his eyes like a mocking spirit—and was gone. But shortly it reappeared, and with it a lantern and a rope, with somebody clinging to the end of the rope. Trevannion had just time to recognise the figure of Garstin, swaying slowly above him, before he lost consciousness.
* * * * *
Garstin got him out, of course. But it was many days before Trevannion learned the details of the rescue.
It appeared that Garstin had arrived just in time to witness O'Donnell's treacherous attack, and to confront the infuriated man as he turned to retreat. In a blind frenzy the boy sprang at his enemy, and the latter, taken by surprise, went down with a crash, striking his head on a heap of stones, and lay senseless.
Thereupon Garstin, with the one idea of rescuing Trevannion in his mind, hurried off to the watchman's hut—only to find that the fellow had left his post. However, he discovered there a lantern and a coil of rope, and, taking these, he returned to Section D, resolved to attempt the rescue by himself. Having shouted and received a reply, he hitched one end of the rope to a beam, and was about to lower himself down, when he discovered that the rope was so badly frayed in its centre that it could not be trusted to bear even his slight weight.
There was nothing to be done save to postpone the attempt till he had found a more substantial cable. He remembered that there was a length or two in the office, and thither he set out at once. The door being locked and Trevannion having the key is his pocket, he had to force the lock as best he could with the first implement he could lay hands on.
This occupied several minutes, and when he returned to the section, he was tormented by the fear that he might find Trevannion drowned. He hastily affixed the new rope, and let himself down into the abyss, where he discovered Trevannion insensible, with his forehead almost touching the water.
It did not take long to make a noose and slip it over the latter's shoulders, but he had hardly done so when a gush of water swept over the beam, carrying away the lantern and plunging them into total darkness. For some subsequent seconds the boy clutched the rope and Trevannion's lifeless body in an agony of terror and doubt.
Then he started to climb up. The process proved exceedingly laborious, for the hemp was thin and damp, and it was difficult to obtain a grip. However, he managed to reach the summit and clambered over the brink, then paused awhile for some little breath and strength before essaying the hardest task of all—the hauling of Trevannion into safety.
How his puny strength enabled him to do this, he never could say. His foothold was none too secure, and the only available leverage was a narrow piece of masonry that jutted from the side. Yet, working inch by inch, he accomplished it, and when Trevannion had been brought sufficiently near the top, he made the rope fast to a convenient block of granite, and, kneeling down, regardless of his own peril, lifted him over the side. It was quite ten minutes before he could stagger with his burden to the office.
Safely inside, he made up the fire and telephoned for the doctor. Then he remembered O'Donnell, and spoke a message to the police-station, whence were presently despatched a couple of constables who found the man, stunned and considerably bruised. Neither did he forget Section D—with the result that there was a breakdown gang on the spot before midnight.
The buckled pile was found to have been nearly chopped through a few feet from the top, and there was no doubt that if O'Donnell had been undisturbed, he would have done the most serious mischief to the work. As it was, the completion of the section was delayed for two months.
Trevannion heard this story during his convalescence—a lengthy period, since two ribs were broken as well as the arm, and he had suffered severely from shock and exposure. In answer to a question Garstin said that at the time he had scarcely noticed the physical strain. The thing that was uppermost in his mind was the fear that Trevannion might drown before he could get to him. No, he had experienced no personal sensation of nervousness, when preparing to descend into the section. Whereupon Trevannion thought deeply.
"I owe my life to your pluck, and I was a fool to faint at the critical moment," was all he said.
But, as has been remarked, his thoughts were many and profound. Nor was he ever again heard to reflect on Garstin's "want of nerve."
MY ADVENTURE WITH A LION
I once served an apprenticeship on a New York newspaper, and some of my experiences as a reporter on the Evening Smile I shall never forget.
A reporter on an American newspaper is like a soldier—he is expected to obey orders implicitly, even at the risk of his life. For this reason he is paid well, but a nervous reporter often goes out of the office with his heart in his mouth and an "assignment" that makes him think seriously of taking out another insurance policy on his life.
One gloomy winter's morning I got down to the office at eight o'clock as usual, and had hardly reached my desk when the news editor—a kind man, who was always giving me opportunities of distinguishing myself—came up and began to speak at once in a very mysterious voice.
"Got a dandy assignment for you this morning," he said.
I looked up gratefully.
"I guess you carry a six-shooter, don't you?" he asked. "You may need it this trip."
"Oh!" I managed to gasp.
"A lion's escaped," he went on, in the quick, nervous American way of an American news editor.
"Has it really?" I said, wondering what was coming next.
"Jaffray's Circus came to town last night, the lion somehow got out, and they've been chasing it all night. Got it cornered in a stable at last, somewhere in East 19th Street; but it attacked and mauled a valuable horse there, and I understand is still at bay. That's all I know. Get up there as quick as you like, and get us a regular blazing story of it. You can run to a column," he added over his shoulder, as he returned to his desk to distribute the other morning assignments, "and let's have your copy down by messenger in time for the first edition."
No one ever disputed with the news editor, or asked unnecessary questions, but many a reporter did a lot of steady thinking when he got outside the office and safely on to the doorstep.
I crammed my pocket full of paper from the big heap at the middle table, and swaggered out of the room with my nose in the air, as though hunting escaped lions was a little matter I attended to every day of my life, and that did not disturb me an atom.
An overhead train soon rattled me up to East 19th Street, but it was some time before I found the stable where the lion awaited me, for 19th Street runs from Broadway down to the East River, and is a mile or two in length, and full of stables. Not far from the corner of Irving Place, however, I got on to the scent of my quarry, and I had hardly joined the group that had collected at the corner before a noise like distant thunder rose on the air, and every single person in the group turned tail and began to run for safety.
"What's the trouble?" I asked of a man as he dashed past me.
"Lion in that stable!" he shouted, pointing to the big wooden doors across the road. "Escaped from the circus. Savage as they make 'em. Killed a trotting-horse in there, and no one can get near it. They say it's a man-eater, too!"
Another roar burst out as he spoke, and the crowd that had begun to collect again scattered in an instant in all directions. There was no doubt about that sound: it was a genuine lion's roar, and it sounded deeper, I thought, than any roar I had ever heard before.
But news was news, and in this case news was bread-and-butter. I must get the facts, and be quick about it, too, for my copy had to be written out and in the office of the Evening Smile in time for the first edition. There was barely an hour in which to do the whole business.
I forced my way through the crowd now gathering again on the corner, and made my way across the road to where a group of men was standing not far from the stable doors. They moved about a bit when the roars came, but none of them ran, and I noticed some of them had pistols in their hands, and some heavy crowbars, and other weapons. Evidently, I judged, they were men connected with the circus, and I joined the group and explained my mission.
"Well, that's right enough," said one of them. "You've got a grand newspaper story this time. Old Yellow Hair's in there, sure pop! And, what's more, I don't see how we're ever going to get him out again."
"The horse must be stiff by now," said another. "He was mauled half to death an hour ago."
"It'd be a shame to have to shoot him," added a third, meaning the lion. "He's the best animal in the whole circus; but he is awful savage."
"That's a fact," chimed in a fourth. "There's no flies on old Yellow Hair."
Some one touched me on the arm and introduced himself as a reporter from the Evening Grin—a fellow-worker in distress. He said he didn't like the job at all. He wanted us to go off and concoct a "fake story." But I wouldn't agree to this, and it fell through; for unless all the evening papers conspire to write the same story there's always trouble at the office when the reporters get back.
Other reporters kept joining the group, and in twenty minutes from the time of my arrival on the scene there must have been a good dozen of us. Every paper in town was represented. It was a first-class news story, and the men who were paid by space were already working hard to improve its value by getting new details, such as the animal's history and pedigree, names of previous victims, human or otherwise, the description and family history of its favourite keeper, and every other imaginable detail under the sun.
"There's an empty loft above the stable," said one of the circus men, pointing to a smaller door on the storey above; and before ten minutes had passed some one arrived with a ladder, and the string of unwilling reporters was soon seen climbing up the rungs and disappearing like rats into a hole through the door of the loft. We drew lots for places, and I came fifth.
Before going up, however, I had got a messenger-boy stationed in the street below to catch my "copy" and hurry off with it to the Evening Smile as soon as I could compose the wonderful story and throw it down to him. The reporter on an evening paper in New York has to write his "stuff," as we called it, in wonderful and terrible places, and under all sorts of conditions. The only rules he must bear in mind are: Get the news, and get it quick. Accuracy is a mere detail for later editions—or not at all.
The loft was dark and small, and we only just managed to squeeze in. It smelt pleasantly of hay. But there was another odour besides, that no one understood at first, and that was decidedly unpleasant. Overhead were thick rafters. I think every one of us noticed these before he noticed anything else, for the instant the roar of that lion sounded up through the boards under our feet the reporters scattered like chaff before the wind, and scuttled up into those rafters with a speed, and dust, and clatter I have never seen equalled. It was like sparrows flying from the sudden onslaught of a cat.
Fat men, lean men, long men, short men—I never saw such a collection of news-gatherers; smart men from the big papers, shabby fellows from the gutter press, hats flying, papers fluttering; and in less than a second after the roar was heard there was not a solitary figure to be seen on the floor. Every single man had gone aloft.
We all came down again when the roar ceased, and with subsequent roars we got a little more accustomed to the shaking of the boards under our feet. But the first time at such close quarters, with only a shaky wooden roof between us and "old Yellow Hair," was no joke, and we all behaved naturally and without pose or affectation, and ran for safety, or rather climbed for it.
There was a trap-door in the floor through which, I suppose, the hay was passed down to the horses under normal circumstances. One by one we crawled on all-fours to this trap-door and peered through. The scene below I can see to this day. As soon as one's eyes got a little accustomed to the gloom the outline of the stalls became first visible. Then a human figure seated on the top of an old refrigerator, with a pistol in one hand, pointed at a corner opposite, came into view. Then another man, seated astride the division between the stalls, could be seen. And last, but not least, I saw the dark mass on the floor in the far corner, where the dead horse lay mangled and the monster of a lion sprawled across his carcass, with great paws outstretched, and shining eyes.
From time to time the man on the ice-box fired his pistol, and every time he did this the lion roared, and the reporters flew and climbed aloft. The trap-door was never occupied a single second after the roar began, and as the number of persons in the loft increased and the thin wooden floor began to bend and shake, a number of these adventurous news-gatherers remained aloft and never put foot to ground. Braver reporters threw their copy out of the door to the messenger-boys below, and every time this feat was accomplished the crowd, safely watching on the corners opposite, cheered and clapped their hands. A steady stream of writing dropped from that loft-door and poured all the morning into the offices of the evening newspapers; while the morning-newspaper men sat quietly and looked on, knowing that they could write up their own account later from the reports in the evening sheets.
The men in the stable below, occupying positions of great peril, were, of course, connected with the travelling circus. We shouted down questions to them, but more often got a pistol-shot instead of a voice by way of reply. Where all those bullets went to was a matter for anxious speculation amongst us, and the roaring of the lion combined with the reports of the six-shooter to keep us fairly dancing on that wooden floor as if we were practising a cake-walk.
A sound of cheering from the crowd outside, swelling momentarily as the neighbourhood awoke to the situation, brought us with a rush to the top of the ladder.
"It's the strong man!" cried several voices. "The strong man of the circus. He'll fix up the lion quick enough. Give him a chance!"
A huge man, who, rightly enough, proved to be the performing strong man of the circus, was seen making his way through the crowd, asking questions as he went. A pathway opened up for him as if by magic, and, carrying a mighty iron crowbar, he reached the foot of the ladder and began to climb up.
Thrilled by the sight of this monster with the determined-looking jaw, a dozen men rushed forward to hold the bottom of the ladder while he ascended; but when he was about half-way up, the lion was inconsiderate enough to give forth a most terrifying roar, with the immediate result that the men holding the ladder turned tail with one accord and fled. The ladder slipped a few inches, and the ascending Samson, crowbar and all, very neatly came to the ground with a crash. Fortunately, however, he just managed to grab the ledge of the door, and a dozen reporters seized him by the shoulders and dragged him, safe, but a trifle undignified, into the loft.
Talking very loud, and referring to the lion with a richness of epithets I have never heard equalled before or since, he crossed the floor and began to squeeze through the hole into the dangerous region below. In a moment he was hanging with legs dangling, and a second later had dropped heavily into a pile of hay underneath him. We lowered the crowbar to him, breathless with admiration; and then a strange thing happened. For, while the lion roared and the pistols banged, and we reporters tumbled over each other to get a glimpse of the attack of the lion on the strong man, or vice versa, lo! a voice below shouted to close the trap, and the same instant a board from below shot across the opening and completely obliterated our view.
"We'll have to fake that part of the fight," said a reporter. "Must all agree on the same yarn."
The sounds from below prevented the details being agreed upon just at that moment, for such a hoolabaloo as we then heard is simply indescribable—shooting, lion roaring, strong man shouting, crowbar clanging, and the sound of breaking wood and heavy bodies falling.
Outside the crowd heard it too, and remained absolutely silent. Most of them, indeed, had vanished! Every minute they expected to see the doors burst open and the enraged animal rush out with the strong man between his jaws, and their silence was accordingly explained by their absence.
At least half of the reporters were still among the rafters when the trap-door shot back in the floor, and a voice cried breathlessly that the strong man had caged the lion.
It was, indeed, a thrilling moment. We clambered down the ladder and out into the street just in time to see the great doors open and a procession emerge that was worth all the travelling circuses in the world put together to see.
First came the trainer, with a pistol in either hand. Following him was the man with the small crowbar who had sat on the division between the stalls. Then came a great iron cage, which had been in the stable all the time, but a little out of our line of vision in a dark corner, so that no one had observed it.
In this cage lay the huge exhausted lion, panting, on its side, with lather dripping from its great jaws.
And on the top of the cage, seated tailor-wise, dressed in a very loud check ulster, and wearing a bell-shaped opera-hat on the side of his head, was the proud figure of the victorious strong man. The expression on his face was worth painting, but it is wholly beyond me to describe it. Such exultation and glorious pride was worthy of the mightiest gladiator that ever fought in an arena.
His long curly hair, shining with oil, escaped in disorder from his marvellously shaped top hat, and the massive crowbar that had brought him his hard-won victory stood upright on one end, grasped in his gigantic hand. He smiled round on the gathering crowd, and the procession moved proudly up the streets till within half an hour the people following and cheering must have numbered many thousands.
We reporters rushed off to our various offices, and the streets were soon afterwards lively with newspaper-boys shouting the news and waving sheets of terrible and alarming headlines about the "escaped lion and its fearful ravages," and the "strong man who had captured it after a ghastly battle for his life."
Next day the morning papers did not publish a solitary line about the great event; but in the advertising columns of every newspaper appeared the prospectus of the travelling circus just come to town, and in particularly bold type the public were told to be sure and see Yellow Hair, the savage man-eating lion, that had escaped the day before and killed a valuable horse in a private stable where it had been chased by the terrified keepers; and, in the paragraph below, the details followed of the wonderful strong man, Samson, who had caught and caged the lion single-handed, armed only with a crowbar.
It was the best advertisement a circus ever had; and most of it was not paid for!
* * * * *
"Guess you knew it was all a fake?" queried the news editor next morning, as he gave me the usual assignment.
It was my first week on an American paper, and I stared at him, waiting for the rest.
"That lion hasn't a tooth in its head. They dragged in a dead horse in the night. You wrote a good story, though. Cleaned your pistol yet?"
THE SECRET CAVE OF HYDAS
CHAPTER I.—THE FIGHT AND THEFT IN THE MUSEUM
A tall, muscular, black-bearded, dark-eyed, beak-nosed native strolled into the Lahore Museum, in the Punjab; he carried a massive five-foot-long stick with a crook handle, and studded with short brass-headed nails from handle to ferrule. He sauntered about until he came to a case containing ancient daggers and swords, which arrested his attention for some time.
About a dozen other visitors were in the room, and of these a couple strolled together from one object of interest to another; they were fine stalwart natives, and each possessed a stick of ordinary size.
These two men quietly walked about exchanging opinions on the various curios until they came face to face with the solitary man gazing at the antique weapons.
"What! art thou here, thou badmash (scoundrel)?" exclaimed one of the two.
"Ah, thou son of a swine, take that!" replied the tall man, and, with a quickness which proved him to be an expert in the handling of a stick, struck the native who had addressed him a vicious blow on the head, but, the said head being protected by many folds of his puggari, the stroke merely knocked him down without doing any serious injury.
In an instant the fallen man's friend struck at the assailant, and, the other man springing up, a fierce fight was quickly in full swing, two against one, and the noise of the sticks rattling together in powerful strokes, and the insulting taunts thrown at each other by the combatants, soon attracted the other sight-seers and the Museum attendants.
In a few minutes the fighters had been turned out of the building; they had done no damage except to themselves, and neither party would bring a charge against the other, so they scowlingly went in opposite directions as soon as they were outside.
"A family feud," said a bystander.
"Yes, I expect it is a vendetta," responded another.
These remarks, however, were very far from the truth, for the apparent enemies were the greatest friends and bound together by the most solemn vows, and in fact the realistic fight had been pre-arranged with a definite object, which was successfully attained, as indeed the Museum officials discovered later.
The day after the fracas Doctor Mullen, Government geologist, called at the Museum; he was accompanied by his son Mark, a sturdily built lad of about eighteen, who was preparing to follow his father's profession, and with them was Tom Ellison, the Doctor's assistant, a young man of twenty-four, tall and extremely active.
"Well, Ramji Daji, what's this I hear about a robbery at the Museum yesterday?" asked the doctor of the assistant curator.
"Ah, Sahib, I am very sorry, but the badmashes stole those pieces of strangely carved stones you found on the Salt Range mountains, and also another piece, which was lying near them on the table here," answered Ramji Daji.
"But what in the world did they carry them off for? They can be of no value to anybody," remarked the Doctor.
"I don't know, Sahib. There was a fight here yesterday, and some hours after we missed the five fragments of inscribed stone and one piece belonging to another set. Had they taken any of the gold or silver things we could have understood, but——" and Ramji Daji made a gesture expressive of the puzzled state of his own mind.
"There can be only two reasons for the strange theft—it is either a practical joke, or some one saw the stones who was able to decipher them—which we could not—but the joke theory seems the more probable," said the Doctor.
The pieces of stone referred to consisted of five irregular fragments of a slab, an inch or so thick, the largest being about seven inches long by four or five wide, and the smallest some four inches by two. These five parts would not fit evenly together, and in the Doctor's opinion they formed about half of the original slab.
The Doctor had taken a careful rubbing on paper of the letters on the stones, and sent it to a friend for the purpose of deciphering it if possible.
"I wonder, Doctor, whether any one from the Salt Range stole the stones? Do you remember that your tent was surreptitiously searched a few nights after you had found the pieces?" remarked Tom Ellison.
"I remember my things having been ransacked, and we concluded some thief had been disturbed, but we never for a moment thought they were after the bits of inscribed slab, which, by the way, I had sent off the day before when sending for stores for the camp," he replied.
"Well, if he was after the stones he may have followed us to Lahore and you to the Museum, when you came to take a rubbing of the lettering," said Tom.
"There must be a clue to something written on them, if any one took all the trouble to come so far for them," suggested Mark Mullen.
"To-morrow I hope to hear from Professor Muirson, and he will probably throw some light on the meaning of the inscription," said the Doctor. "But come, we must get back to work, for I have to finish my report before we start into camp again in a couple of days' time," he added, and they hurried away to their own office, but at least Mark's mind was full of thoughts concerning the stolen stones, and conjuring up all sorts of strange mysteries connected with them.
Doctor Mullen duly received from the Professor the expected letter, a part of which read as follows—
"There can be no doubt that the ruins in which you found the fragments of inscribed slab are those of a Greek settlement which was most probably founded on the Salt Range by camp followers, and possibly soldiers, of Alexander the Great's army who were left behind on his return from India.
"I can only conclude from the rubbing you have sent me that it is not from the original inspection, but that the slab of which you have found parts was inscribed from memory at a much later period, it being made up of three languages. The original sense may or may not have been retained, and as far as I am able to understand it the incomplete wording would in English read—' ... into thy charge ... guarded ... descendants with life ... of Hydas ... sacrifice ... the gods.'
"I have made no attempt to guess at the missing words, for, as you will see at a glance, the incomplete sentences allow of a variety of renderings, thereby causing great uncertainty with regard to the original meaning."
"I wish we had the other parts of the slab," exclaimed Mark, as soon as his father had read out the letter.
"Yes, it is rather interesting. Well, we start to-morrow for the Salt Range to continue our work, and I will show you the exact spot where I found the pieces, and a diligent search there may be rewarded by the discovery of at least some of the other portion," said the Doctor; and both Mark and Tom Ellison hoped such might prove to be the case, little thinking what dangers they would be led into on account of those fragments of an old, broken slab.
CHAPTER II.—MARK MULLEN DISAPPEARS
"Now then, Mark, down you come," said Tom Ellison, as he shook the lad, who had lowered the upper sleeping-berth in the train and gone to sleep.
"What time is it? Where are we?" Mark asked drowsily.
"Near midnight, and we are at Gunjyal," answered Tom.
"What a beastly hour to turn out!" grumbled Mark as he scrambled down.
In half an hour the servants and a camel—which had been waiting—had started for the Doctor's destination, a place on the Salt Range some twelve miles away.
At daybreak three horses arrived, and the Doctor and his two companions started for their camp.
After breakfast the Doctor took his son and Tom Ellison, accompanied by a servant, to a small valley about a quarter of a mile from the camp.
"Here you are," said the Doctor; "this is the exact spot where I found the pieces of slab."
"Then I should say the rest can't be far away," remarked Tom, and they commenced poking around with the ends of iron-shod sticks. They had been twenty minutes at their task when a boy in charge of some goats planted himself on a rock not far away and keenly watched the Sahibs at work.
"Don't you think it would be a good plan, Doctor, if we got a few coolies to loosen the subsoil and turn over some of these loose stones about here?—it would be easier for us to search," suggested Tom.
"Yes, we may as well make a thorough search now we are at it," replied the Doctor, who at once sent the servant to the village near the camp for some coolies and tools.
The boy had disappeared before the coolies arrived, for he had received a signal from a man who was secretly watching the search-party from the top of a cliff some seventy yards away.
The natives had not been long at work when one of them slipped, and his puggari pitched off exactly on to the spot where the next coolie had turned over a stone. The man picked up his puggari and moved a few yards off to wind it round his head again, and almost immediately the goat-boy appeared and asked him if he had seen a stray goat.
Tom Ellison happened to be standing up examining a strange fossil he had found, and as he casually glanced at the boy he saw the coolie hand him something, which he promptly hid in the folds of a kind of scarf hanging over his shoulder.
In a moment a suspicion flashed into Tom's mind, and he rushed forward and seized the boy before he could make off, and no sooner had he felt the lad's kupra (cloth) than he discovered that the youngster had hidden a newly found piece of the slab which had been picked up by the coolie.
The Doctor and Mark were at once by Tom's side examining the fragment and listening to Tom's explanation. In their excitement they forgot about the boy, and when they looked round became aware that both he and the coolie had disappeared.
The sides of the hills all about were covered with low shrubs, large stones, and nullahs, or ravines, and, although a quick search was made, neither man nor boy could be seen.
When the day was over they had met with no further success as regards finding parts of the slab, but they took away several other stones which they thought might possibly prove to be of some interest, and most of the evening after dinner was spent in discussing the reason which prompted the theft from the Museum, and the attempt to steal the stone found during the day.
"There can be no doubt I was seen examining the fragments I found," said the Doctor. "I remember now that three or four natives were watching me trying to place the several pieces together in my attempts to get an idea of the whole. Strange that these natives should take so keen an interest in an old, broken slab, for the pieces must have been lying there for years."
"I expect we shall have to keep a sharp eye on this piece, for they are sure to have a try for it, judging by what they have already done," said Tom.
"They seem to have a sharp eye on us. I shouldn't be surprised if they thought we came here purposely to hunt for the stones," said Mark.
"Well, I will take a copy of the letters on it at once, in case anything happens to the stone," said the Doctor.
Next day an official letter arrived which necessitated either the Doctor or Tom returning to Lahore for a few hours, and it was decided the letter should go.
"Now listen," said the Doctor as Tom was about to start on his journey. "Take the stone to the Museum and tell them to place it where they can watch any one who takes any peculiar interest in it. Further, get a description of those men who were fighting there on the day the stones were stolen; and don't forget to post my letter to the Professor, for it contains a rubbing from the last piece."
With these parting instructions Tom started on his ride to Gunjyal station so as to arrive there before dark, there being practically no road from the foot of the Salt Range across the miles of dismal tract of sandy plain to the station, although his train did not leave until midnight; but it was the only train in the twenty-four hours.
Tom was half-asleep when he got into the train; he had the compartment to himself, and he thought it likely he would remain alone until he arrived at Lala Musa, about eight o'clock, where he would have to change to get on to the main line, so he quickly spread his bedding, and, drawing the green-baize shade over the lamp, he was soon asleep.
He could not say where it happened, but when he roused up the train was in motion and he was just conscious he was not alone; but the instant he attempted to move, a rug was thrown over his face, and he knew he was being held down by at least two powerful assailants. In a very short time, notwithstanding his fierce struggles, he was bound hand and foot, a gag in his mouth, and blindfolded, without having the slightest idea of the appearance of those who had attacked him.
Whilst Tom was in this condition the train stopped several times, but no one entered the compartment, and, as the Venetian shutters were down, it was impossible for any one to peer through the window and so become aware of his position.
He tried to knock his feet against the side of the carriage at the first station, but he was bound too securely to the seat which formed his bed to allow of the slightest movement, so wearily and painfully the hours dragged on until the guard discovered him and set him free at Lala Musa station.
The moment he was released he found that the only thing missing was the fragment of slab he was to have taken to the Museum.
"They followed me to Gunjyal and then slipped into my carriage at some station whilst I was asleep, and quietly slipped out at the next station when they had got what they wanted," mused Tom.
By the time he had given an account of what had happened to him he had only a few minutes in which to rush over to the refreshment-room and get some breakfast before his train was due.
When Tom arrived in Lahore he went straight to his office, and in a couple of hours he had completed the special work which had necessitated his journey; then he went over to the Museum.
"The thief has been caught, Sahib," said one of the attendants as Tom entered the building.
"When? Who is he?" asked Tom, in considerable surprise, for he had concluded that his late assailants were the men who had robbed the Museum.
"They caught him during last night, but I don't know much about it yet," replied the man.
Tom at once hurried off to the police-station to learn full particulars.
"Yes, we found a piece of stone with some strange device on it," said the Superintendent of Police. "This is it. Do you recognise it?" he added, as he handed Tom the stone.
"No, this is not the one the Doctor found," said Tom, after a moment's examination.
"Well, it is the only bit we got, and we are told it was stolen from the Museum with some others, during a fight," said the officer.
"How did you get this?" asked Tom.
"Well, in rather a strange way. The night after the stones had disappeared three clever burglaries took place in Lahore, and the thieves made valuable hauls in each case, but we could get no clue. Last night an anonymous letter came to us, and we decided to act upon it, so we searched a house in the bazaar and recovered this stone together with some gold and silver ornaments which had been stolen; we found them in the exact spot where we were told to look for them. The man says he is innocent, and that they were placed where we found them unknown to him. Now you know the whole case," said the police-officer.
"And the man you have arrested, do you think he is connected with the men who were fighting in the Museum?" asked Tom.
"He says not. He certainly is not one of the fighters. He does not bear the best of characters, however," was the reply.
Tom related what had happened to him in the train; several theories were advanced to account for the keen interest taken in the stones, and the police began exerting themselves to fathom the mystery.
The morning after Tom Ellison had left the camp a shikari went to Mark with the information that some oorial (wild sheep) were feeding about half a mile away, and Mark, who was a keen sportsman, promptly got his rifle and went with the shikari.
Mark was able to get a long shot, but missed, so sat down while the shikari climbed the peaks around to try and find the oorial again. In about ten minutes Mark heard a slight rustling in the bushes some twenty yards away, and he got a glimpse of a porcupine. He did not wish to fire at it lest he should startle the oorial if they had halted anywhere near, so he picked up a stone and threw it at the animal when next he saw it.
"I have hit it," he muttered, as he heard a peculiar cry, and he hurried forward, but he could find no sign of the porcupine, and he concluded it had entered a small cave he discovered.
Mark struck a match and went in a few feet, but it appeared to be very low, and when his match went out he decided to go no farther, for he had no desire to stumble on the top of a porcupine.
In a short time the shikari returned, and Mark thought no more about the animal until he had been back at the camp some time.
While Mark had been away on his shooting expedition, Harry Burton, the Superintendent of Police, had called, and during the afternoon Mark casually mentioned the incident of the porcupine.
"I think you are mistaken about it being a porcupine, my boy," said Burton.
"I don't think so. I saw it twice and hit it with the stone, for I distinctly heard it make a peculiar noise as though hurt," persisted Mark.
"That is exactly what makes me certain it was not a porcupine, for it is one of the animals without vocal cords, therefore cannot make a vocal sound. It was more likely a wild pig, for there are a number about here," said Burton, who was a great sportsman.
Mark, however, felt certain he had distinctly seen the animal's quills, so a little later he quietly left the camp without saying a word to any one as to where he was going.
At nine o'clock that night Mark had not returned to camp, and Burton, who had remained to dinner, suggested that he might have got lost, or met with an accident; so a search was at once commenced.
CHAPTER III.—THE MYSTERIOUS FAKIR
"Well, Burton, what is your opinion now?" asked Doctor Mullen on their return to camp about three o'clock in the morning, after an unsuccessful search for Mark.
"I am sorry to say I think he has met with a serious accident and is unable to help himself. Listen to those natives shouting 'Sahib! Sahib!' and far beyond them others are calling, and the boy would have replied if he could have done so. You are sure he went alone?" asked Burton.
"Yes. He took his gun, which seems to suggest that he started for that lake about a mile from here after duck. Had he gone after oorial he would have taken his rifle and would have been accompanied by the shikari," said the Doctor, who was greatly distressed about his son's disappearance.
"As soon as it is light I will have every nullah and bush searched for miles round," said Burton, and then he mused without giving expression to his thoughts. "He may have fallen over a kud (precipice), or his gun may have burst, or he may have been bitten by a snake, or he may have run against those—well, fragments of slab"; and he left the tent and sent off messages to the headmen of the villages around.
Harry Burton was one of the cleverest officers in the Indian police; he was a few years over thirty, a dark-complexioned man of medium height, very agile and powerful, and was known to the Salt Range natives as Koj (tracker) Burton Sahib, owing to his smartness in following up the slightest clue.
Burton, at the Doctor's request, went to occupy Mark's empty tent for an hour or two, and as he stretched himself on the camp bed his busy brain was engaged in trying to form a connection between the broken slab and Mark's absence, and these thoughts kept him awake, so he was the first to hear the footsteps of an approaching horse.
"Hello! Is that you, Ellison?" greeted Burton, as the new arrival dismounted.
"Yes. I heard at Gunjyal about Mark, so, instead of waiting for daylight, I hunted up a horse, and, by all this shouting, I conclude Mark is still missing," said Tom, and in a very few minutes he had related to Burton and the Doctor his experience in the train and what he had learnt in Lahore.
"Ah, things are getting a bit more complicated," said Burton aloud, and then muttered to himself, "But I begin to get a better hold of the idea."
"Now you clearly understand me," said Burton when instructing the headmen. "You are to send out every available man and boy from your villages, and they are to search every nullah until they meet the men from the next village. We think the young Sahib has met with an accident, and if you find him you are to send word here immediately; and you, Appoyas, instruct your men to be most careful in searching those cliffs near your village."
"What's that man's name?" asked the Doctor as soon as the men had gone.
"Appoyas. It is an unusual name—certainly not a Punjabi one," replied Burton.
"I never heard the name before. He is a fine-looking man," remarked the Doctor.
"And a very wealthy man, according to report. That is his village on the very edge of those cliffs about a mile away. It is the most prosperous village on the Salt Range, and celebrated for its stamped-cloth work. Appoyas and his brother Atlasul—another uncommon name—buy up all the cloth made and stamped in the place, and give a good price too, and their camels frequently go off laden with bales. But come over here a minute," and Burton led the Doctor some short distance from the camp.
"I can scarcely credit it; surely it is too improbable, how——" began the Doctor when he had heard what Burton had to say.
"Never mind; kindly act in the manner I suggest," interrupted Burton, "and I think you will find I am right. Now I must be off, and—well, expect me when you see me, as they say"; and in a couple of minutes he was riding from the camp on a secret and dangerous expedition.
The search was continued all day, but not the slightest sign of Mark could be discovered.
If any one, about sunset, had been near the place where Mark was resting at the time he thought he saw the porcupine, a Fakir might have been seen sitting on the identical spot. He appeared to be in deep meditation, but, as soon as it was dark, he crept cautiously to the entrance of the cave into which Mark thought the porcupine had disappeared.
The Fakir paused, and after listening intently for a few moments he scrambled in; and after again listening he produced a bull's-eye lamp—a most unusual thing for a native to possess—and carefully lit it.
He next examined a revolver and a knife he carried in a girdle under a loose garment he had wrapped round him, and in addition to these weapons he had an iron rod about three feet and a-half long, similar to what many Fakirs carry.
He now advanced along a narrow passage which widened into a large cave, from which opened another narrow passage, and this he proceeded cautiously to explore, but when he had gone about a hundred yards it came to an abrupt end, the roof here being exceedingly high, and as he flashed his light around he could not see the top.
For the space of an hour he probed about with his iron rod, and felt in the cracks and crevices in the walls; then suddenly he sat down, and, had any one been near enough, they would have heard him chuckling to himself, for he had made a great discovery.
In a short time he made his way out of the cave and disappeared into the darkness of the night.
"What do you make of this, Ellison?" said the Doctor early next morning. "I have just found this note in my tent; it is written in Punjabi, and in English it reads: 'If the Sahib wishes to learn where his son is he will be told if you promise to give up the other pieces of stone you found. Let the Sahib write his promise on the blank part of this paper and place it on the small olive-tree near the salt spring. The Sahib's men need not watch, for they will not see who fetches it.'
"Do you think it is a hoax?" asked the Doctor.
"I don't know. I scarcely think so. I wish Burton was back," said Tom, who thought that Burton's experience might enable him to get something of a clue from the strange message. "They have got all the stones," he added.
"We took others that did not belong to the slab," said the Doctor.
"Of course, I had forgotten; and the writer of this is under the impression they are parts of the slab," remarked Tom.
"If this is genuine, then Mark is a prisoner, which is Burton's opinion; and I believe he is acting in some secret manner on his opinion," said the Doctor.
After a long consultation the Doctor tore off the blank piece of paper and wrote on it in the native language: "You must first give me some proof that you know where my son is before I promise to comply with your request. Let him write to me."
"We both know where the salt spring is, Tom, so I will take the paper there, and you go to some place where you can watch the spring through your field-glasses," said the Doctor.
"Very good. By the time we get a reply Burton may be back," said Tom, and they left the camp.
Tom watched patiently all day, but, with the exception of a boy in charge of some goats, no one went near the spring, and the boy did not go within a hundred yards of it, though his goats were feeding all round and close to it.
"Glad to see you back, Burton," exclaimed Tom when he returned to camp and found the officer there.
"What luck, Tom?" asked the Doctor.
"Bad. I waited until it was too dark to see, and the message had not been taken when I came away," he replied.
"You are wrong, Tom, my boy, for I saw it taken," said Burton.
"How? Where were you?" asked Tom, in surprise.
"Not far from you, and I saw a goat sniff it and quickly walk off with the paper in its mouth, and five minutes later the boy had it in his hand. Here, smell this," and Burton held out the paper containing the message to the Doctor.
"A peculiar smell," said Tom.
"Yes, and the goat is trained to carry anything impregnated with that subtle odour," explained Burton.
"Do you believe the writer of this knows where Mark is, Burton? Have you discovered anything?" asked Tom.
"Yes, the man knows well enough, and I know to half a mile," said Burton.
"They why not try to release him at once?" exclaimed Tom.
"Easier said than done, and I am fully convinced it would be dangerous to force matters without careful arrangements. I practically know with whom we have to deal, and, if I am any judge of native character, I believe we are in conflict with some of the most cunning and fearless men in India—men who had been carrying on their work for many years, and that, too, without raising suspicion, and who will not hesitate to risk life and cause death to accomplish their purpose, and——" Burton suddenly stopped speaking; then, almost in a whisper, he hurriedly said, "Go on talking about Mark," and noiselessly he left the tent.
In a few moments there was a sound of a scuffle at the back of the tent, followed by a thud and an exclamation from Burton; so they rushed out to see what had happened, the Doctor taking the lamp from the tent-pole as he passed.
"What's the matter, Burton?" asked Tom.
"Bring the lamp here," he answered, rubbing his knees. "They were too smart for me, and I got the worst of it this time," he added.
"What is that rope doing there?" asked the Doctor, as the light revealed a long rope extending from a tent-peg to a considerable distance into the darkness.
"Oh, it is there for a purpose, and it answers too well to suit me, for it has given me one of the heaviest falls I have had for a long time. A man was there listening to us, and it would have made no difference which way I had come round the tent, for the eavesdropper would have gone in the opposite direction. When I heard him making off I dashed after him, and his comrade, who was at the far end of the rope, jerked it taut when it was between me and the man I was after, with the result that I came a most terrific cropper; then they promptly fled, and are safely away by this time," explained Burton.
"But how did you know there was any one outside?" asked Tom. "I never heard a sound."
"I saw the side of the tent shake, and there is not a breath of air stirring. The man who was listening must know English, I feel sure; and I am afraid we have made a terrible mistake in not taking precautionary measures against being overheard. If they understood what I said about suspecting who they are, I may make up my mind to having a rather lively time." Burton said in a whisper, for he did not know but some one might still be listening screened in the darkness.
"They may have only come to watch us, and probably did not grasp the meaning of our conversation," said the Doctor, in a low voice.
"Let us hope so, for it may mean life or death," was Burton's serious reply, and that night guards were set over the camp.
Early next morning Burton left, but before going he slipped a letter into the Doctor's hand, saying as he did so, "Don't open it unless I am not back by eight o'clock to-morrow morning. Inside you will find full instructions what to do if I have not returned."
CHAPTER IV.—A CAPTURE
Soon after Burton had left the camp the Doctor received a letter from Professor Muirson in which he said, "The only word on the rubbing you sent me from the last fragment of slab you found means 'Cave,' and I think it should be placed before the words 'of Hydas'; thus you have a reference to the 'Cave of Hydas,' in which there is, or was, something to be carefully guarded."
"Then, putting two and two together, the men who hold Mark a prisoner are either anxious to learn where this Cave of Hydas is, or they know where it is and do not wish any one else to obtain the knowledge," said the Doctor.
"I am inclined to think that Mark is in that very cave at the present moment," said Tom.
"Quite possible. By the way, Tom, tell the natives who are crowding about the camp to continue the search for Mark. Burton wishes it to be kept up for some reason or other," said the Doctor as he went into his tent.
"Hi! Tom; come here a moment," almost immediately shouted the Doctor; and as soon as Tom had joined him he said, "I have just found this—listen: 'I have been asked to say that I am all right, and to advise you to do what my captors have requested you. Your reply is to be written on the blank part of this paper and placed where you put the last. Mark.' There can be no doubt about the writing—it is Mark's, and my mind is greatly relieved," said the Doctor.
"Mark knows one of his captors understands English or he would have written more; he was only allowed to write what he was told," said Tom.
The Doctor at once wrote the following reply: "Mark, you are to tell them that if one of their number will come with you here he may take away any of the stones we have found."
This answer was written with the object of delay until Burton's return; and, as before, the Doctor took the paper to the salt spring, while Tom went to a position where he could watch the goat carry away the message to the boy; and he had not long to wait, for within a couple of hours the boy and his goats appeared and slowly passed the place, and, as they quietly went along from bush to bush cropping the leaves, one took the letter, and in a few minutes the boy had taken it from the goat.
That night, as soon as it was dark, the mysterious Fakir again entered the cave he had examined a couple of nights previously. He lit his lamp as soon as he was inside, and went straight to the far end.
Here he stood for a time and listened; then he flashed his light up the chimney-shaped opening high above him, the top of which extended far beyond the reach of his light; then, having satisfied himself that all was quiet, he put his arm into a narrow crack in the side of the cave and his fingers grasped two thin ropes; he gave them a sharp jerk, and instantly there was a rustling, swishing noise as a rope-ladder came tumbling down.
The Fakir tugged at the ladder, and, finding that it was securely fastened above, he at once climbed up. When he had gone about forty feet he found the entrance to another passage; but before venturing to explore it he carefully drew up the ladder as it had been before.
The Fakir cautiously made his way, frequently stopping to put his ear to the floor to listen, and keeping a sharp look-out for any side galleries, of which he passed three, but they were much narrower than the one he was following.
He had proceeded about three hundred yards when he suddenly closed the shutter of his lamp; then, after listening a while, he went on in the dark, and it was well he had turned off his light, for the passage took an abrupt turn, and he saw the glimmer of a light in the distance and faintly heard the sound of voices.
Slowly and noiselessly he approached the light, for he concluded it came from some side cave, and this proved to be the case when he had gone a little farther.
"I tell you again that you have got all the stones if, as you say, you have stolen the one Ellison Sahib was taking to Lahore."
The words were spoken in a loud voice, and so suddenly had they broken the stillness of the dismal place that the Fakir started with surprise, and then crouched closer to listen.
"What the Sahib says is not true, for we have only got one of the last you found the other day," said another speaker.
"Then get the rest if you can, for I know nothing about any more. How long is this farce going to last? My father says he will let you have any stones he has found if one of you will go with me for them, but I told you when you first captured me that you would get nothing of value by keeping me a prisoner," replied Mark, for he it was.
"Then you shall not leave this cave until the other parts of the broken slab are discovered and in our hands, and I may tell you that it is more than a hundred years since the slab was broken and some of the parts stolen and lost. Take him back to his cave"; and the Fakir could hear footsteps ascending steps and then die away in the distance.
"Now, brothers, hearken," began the speaker who had addressed Mark. "We have learnt that Koj Burton has almost guessed who we are, and if he follows up his idea he will surely track us down. Our forefathers through many generations protected the secret of their work and amassed wealth in the way we are doing, and, with the exception of the man who accidentally found his way into this cave and stole the inscribed slab, no outsider has ever known the secret of the Cave of Hydas—and that man met his death without having an opportunity of revealing what he had learnt, although he caused us to lose part of that on which was written the command to guard the secret of the cave with our lives.
"Are we now going to allow this Koj Burton to bring destruction upon us and thereby destroy our method of obtaining wealth?" asked the speaker fiercely.
"Never! never! never!" shouted fully half a dozen voices.
"Then he must die, and I will see that he does so, and in such a manner that his death cannot in any way be traced to us"; and as the Fakir heard these words he gripped his revolver more tightly, and a grim smile played about his mouth.
"If this Koj Burton suspects who we are, do you not think, Appoyas, that he may also have gained some idea of the Cave of Hydas?" a voice asked.
"It may be so, and we will have the cave well guarded. Do not forget that to-morrow night at ten o'clock it will be, according to the records, exactly fifty years since the offerings in the Temple of Atlas were removed to the Temple of Hydas. This has been done every fifty years, and only on those occasions is the inner temple opened, and——" the speaker stopped abruptly, and then, after a moment's pause, continued—"and, brothers, you may now go."
On hearing the last words so suddenly spoken the Fakir began quickly and noiselessly to retreat along the passage, but, as no one appeared to be following, he stopped.
For some minutes he heard men talking, and dimly saw some figures come into the passage and go in the opposite direction, and in a short time the sound of footsteps died away and the Fakir was left alone in the silent darkness.
More than a quarter of an hour he remained motionless; then he felt his way to the entrance of the side cave in which he had heard the men, and, finding all still, he turned on his light.
It was a cave-chamber, about twelve feet square; the walls were fairly smooth, but the roof was uneven—it was evidently an enlarged cave. From this cave-chamber there was a flight of steps to a passage above, and the Fakir was on the point of ascending them when he heard quick footsteps coming along the passage towards him, which caused him to hurry back into the passage he had left; then, turning off his light, he waited and listened.
"One of the brothers must have come back for something," the Fakir heard some one mutter. "It is all right, though; I will return to my prisoner," and then he went away.
Without venturing to turn on his light the Fakir started for the rope-ladder; every few paces he paused to listen; he appeared extremely suspicious, for at times he would halt for three or four minutes and was constantly feeling his revolver.
At last he had nearly reached the ladder, when suddenly he saw a faint glimmer as though from a light in the passage below, so, inch by inch, he approached the edge until he was able to peer down, and almost at the instant he did so the light below went out; but he had learnt much in that one glance, and, as the sound of a severe struggle from below reached him, he quickly lowered the ladder and quietly slipped down.
No sooner had he reached the bottom than he turned on his light for an instant, which revealed Tom Ellison and a powerful native trying to get the better of each other, the latter having a knife in his hand, but Tom was holding him by the wrist and preventing him using it.
In a moment the Fakir had twisted the knife from the man's grasp, and in a few seconds the man was bound and gagged.
"Well I'm——" began Tom, but the Fakir put his hand over Tom's mouth and, taking him by the arm, led him to the cave-entrance.
"Speak low, Tom," said the Fakir in a low voice.
"Marvellous! Is it you, Burton? I should never have known you in that get-up," whispered the surprised Tom.
"Seems like it. But quick's the word, my boy. We must have that man out before any of his comrades come along, and this must be done without his discovering who I am. We must blindfold him, for there is a rope-ladder hanging near him, and on no account must he learn that it is down, and that we are aware of its existence; as soon as we have him here I will return and place the ladder as I found it," said Burton.
"Ah, now I understand why you so promptly put out your light when you had secured the knife," said Tom. "But where shall you take the man? His comrades will hear about his capture if you take him to the camp," he added.
"That is the very last thing I wish them to learn. About an hour's walk from here—but two hours for us to-night, I am afraid—there is a salt-mine, and to-day I arranged—in case I needed it—to use part of it as a temporary prison until we make a grand coup on the rest of the gang. I have a couple of my men waiting near the mine now," explained Burton.
It was a difficult tramp they had with their prisoner. They kept him blindfolded, and his hands bound; and each held him by an arm as they stumbled over the rough ground in the dark, for Burton would not risk using his lamp lest the light, at that unusual hour, should attract the attention of the man's friends and cause them to try and discover what it meant.
When they had safely lodged their prisoner they started for the camp.
"What caused you to go to that cave, Tom?" asked Burton, as they walked along.
"Oh, the word on that last piece of stone turns out to be 'cave,' and when thinking the matter over I thought of the place Mark had entered after the porcupine, so I spotted the place before dark, and then quietly left the camp after dinner on a private exploring expedition. That man suddenly sprang upon me just before you so opportunely appeared on the scene," explained Tom.
"Then that's all right—you were followed from the camp; I was afraid they had placed a guard over that entrance," said Burton. "I branch off here, for I cannot enter the camp in this disguise; I want to use it again, and as a Fakir I do not wish to be seen near the camp; but I hope to turn up early in the—or rather this morning. I advise you to get all the rest you can, for I think I can promise you a very lively time before many hours are over."
As Burton went on alone, he muttered, "Yes, I must have all arrangements carefully made. I expect we shall have a dangerous tussle, for they are not the class of men to give in quietly."
CHAPTER V.—A VALUABLE FIND IN THE TEMPLE OF ATLAS
"It's what I call a tall order, Burton," exclaimed Tom Ellison, who, with the Doctor, had been listening to the police officer's plan to raid the Cave of Hydas.