"What you call his folly," rejoined Colin, "is but a noble pride that makes him superior to any of us. He has a spirit that will not submit to slavery, and we have not."
"That be truth," remarked the Krooman; "Golah nebbar be slave."
Colin was right. By accepting food and drink from his captors, the black sheik might have satisfied the demands of mere animal nature, but only at the sacrifice of all that was noble in his nature. His self-respect, along with the proud, unyielding spirit by which everything good and great is accomplished, would have been gone from him for ever.
Sailor Bill and his companions, the boy slaves, had been taught from childhood to yield to circumstances, and still retain some moral feeling; but Golah had not.
The only thing he could yield to adverse fate was his life.
At this moment the Krooman, by a gesture, called their attention towards the captive sheik, at the same time giving utterance to a sharp ejaculation.
"Look!" exclaimed he, "Golah no stay longer on de Saaera. You him see soon die now—look at him!"
At the same instant Golah had risen to his feet, inviting his Arab master to a conference.
"There is but one God," said he, "Mahomet is his prophet; and I am his servant. I will never be a slave. Give me one wife, a camel, and my scimitar, and I will go. I have been robbed; but God is great, and it is his will, and my destiny."
Golah had at length yielded, though not because that he suffered for food and water; not that he feared slavery or death; not that his proud spirit had become weak or given way; but rather that it had grown stronger under the prompting of Revenge.
The Arab sheik conferred with his followers; and there arose a brief controversy among them.
The trouble they had with their gigantic captive, the difficulty they anticipated in disposing of him, and their belief that he was a good Mussulman, were arguments in favor of granting his request, and setting him at liberty.
It was therefore decided to let him go—on the condition of his taking his departure at once.
Golah consented; and they proceeded to untie his hands. While this was being done, the Krooman ran up to Colin's master, and cautioned him to protect his slave, until the sheik had departed.
This warning was unnecessary, for Golah had other and more serious thoughts to engage his mind than that of any animosity he might once have felt against the young Scotchman.
"I am free," said Golah, when his hands were untied. "We are equals, and Mussulmen. I claim your hospitality. Give me some food and drink."
He then stepped forward to the well, and quenched his thirst, after which some boiled camel meat was placed before him.
While he was appeasing an appetite that had been two days in gaining strength, Fatima, who had observed a strange expression in his eyes, appeared to be in great consternation. She had believed him doomed to a life of slavery, if not to death; and this belief had influenced her in her late actions.
Gliding up to the Arab sheik, she entreated to be separated from her husband; but the only answer she received was, that Golah should have either of the three wives he chose to take; that he (the sheik) and his companions were men of honor, who would not break the promise they had given.
A goat-skin of water, some barley meal, for making sangleh, and a few other necessary articles, were placed on a camel, which was delivered over to Golah.
The black sheik then addressed a few words in some African language to his son; and, calling Fatima to follow him, he started off across the desert.
A complete change had come over the fortunes of Fatima. Vain, cruel, and tyrannical but the moment before, she was now humbled to the dust of the desert. In place of commanding her fellow wives, she now approached them with entreaties, begging them to take charge of her child, which she seemed determined to leave behind her. Both willingly assented to her wishes.
Our adventurers were puzzled by this circumstance, for there appeared to be no reason that Fatima should leave her offspring behind her. Even the Krooman could not explain it; and as the shades of night descended over the desert, the mother separated from her child, perhaps never more to embrace it in this world of wickedness and woe.
About two hours before daybreak, on the morning after the departure of Golah, there was an alarm in the douar, which created amongst the Arabs a wonderful excitement.
The man who had been keeping guard over the camp was not to be seen; and one of the fleetest camels, as well as a swift desert horse, was also gone.
The slaves were instantly mustered, when it was found that one of them was likewise missing. It was Golah's son.
His absence accounted for the loss of the camel, and perhaps the horse, but what had become of the Arab guard?
He certainly would not have absconded with the slave, for he had left valuable property behind him.
There was no time for exchanging surmises over this mystery. Pursuit must be instantly made for the recovery of slave, camel, and horse.
The Arab sheik detailed four of his followers to this duty, and they hastened to make ready for their departure. They would start as soon as the light of day should enable them to see the course the missing animals had taken.
All believed that the fugitives would have to be sought for in a southerly direction; and therefore the caravan would have to be further delayed in its journey.
While making preparations for the pursuit, another unpleasant discovery was made. Two ship's muskets, that had been taken from Golah's party were also missing.
They had been extracted from a tent in which two of the Arabs had slept,—two of the four who were now preparing to search for the missing property.
The sheik became alarmed. The camp seemed full of traitors; and yet, as the guns were the private property of the two men who slept in the tent, they could not, for losing them, reasonably be accused of anything more than stupidity.
Contrary to the anticipations of all, the tracks of the lost animals were found to lead off in a north-westerly direction; and at about two hundred yards from the camp a dark object was seen lying upon the ground. On examination it proved to be the Arab who had been appointed night-guard over the douar.
He was stone dead; and by his side lay one of the missing muskets, with the stock broken, and covered with his own brains.
The tragedy was not difficult to be explained. The man had seen one or two of the hoppled animals straying from the camp. Not thinking that they were being led gently away, he had, without giving any alarm, gone out to bring them back. Golah's son, who was leading them off, by keeping concealed behind one of the animals, had found an opportunity of giving the guard his death-blow, without any noise to disturb the slumbering denizens of the douar.
No doubt he had gone to rejoin his father, and the adroit manner in which he had made his departure, taking with him a musket, a camel, and a horse, not only excited the wonder, but the admiration of those from whom he had stolen them.
In the division of the slaves, young Harry Blount and the Krooman had become the property of the Arab sheik. The Krooman having some knowledge of the Arabic language, soon established himself in the good opinion of his new master. While the Arabs were discussing the most available mode to obtain revenge for the murder of their companion, as well as to regain possession of the property they had lost, the Krooman, skilled in Golah's character, volunteered to assist them by a little advice.
Pointing to the south, he suggested to them that, by going in that direction, they would certainly see or hear something of Golah and his son.
The sheik could the more readily believe this, since the country of the black chief lay to the southward, and Golah, on leaving the douar, had gone in that direction.
"But why did his dog of a son not go south?" inquired the Arabs, pointing to the tracks of the stolen horse, which still appeared to lead towards the northwest.
"If you go north," replied the Krooman, "you will be sure to see Golah; or if you stay here, you will learn something of him?"
"What! will he be in both directions at the same time, and here likewise?"
"No, not that; but he will follow you."
The Arabs were willing to believe that there was a chance of recovering their property on the road they had been intending to follow, especially as the stolen horse and camel had been taken in that direction.
They determined, therefore, to continue their journey.
Too late they perceived their folly in treating Golah as they had done. He was now beyond their reach, and, in all likelihood, had been rejoined by his son. He was an enemy against whom they would have to keep a constant watch; and the thought of this caused the old Arab sheik to swear by the Prophet's beard that he would never again show mercy to a man whom he had plundered.
For about an hour after resuming their march, the footprints of the camel could be traced in the direction they wished to go; but gradually they became less perceptible, until at length they were lost altogether. A smart breeze had been blowing, which had filled the tracks with sand, which was light and easily disturbed.
Trusting to chance, and still with some hope of recovering the stolen property, they continued on in the same direction, and, not long after losing the tracks, they found some fresh evidence that they were going the right way.
The old sheik, who was riding in advance of the others, on looking to the right, perceived an object on the sand that demanded a closer inspection. He turned and rode towards it, closely followed by the people of his party.
On drawing near to the object it proved to be the body of a human being, lying back upwards, and yet with the face turned full towards the heavens. The features were at once recognized as those of Fatima, the favorite!
The head of the unfortunate woman had been severed from her body, and then placed contiguous to it, with the face in an inverted position.
The ghastly spectacle was instructive. It proved that Golah, although going off southward, must have turned back again, and was now not far off, hovering about the track he believed his enemies would be likely to take. His son, moreover, was, in all likelihood, along with him.
When departing along with her husband, Fatima had probably anticipated the terrible fate that awaited her; and, for that reason, had left her child in the care of the other wives.
Neither of these seemed in the least surprised on discovering the body. Both had surmised that such would be Fatima's fate; and it was for that reason they had so willingly taken charge of her child.
The caravan made a short halt, which was taken advantage of by the two women to cover the body with sand.
The journey was then resumed.
Notwithstanding that Golah's brother-in-law, who had formerly been a freeman, was now a slave, he seemed well satisfied with the change in his circumstances.
He made himself very useful to his new masters in looking after the camel, and doing all the other necessary work which his knowledge of Saaeran life enabled him effectually to execute.
When the Arab caravan came to a halt on the evening of his first day's journey along with it, he assisted in unloading the camels, putting the hopples on them, pitching the tents, and doing anything else which was required to be done.
While the other slaves were eating the small portion of food allowed them, one of the camels formerly belonging to Golah—a young and fleet maherry that had been ridden by Fatima, strayed a short distance from the douar. Seeing it the black sheik's brother-in-law, who had been making himself so useful, ran after the animal as if to fetch it back. He was seen passing beyond the camel, as though he intended turning it toward the camp; but in another instant it was discovered that he had no such design. The youth was seen to spring to the back of the maherry, lay hold of its hump, and ride rapidly away. Accustomed to hearing the sound of his voice, the faithful and intelligent animal obeyed his words of command. Its neck was suddenly craned out towards the north; and its feet were flung forward in long strides that bore its rider rapidly away from the rest. The incident caused a tremendous commotion in the caravan. It was so wholly unexpected, that none of the Arabs were prepared to intercept the fugitive. The guard for the night had not been appointed. They were all seated on the ground, engaged in devouring their evening repast, and before a musket could be discharged at the runaway, he had got so far into the glimmering twilight that the only effect of two or three shots fired after him was to quicken the pace of the maherry on which he was fleeing.
Two fleet horses were instantly saddled and mounted, one by the owner of the camel that had been stolen, and the other by the owner of the slave who had stolen it.
Each, arming himself with musket and scimitar, felt sure of recapturing the runaway. Their only doubt arose from the knowledge of the swiftness of the maherry, and that its rider was favored by the approaching darkness.
The whole encampment was by this time under arms and after the departure of the pursuers, the sheik gathered all the slaves together, and swore by the beard of the Prophet that they should all be killed, and that he would set the example by killing the two belonging to himself, which were Harry Blount and the Krooman. Several of his followers proceeded to relieve their excitement by each beating the slave or slaves that were his own property, and amongst these irate slave-owners was the master of Sailor Bill. The old man-o-war's-man was cudgelled till his objections to involuntary servitude were loudly expressed, and in the strongest terms that English, Scotch, and Irish could furnish for the purpose.
When the rage of the old sheik had to some extent subsided, he procured a leathern thong, and declared that his two slaves should be fast bound, and never released as long as they remained in his possession.
"Talk to him," exclaimed Harry to the Krooman; "tell him, in his own language, that God is great, and that he is a fool! We don't wish to escape,—certainly not at present."
Thus counselled, the Krooman explained to the sheik that the white slaves, as well as himself, who had sailed in English ships, had no intention of running away, but wished to be taken north, where they might be ransomed; and that they were not such fools as to part from him in a place where they would certainly starve. The Krooman also informed the sheik that they were all very glad at being taken out of the hands of Golah, who would have carried them to Timbuctoo, whence they never could have returned, but must have ended their days in slavery.
While the Krooman was talking to the sheik, several of the others came up and listened. The black further informed them that the white slaves had friends living in Agadeer and Swearah (Santa Cruz and Mogador),—friends who would pay a large price to ransom them. Why, then, should they try to escape while journeying towards the place where those friends were living?
The Krooman went on to say that the young man who had just made off was Golah's brother-in-law; that, unlike themselves, in going north he would not be seeking freedom but perpetual slavery, and for that reason he had gone to rejoin Golah and his son.
This explanation seemed so reasonable to the Arabs, that their fears for the safety of their slaves soon subsided, and the latter were permitted to repose in peace.
As a precautionary measure, however, two men were kept moving in a circle around the douar throughout the whole of the night; but no disturbance arose, and morning returned without bringing back the two men who had gone in pursuit of the cunning runaway.
The distance to the next watering-place was too great to admit of any delay being made; and the journey was resumed, in the hope that the two missing men would be met on the way.
This hope was realized.
All along the route the old sheik, who rode in advance, kept scanning the horizon, not only ahead, but to the right and left of their course. About ten miles from their night's halting-place he was seen to swerve suddenly from his course, and advance towards something that had attracted his attention. His followers hastened after him,—all except the two women and their children, who lingered a long way behind.
Lying on the ground, their bodies contiguous to each other, were the two Arabs who had gone in pursuit of the runaway.
They were both dead.
One of them had been shot with a musket ball that had penetrated his skull, entering directly between his temples. The other had been cut down with a scimitar, his body being almost severed in twain.
The youth who had fled the night before, had evidently come up with Golah and his son; and the two men who had pursued him had lost their lives, their animals, muskets, and scimitars.
Golah now had two accomplices, and the three were well mounted and well armed.
The anger of the Arabs was frightful to behold. They turned towards the two women whom they knew to be Golah's wives. The latter had thrown themselves on their knees and were screaming and supplicating for mercy.
Some of the Arabs would have killed them on the instant; but were prevented by the old sheik, who, although himself wild with rage, had still sufficient reason left to tell him that the unfortunate women were not answerable for the acts of their husband. Our adventurers found reason to regret the misfortune that had befallen their new masters; for they could not but regard with alarm the returning power of Golah.
"We shall fall into his hands again," exclaimed Terence. "He will kill all these Arabs one after another, and obtain all he has lost, ourselves included. We shall yet be driven to Timbuctoo."
"Then we should deserve it," cried Harry, "for it will partly be our own fault, if ever we fall into Golah's power again."
"I don't think so," said Bill, "Golah is a wondersome man, and as got somethin' more nor human natur' to 'elp 'im. I think as 'ow if we should see 'im 'alf a mile off, signalizin' for us to follow 'im, we should 'ave to go. I've tried my hand at disobeyin' his orders, and don't do it again,—not if I knows it."
The expressions of anger hitherto portrayed on the countenances of the Arabs, had given place to those of anxiety. They knew that an enemy was hovering around them,—an enemy whom they had wronged,—whose power they had undervalued, and whom they had foolishly restored to liberty.
The bodies of their companions were hastily interred in the sand, and their journey northward was once more resumed.
A CALL FOR TWO MORE.
The sufferings of the slaves for water and food again commenced, while the pace at which they were compelled to travel, to keep up with the camels, soon exhausted the little strength they had acquired from the rest by the well.
During the long afternoon following the burial of the two Arabs, each of the boy slaves at different times declared his utter inability to proceed any farther.
They were mistaken; and had yet to learn something of the power which love of life exerts over the body.
They knew that to linger behind would be death. They did not desire to die, and therefore struggled on.
Like men upon a treadmill, they were compelled to keep on moving, although neither able nor willing.
The hour of sunset found them wading through sand that had lately been stirred by a storm. It was nearly as light and loose as snow; and the toil of moving through it was so wearisome, that the mounted Arabs, having some pity on those who had walked, halted early for the night. Two men were appointed to guard the camp in the same manner as upon the night before; and with the feelings of hunger and thirst partly appeased, weary with the toils of day, our adventurers were soon in a sound slumber. Around them, and half-buried in the soft sand, lay stretched the other denizens of the douar, all slumbering likewise.
Their rest remained undisturbed until that darkest hour of the night, just before the dawning of day. They were then startled from sleep by the report of a musket,—a report that was immediately followed by another in the opposite direction. The douar was instantly in wild confusion.
The Arabs seized their weapons, and rushed forth from among the tents.
One of the party that ran in the direction in which the first shot was heard, seeing a man coming towards them, in the excitement of the moment fired his musket, and shot the individual who was advancing, who proved to be one of those entrusted with the guard of the camp.
No enemies could be discovered. They had fled, leaving the two camp-guards in the agonies of death.
Some of the Arabs would have rushed wildly hither and thither, in search of the unseen foe, but were prevented by the sheik, who, fearing that all would be lost, should the douar be deserted by the armed men, shouted the signal for all his followers to gather around him.
The two wounded men were brought into a tent, where, in a few minutes, one of them—the man who had been shot by one of his companions—breathed his last. He had also received a wound from the first shot that had been heard, his right arm having been shattered by a musket-ball.
The spine of the other guard had been broken by a bullet, so that recovery was clearly impossible.
He had evidently heard the first shot fired at his companion from the opposite side of the camp: and was turning his back upon the foe that had attacked himself.
The light of day soon shone upon the scene, and they were able to perceive how their enemies had approached so near the camp without being observed.
About a hundred paces from where the guards had been standing at the time the first two shots were fired, was a furrow or ravine running through the soft sand.
This ravine branched into two lesser ones, including within their angle the Arab camp, as also the sentinels stationed to guard it.
Up the branches the midnight murderers had silently stolen, each taking a side; and in this way had got within easy distance of the unsuspecting sentries.
In the bottom of one of the furrows, where the sand was more firmly compacted, was found the impression of human footsteps.
The tracks had been made by some person hurriedly leaving the spot.
"Dis be de track ob Golah," said the Krooman to Harry, after he had examined it. "He made um when runnin' 'way after he fire da musket."
"Very likely," said Harry; "but how do you know it is Golah's track?"
"'Cause Golah hab largess feet in all de world, and no feet but his make dat mark."
"I tell you again," said Terence, who overheard the Krooman's remark, "we shall have to go with Golah to Timbuctoo. We belong to him. These Arabs are only keeping us for a few days, but they will all be killed yet, and we shall have to follow the black sheik in the opposite direction."
Harry made no reply to this prophetic speech. Certainly, there was a prospect of its proving true.
Four Arabs out of the eleven of which their party was originally composed, were already dead, while still another was dying!
Sailor Bill pronounced Golah, with his son and brother-in-law, quite a match for the six who were left. The black sheik, he thought, was equal to any four of their present masters in strength, cunning, and determination.
"But the Arabs have us to help them," remarked Colin. "We should count for something."
"So we do,—as merchandise," replied Harry; "we have hitherto been helpless as children in protecting ourselves. What can we do? The boasted superiority of our race or country cannot be true here in the desert. We are out of our element."
"Yes, that's sartain!" exclaimed Bill; "but we're not far from it. Shiver my timbers if I don't smell salt water. Be Jabers! if we go on towards the west we shall see the say afore night."
During this dialogue the Arabs were holding a consultation as to what they should do.
To divide the camp, and send some after their enemies, was pronounced impolitic: the party sent in pursuit, and that left to guard the caravan,—either would be too weak if attacked by their truculent enemy.
In union alone was strength, and they resolved to remain together, believing that they should have a visit from Golah again, while better prepared to receive him.
The footprints leading out from the two ravines were traced for about a mile in the direction they wished to follow.
The tracks of camels and horses were there found; and they could tell by the signs that their enemies had mounted and ridden off towards the west.
They possibly might have avoided meeting Golah again by going eastward; but, from their knowledge of the desert, no water was to be found in that direction in less than five days' journey.
Moreover, they did not yet wish to avoid him. They thirsted for revenge, and were impatient to move on; for a journey of two days was still before them before they could hope to arrive at the nearest water.
When every preparation had been made to resume their route, there was one obstacle in the way of their taking an immediate departure.
Their wounded companion was not yet defunct. They saw it would be impossible for him to live much longer; for the lower part of his body,—all below the shattered portion of the spine,—appeared already without life. A few hours at most would terminate his sufferings; but for the expiration of those few hours,—or minutes, as fate should decide,—his companions seemed unwilling to wait!
They dug a hole in the sand near where the wounded man was lying. This was but the work of a few minutes. As soon as the grave was completed, the eyes of all were once more turned upon the wretched sufferer.
He was still alive, and by piteous moans expressing the agony he was enduring.
"Bismillah!" exclaimed the old sheik, "why do you not die, my friend? We are waiting for the fulfilment of your destiny."
"I am dead," ejaculated the sufferer, speaking in a faint voice, and apparently with great difficulty.
Having said this, he relapsed into silence, and remained motionless as a corpse.
The sheik then placed one hand upon his temples. "Yes!" he exclaimed, "the words of our friend are those of truth and wisdom. He is dead."
The wounded man was then rolled into the cavity which had been scooped out, and they hastily proceeded to cover him with sand.
As they did so, his hands were repeatedly uplifted, while a low moaning came from his lips; but his movements were apparently unseen, and his cries of agony unnoticed!
His companions remained both deaf and blind to any evidence that might refute his own assertion that he was dead.
The sand was at length heaped up, so as completely to cover his body, when, by an order from the old sheik, his followers turned away from the spot and the Kafila moved on.
ONCE MORE BY THE SEA.
Sailor Bill's conjecture that they were not far from the sea proved correct.
On the evening of that same day they saw the sun sink down into a shining horizon, which they knew was not that of the burning sand-plain over which they had been so long moving.
That faint and distant view of his favorite element was a joyful moment for the old sailor.
"We are in sight of home!" he exclaimed. "Shiver my timbers if I ever lose sight of it again! I shan't be buried in the sand. If I must go under alive, it shall be under water, like a Christyun. If I could swim, I'd start right off for Hold Hingland as soon as we get to yonder shore."
The boy slaves were alike inspired with hope and joy at the distant view.
The sea was still too far off to be reached that night, and the douar was pitched about five miles from the shore.
During this night, three of the Arabs were kept constantly on guard; but the camp was not disturbed, and next morning they resumed their journey, some with the hope, and others with the fear, that Golah would trouble them no more.
The Arabs wished to meet him during the hours of daylight, and secure the property they had lost; and from their knowledge of the part of the desert they were now traversing, they were in hopes of doing this. They knew there was but one place within two days' journey where fresh water could be obtained; and should they succeed in reaching this place before Golah, they could lie in wait for his arrival. They were certain he must visit this watering-place to save his animals from perishing with thirst.
At noonday a halt was made not far from the beach. It was only for a short while; for they were anxious to reach the well as soon as possible. The few minutes spent at the halting-place were well employed by the boy slaves in gathering shell-fish and bathing their bodies in the surf.
Refreshed by this luxurious food, as well as by the washing, of which they were greatly in need, they were able to proceed at a better pace; so that about an hour before sunset the caravan arrived at the well.
Just before reaching it, the old sheik and one of his companions had dismounted and walked forward to examine such tracks as might be found about the place. They were chagrined to find that Golah had been before. He had been to the well, and obtained a supply of water. His footmarks were easily identified. They were fresh, having been made but an hour or two before the arrival of the caravan; and in place of their having to wait for Golah, he was undoubtedly waiting for them. They felt sure that the black sheik was not far off, watching for a favorable opportunity of again paying them a nocturnal visit. They could now understand why he had not attempted to molest them on the preceding night. He had been hastening forward, in order to reach the well in advance of them.
The apprehensions of the Arabs became keener and keener after this discovery. They were also much puzzled as to what they should do; and a diversity of opinion arose as to the best plan for guarding the camp against their implacable foe. Some were in favor of staying by the well for several days, until the supply of water which their enemy had taken with him should be exhausted. Golah would then have to revisit the well, or perish of thirst upon the desert. The idea was an ingenious one, but unfortunately their stock of provisions would not admit of any delay, and it was resolved that the journey should be resumed at once.
Just as they were preparing to move away from the well, a caravan of traders arrived from the south, and the old sheik made anxious inquiries as to whether the new-comers had seen any one on their route. The traders, to whom the caravan belonged, had that morning met three men who answered to the description of Golah and his companions. They were journeying south, and had purchased a small supply of food from the caravan.
Could it be that Golah had given up the hope of recovering his lost property? relinquished his deadly purpose of revenge? The Arabs professed much unwillingness to believe it. Some of them loudly proposed starting southward in pursuit. But this proposition was overruled, and it was evident that the old sheik, as well as most of his followers, were in reality pleased to think that Golah would trouble them no more.
The sheik decreed that the property of those who had perished should be divided amongst those who survived. This giving universal satisfaction, the Arab Kafila took its departure, leaving the caravan of the traders by the well, where they were intending to remain for some time longer.
Shortly after leaving the well, the old sheik ordered a halt by the seashore, where he stopped long enough for his slaves to gather some shell-fish, enough to satisfy the hunger of all his followers.
A majority of the Arabs were under the belief that the black sheik had started at last for his own country—satisfied with the revenge he had already taken. They seemed to think that keeping watch over the camp would no longer be necessary.
With this opinion their Krooman captive did not agree; and, fearing to fall again into the possession of Golah, he labored to convince his new master that they were as likely that night to receive a visit from the black sheik as they had ever been before.
He argued that, if Golah had entertained a hope of defeating his foes—eleven in number—when alone, and armed only with a scimitar, he certainly would not be likely to relinquish that hope after having succeeded in killing nearly half of them, and being strengthened by a couple of able assistants.
The Krooman believed that Golah's going south,—as reported by the party met at the well,—was proof that he really intended proceeding north; and he urged the Arab sheik to set a good guard over the douar through the night.
"Tell him," said Harry, "if they are not inclined to keep guard for themselves, that we will stand it, if they will only allow us to have weapons of some kind or other."
The Krooman made this communication to the Arab sheik, who smiled only in reply.
The idea of allowing slaves to guard an Arab douar, especially to furnish them with fire-arms, was very amusing to the old chieftain of the Saaera.
Harry understood the meaning of his smile. It meant refusal; but the young Englishman had also become impressed with the danger suggested by Terence, that Golah would yet kill the Arabs, and take the boy slaves back to Timbuctoo.
"Tell the sheik that he is an old fool," said he to the interpreter; "tell him that we have a greater objection to falling into the hands of Golah than he has of losing either us or his own life. Tell him that we wish to go north, where we can be redeemed; and that for this reason alone we should be far more careful than any of his own people in guarding the camp against surprise."
When this communication was made to the old sheik it seemed to strike him as having some reason in it; and, convinced by the Krooman's arguments that there was still danger to be apprehended from Golah's vengeance, he directed that the douar should be strictly guarded, and that the white slaves might take part in the duty.
"You shall be taken north, and sold to your countrymen," promised he, "if you give us no trouble in the transit. There are but few of my people left now, and it is hard for us to travel all day and keep watch all night. If you are really afraid of falling into the hands of this Prophet-accursed negro, and will help us in guarding against his murderous attacks, you are welcome to do so; but if any one of you attempt to play traitor, the whole four of you shall lose your heads. I swear it by the beard of the Prophet!"
The Krooman assured him that none of the white slaves had any desire to deceive him, adding that self-interest, if nothing else, would cause them to be true to those who would take them to a place where they would have a chance of being ransomed out of slavery.
Darkness having by this time descended over the desert, the sheik set about appointing the guard for the night. He was too suspicious of his white slaves to allow all the four of them to act as guards at the same time, while he and his companions were asleep. He was willing, however, that one of them should be allowed to keep watch in company with one of his own followers.
In choosing the individual for this duty, he inquired from the Krooman which of the four had been most ill-used by the black sheik. Sailor Bill was pointed out as the man, and the interpreter gave some details of the cruel treatment to which the old man-o'-war's-man had been subjected at the hands of Golah.
"Bismillah! that is well," said the sheik. "Let him keep the watch. After what you say, revenge should hinder him from closing his eyes in sleep for a whole moon. There's no fear that he will betray us."
GOLAH CALLS AGAIN.
In setting the watch for the night one of the sentinels was stationed on the shore about a hundred yards north of the douar. His instructions were to walk a round of about two hundred paces, extending inward from the beach.
Another was placed about the same distance south of the camp, and was to pace backwards and forwards after a similar fashion.
Sailor Bill was stationed on the land side of the camp, where he was to move to and fro between the beats of the two Arab guards, each of whom, on discovering him at the termination of his round, was to utter the word "Akka," so that the sailor should distinguish them from an enemy.
The Arabs themselves were supposed to be sufficiently intelligent to tell a friend from a foe without requiring any countersign.
Before Bill was sent upon his beat, the old sheik went into a tent, and soon after reappeared with a large pistol, bearing a strong likeness to a blunderbuss. This weapon he placed in the sailor's hand, with the injunction—translated to him by the interpreter—not to discharge it until he should be certain of killing either Golah or one of his companions.
The old sailor, although sorely fatigued with the toil of the day's journey, had so great a horror of again becoming the property of the black sheik, that he cheerfully promised to "walk the deck all night, and keep a good lookout for breakers," and his young companions sought repose in full confidence that the promise would be faithfully kept.
Any one of the boy slaves would willingly have taken his place, and allowed their old comrade to rest for the night; but Bill had been selected by the old sheik, and from his decree there was no appeal.
The two Arabs doing duty as sentinels knew, from past experience, that if the Kafila was still followed by Golah, they would be the individuals most exposed to danger; and this knowledge was sufficient to stimulate them to the most faithful discharge of their trust.
Neither of them wished to become victims to the fate which had befallen their predecessors in office.
For two or three hours both paced slowly to and fro; and Bill, each time he approached the end of his beat, could hear distinctly pronounced the word "Akka" which proved that his co-sentinels were fully on the alert.
It so chanced that one of them had no faith in the general belief that the enemy had relinquished his purposes sanguinary of vengeance.
He drew his deductions from Golah's conduct in the past, and during the long silent hours of the night his fancy was constantly dwelling on the manner in which the dreaded enemy had approached the douar on former occasions.
This sentry was the one stationed to the south of the douar; and with eyes constantly striving to pierce the darkness that shrouded the sand plain, the water, on which a better light was reflected, received no attention from him. He believed the douar well protected on the side of the sea, for he had no idea that danger could come from that direction.
He was mistaken.
Had their enemies been, like himself and his companions, true children of the Saaera, his plan of watching for their approach might have answered well enough; but the latter chanced to be the offspring of a different country and race.
About three hours after the watch had been established, the sentinel placed on the southern side of the douar was being closely observed by the black sheik, yet knew it not.
Golah had chosen a singular plan to secure himself against being observed, similar to that selected by the three mids for the like purpose soon after their being cast away upon the coast.
He had stolen into the water, and with only his woolly occiput above the surface, had approached within a few yards of the spot where the Arab sentry turned upon his round.
In the darkness of the night, at the distance of twelve or fifteen paces, he might have been discovered, had a close survey been made of the shining surface. But there was no such survey, and Golah watched the sentinel, himself unseen.
The attention of the Arab was wholly occupied in looking for the approach of a foe from the land side; and while he was in continual fear of hearing the report of a musket, or feeling the stroke of its bullet.
This disagreeable surprise he never expected could come from the sea, but was so fully anticipated from the land, that he paid but little or no attention to the restless waves that were breaking with low moans against the beach.
As he turned his back upon the water for the hundredth time, with the intention of walking to the other end of his beat, Golah crept gently out of the water and hastened after him.
The deep sighing of the waves against the shingly shore hindered the sound of footsteps from being heard.
Golah was only armed with a scimitar; but it was a weapon that, in his hands, was sure to fall with deadly effect. It was a weapon of great size and weight, having been made expressly for himself; and with this upraised, he silently but swiftly glided after the unconscious Arab.
Adding the whole strength of his powerful arm to the weight of the weapon, the black sheik brought its sharp edge slantingly down upon the neck of the unsuspecting sentinel.
With a low moan, that sounded in perfect harmony with the sighing of the waves, the Arab fell to the earth, leaving his musket in the huge hand his assassin had stretched forth to grasp it. Putting the gun to full cock, Golah walked on in the direction in which the sentry had been going. He intended next to encounter the man who was guarding the eastern side of the douar. Walking boldly on, he took no trouble to avoid the sound of his footsteps being heard, believing that he would be taken for the sentry he had just slain. After going about a hundred paces without seeing any one, he paused, and with his large fiercely gleaming eyes strove to penetrate the surrounding gloom. Still no one was to be seen, and he laid himself along the earth to listen for footfalls.
Nothing could be heard; but after glancing for some moments along the ground, he saw a dark object outlined above the surface. Unable, from the distance, to form a correct idea of what it was, he cautiously advanced towards it, keeping on all fours, till he could see that the object was a human being, prostrate on the ground, and apparently listening, like himself. Why should the man be listening? Not to note the approach of his companion, for that should be expected without suspicion, as his attitude would indicate. He might be asleep, reasoned Golah. If so, Fortune seemed to favor him, and with this reflection he steadily moved on towards the prostrate form.
Though the latter moved not, still Golah was not quite sure that the sentry was asleep. Again he paused, and for a moment fixed his eyes on the body with a piercing gaze. If the man was not sleeping, why should he allow an enemy to approach so near? Why lie so quietly, without showing any sign or giving an alarm? If Golah could despatch this sentinel as he had done the other, without making any noise, he would, along with his two relatives (who were waiting the result of his adventure), afterwards steal into the douar, and all he had lost might be again recovered.
The chance was worth the risk, so thought Golah, and silently moved on.
As he drew nearer, he saw that the man was lying on his side, with his face turned towards him, and partly concealed by one arm.
The black sheik could see no gun in his hands, and consequently there would be but little danger in an encounter with him, if such should chance to arise.
Golah grasped the heavy scimitar in his right hand, evidently intending to despatch his victim as he had done the other, with a single blow.
The head could be severed from the body at one stroke, and no alarm would be given to the slumbering camp.
The heavy blade of shining steel was raised aloft; and the gripe of the powerful hand clutching its hilt became more firm and determined.
Sailor Bill! has your promise to keep a sharp lookout been broken so soon?
Beware! Golah is near with strength in his arm, and murder in his mind!
SAILOR BILL STANDING SENTRY.
After two hours had been passed in moving slowly to and fro, hearing the word "Akka" and seeing nothing but gray sand, Sailor Bill began to feel weary, and now regretted that the old sheik had honored him with his confidence.
For the first hour of his watch he had kept a good lookout to the eastward, and had given the whole of his attention to his sentinel's duty.
Gradually his intense alertness forsook him, and he began to think of the past and future.
Themes connected with these subjects seldom troubled Bill,—his thoughts generally dwelling upon the present; but, in the darkness and solitude in which he was now placed, there was but little of the present to arrest his attention. For the want of something else to amuse his mind, it was turned to the small cannon he was carrying in his hand.
"This 'ere thing," thought he, "aint o' much use as a pistol, though it might be used as a war-club at close quarters. I hope I shan't 'ave to fire it hoff. The barrel is thin, and the bullet hinside it must be a'most as large as an 'en's heg. It ud be like enough to bust. Preaps 't aint loaded, and may 'ave been given to me for amusement. I may as well make sure about that."
After groping about for some time, the sailor succeeded in finding a small piece of stick, with which he measured the length of the barrel on the outside; then, by inserting the stick into the muzzle, he found that the depth of the barrel was not quite equal to its length.
There must be something inside therefore, but he was positive there was no ball. He next examined the pan, and found the priming all right.
"I see 'ow 'tis," muttered he, "the old sheik only wants me to make a row with it, in case I sees anything as is suspicious. He was afeard to put a ball in it lest I should be killin' one of themselves. That's his confidence. He on'y wants me to bark without being able to bite. But this don't suit me at all, at all. Faix, I'll find a bit of a stone and ram it into the barrel."
Saying this he groped about the ground in search of a pebble of the proper size; but for some time could find none to his liking. He could lay his hand on nothing but the finest sand.
While engaged in this search he fancied he heard some one approaching from the side opposite to that in which he was expecting to hear the word "Akka."
He looked in that direction, but could see nothing save the gray surface of the sea-beach.
Since being on the desert Bill had several times observed the Arabs lay themselves along the earth to listen for the sound of footsteps. This plan he now tried himself.
With his eyes close to the ground, the old sailor fancied he was able to see to a greater distance than when standing upright. There seemed to be more light on the surface of the earth than at four or five feet above it; and objects in the distance were placed more directly between his eyes and the horizon.
While thus lying extended along the sand, he heard footsteps approaching from the shore; but, believing they were those of the sentinel, he paid no attention to them. He only listened for a repetition of those sounds he fancied to have come from the opposite direction.
But nothing was now heard to the eastward; and he came to the conclusion that he had been deceived by an excited fancy.
Of one thing, however, he soon became certain. It was, that the footsteps which he supposed to be those of the Arab who kept, what Bill called, the "larboard watch," were drawing nearer than usual, and that the word "Akka" was not pronounced as before.
The old sailor slewed himself around, and directed his gaze towards the shore.
The sound of footsteps was no longer heard, but the figure of a man was perceived at no great distance from the spot.
He was not advancing nearer, but standing erect, and apparently gazing sharply about him.
Could this man be the Arab sentinel?
The latter was known to be short and of slight frame, while the man now seen appeared tall and of stout build. Instead of remaining in his upright attitude, and uttering, as the sentry should have done, the word "Akka," the stranger was seen to stoop down, and place his ear close to the earth as if to listen.
During a moment or two while the man's eyes appeared to be turned away from him, the sailor took the precaution to fill the barrel of his pistol with sand.
Should he give the alarm by firing off the pistol, and then run towards the camp?
No! he might have been deceived by an excited imagination. The individual before him might possibly be the Arab guard trying to discover his presence before giving the sign.
While the sailor was thus undecided, the huge form drew nearer, approaching on all fours. It came within eight or ten paces of the spot, and then slowly assumed an upright position. Bill now saw it was not the sentinel but the black sheik!
The old man-o'-war's-man was never more frightened in his life. He thought of discharging the pistol, and running back to the douar; but then came the thought that he would certainly be shot down the instant he should rise to his feet; and fear held him motionless.
Golah drew nearer and nearer, and the sailor seeing the scimitar uplifted suddenly formed the resolution to act.
Projecting the muzzle of his huge pistol towards the black, he pulled the trigger, and at the same instant sprang to his feet.
There was a loud deafening report, followed by a yell of wild agony.
Bill stayed not to note the effect of his fire: but ran as fast as his legs would carry him towards the camp,—already alarmed by the report of the pistol.
The Arabs were running to and fro in terrible fear and confusion, shouting as they ran.
Amidst these shouts was heard,—in the direction from which the sailor had fled,—a loud voice frantically calling, "Muley! Muley!"
"'Tis the voice of Golah!" exclaimed the Krooman in Arabic. "He is calling for his son,—Muley is his son's name!"
"They are going to attack the douar," shouted the Arab sheik, and his words were followed by a scene of the wildest terror.
The Arabs rushed here and there, mingling their cries with those of the slaves; while women shrieked, children screamed, dogs barked, horses neighed, and even the quiet camels gave voice to their alarm.
In the confusion the two wives of Golah, taking their children along with them, hurried away from the camp, and escaped undiscovered in the darkness.
They had heard the voice of the father of their children, and understood that accent of anguish in which he had called out the name of his son.
They were women,—women who, although dreading their tyrant husband in his day of power, now pitied him in his hour of misfortune.
The Arabs, anxiously expecting the appearance of their enemy, in great haste made ready to meet him; but they were left unmolested.
In a few minutes all was quiet: not a sound was heard in the vicinity of the douar; and the late alarm might have appeared only a panic of groundless fear.
The light of day was gradually gathering in the east when the Arab sheik, recovering from his excitement, ventured to make an examination of the douar and its denizens.
Two important facts presented themselves as evidence, that the fright they had experienced was not without a cause. The sentry who had been stationed to guard the camp on its southern side was not present, and Golah's two wives and their children were also absent!
There could be no mystery about the disappearance of the women. They had gone to rejoin the man whose voice had been heard calling "Muley."
But where was the Arab sentry? Had another of the party fallen a victim to the vengeance of Golah?
GOLAH FULFILS HIS DESTINY.
Taking the Krooman by one arm, the Arab sheik led him up to the old man-o'-war's-man, who, sailor-like having finished his watch, had gone to sleep.
After being awakened by the sheik, the Krooman was told to ask the white man why he fired his pistol.
"Why, to kill Golah,—the big nager!" answered Bill; "an' I'm mighty desaved if I 'ave not done it."
This answer was communicated to the sheik, who had the art of expressing unbelief with a peculiar smile, which he now practised.
Bill was asked if he had seen the black sheik.
"Seen him! sartinly I did," answered the sailor. "He was not more nor four paces from me at the time I peppered 'im. I tell you he is gone and done for."
The sheik shook his head, and again smiled incredulously.
Further inquiries were interrupted by the discovery of the body of the Arab sentinel whom Golah had killed, and all clustered around it.
The man's head was nearly severed from his body; and the blow—which must have caused instant death—had evidently been given by the black sheik. Near the corpse, tracks were observed in the sand such as no other human being but Golah could have made.
It was now broad daylight; and the Arabs, glancing along the shore to southward, made another discovery.
Two camels with a horse were seen upon the beach about half a mile off; and, leaving one of their number to guard the douar, the old sheik with his followers started off in the hope of recovering some of the property they had lost.
They were followed by most of the slaves; who, by the misfortunes of their master, were under less restraint.
On arriving near the place where the camels were, the young man we have described as Golah's brother-in-law, was found to be in charge of them. He was lying on the ground; but on the approach of the Arabs, he sprang to his feet, at the same time holding up both his hands.
He carried no weapon; and the gesture signified, "It is peace."
The two women, surrounded by their children, were near by, sitting silent and sorrowful on the sea-beach. They took no heed of the approach of the Arabs; and did not even look up as the latter drew near.
The muskets and other weapons were lying about. One of the camels was down upon the sand. It was dead; and the young negro was in the act of eating a large piece of raw flesh he had severed from its hump.
The Arab sheik inquired after Golah. He to whom the inquiry was directed pointed to the sea, where two dark bodies were seen tumbling about in the surf as it broke against the shingle of the beach.
The three midshipmen, at the command of the sheik, waded in, and dragged the bodies out of the water.
They were recognized as those of Golah and his son, Muley.
Golah's face appeared to have been frightfully lacerated; and his once large fierce eyes were altogether gone.
The brother-in-law was called on to explain the mysterious death of the black sheik and his son.
His explanation was as follows:—
"I heard Golah calling for Muley after hearing the report of a gun. From that I knew that he was wounded. Muley ran to assist him, while I stayed behind with the horse and camels. I am starving! Very soon Muley came running back, followed by his father, who seemed possessed of an evil spirit. He ran this way and that way, swinging his scimitar about, and trying to kill us both as well as the camels. He could not see, and we managed to keep out of his way. I am starving!"
The young negro here paused, and, once more picking up the piece of camel's flesh, proceeded to devour it with an alacrity that proved the truth of his assertion.
"Pig!" exclaimed the sheik, "tell your story first, and eat afterwards."
"Praise be to Allah!" said the youth, as he resumed his narrative, "Golah ran against one of the camels and killed it."
His listeners looked towards the dead camel. They saw that the body bore the marks of Golah's great scimitar.
"After killing the camel," continued the young man, "the sheik became quiet. The evil spirit had passed out of him; and he sat down upon the sand. Then his wives came up to him; and he talked to them kindly, and put his hands on each of the children, and called them by name. They screamed when they looked at him, and Golah told them not to be frightened; that he would wash his face and frighten them no more. The little boy led him to the water and he rushed into the sea as far as he could wade. He went there to die. Muley ran after to bring him out, and they were both drowned. I could not help them, for I was starving!"
The emaciated appearance of the narrator gave strong evidence of the truth of the concluding words of his story. For nearly a week he had been travelling night and day, and the want of sleep and food could not have been much longer endured.
At the command of the Arab chief, the slaves now buried the bodies of Golah and his son.
Gratified at his good fortune, in being relieved from all further trouble with his implacable foeman, the sheik determined to have a day of rest, which to his slaves was very welcome, as was also the flesh of the dead camel, now given them to eat.
About the death of Golah there was still a mystery the Arabs could not comprehend; and the services of the Krooman as interpreter were again called into requisition.
When the sheik learnt what the sailor had done,—how the pistol had been made an effective weapon by filling the barrel with sand,—he expressed much satisfaction at the manner in which the old man-o'-war's-man had performed his duty.
Full of gratitude for the service thus rendered him, he promised that not only the sailor himself, but the boy slaves, his companions, should be taken to Mogador, and restored to their friends.
ON THE EDGE OF THE SAAeRA.
After a journey of two long dreary days—days that were to the boy slaves periods of agonizing torture, from fatigue, hunger, thirst, and exposure to a burning sun—the kafila arrived at another watering-place.
As they drew near the place, our adventurers perceived that it was the same where they had first fallen into the hands of Golah.
"May God help us!" exclaimed Harry Blount, as they approached the place. "We have been here before. We shall find no water, I fear. We did not leave more than two bucketfuls in the hole; and as there has been no rain since, that must be dried up, long ago."
An expression of hopeless despair came over the countenances of his companions. They had seen, but a few days before, nearly all the water drawn out of the pool, and given to the camels.
Their fears were soon removed, and followed by the real gratification of a desire they had long been indulging—the desire to quench their thirst. There was plenty of water in the pool—a heavy deluge of rain having fallen over the little valley since they had left it.
The small supply of food possessed by the travellers would not admit of their making any delay at this watering-place; and the next morning the journey was resumed.
The Arabs appeared to bear no animosity towards the young man who had assisted Golah in killing their companions; and now that the black sheik was dead, they had no fear that the former would try to escape. The negro was one of those human beings who cannot own themselves, and who never feel at home unless with some one to control them. He quietly took his place along with the other slaves,—apparently resigned to his fate,—a fate that doomed him to perpetual slavery, though a condition but little lower than that he had occupied with his brother-in-law.
Eight days were now passed in journeying in a direction that led a little to the east of north.
To the white slaves they were days of indescribable agony, from those two terrible evils that assail all travellers through the Saaera,—hunger and thirst. Within the distance passed during these eight days they found but one watering-place, where the supply was not only small in quantity but bad in quality.
It was a well, nearly dried up, containing a little water, offensive to sight and smell, and only rendered endurable to taste by the irresistible power of thirst.
The surface of the pool was covered nearly an inch thick with dead insects, which had to be removed to reach the discolored element beneath. They were not only compelled to use, but were even thankful to obtain, this impure beverage.
The route followed during these eight days was not along the seashore; and they were therefore deprived of the opportunity of satisfying their hunger with shell-fish. The Arabs were in haste to reach some place where they could procure food for their animals, and at the pace at which they rode forward, it required the utmost exertion on the part of their slaves to keep up with them.
The old man-o'-war's-man, unused to land travelling, could never have held out, had not the Arabs allowed him, part of the time, to ride on a camel. The feat he had performed, in ridding them of that enemy who had troubled them so much—and who, had he not been thwarted in his attack upon the camp, would probably have killed them all—had inspired his masters with some slight gratitude. The sailor, therefore, was permitted to ride, when they saw that otherwise they would have to leave him behind to die upon the desert.
During the last two days of the eight, our adventurers noticed something in the appearance of the country, over which they were moving, that inspired them with hope. The face of the landscape became more uneven; while here and there stunted bushes and weeds were seen, as if struggling between life and death.
The kafila had arrived on the northern border of the great Saaera; and a few days more would bring them to green fields, shady groves, and streams of sparkling water.
Something resembling the latter was soon after discovered. At the close of the eighth day they reached the bed of what appeared to be a river recently dried up. Although there was no current they found some pools of stagnant water: and beside one of these the douar was established.
On a hill to the north were growing some green shrubs to which the camels were driven; and upon these they immediately commenced browsing. Not only the leaves, but the twigs and branches were rapidly twisted off by the long prehensile lips of the animals, and as greedily devoured.
It was twilight as the camp had been fairly pitched; and just then two men were seen coming towards them leading a camel. They were making for the pools of water, for the purpose of filling some goat skins which were carried on their camel. They appeared both surprised and annoyed to find the pools in possession of strangers.
Seeing they could not escape observation, the men came boldly forward, and commenced filling their goat-skins. While thus engaged they told the Arab sheik that they belonged to a caravan near at hand that was journeying southward; and that they should continue their journey early the next morning.
After the departure of the two men the Arabs held a consultation.
"They have told us a lie," remarked the old sheik, "they are not on a journey, or they would have halted here by the water. By the beard of our Prophet they have spoken falsely!"
With this opinion his followers agreed; and it was suggested that the two men they had seen were of some party encamped by the seashore, and undoubtedly amusing themselves with a wreck, or gathering wealth in some other unusual way.
Here was an opportunity not to be lost; and the Arabs determined to have a share in whatever good fortune Providence might have thrown in the way of those already upon the ground. If it should prove to be a wreck there might be serious difficulty with those already in possession; it was resolved, therefore, to wait for the morning, when they could form a better opinion of their chances of success, should a conflict be necessary to secure it.
THE RIVAL WRECKERS.
Early next morning the kafila was en route for the seashore, which was discovered not far distant. On coming near a douar of seven tents was seen standing upon the beach: and several men stepped forward to receive them.
The usual salutations were exchanged, and the new comers began to look about them. Several pieces of timber lying along the shore gave evidence that their conjecture, as to a wreck having taken place, had been a correct one.
"There is but one God, and He is kind to us all," said the old sheik; "He casts the ships of unbelievers on our shores, and we have come to claim a share of His favors."
"You are welcome to all you can justly claim," answered a tall man, who appeared to be the leader of the party of wreckers. "Mahomet is the prophet of Him who sends favors to all, both good and bad. If he has sent anything for you, look along the sea-beach and find it."
On this invitation the camels of the kafila were unloaded, and the tents pitched. The new-comers then set about searching for the debris of the wrecked vessel.
They discovered only some spars, and other pieces of ship-timbers, which were of no value to either party.
A consultation now took place between the old sheik and his followers. They were unanimous in the belief that a sunken ship was near them, and that they had only to watch the rival wreckers, and learn where she was submerged.
Desisting from their search, they resolved to keep a lookout.
When this determination became known to the other party, its chief, after conferring with his companions, came forward, and, announcing himself as the representative of his people, proposed a conference.
"I am Sidi Hamet," said he, "and the others you see here are my friends and relatives. We are all members of the same family, and faithful followers of the Prophet. God is great, and has been kind to us. He has sent us a prize. We are about to gather the gifts of His mercy. Go your way, and leave us in peace."
"I am Rais Abdallah Yezzed," answered the old sheik, "and neither my companions nor myself are so bad but that we, too, may be numbered among those who are entitled to God's favor, when it pleases Him to cast on our shores the ships of the infidel."
In rejoinder Sidi Hamet entered upon a long harangue; in which he informed the old sheik that in the event of a vessel having gone to pieces, and the coast having been strown with merchandise, each party would have been entitled to all it could gather; but unfortunately for both, those pleasant circumstances did not now exist; although it was true, that the hulk of a vessel, containing a cargo that could not wash ashore was lying under water near by. They had discovered it, and therefore laid claim to all that it contained.
Sidi Hamet's party was a strong one, consisting of seventeen men; and therefore could afford to be communicative without the least danger of being disturbed in their plans and prospects.
They acknowledged that they had been working ten days in clearing the cargo out of the sunken vessel, and that their work was not yet half done—the goods being very difficult to get at.
The old sheik inquired of what the cargo consisted; but could obtain no satisfactory answer.
Here was a mystery. Seventeen men had been fourteen days unloading the hulk of a wrecked ship, and yet no articles of merchandise were to be seen near the spot!
A few casks, some pieces of old sail, with a number of cooking utensils that had belonged to a ship's galley, lay upon the beach; but these could not be regarded as forming any portion of the cargo of a ship.
The old sheik and his followers were in a quandary.
They had often heard of boxes full of money having been obtained from wrecked ships.
Sailors cast away upon their coast had been known to bury such commodities, and afterwards under torture to reveal the spot where the interment had been made.
Had this vessel, on which the wreckers were engaged, been freighted with money, and had the boxes been buried as soon as brought ashore?
It was possible, thought the new comers. They must wait and learn; and if there was any means by which they could claim a share in the good fortune of those who had first discovered the wreck, those means must be adopted.
The original discoverers were too impatient to stay proceedings till their departure; and feeling secure in the superiority of numbers, they recommenced their task of discharging the submerged hulk.
They advanced to the water's edge, taking along with them a long rope that had been found attached to the spars. At one end of this rope they had made a running noose, which was made fast to a man, who swam out with it to the distance of about a hundred yards.
The swimmer then dived out of sight. He had gone below to visit the wreck, and attach the rope to a portion of the cargo.
A minute after his head was seen above the surface, and a shout was sent forth. Some of his companions on the beach now commenced hauling in the rope, the other end of which had been left in their hands.
When the noose was pulled ashore, it was found to embrace a large block of sandstone, weighing about twenty-five or thirty pounds!
The Krooman had already informed Harry Blount and his companions of something he had learnt from the conversation of the wreckers; and the three mids had been watching with considerable interest the movements of the diver and his assistants.
When the block of sandstone was dragged up on the beach, they stared at each other with expressions of profound astonishment.
No wonder: the wreckers were employed in clearing the ballast out of a sunken ship!
What could be their object? Our adventurers could not guess. Nor, indeed, could the wreckers themselves have given a good reason for undergoing such an amount of ludicrous labor.
Why they had not told the old sheik what sort of cargo they were saving from the wreck, was because they had no certain knowledge of its value, or what in reality it was they were taking so much time and trouble to get safely ashore.
As they believed that the white slaves must have a perfect knowledge of the subject upon which they were themselves so ignorant, they closely scanned the countenances of the latter, as the block of ballast was drawn out upon the dry sand.
They were rewarded for their scrutiny.
The surprise exhibited by Sailor Bill and the three mids confirmed the wreckers in their belief that they were saving something of grand value; for, in fact, had the block of sandstone been a monstrous nugget of gold, the boy slaves could not have been more astonished at beholding it.
Their behavior increased the ardor of the salvors in the pursuit in which they were engaged, along with the envy of the rival party, who, by the laws of the Saaeran coast, were not allowed to participate in their toil.
The Krooman now endeavored to undeceive his master as to the value of the "salvage,"—telling him that what their rivals were taking out of the sunken ship was nothing but worthless stone.
But his statement was met with a smile of incredulity. Those engaged in getting the ballast ashore regarded the Krooman's statements with equal contempt. He was either a liar or a fool, and therefore unworthy of the least attention. With this reflection they went on with their work.
After some time spent in reconsidering the subject, the old sheik called the Krooman aside; and when out of hearing of the wreckers, asked him to give an explanation of the real nature of what he himself persisted in calling the "cargo" of the wreck,—as well as a true statement of its value.
The slave did as he was desired; but the old sheik only shook his head, once more declaring his incredulity.
He had never heard of a ship that did not carry a cargo of something valuable. He thought that no men would be so stupid and foolish as to go from one country to another in ships loaded only with worthless stones.
As nothing else in the shape of cargo was found aboard the wreck, the stones must be of some value. So argued the Arab.
While the Krooman was trying to explain the real purpose for which the stones had been placed in the hold of the vessel, one of the wreckers came up and informed him that a white man was in one of their tents, that he was ill, and wished to see and converse with the infidel slaves, of whose arrival he had just heard.
The Krooman communicated this piece of intelligence to our adventurers; and the tent that contained the sick white man having been pointed out to them, they at once started towards it, expecting to see some unfortunate countryman, who, like themselves, had been cast away on the inhospitable shores of the Saaera.
ANOTHER WHITE SLAVE.
On entering within the tent to which they had been directed, they found, lying upon the ground, a man about forty years of age. Although he appeared a mere skeleton, consisting of little more than skin and bones, he did not present the general aspect of a man suffering from ill health; nor yet would he have passed for a white man anywhere out of Africa.
"You are the first English people I've seen for over thirty years," said he, as they entered the tent: "for I can tell by your looks that every one of you are English. You are my countrymen. I was white once myself; and you will be as black as I am when you have been sun-scorched here for forty-three years, as I have been."
"What!" exclaimed Terence; "have you been a slave in the Saaera so long as that? If so, God help us! What hope is there of our ever getting free?"
The young Irishman spoke in a tone of despair.
"Very little chance of your ever seeing home again, my lad," answered the invalid; "but I have a chance now, if you and your comrades don't spoil it. For God's sake don't tell these Arabs that they are the fools they are for making salvage of the ballast. If you do, they'll be sure to make an end of me. It's all my doing. I've made them believe the stones are valuable, so that they may take them to some place where I can escape. It is the only chance I have had for years,—don't destroy it, as you value the life of a fellow-countryman."
From further conversation with the man, our adventurers learned that he had been shipwrecked on the coast many years before, and had ever since been trying to get transported to some place where he might be ransomed. He declared that he had been backward and forward across the desert forty or fifty times; and that he had belonged to not less than fifty masters!
"I have only been with these fellows a few weeks," said he, "and fortunately when we came this way we were able to tell where the sunken ship was by seeing her foremast then sticking out of the water. The vessel was in ballast; and the crew probably put out to sea in their boats, without being discovered. It was the first ship my masters had ever heard of without a cargo; and they would not believe but what the stones were such, and must be worth something—else why should they be carried about the world in a ship. I told them it was a kind of stone from which gold was obtained; but that it must be taken to some place where there was plenty of coal or wood, before the gold could be melted out of it, and then intrusted to white men who understood the art of extracting the precious metal from the rocks.
"They believe all this; for they can see shining particles in the sandstone which they think is really gold, or something that can be converted into it. For four days they forced me to toil, at diving and assisting them; but that didn't suit my purpose; and I've at length succeeded in making them believe that I am not able to work any longer."
"But do you really think," asked Harry Blount, "that they will carry the ballast any distance without learning its real value?"
"Yes; I did think that they might take it to Mogador, and that they would let me go along with them."
"But some one will meet them, and tell them that their lading is worthless?" suggested Colin.
"No, I think that fear of losing their valuable freight will keep them from letting any one know what they've got. They are hiding it in the sand now, as fast as they get it ashore, for fear some party stronger than themselves should come along and take it away from them. I intend to tell them after they have started on their journey, not to let any one see or know what they have, until they are safe within the walls of Mogador, where they will be under the protection of the governor. They have promised to take me along with them, and if I once get within sight of a seaport, not all the Arabs in Africa will hinder me from recovering my liberty."
While the pretended invalid was talking to them, Sailor Bill had been watching him, apparently with eager interest.
"Beg pardon for 'aving a small taste o' difference wid you in the mather ov your age," said the sailor, as soon as the man had ceased speaking; "but I'll never belave you've been about 'ere for forty years. It can't be so long as that."
The two men, after staring at each other for a moment, uttered the words "Jim!" "Bill!" and then, springing forward, each grasped the hand of the other. Two brothers had met!
The three mids remembered that Bill had told them of a brother, who, when last heard from, was a slave somewhere in the Saaera, and they needed no explanation of the scene now presented to them.
The two brothers were left alone; and after the others had gone out of the tent they returned to the Krooman—who had just succeeded in convincing the sheik, that the stones being fished out of the sunken ship were, at that time and place, of no value whatever.
All attempts on the part of the old sheik to convince the wreckers, as he had been convinced himself, proved fruitless.
The arguments he used to them were repeated to the sailor, Bill's brother; and by him were easily upset with a few words.
"Of course they will try to make you believe the cargo is no good," retorted Jim. "They wish you to leave it, so that they can have it all to themselves. Does not common sense tell you that they are liars?"
This was conclusive; and the wreckers continued their toil, extracting stone after stone out of the hold of the submerged ship.
Sailor Bill, at his brother's request, then summoned his companions to the tent.
"Which of you have been trying to do me an injury?" inquired Jim. "I told you not to say that the stones were worthless."
It was explained to him how the Krooman had been enlightening his master.
"Call the Krooman," said Jim, "and I'll enlighten him. If these Arabs find out that they have been deceived, I shall be killed, and your master—the old sheik—will certainly lose all his property. Tell him to come here also. I must talk to him. Something must be done immediately, or I shall be killed."
The Krooman and the old sheik were conducted into the tent; and Jim talked to them in the Arabic language.
"Leave my masters alone to their folly," said he to the sheik; "and they will be so busy that you can depart in peace. If not, and you convince them that they have been deceived, they will rob you of all you have got. You have already said enough to excite their suspicions, and they will in time learn that I have been humbugging them. My life is no longer safe in their company. You buy me, then; and let us all take our departure immediately."
"Are the stones in the wreck really worth nothing?" asked the sheik.
"No more than the sand on the shore; and when they find out that such is the case, some one will be robbed. They have come to the seacoast to seek wealth, and they will have it one way or the other. They are a tribe of bad men. Buy me, and leave them to continue the task they have so ignorantly undertaken."
"You are not well," replied the sheik; "and if I buy you, you cannot walk."
"Let me ride on a camel until I get out of sight of these my masters," answered Jim; "you will then see whether I can walk or not. They will sell me cheap; for they think I am done up. But I am not; I was only weary of diving after worthless stones."
The old sheik promised to follow Jim's advice; and ordered his companions to prepare immediately for the continuance of their journey.
Sidi Hamet was called, and asked by Rais Abdallah if he would sell some of the stones they had saved from the infidel ship.
"Bismillah! No!" exclaimed the wrecker. "You say they are of no value, and I do not wish to cheat any true believer of the prophet."
"Will you give me some of them, then?"
"No! Allah forbid that Sidi Hamet should ever make a worthless present to a friend!"
"I am a merchant," rejoined the old sheik; "and wish to do business. Have you any slaves, or other property you can sell me?"
"Yes! You see that Christian dog," replied the wrecker, pointing to Sailor Bill's brother; "I will sell him."
"You have promised to take me to Swearah," interrupted Jim. "Do not sell me, master; I think I shall get well some time, and will then work for you as hard as I can."
Sidi Hamet cast upon his infidel slave a look of contempt at this allusion to his illness; but Jim's remark, and the angry glance, were both unheeded by the Arab sheik.
The slave's pretended wishes not to be sold were disregarded; and for the consideration of an old shirt and a small camel-hair tent, he became the property of Rais Abdallah Yezzed.
The old sheik and his followers then betook themselves to their camels; and the kafila was hurried up the dry bed of the river,—leaving the wreckers to continue their toilsome and unprofitable task.
SAILOR BILL'S BROTHER.
After leaving the coast, the travellers kept at a quick pace, and Sailor Bill and his brother had but little opportunity of holding converse together. When the douar had been pitched for the night, the old salt and the "young gentlemen," his companions, gathered around the man whose experience in the miseries of Saaeran slavery so far exceeded their own.
"Now, Jim," began the old man-o'-war's-man, "you must spin us the yarn of all your cruising since you've been here. We've seen somethin' o' the elephant since we've been cast ashore, and that's not long. I don't wonder at you sayin' you 'ave been aboard this craft forty-three years."
"Yes, that is the correct time according to my reckoning," interrupted Jim; "but, Bill, you don't look much older than when I saw you last. How long ago was it?"
"About eleven years."
"Eleven years! I tell you that I've been here over forty."
"'Ow can that be?" asked Bill. "Daze it, man, you'll not be forty years old till the fourteenth o' the next month. You 'ave lost yer senses, an' in troth, it an't no wonder!"
"That is true, for there is nothing in the Saaera to help a man keep his reckoning. There are no seasons; and every day is as like another as two seconds in the same minute. But surely I must have been here for more than eleven years."
"No," answered Bill, "ye 'ave no been here only a wee bit langer than tin; but afther all ye must 'ave suffered in that time, it is quare that ye should a know'd me at all, at all."
"I did not know you until you spoke," rejoined Jim "Then I couldn't doubt that it was you who stood before me, when I heard our father's broad Scotch, our mother's Irish brogue, and the talk of the cockneys amongst whom your earliest days were passed, all mingled together."
"You see, Master Colly," said Bill, turning to the young Scotchman. "My brother Jim has had the advantage of being twelve years younger than I; and when he was old enough to go to school, I was doing something to help kape 'im there, and for all that I believe he is plased to see me."
"Pleased to see you!" exclaimed Jim. "Of course I am."
"I'm sure av it," said Bill.
"Well, then, brother, go ahead, an' spin us your yarn."
"I have no one yarn to spin," replied Jim, "for a narrative of my adventures in the desert would consist of a thousand yarns, each giving a description of some severe suffering or disappointment. I can only tell you that it seems to me that I have passed many years in travelling through the sands of the Saaera, years in cultivating barley on its borders, years in digging wells, and years in attending flocks of goats, sheep, and other animals. I have had many masters,—all bad, and some worse,—and I have had many cruel disappointments about regaining my liberty. I was once within a single day's journey of Mogador, and was then sold again and carried back into the very heart of the desert. I have attempted two or three times to escape; but was recaptured each time, and nearly killed for the unpardonable dishonesty of trying to rob my master of my own person. I have often been tempted to commit suicide; but a sort of womanly curiosity and stubbornness has prevented me. I wished to see how long Fortune would persecute me, and I was determined not to thwart her plans by putting myself beyond their reach. I did not like to give in, for any one who tries to escape from trouble by killing himself, shows that he has come off sadly worsted in the war of life."
"You are quite right," said Harry Blount; "but I hope that your hardest battles in that war are now over. Our masters have promised to carry us to some place where we may be ransomed by our countrymen, and you of course will be taken along with us."
"Do not flatter yourselves with that hope," said Jim. "I was amused with it for several years. Every master I have had gave me the same promise, and here I am yet. I did think when my late owners were saving the stones from the wreck, that I could get them to enter the walls of some seaport town, and that possibly they might take me along with them. But that hope has proved as delusive as all others I have entertained since shipwrecked on the shore of this accursed country. I believe there are a few who are fortunate enough to regain their liberty; but the majority of sailors cast away on the Saaeran coast never have the good fortune to get away from it. They die under the hardships and ill-treatment to which they are exposed upon the desert—without leaving a trace of their existence any more than the dogs or camels belonging to their common masters.
"You have asked me to give an account of my life since I have been shipwrecked. I cannot do that; but I shall give you an easy rule by which you may know all about it. We will suppose you have all been three months in the Saaera, and Bill here says that I have been here ten years; therefore I have experienced about forty times as long a period of slavery as one of yourselves. Now, multiply the sum total of your sufferings by forty, and you will have some idea of what I have undergone.
"You have probably witnessed some scenes of heartless cruelty—scenes that shocked and wounded the most sensitive feelings of your nature. I have witnessed forty times as many. While suffering the agonies of thirst and hunger, you may have prayed for death as a relief to your anguish. Where such have been your circumstances once, they have been mine for forty times.
"You may have had some bright hopes of escaping, and once more revisiting your native land; and then have experienced the bitterness of disappointment. In this way I have suffered forty times as much as any one of you."
Sailor Bill and the young gentlemen,—who had been for several days under the pleasant hallucination that they were on the high road to freedom,—were again awakened to a true sense of their situation by the words of a man far more experienced than they in the deceitful ways of the desert.
Before separating for the night, the three mids learnt from Bill and his brother that the latter had been first officer of the ship that had brought him to the coast. They could perceive by his conversation that he was an intelligent man,—one whose natural abilities and artificial acquirements were far superior to those of their shipmate,—the old man-of-war's-man.
"If such an accomplished individual," reasoned they, "has been for ten years a slave in the Saaera, unable to escape or reach any place where his liberty might be restored, what hope is there for us?"
A LIVING STREAM.
Every hour of the journey presented some additional evidence that the kafila was leaving the great desert behind, and drawing near a land that might be considered fertile.
On the day after parting from the wreckers a walled town was reached, and near it, on the sides of some of the hills, were seen growing a few patches of barley.
At this place the caravan rested for the remainder of the day. The camels and horses were furnished with a good supply of food, and water drawn from deep wells. It was the best our adventurers had drunk since being cast away on the African coast.
Next morning the journey was continued.
After they had been on the road about two hours, the old sheik and a companion, riding in advance of the others, stopped before what seemed, in the distance, a broad stream of water.
All hastened forward, and the Boy Slaves beheld a sight that filled them with much surprise and considerable alarm. It was a stream,—a stream of living creatures moving over the plain.
It was a migration of insects,—the famed locusts of Africa.
They were young ones,—not yet able to fly; and for some reason, unknown perhaps even to themselves, they were taking this grand journey.
Their march seemed conducted in regular order, and under strict discipline.
They formed a living moving belt of considerable breadth, the sides of which appeared as straight as any line mathematical science could have drawn.
Not one could be seen straggling from the main body, which was moving along a track too narrow for their numbers,—scarce half of them having room on the sand, while the other half were crawling along on the backs of their compagnons du voyage.
Even the Arabs appeared interested in this African mystery, and paused for a few minutes to watch the progress of the glittering stream presented by these singular insects.
The old sheik dismounted from his camel; and with his scimitar broke the straight line formed by the border of the moving mass—sweeping them off to one side.
The space was instantly filled up again by those advancing from behind, and the straight edge restored, the insects crawling onward without the slightest deviation.
The sight was not new to Sailor Bill's brother. He informed his companions that should a fire be kindled on their line of march, the insects, instead of attempting to pass around it, would move right into its midst until it should become extinguished with their dead bodies.
After amusing himself for a few moments in observing these insects, the sheik mounted his camel, and, followed by the kafila, commenced moving through the living stream.
A hoof could not be put down without crushing a score of the creatures; but immediately on the hoof being lifted, the space was filled with as many as had been destroyed!
Some of the slaves, with their naked feet, did not like wading through this living crawling stream. It was necessary to use force to compel them to pass over it.
After looking right and left, and seeing no end to the column of insects, our adventurers made a rush, and ran clear across it.
At every step their feet fell with a crunching sound, and were raised again, streaming with the blood of the mangled locusts.
The belt of the migratory insects was about sixty yards in breadth; yet, short as was the distance, the Boy Slaves declared that it was more disagreeable to pass over than any ten miles of the desert they had previously traversed.
One of the blacks, determined to make the crossing as brief as possible, started in a rapid run. When about half way through, his foot slipped, and he fell full length amidst the crowd of creepers.
Before he could regain his feet, hundreds of the disgusting insects had mounted upon him, clinging to his clothes, and almost smothering him by their numbers.
Overcome by disgust, horror, and fear, he was unable to rise; and two of his black companions were ordered to drag him out of the disagreeable company into which he had stumbled.
After being rescued and delivered from the clutch of the locusts, it was many minutes before he recovered his composure of mind, along with sufficient nerve to resume his journey.
Sailor Bill had not made the crossing along with the others; and for some time resisted all the attempts of the Arabs to force him over the insect stream.
Two of them at length laid hold of him; and, after dragging him some paces into the crawling crowd, left him to himself.
Being thus brought in actual contact with the insects, the old sailor saw that the quickest way of getting out of the scrape was to cross over to the other side.
This he proceeded to do in the least time, and with the greatest possible noise. His paces were long, and made with wonderful rapidity; and each time his foot came to the ground, he uttered a horrible yell, as though it had been planted upon a sheet of red-hot iron.
Bill's brother had now so far recovered from his feigned illness, that he was able to walk along with the Boy Slaves.
Naturally conversing about the locusts, he informed his companions, that the year before he had been upon a part of the Saaeran coast where a cloud of these insects had been driven out to sea by a storm, and drowned. They were afterwards washed ashore in heaps; the effluvia from which became so offensive that the fields of barley near the shore could not be harvested, and many hundred acres of the crop were wholly lost to the owners.